Editors’ Blog

Was BBB Doomed As Soon As BIF Passed? Prime Badge

TPM Reader PT checks in on Manchin, BBB, and the current swoon:

For pretty much the entire time of the Biden Administration legislative activity, I’ve been of the opinion that the whole issue of the BBB was best understood as a kind of culture war. The problem that the Manchin caucus really has with the BBB is that it represents a Democratic Party in which the moderate / conservative / Manchin caucus is not firmly in the driver seat all the time, for all things.

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COVID Notes #3 Prime Badge

I start with the proviso that we are in a radically better position than we were two years ago. Most of the population is vaccinated. We have experience treating COVID. We have effective antivirals coming online. But this morning in New York City has a feeling of déjà vu. My inbox is filled with a rush of cancellations: school holiday events; a journalists’ drinking get-together that had just restarted after a two year hiatus postponed the morning of; lines outside testing centers snake around the block. It all has the feel of Spring of 2020 when everything was normal and then on a dime it wasn’t.

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COVID Notes #2 Prime Badge

Let me share a couple more thoughts on boosters.

The UK is currently in a mad dash to get boosters into the arms of as many people as possible. We’re certainly pushing boosters here too. But it’s a singular focus there in a way that is not the case here. That’s the first, second and third part of their strategy basically. They’re advising work from home and universal masking. But basically it’s to buy time for getting boosters in as many arms as possible over the next two to three weeks. They’re deploying the military to set up pop-up clinics, advising hospitals to suspend routine care to focus on booster administration. They have a goal of getting every adult in the country boosted by the end of the month. So really they’re pulling out all the stops.

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COVID Notes #1 Prime Badge

We have the first study (still un-peer-reviewed) that advances an evidence-based hypothesis for why Omicron COVID may actually produce milder disease. I want to emphasize this is a single study, which has not undergone peer review. The gist is that Omicron was much faster at taking hold in the air passage leading to the lungs but much less efficient in replicating in lung tissue. The surmise is that this makes it much better at jumping from host to host – which is demonstrated by rate of spread in multiple countries – but much less efficient at creating illness once it gets into the lungs.

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Where Things Stand: At What Point Do We Say BBB Is Dead? Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

I don’t really know what it means to “punt” BBB until next year. I’m serious.

We’re going to hear that phrase a lot, with a certain baked-in assumption that it means something. But it’s not like the assurance that I’m going to finish my homework tomorrow, or complete my term paper this weekend, or turn in this client project by the end of next week. There’s no certainty that this will ever get done.

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NBC Punks Dems on BBB and Voting Rights Prime Badge

NBC sparked a flurry of discussion a couple hours ago when it reported that Democrats were “shelving” the Build Back Better bill and switching to passing voting rights legislation.

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Among the Feral Trumpers Prime Badge
Mark Aguirre

So many people involved in the “voter fraud” sham are simply stone cold liars or the types who play act believing things with some winks and nods to themselves. But the movement also has lots of people who genuinely believe. And now one of them has been indicted for running a guy off the road and putting a gun to his head back in October 2020.

Mark Aguirre is a former Houston PD captain who was hired by a straight-out-of-central-casting “conservative activist” named Steven Hotze. They were operating as what Aguirre identified to police as the “Liberty Center,” which seems to have been a self-styled private Big Lie-centered investigation. (It’s full legal name is The Liberty Center for God and Country, because of course it is.)

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Notes Prime Badge

I’m sorry I’ve done less posting than usual over the last week or so. I’ve been trying to put together my ideas about the last 5 or 6 years and the way America often today seems embattled and besieged in a global system and media landscape that she herself largely created. How did we get here from the breezy global primary America enjoyed in the 1990s? What broad lessons can we draw or what connections can we make connecting our current moment to the beginning of our era in 1989, 1990 and 1991?

It’s a challenging topic in itself. But it’s also challenging for me because my writing muscles aren’t really trained for writing at length. TPM has given me a lot of practice writing a rapid fire thousand words or even closer to two thousand. I can do it multiple times a day if the need arises. But much over that length is where writing shifts from the dynamics of a sprint to something more like distance or endurance running. There’s more pacing involved, more strategy and organization than just run absolutely as fast as you can until the finish line. Anyway, it’s giving me a chance to flex some of these muscles. So I’ll report back when I can.

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Waiting for Omicron Prime Badge

I want to give you another update on COVID. The outlook … well, it’s not good. Certainly not in the near-term. Here is a good summary of the emerging science of Omicron from Dr. Eric Topol. We now have at least ten lab studies that look at immune response to Omicron, specifically neutralization studies which broadly measure the body’s first line of defense against infection. The more studies we see the more they reinforce each other. Very limited protection against infection with a two dose mRNA regimen, though presumably still substantial protection against severe illness and death. A booster appears to get up towards the level of protection against infection two doses provided against Delta, though not quite as high. Two doses and prior infection also seems to produce fairly effective protection. Three doses and two doses plus infection seem to be in the same ballpark of protection.

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Where Things Stand: There’s No Other Shoe Left To Drop Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

We keep running into a relatively new and unfamiliar dynamic where the tools of investigative journalism as they are usually deployed wind up obscuring the truth rather than illuminating it.

It’s playing out now in the coverage of the Jan. 6 attack, especially over the last few days. First with the controversial PowerPoint presentation that’s been circulating, and since last night with the Mark Meadows texts.

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The Texts Prime Badge

Cristina Cabrera has all the top quotes from the Fox hosts with their hair on fire begging Mark Meadows to get the President to condemn and end the insurrection as it happened on January 6th. But for my money the best isn’t even a Fox host, or at least not formally: It’s Donald Trump Jr. “He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.”

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Where Things Stand: DOJ Needs To Step Up
This is your TPM evening briefing.

As the first anniversary of the insurrection approaches, the Jan. 6 committee will probably vote later this evening to refer Mark Meadows for prosecution for contempt of Congress. It’s a proper and necessary step. But it is also singularly unsatisfying and insufficient.

A contempt conviction and a modest jail term for Meadows or Steven Bannon or any other Trumpster determined not to cooperate with Congress doesn’t produce either justice or a warm feeling of schadenfreude. Only a criminal investigation by the Justice Department can bring to bear the resources and stiff punishments that will do justice to the severity of what happened in 2020 and culminated on Jan. 6.

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Mystery Solved??? Prime Badge

Earlier we noted the mystery of congressional candidate George A. Santos’ driving habits. Despite having a short commute (in miles if not in time) of 15 miles from Queens into Manhattan he apparently manages to drive at least 1,000 miles a week. And it’s costing him a ton of money. But now TPM Reader AL may have solved the mystery: Santos might be commuting each day to work in Florida!

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Curious George Prime Badge
Economist George Santos has some problems with gas prices.

Spiking gas prices have been an issue for many Americans over the last six months. Both on their own and as a primary driver of inflation they’ve hit President Biden’s popularity hard. But one New York City candidate, George Santos, apparently got a little carried away with himself trying to illustrate the point.

Santos is running in New York’s 3rd congressional district, currently represented by Tom Suozzi (D). The 3rd is basically the North Shore of Long Island in Nassau County, suburbs of New York City. But it also includes a slice of northeastern Queens (i.e., New York City proper) and a bit of Suffolk County, which is eastern Long Island.

Which brings us to Santos’ lament.

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It Goes Way Beyond Abortion Prime Badge

A DC lawyer reader is dismayed by the coverage of today’s Supreme Court decision on the Texas abortion ban:

The press coverage of this decision is all wrong. 

Sure, the 5-justice majority permitted a narrow route into federal court.  But it will be easy for Texas and other states to close that route and block all access to federal court – because the majority makes clear that is permissible.

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Why the Threats? Prime Badge

As is often the case with Trump crimes and Trump adjacent crimes, it’s easy to get distracted by the cloud of nonsense and not focus on the specifics. A few days ago I wrote up Bart Gellman’s new piece on the insurrection in The Atlantic. The best part of Gellman’s piece is how he captures the time urgency going into January 6th. That was the point of no return that even the coup plotters recognized. They needed to stop that clock. In this boffo story and video of Kanye’s “director of operations” threatening this election worker and trying to force her to admit to a plot the deadline for her to come clean is January 6th.

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Must Read

This is the best thing you’ll read on the Supreme Court’s oral arguments in the soon-to-be landmark Mississippi abortion case.

Trump Coup Plot Now Includes Kanye’s Weirdo Publicist Prime Badge

Here is yet another story from the range of conspiracies and criminal plots that were afoot last winter to overthrow the government of the United States and keep Donald Trump in power after losing the 2020 presidential election. Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman was one of those innocent bystanders who became the target of death threats and harassment tied to a conspiracy theory that she had helped steal the presidential election in Georgia for Joe Biden.

On January 4th 2021 – two days before the Capitol insurrection – a woman named Trevian Kutti knocked on Freeman’s door and told her she was in danger. If Freeman didn’t confess to the truth of Trump’s election rigging charges within 48 hours unidentified persons would come to her home and Freeman along with members of her family would be sent to jail.

Kutti is a publicist and head of Trevian Worldwide, a PR firm. As of 2018 she is also the “Director of Operations” for Kanye West, a friend and political ally of Trump. (Just before signing on with West Kutti had been PR Director for R Kelly. But she quit that job as sex trafficking and assault accusations piled up.) She was there as West’s employee but only identified herself as the emissary of a “high profile” individual with an urgent message and an offer of help.

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Where Things Stand: Trump Did Chris Christie So Damn Dirty Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

I could read and write all day every day about those days in late September 2020 when Trump became the superspreader-in-chief. It almost feels like an obligation to do so, that we may inoculate ourselves against the potential claims of future historians that we were a blind, gullible, clueless people. Yes, we were, but not nearly as much as this episode suggests. We knew. We got it. The White House COVID outbreak with Trump at its center was very, very bad, and we understood that much in real time, not only in retrospect.

But now we have a new or more precisely an updated account of the shitshow, from someone who was neck deep in the shit at the time. Poor Chris Christie. He was done wrong so many times by Trump. He was the toadiest toady. There was the hostage video. There was this unforgettable headline: “Trump Uses Chris Christie As ‘Manservant’ To Fetch His McDonald’s.” There was Christie being unceremoniously dumped as the head of the transition. But in none of those episodes did Trump try to kill Christie.

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Big Loss for Trump

Federal appeals court finds Trump’s claims of executive privilege to block a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee to be utterly without merit.

Listen To This: Filibuster Progress?!

A new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast is live! This week, Josh and Kate discuss Congress finally being on the verge of getting a filibuster carveout… but not for what you think.

You can listen to the new episode of The Josh Marshall Podcast here.

Can You Be Sure to Read This Post?

We need your help with something. This week we’re conducting an important reader survey. If you can take a few minutes to fill it out it will help us a lot in being able to do our job of bringing you the news in the most effective way possible. Just click here to take the survey.

I’ve mentioned in different contexts over recent months that we are reviewing and rethinking and trying to improve how we do our core work. This doesn’t mean departing from the core things about TPM and its mission. But a vital news organization must always be open to change and indeed changing just how it accomplishes its core goals, how it lives its values because the world around us is always changing – the news world, the world of politics, the economics of news, the world of journalism. So this survey is about asking some core questions so we know what brings you to TPM, what you value most, what you’d like to see more or less of. It’s pretty quick. I just took it myself. We’d be in your debt if you’d take just a few moments and fill it out by clicking right here.

Midweek Miscellany Prime Badge

OAKLAND is trying to bolster and expand its police force. The city just approved two more police academies as it struggles to attract officers amidst a spike in homicides. Another article looks at community support for Mayor Libby Schaaf’s plan to add 60 new officer’s to the city’s police force. (The SF Chronicle has a paywall.)

A NEW study out of Israel published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows a 90% reduction of mortality among those who received booster at least 5 months after initial vaccination compared to those who had only two shots. Israel uses the Pfizer vaccine almost exclusively.

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Behind The US-Russian Conflict Over Ukraine

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself in their shoes,” Barack Obama told The New York Times in 2015 in explaining his overture to Iran. The Biden administration needs to do this in its negotiations over Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Where Things Stand: Progressives Issue Emotional Plea For Dems To Do Something About Boebert Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced a resolution today, asking the House to kick Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) off her committee assignments for repeatedly and brazenly attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) with racist and hateful anti-Muslim remarks.

It’s the culmination of weeks of frustration for Omar and fellow progressives, as congressional leadership does next to nothing to discipline the far-right Boebert for making racist jokes about Omar, who is a Muslim, and insinuating that the Minnesota Democrat’s religion somehow makes her a terrorist.

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Is Omicron More Mild? (Probably Not) Prime Badge
SPRINGFIELD, TN - APRIL 18:  Medical personnel work at a drive thru coronavirus (covid-19) testing site at Robertson County Fairgrounds on April 18, 2020 in Springfield, Tennessee. Tennessee drive thru testing sites now allow those without symptoms of coronavirus (covid-19) to receive testing. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

You’ve probably heard reports that Omicron COVID in South Africa has generally been causing milder forms of the disease. The caution on these reports is that they are early, anecdotal, haven’t given enough time to generate severe outcomes and have been disproportionately among the young. Each of these points remains true. But over the last couple days the data has become sufficiently detailed that it does seem like people presenting with Omicron COVID are relatively less sick than those who presented with Delta at the same point in earlier waves. So, definitely still too early to say for sure but probably too far along to dismiss it as merely anecdotal or just an artifact of distorted early data.

So doesn’t that suggest that Omicron is a milder version of COVID? Here’s why it doesn’t.

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More Data on Omicron and Vaccines; Get the Booster Prime Badge

Earlier I flagged two studies on Omicron vaccine evasion which were released last night. Now we have an additional study conducted under the auspices of PFIZER/BIONTECH which appear to show complementary results. I say ‘complementary’ because they test a different question but the results appear broadly consistent with those other two studies. I’m told that this study was done in the BioNtech labs and looked at a pseudo-virus version of Omicron against samples from people who received two doses and three doses.

The gist is that protection against Omicron goes down a lot if you’ve just had two doses. But with three doses it’s much higher. The key line is this: “According to the companies’ preliminary data, a third dose provides a similar level of neutralizing antibodies to Omicron as is observed after two doses against wild-type and other variants that emerged before Omicron.”

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It’s Time For The 2021 TPM Reader Survey

Hey TPM Readers! It’s time for our annual survey.

The objective of this survey is for us to get to know you — our readers — better. Whether you’re a member, a long-time TPM reader or this is your first time on the site we’d like to hear from you and learn more about your preferences. The survey takes about 5 to 10 minutes and is a huge help. Your answers will help us make key decisions, shape the future of TPM, and in the process serve you better. 

You can find it here.

Thank you! We really appreciate your time and your feedback.

First Lab Studies of Omicron Prime Badge

You’ve probably been hearing that we’re waiting on the first lab studies of the Omicron variant’s transmissibility and immune evasion. Yesterday evening two of the first of those studies came out. Given the urgency of the situation the lead researchers released details immediately on Twitter while also publishing pre-print versions of the data. You can read one of the threads here and the second here.

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Where Things Stand: Crenshaw Wants You To Know He’s Not Buying The Gaetz/MTG Act Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

But he’s also not willing to plant a flag in any particular place.

The once-novel divide between various flanks of the Republican Party during the earliest days of the Trump era was a ripe area of fascination for many in the media, as various scandals forced longtime conservatives to speak out — and coin him or herself a Never-Trumper — or as old guard lawmakers flocked to the faux-populist corners of the party’s once-fringe Trumpian movement. Now that divide has reemerged, as establishment Republicans grapple with the future of their party and pundits hand-wring about how far-right the GOP’s ideology and messaging must go in order to win elections in 2022.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) has tried to have it both ways for some time. And he’s still squirming to this day.

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