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Biden's Push For Vaccine Mandates Indicates A Change In Pandemic Politics – NPR

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President Biden’s push for vaccine mandates is supported by a majority of voters, but it marks a break with his previous unifying tone — a sign that Democrats see pandemic politics changing.



LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden goes to Chicago tomorrow to talk about his new vaccine requirements, including for larger private companies. The new rules are meant to get more people vaccinated, of course, but they also show how Democrats see the politics of COVID changing. Here’s NPR’s Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: For months, Biden resisted mandates. He didn’t want to make the vaccines any more politicized than they already are. But when delta surged and it became clear that most of the hardcore vaccine resistance was partisan, Biden leaned into America’s newest culture war – the great mandate debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner.

LIASSON: The bottom line, Biden said, is to protect vaccinated workers from their unvaccinated co-workers. For a president elected on a promise to heal divisions and unify the country, it was an unusual embrace of us-against-them rhetoric. But Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Obama, points to polls that show majorities of Democrats and independents and about a third of Republicans support the new rules.

DAN PFEIFFER: If you are picking an issue that is supported by north of 60% of Americans, that is not divisive. That is doing the right thing.

FRANK LUNTZ: Republican pollster Frank Luntz says that, based on his focus groups with vax resistors, Biden’s new requirements should make a difference up to a point.

LUNTZ: It was plain to see they were mad about it, but a significant percentage of those who are not vaccinated would actually accept it if it meant that they could travel, if it meant that they could continue to work in the office. And what’s left? Those people who refuse to do it – nothing is going to change their mind.

LIASSON: Biden has clearly given up trying to persuade those people. He’s also welcoming a fight over mandates with Republican governors like Greg Abbott of Texas, heard here on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “HANNITY”)

GREG ABBOTT: Sean, I have issued an executive order already in existence that prohibits any government from imposing a vaccine mandate on my fellow Texans. So…

LIASSON: Abbott and other Republicans say they’ll sue. Biden’s response – have at it. Why the new confidence on the part of Democrats about wielding the heavy hand of government? For one thing, getting COVID under control is the campaign promise polls show voters care about most. More than anything else, COVID is what’s driving Biden’s approval ratings up or down. But there’s a bigger shift in opinion about the role of government that’s also emboldening Democrats. Dan Pfeiffer.

PFEIFFER: The pandemic made it clear to a lot of people that you need government – right? – either to help people out when an unexpected crisis happens like this pandemic, to ensure that people get vaccinated to protect people. It boils down to shots in arms and checks in the mail. And that has changed the dynamic.

LIASSON: In the great mandate debate, Democrats really are from Mars, and Republicans are from Venus. Democrats, as the governing party, have to appeal to the majority of voters and show them they can get COVID under control. Republicans, especially those thinking about running for president in 2024, have to appeal to their base, which is largely anti-vax, not just anti-mandate. If there was ever any doubt about this, just listen to what happened at Donald Trump’s rally in Alabama in August.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I recommend taking the vaccines. I did it. It’s good. Take the vaccines. But you got – no, that’s OK. That’s all right. You got your freedoms. But I happened to take the vaccine.

LIASSON: Hear those boos? Frank Luntz says that moment showed the Republican base is more willing to listen to anti-vax conspiracy theorists on social media than any of the party’s leaders.

LUNTZ: When I saw Trump’s own voters boo him when he said, get the vaccine, that’s when I realized that social media may be even more powerful than President Trump. The consequences of that over the long term are frightening.

LIASSON: What it means is, at least for now, the GOP is a party whose leaders follow the base, not the other way around. And that has big implications for public health because the great mandate debate is not just a political game. It’s about people’s lives. But at the same time President Biden is trying to get more people vaccinated, his party is also trying to win the midterms. Dan Pfeiffer says Democrats are determined to paint Republicans as the party of COVID.

PFEIFFER: The party of COVID is part of a larger narrative about Republicans being too extreme, too irresponsible, too in the thrall of Trumpism to responsibly govern. In a polarized age where negative partisanship reigns, where people are looking as much for what they’re voting against as what they’re voting for, we have to make a case against Republicans as relentless and aggressive.

LIASSON: Republican strategist Rob Stutzman says his party, which has a lot of advantages going into 2022, could hurt itself in suburban swing districts if it becomes identified with vaccine resistance.

ROB STUTZMAN: Particularly suburban women. These are the types of issues I think could really give them pause to vote for Republicans. And my concern is that Republicans may be fumbling away huge opportunities here.

LIASSON: Because, Stutzman says, in the new politics of COVID, where the dividing line is vaxed versus unvaxed, people who are vaccinated want someone to advocate for them. Mara Liasson, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RYAN HELSING AND MATTHEW SALTZ’S “CASCADE”)

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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Why neither party has a sustainable political majority – CNN

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(CNN)Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote. 

Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate. 
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.  
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point. 
This shouldn’t be surprising. As political analyst Sean Trende posited in the book “The Lost Majority,” history is filled with examples of majorities falling apart and the parties coming in and out of power. The book was published before the 2012 elections and has held up quite well.  
Obama won a second term with a decent economy in 2012. Despite Trump being unpopular as he was, we saw the presidency change hands after 2016 as it often does when one party has been in the White House for more than a term. Then we saw a president lose in 2020 with a weak, though not terrible, economy and a pandemic unlike anything the country had experienced in more than a century. 
All of these election results were predicted to a fairly accurate degree by fundamentals based political science models.
So why would the future be any different when it comes to the Senate? Well it comes down to two pretty simple points. 
First, Democratic power is more concentrated than Republican power in terms of geography. You can see this in the 2020 results with now-President Joe Biden reaching a clear majority in the Electoral College and popular vote, but only winning 25 states. Trump, on the other hand, took 30 states in 2016, despite losing the popular vote and winning with a similar number of electoral votes. 
Second, and this is key, presidential and Senate voting patterns are more closely aligned than at any point in recent history. Just one state (Maine in 2020) voted differently in the Senate and presidential races that were on the ballot in the last two presidential elections
And since each state has an equal number of senators, a nation that votes 50/50 in the popular vote on the presidential level will have more Republican senators over the long-term because that translates into winning more states. 
To be clear, the idea of Republicans having a structural advantage in the Senate isn’t a new one. It’s one I made in 2013 when I was trying to rebuff the talk of an emerging Democratic majority, which is why I take the point so seriously. 
But I’m not sure I was correct eight years ago. The thing I didn’t take into account is that this hasn’t been a 50/50 nation in the presidential popular vote over the last three decades. 
Democrats have earned more votes nationwide in seven of the previous eight presidential races. That’s the most popular vote wins in eight presidential elections for either party since the Democratic Party was founded in the first half of the 19th century. 
Republicans, of course, have still managed to win three of the last eight presidential elections. Recently, the party has adjusted to win elections with fewer votes by having their votes are concentrated in the right places. This is something some Republicans note openly
Indeed, the nomination of Trump was a tacit acknowledgment of that strategy. You put someone on the presidential ticket whose support comes disproportionately from White voters without a college degree, which is a group that has a disproportionate amount of power in the Electoral College (in large part because of the Great Lake battleground states). In doing so, you’re losing more voters overall, but allowing you to win with fewer votes because they’re in the right places. 
Over the long term this has come out to being close to a wash in states won. Since 1992, Democrats have won 25.5 states in the median election. Republicans have won 24.5. On average, Democrats have won 25 states to Republicans 25. 
In the last three presidential elections, Democrats have won 25 states in the median election and 24 on average. I point out the last three because the strong correlation between presidential and Senate results really only started in the 2010s
If you play out these Senate elections over and over again, you’d probably end up with pretty equal power in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans assuming straight ticket voting between Senate and presidential voting. 
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t end up winning the Senate more times than Democrats. If voters are prone to balancing power (which they usually do), Republicans will do well in midterms and that could carry over to more wins overall because only one-third of the Senate is up for election every presidential cycle. Republicans could easily take back control of the Senate in 2022, which I think is the most likely outcome. 
It’s that the default isn’t as pro-Republican as one might assume. 
I’ll end by saying we have no idea if the current degree of straight ticket voting will stay the same, pick up or even shrink in years to come. We don’t know what the coalitions will look like. Just like Trump came on the scene and exacerbated the educational divide, another candidate may change the electoral calculus in the future. Parties and their messages aren’t stagnant. 
Just this past election, Biden actually performed better by a few points among White voters without a college degree than Hillary Clinton. At the same time, the gap between Whites and people of color (which used to be growing) shrunk, something I don’t think most thought would happen given Trump’s rhetoric. 
During the Biden presidency, that racial divide in voter preferences may be going down even more, as The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump has called attention to.
The bottom line is no one knows where voter opinion and election outcomes will go from here.

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FIRST READING: British MP killing brings a chill to Canadian politics – National Post

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Everybody hates Doug Ford but he might win reelection anyway

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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British MP Sir David Amess was brutally stabbed to death Friday during a meeting with constituents in a Methodist church east of London . This is the second time in five years that a British MP has been murdered while in office, which surprisingly makes the current era one of the most dangerous in which to be a British parliamentarian . In 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in a West Yorkshire street by a far-right extremist. For context, in the 108 years from 1882 to 1990, only six U.K. MPs were killed by political violence – and every single one was due to targeting by Irish nationalists.

Don’t be surprised if the murder of Amess has a chilling effect on public life all across the G7. After a terrorist gunman attempted to storm Parliament Hill in 2014, the result was an immediate ramp-up of parliamentary security everywhere from Australia to the U.K. In the U.K., the Conservative Party has already ordered a stop to all campaigning until a security review can be completed. Here in Canada, news of the murder has been particularly haunting for MPs who just wrapped up an election campaign that was particularly heavy on threats and security worries. “This last campaign, for me, I have never felt so unsafe,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner told CBC .

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A photo released by David Amess after his 2015 knighthood. Of the many photos of Amess shared by friends and colleagues over the weekend, this was one of the most widely circulated.
A photo released by David Amess after his 2015 knighthood. Of the many photos of Amess shared by friends and colleagues over the weekend, this was one of the most widely circulated. Photo by Handout

You can add “laughter” to the list of things that the Royal Canadian Navy isn’t good at . Last year, the second-in-command of HMCS Calgary was dismissed for disabling the warship’s smoke detectors so he could have a cigarette. In response, some anonymous navy wag wrote up a parody song about the incident entitled Smoking in the Wardroom, based on the 1973 hit Smokin’ in the Boys Room. While sailors across Canada had a good laugh at a performance uploaded to YouTube, navy brass absolutely lost their minds and initiated a nationwide manhunt to root out the satirist . According to Postmedia’s David Pugliese, the singer – identified by some fans as an “ Esquimalt legend ” – remains undiscovered.

One of the only known images of the creator of Smoking in the Wardroom, who has identified himself in Reddit forums using the pseudonym “Ryan McRyan.” He removed his video after becoming aware that navy higher-ups were on his trail.
One of the only known images of the creator of Smoking in the Wardroom, who has identified himself in Reddit forums using the pseudonym “Ryan McRyan.” He removed his video after becoming aware that navy higher-ups were on his trail. Photo by YouTube.com

Meanwhile, the military arguably has much bigger problems to address. Earlier this year, the Canadian Armed Forces’ chief of military personnel was placed on leave while he was investigated regarding an allegation of sexual misconduct. And now his replacement is also under police investigation for sexual misconduct. This happened in the same week that the incoming commander of the Canadian Army also became subject to a police investigation involving an allegation of sexual misconduct.

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It looks like Doug Ford might remain premier of Ontario for another term . The province is required to hold a vote by at least June of 2022, but as we all know, Canadian parliaments have a habit lately of getting dissolved early. Although Ford is one of the most unpopular premiers in Canada, polls show that he’s apparently still the best Ontario has. A new Leger survey has the Progressive Conservatives polling at 35 per cent, more than five points ahead of the second-place Liberals.

Only days after the release of the two Michaels from Chinese detention, B.C.’s Minister of State for Trade George Chow was a VIP guest at a Huawei-sponsored event in Vancouver celebrating the Chinese Communist Party. He even waved a tiny five-starred Chinese flag. Lest his appearance be seen as an official B.C. endorsement of Beijing, however, Chow’s spokespeople helpfully cleared up the matter this week. He wasn’t wearing his cabinet minister hat while at the pro-Beijing event , his office told Glacier Media . Rather, he was just attending the event as a regular civilian who may or may not have a senior position in the provincial government that directly deals with China on a regular basis.

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The House of Commons will be getting back to work on Nov. 22, more than two months after the Sept. 20 vote . While that may seem like a long time after an election that was repeatedly framed as an urgent necessity, it’s pretty standard for Canadian parliaments. One of the longest gaps still belongs to Joe Clark; after winning the 1979 election he waited more than four months to convene parliament .

COVID

This week, Alberta’s top doctor announced that a 14-year-old had become one of the province’s latest COVID-19 fatalities. There’s just one problem: The 14-year-old did not die of COVID-19. After the announcement, family members of the deceased teen took to social media to say that the 14-year-old actually died of brain cancer. Although he had an 11 th hour COVID-19 diagnosis, it was ultimately immaterial to his demise . Health Canada stats show that since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has contributed to the deaths of only 17 Canadians under the age of 19 , far less than the same number who were killed by drowning.

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In a pandemic that has seen an awful lot of politicized decisions from public health officials, there is one group that has consistently hewn very close to the evidence, even when it’s unpopular. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) was the one who recommended taking Pfizer instead of AstraZeneca – even as the entire political establishment yelled at them . And now, the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey notes that NACI has gone curiously dark : No press briefings and no interviews, even as Canada gears up for a mass-vaccination of children.

DATA NERD

Setting aside the fact that people vote differently in elections held under proportional representation , if Election 44 had been conducted under a European-style PR system, it would have resulted in a dead tie between the Liberals and Conservatives , both of whom would have gone to Parliament with 109 MPs each (the locked-out People’s Party of Canada, meanwhile, would have scored a caucus of 21). According to a new Angus Reid Institute poll, 61 per cent of Canadians would have preferred the PR outcome .

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The average price of a Canadian home rose by an incredible 21.4 per cent over the last 12 months , according to the latest Royal LePage House Price Survey . It’s a surge way beyond anything else seen in the G7. The only thing that comes close was a wacky few months in 1989 Italy when housing prices briefly spiked at a faster rate. As to why this is happening, Royal LePage has a very simple answer: Canada isn’t building nearly enough homes .

An empty commercial district in China. Ironically, China currently has the exact opposite of Canada’s real estate problem. The latest data from the China Household Finance Survey determined that the country had 65 million vacant homes; that’s more than enough to give two Chinese homes to every single Canadian household.
An empty commercial district in China. Ironically, China currently has the exact opposite of Canada’s real estate problem. The latest data from the China Household Finance Survey determined that the country had 65 million vacant homes; that’s more than enough to give two Chinese homes to every single Canadian household. Photo by Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

SOLID TAKES

Ottawa isn’t the only one on a debt binge lately. On the eve of the pandemic, Canada’s household debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 101.3 per cent. Now, it’s at 119.6 per cent. Writing for the Financial Post, David Rosenberg and Julia Wendling note that it’s kind of hard to restart an economy when everybody’s up to their eyeballs in debt.

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Ken Boessenkool is among the handful of former Stephen Harper hacks who can say whatever they want now that they’re out of politics. Writing for The Line , this former Reform Party stalwart had a piece of extremely controversial advice for the Conservative Party: Embrace a carbon tax or die . Of course, Boessenkool’s Tory carbon tax would be counted as a 100 per cent credit against the income tax, rather than its current role of being a convenient new revenue stream.

In the wake of Chinese-Canadians running screaming from the Tories last election , Rupa Subramanya noted that it’s not unprecedented for Canadian diaspora communities to decide elections based on foreign policy issues that are virtually invisible to the rest of the electorate. She pointed to the example of 1998, when thousands of Indo-Canadians lost favour with the Liberal government of Jean Chretien after he criticized a series of recent Indian government nuclear tests. “Most Indo-Canadians were supportive of India’s nuclear ambitions … for most other Canadians, however, it was a non-issue,” she wrote .

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In recent months, several international outlets have begun referring to Vancouver as the North American epicentre of anti-Asian hate crime . Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd isn’t so sure . The moniker is based entirely on the fact that reported incidents of anti-Asian hate crime rose from 12 to 98 in 2020, but Todd highlights a few holes in the data – as well as some not tremendously ingenuous actors who are highly invested in the image of Vancouver as a racist backwater.

We bring this up a lot in this newsletter, but the Liberals remain hell-bent on a plan to usher in the most censorious internet in the free world . Chris Selley writes in a recent column that if the Conservatives can’t rally Canadians against a draconian crackdown on freedom of speech, it would be a pretty big black eye both for them and the country at large.

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here

Editor’s note: This post has been updated from its original version to correct the description of the nature of the investigation into the recent appointee to the Canadian Forces’ chief of military personnel.

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UN envoy says has agreement on drafting new Syrian constitution

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The United Nations Special Envoy said on Sunday that the government and opposition co-chairs of the  Syrian Constitutional Committee agreed to start a drafting process for constitutional reform in the country.

Geir Pedersen, speaking to reporters in Geneva after meeting the Syrian co-chairs ahead of week-long talks, said they had agreed to “prepare and start drafting constitutional reform.”

The talks will be the sixth round in two years and the first since January.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)

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