Jul 31, 2021

Axios AM

Enjoy the last day of July! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,081 words ... 4 minutes. Edited by Jennifer Koons.

1 big thing: Biden's quick-trigger COVID problem

Seems like last year, but this was Thursday in Orlando. Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

The Biden administration's handling of the Delta surge has left Americans confused and frustrated, fueling media overreaction and political manipulation.

  • Why it matters: The past year and a half have left Americans cynical about the government's COVID response, and — in many cases — misinformed or uninformed. We're getting fog and reversals when steady, clear-eyed, factual information is needed more than ever.

The past five days were a mess. On Tuesday, the CDC updated its guidance to say vaccinated people in hot spots should wear masks in indoor, public settings — without an easy, definitive way to know if you're in a hot spot.

  • This was a reversal from the CDC's announcement on May 13 — 75 days earlier — that fully vaccinated people could shed masks in most indoor settings, which President Biden called "a great day for America in our long battle with the coronavirus."
  • On Thursday, the WashPost obtained a CDC deck that included the eye-opening line: "Delta variant is as transmissible as: - Chicken Pox."
  • Yesterday, a CDC report showed the reversal was driven partly by a cluster of COVID cases in Provincetown, Mass., on Cape Cod, in which three-quarters of the infected people were fully vaccinated. Only a few people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.
  • The resulting lead headline of today's print N.Y. Times: "IMMUNIZED PEOPLE CAN SPREAD VIRUS, THE C.D.C. REPORTS." The online version adds the vital qualifier: "Though Rarely."

The alarmist coverage irritated the White House. A senior Biden administration official told CNN's Oliver Darcy: "The media's coverage doesn't match the moment ... It has been hyperbolic and frankly irresponsible in a way that hardens vaccine hesitancy."

  • Ben Wakana of the White House COVID Response Team tweeted: "VACCINATED PEOPLE DO NOT TRANSMIT THE VIRUS AT THE SAME RATE AS UNVACCINATED PEOPLE AND IF YOU FAIL TO INCLUDE THAT CONTEXT YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG."

Between the lines: Administration officials are awkwardly dancing around the fact that they've run out of politically palatable ways to try to convince people to get their shot, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • Delta is getting out of control, and becoming angry or coercive with the unvaccinated could go badly.

The bottom line: If you're vaccinated, sure, be more careful — but don't stress out. If you're unvaccinated and you can get a shot, go get it.

2. Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletes

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Asano Ikko/AFP), Ezra Shaw, and Alex Pantling via Getty Images

Axios' Ina Fried reports from Tokyo: After 125 years of having no openly transgender competitors at the Olympics, several transgender and nonbinary athletes are competing at this year's Games.

  • While still small in number, trans athletes have been a major point of controversy, coming up repeatedly at IOC press conferences and in newspaper headlines around the world.

At least four trans and nonbinary athletes are competing in Tokyo: Canadian soccer player Quinn ... U.S. skateboarder Alana Smith ... BMX Freestyle rider Chelsea Wolfe, an alternate for Team USA ... and Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weightlifter set to compete on Monday.

  • Most of the objections to trans participation in sports centers on transgender women and the belief by some that trans women retain an unfair advantage even after taking hormones to lower their testosterone.
  • The science on that is inconclusive, not to mention the fact that non-transgender women have a wide range of naturally occurring testosterone levels.

Between the lines: While some are calling for the IOC to tighten the rules, others say that such an effort would be less about ensuring trans women don’t have an advantage and more about excluding them entirely.

3. Eviction cliff splits Dems
Photo: Rep. Cori Bush/Twitter

Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) — all of the progressive "Squad" — slept outside the U.S. Capitol to protest tonight's expiration of a nationwide moratorium on evictions, which could leave millions in danger of being forced from their homes.

  • Bush posted photos at 1 a.m. and sunrise (above).

Between the lines: The expiration left President Biden, House leaders and House progressives at odds over the failure to extend the ban, with the White House and Congress each expecting the other to act.

  • Speaker Pelosi said at a media stakeout: "[W]hy are we getting this right now, when we do think that there could be executive action to do this?"
4. Pic du jour
Photo: Kent Nishimura/L.A. Times via Getty Images

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) taps the shoulder of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as he talks with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) before a Problem Solvers Caucus presser yesterday on the infrastructure deal.

5. ⚖️ Russians hacked federal prosecutors

The Russian hackers behind the massive SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign broke into the email accounts of some of the most prominent federal prosecutors' offices around the country last year, AP reports.

  • The department said 80% of Microsoft email accounts used by employees in the four U.S. attorney offices in New York were breached.
  • 27 U.S. attorney offices had at least one employee's email account compromised during the hacking campaign, from May to December 2020.

Context: The SolarWinds campaign infiltrated dozens of private-sector companies and think tanks, as well as at least nine U.S. government agencies. The hack was discovered and publicized in mid-December.

6. First look: Biden bigs celebrate in fuel-cell big rig

Screenshot from July 30 White House video.

White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm celebrated progress on President Biden's infrastructure package by taking a spin in a Kenworth fuel-cell, zero-emissions Class A truck.

  • In a White House video you're seeing here first, they josh about who's going to take the middle seat in the cab, and blow the horn.
  • They then celebrate the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework Deal.

Then on the CB radio, they call in Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to talk semiconductors: "Gina 2 to Gina 1!"

  • Raimondo describes Biden's plan to create jobs by stimulating semiconductor production and increasing broadband coverage, then says: "Over!"

Watch the video.

7. 💰 IRS may target cryptocurrency

To help pay for infrastructure, senators are considering giving the IRS more power to scrutinize the largely unregulated cryptocurrency industry, the N.Y. Times' Alan Rappeport reports (subscription).

  • The provision "would require cryptocurrency brokers and investors to provide more disclosure about their transactions ... The aim is to bring more transparency to an opaque sector, which critics argue is a haven for money laundering and tax evasion."
8. 1 for the road: Freeze-frame Olympics
Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Renaud Lavillenie of Team France competes today in the Men's Pole Vault Qualification at Olympic Stadium.

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Charlotte Worthington of Team Great Britain jumps today during the Women's BMX (bicycle motocross) Freestyle seeding event at Tokyo's Ariake Urban Sports Park.

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