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Kamala Harris, in Interview, Says Administration Did Not Anticipate Omicron Variant

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WASHINGTON — 

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration failed to anticipate the variants that have prolonged and worsened the COVID-19 pandemic and that she underestimated the role misinformation would play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans.

“We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” she said. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”

Harris made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Times in her ceremonial office, touching on immigration, women’s health, the criticism she has received for her management style and her role as a history-making leader. But the vice president returned repeatedly to the chief challenge of the Biden administration: battling a pandemic that — thanks to a new fast-spreading variant, Omicron — has led many Americans to put travel plans on hold, cancel holiday parties and stock up again on masks.

“I get it. I get it. I totally get it,” she said. “I mean, you know, one of the concerns that I have is the undiagnosed and untreated trauma at various degrees that everyone has experienced.”

President Biden celebrated “independence” from the virus in an upbeat July 4 speech, saying, “While the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it’s within our power to make sure it never does again.”

At the time, some public health experts warned that his optimism was premature, given that the Delta variant was already a significant threat.

Harris denied that the administration declared victory prematurely, or ever.

“We have not been victorious over it,” she said. “I don’t think that in any regard anyone can claim victory when, you know, there are 800,000 people who are dead because of this virus.”

Many Americans, particularly conservatives, resisted Biden’s call to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a measure public health officials say is critical to avoid hospitalization and death from the disease. Harris cited as a singular regret her failure to appreciate the power of misinformation in dissuading people to trust the vaccine.

“I would take that more seriously,” she said of the misinformation. “The biggest threat still to the American people is the threat to the unvaccinated. And most people who believe in the efficacy of the vaccine and the seriousness of the virus have been vaccinated. That troubles me deeply.”

But it could hardly have been a surprise to Harris. She spent much of her time in the administration’s early months trying to overcome hesitancy among some Black people, who have endured a history of mistreatment by the medical community. Former President Trump repeatedly promoted misinformation while in office, especially as the pandemic raged. He remains active in promoting the false claim that the election was stolen, a conspiracy theory shared by many of those who refuse to get vaccinated.

More than 70% of Americans have received at least one vaccine shot. But polling and state-level data suggest that Democrats are far more likely to have done so than Republicans. An investigation by NPR found that the higher a county’s vote total for Trump, the lower its COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Some conservatives have accused Harris of contributing to the politicization of the pandemic response, something she denied in the interview.

Vice President Kamala Harris tours a Chicago COVID-19 vaccination site in April.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Harris hedged when asked in September 2020 whether she would take a vaccine if it was approved before the election, saying it would be “an issue for all of us” because “I would not trust Donald Trump.” She added, however, that she would trust “a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability.

“He wants us to inject bleach,” she added, referring to Trump’s widely mocked suggestion in April 2020 that injecting people with disinfectant might kill the virus.

Harris cited the pandemic in response to questions about her role in the administration and the challenges it faces. Some Americans and political experts expected Harris to have an unusual level of clout and visibility. Biden, 79, is not only the oldest president in history but has served as vice president and has spoken of the role’s importance.

The Times is tracking the latest national opinion polls on the favorability of Vice President Kamala Harris.

While Harris has received some high-profile assignments, including overseeing the administration’s efforts to tackle the root causes of migration from Central America, she has not had the influence of some of her predecessors. As vice president, Biden was a principal deal-maker with Congress, led negotiations on a new government in Iraq and oversaw the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus spending plan.

Harris said it was not a fair comparison because of what the Biden administration has faced in seeking to curb the all-consuming pandemic.

Harris would not say whether she thought her race and gender had contributed to the criticism she has faced as vice president.

“I’ll leave that to other people to evaluate,” she said.

The issue is complicated for Harris. She said she believes her representation as a Black woman has mattered on many issues the White House has tackled but was reluctant to single out some, like maternal health and reducing mothers’ mortality rates during childbirth, for fear of labeling them as special-interest causes.

“It should not have to be a priority based on race or gender when Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth, native women are twice as likely to die in childbirth, rural women are 60% more likely to die in childbirth,” she said. “All of society is harmed in that way. And so I’m reluctant to attribute it to my race or gender, lest anyone decide that if you are not this race or gender, it should not be a priority.”

Harris’ highest-profile assignments involve pushing back against Republican efforts at the state level to limit voting rights and trying to reduce migration by addressing poverty, corruption and crime in immigrants’ home countries.

Neither has been easy. Two bills on voting rights lack the votes in the Senate to overcome a Republican filibuster. The number of migrants stopped near the border reached record levels this year.

Harris would not directly answer whether she should take responsibility for the record migration numbers or commit to a timeline for reducing them. Instead, she pointed to her work to draw more private investment to Central America, which this week reached $1.2 billion in commitments from dozens of private companies.

The immigration assignment has made Harris a magnet for criticism. The right has tried to saddle her with problems at the border. The left, meanwhile, was irate when she went to Guatemala over the summer and told migrants, “Do not come.”

The administration suffered a blow in its efforts to tackle immigration challenges on Thursday, when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a series of law changes — including new work visas for some immigrants here illegally — could not be included in the administration’s sweeping environmental and social services bill. Biden and Harris have been crisscrossing the country seeking to sell the proposal, which is being pushed by Democrats in a way that does not require them to overcome a filibuster.

Harris expressed frustration at the ruling but did not offer an alternative plan.

“We have to keep appealing to the American people that they should expect Congress and their elected representatives to act on the issue,” she said in the 20-minute interview. “We can’t give up on it, that’s for sure.”

It is clear that some of the excitement Harris’ supporters felt with her election has given way to exasperation as she continues to face low approval and sustained criticism from Republicans and some Democrats. A recent wave of stories focused on high-level staff departures and her history of staff turnover that dates to her time as California’s attorney general.

Harris said she is toughest on herself, and many staffers and former employees would “talk about how they’ve been mentored and nurtured and supported” by her.

When asked to recall moments when she was struck by the history she was making, Harris said it happens all the time, particularly when she is at an event and parents show her photos of their children watching her being sworn in as vice president.

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Source: latimes.com

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News Analysis: Biden, in Blasting Trump, Concedes the Nation Has yet to Heal

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WASHINGTON — 

For the better part of the last year, President Biden has sought to ignore his predecessor as he has tried to deliver on a campaign promise to return the country to some semblance of political normalcy.

But in a passionate speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the bloody insurrection, Biden essentially conceded he could not reconstruct a world before Donald Trump’s tenure, nor could he deliver on his promise of protecting democracy without calling out the former president’srole in lying about the 2020 election results and inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.

“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol,” Biden said from Statutory Hall, a historic chamber in a Capitol building that Biden, a former senator, reveres.

Biden avoided using Trump’s name, following a practice he has tried to abide since taking office on Jan. 20. But it hardly mattered. Like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument, the president methodically detailed Trump’s conduct as the slow-motion riot accelerated. He described how Trump lit the fuse and watched it on television from the White House, “doing nothing, for hours” to stop it.

In concluding his case, Biden hit hard at Trump’s motive:

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept he lost.”

Visual coverage from remembrance events throughout the day marking the anniversary

This was not a commemoration filled with calls for unity or a return to normalcy as much as it was a plea for Americans to accept the truth of what happened a year ago. There was no attempt to say the nation had healed and has come together with common purpose or belief.

On the contrary, Biden spent much of the address debunking Trump’s claims of a rigged election, point-by-point, asking why many of the Republicans who have supported the former president’s fraud claims have not disputed their own victories, on the same ballots.

Few thought such a speech would be necessary a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, inflicted injuries on more than 100 police officers, contributed to the deaths of five people and forced the evacuation of lawmakers from the complex. Biden certainly hadn’t anticipated needing to make such an address. He pitched his candidacy on the idea that he was a seasoned hand who had worked across the aisle, one of the grown-ups in the room. The nation, he believed, could snap back from a twice-impeached president who smashed norms and challenged bedrock institutions.

“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said in his first 2019 campaign visit to New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

On the night he was declared winner of the election, Biden still believed healing would come.

“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” he said.

But many elected Republicans and conservative media figures — even those who once agreed Biden had won the election or who texted Trump begging him to stop the insurrection — have since paid Trump homage at his Florida home. They have amplified his false rhetoric. The lies have taken hold on the rank-and-file in the party: 3 in 4Republican voters in a recent National Public Radio poll agree with Trump that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”

The closest Biden came to reaching across the aisle on Thursday was an offer to work with Republicans who accepted the election and a concession that “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against” the lies. But even then he went only so far, quickly pivoting back to his harsher argument: “Too many others are transforming that party into something else.”

Biden seemed to understand that his words were unlikely to win him Republican converts and the risk of further politicizing the event. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, acknowledged in a statement Thursday that Jan. 6 that he “cannot believe that a mob was able to take over the United States Capitol during such a pivotal moment — certifying a presidential election.” He then blasted Biden’s speech on Twitter, saying it was a “brazen politicization of January 6.”

The president’s willingness to attack Trump, if not in name, will come as a relief to some Democrats who believe Biden’s determination to seek bipartisanship and convey normalcy has slowed his agenda. In particular, they believe his strategy has prevented him from articulating the full case for a voting rights bill in the face of Republican-led efforts at the state level to change the rules.

They point to senators like Graham, who once prided themselves as bipartisan dealmakers, as evidence of a changed party.

Biden has resisted giving up on his view that the parties can work together and will likely point as evidence to his $1-trillion infrastructure bill that he signed in November. But Republican leaders were absent from Thursday’s commemoration and are likely to drive an even harder partisan wedge as this year’s midterm elections approach.

Those who see this moment as an emergency for American democracy may have finally gotten the speech they wanted. As he was leaving the Capitol Thursday morning, Biden was asked whether calling out Trump would lead to more division than healing.

“The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound,” Biden told reporters. “You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff.”
Staff Writer Eli Stokols contributed to this story.

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‘I Really Thought That I Was Going to Die That Day’

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WASHINGTON — 

For decades, many members of Congress believed the U.S. Capitol — with metal detectors, barriers and its own police force — to be one of the safest places in the country.

That comfort was shattered on the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in hopes of overturning Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

In interviews, six members of Congress from California recount their stories from that deadly day: the surreal experience of realizing that their lives were at risk, that their workplace was being overrun and that the nation’s two-century record of a peaceful transition of power had crumbled.

‘All I could think of is: Get Out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run. And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.’

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told a Times reporter on Jan. 6 that “people are running for their safety.”
(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) was in the gallery of the House chamber when the rioters breached the Capitol.

He and his colleagues were running across the gallery in hopes of escaping when he saw Capitol Police barricading the door the president uses to enter the chamber for the State of the Union. The rioters were too close for the lawmakers to get out safely.

“All I could think of is: Get out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run,” Gomez recalled. “And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.”

Once police cleared the hallways and escorted the lawmakers to safety, several members of Congress got together and committed to remaining in the building and finishing the certification of the electoral college vote.

“That’s when [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’re going to go back and finish the job,” Gomez said. “They brought buses to get the members out, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego] and other Democrats were like, ‘Do not get on the buses.’ They said that’s how a coup happens: when the electeds are evacuated out of the Capitol or out of the palace. … So everybody that I was talking to was committed to staying.

“It was a terrible, terrible day. I don’t know if I said this to [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different reporter, but I did say like, ‘This is how a coup happens and this is how democracy dies and Donald Trump should probably be brought up on treason.’ And I still believe that to this day. I’m glad we impeached him. But now we know that there’s more people involved.

“I remember actually flying back from D.C. and, you know, I was on the plane with a bunch of MAGA people that were with their gear, like they’re coming back from a Republican convention or something.”

Gomez’s experience getting caught in the gallery left him shaken, but he says his resolve to stand up for democracy has only grown since that day.

I’m a son of immigrants that believes in this whole idea of America, the idea of self-governance, the idea that you come here, you work hard, you believe in our values, you’re going to succeed, because I’m an example of that promise … in one generation. That doesn’t happen in a lot of countries. It doesn’t happen in Mexico, where my family’s from. So my resolve has been just more firm than ever.

“But it’s been tough, to be honest. I got triggered … a few months ago, and I didn’t really see it coming on, but I got hot and my vision got tunneled. So I had to kind of walk away. … But my resolve, it’s stronger than ever.”

~~~

‘I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.’

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona)

Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat from Pomona, was inside the House chamber when the attack began.

“It was a very violent day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so unsafe, and I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.”

A year ago, as Trump supporters rioted in the halls, Torres told Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire, who was reporting inside the Capitol on Jan. 6: “It’s horrible that this is America. This is the United States of America and this is what we have to go through, because Trump has called homegrown terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate people’s votes.”

Torres said she has changed since that day, noting that she no longer feels safe inside the Capitol complex and sees her GOP colleagues in a different light.

“There used to be a time in the past, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, where I could look and see somebody wearing their congressional pin and think, ‘That’s my ally.’ Even if they were Republicans, it was like, ‘OK, that’s my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what happens.’ I don’t feel that way anymore about my colleagues. Not at all.”

~~~

‘Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy.’

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Richvale shown speaking on the House floor in 2020.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican from Richvale who was on the House floor when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, called the riot a “deplorable situation.”

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose, let alone trying to stop a process that we were going through, and we were going through it in good faith, no matter what side you were taking on the issue of the day.”

He said he wasn’t concerned about the long-term prospects of democracy, because the republic is built on people, not buildings.

“Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy. We’re not a democracy, by the way — we are a republic. Democracy is on election day.

“So our republic is not torn down by what building the meetings are held in, but by the heart and souls of the people that are elected to carry out the business of the government wherever that’s done.”

~~~

‘I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there. Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.’

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, said that as he was trapped in the House gallery on Jan. 6, he was thinking, “How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country?”
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, was in the House gallery when he saw something he’d never seen before: a nonmember of Congress at the rostrum.

“It was someone from the security force. He said: ‘Please stay in your seats. There’s been a breach in the Capitol.’”

“I didn’t know what to think at that point. I assumed that a few rogues had run by the metal detector. But I didn’t know how serious it was. Gradually I was kind of hurt that this was happening, thinking, ‘How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country? We should be ready for this.’

“At one point, members were about to be evacuated when they were told to ‘get to the floor.’

“So everyone kind of got down low. And that was a little bit of a sobering moment. Then at one point, we heard an explosion. It sounded like a gunshot or a tear gas deployment. We didn’t know. I think it might’ve been the shot that killed my constituent. Ashli Babbitt was from San Diego.”

Peters, who was first elected in 2012, added that he doesn’t feel as safe as he did in his first term as a member of Congress.

“I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.”

~~~

‘No matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day.’

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, speaks in the House of Representatives in 2019. He called the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 “troubling.”
(Associated Press)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, was in his office in a nearby building, not in the Capitol itself, but was still disturbed by what he saw and called it “very regretful.”

“I mean, it was troubling. But I wasn’t here in the building. And I have a lot of friends that were. Certainly, no matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day. It’s a bad situation.”

He said he has hope that any changes to the institution of Congress and to relationships won’t be long-lasting.

“We have to get back to some kind of normalcy again. … I’m an optimist, I’m hoping we get back to some comity around here.

“These people are my friends. I may be in a different party and I don’t agree with them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t like each other. … We’re a divided nation, there’s no doubt about it, but people expect us to get together, get things done.”

~~~

‘Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?’

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) sheltered in a nearby office building during the Capitol riot.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had to make his way from one House office building to the next during the riot.

“It looked like kind of a refugee zone with all these staffers sitting on the other side of the hallway, stepping over people.

“I got a couple of texts asking if I was OK,” Takano said. “But up until now, I don’t really have a reality of what is happening because I’m not looking at the news, but I’m getting a couple of texts from people saying, ‘Are you OK?’ And I thought this was kind of strange.

“I felt a little insecure, but I was in an office complex that was sort of nondescript. We were sheltering for an extended period of time. But I don’t have any kind of lingering trauma, personal trauma. I do have concerns going forward about the political culture of the country and the political norms of the country.”

Takano said he believes “the biggest challenge to America is ourselves.”

“That’s our biggest challenge. Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?

“I don’t see this being solved in one year or one election. It’s going to take a lot of courage. Persistence.”

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Source: latimes.com

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Chief Justice Roberts Calls for Better Enforcement of Conflict Laws Involving Judges’ Stock Ownership

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WASHINGTON — 

Federal courts need to do much better at enforcing conflict-of-interest laws that are supposed to prevent judges from deciding cases in which they hold stock, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his year-end report on the judiciary.

He was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal in September that from 2010 through 2018, federal judges participated in 685 cases involving companies in which they or their spouses held stock. When contacted, many of them said they were unaware of the stock holdings because a money manager handled their investments.

The chief justice said federal law requires judges to recuse themselves from a case in which they have a direct financial interest, no matter how small.

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule,” he wrote.

“We are duty-bound to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function,” he continued. “Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to both the letter and spirit of our rules, as most are.”

He said “professed ignorance of the ethics rule” or the failure of computer software designed to prevent such conflicts were no excuse. Most judges rely on a computer program to alert them when a case coming before them includes a company in which they hold stock. Sometimes a relevant company slips by the software if it is a subsidiary of a larger corporation.

Roberts said that may explain some lapses, but not for judges who had multiple violations. For them, “there is a more serious problem of inadequate ethics training…. our ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. That means more class time, webinars, and consultations. But it also requires greater attention to promoting a culture of compliance, even when busy dockets keep judicial calendars full,” he said.

He noted, however, that ethics violations appear to be rare. Of the 2.5 million civil cases handled by federal district courts in the nine years that were examined, he said the 685 violations account for less than three-hundredths of 1%. “That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he said.

Moreover, he said the newspaper story did not report that “the judge’s actions in any of those cases — often just routine docket management — actually financially benefited the judge.”

The chief justice said the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is working on improving technology and training to deal with the problem.

Judges are not prohibited from owning direct shares of stock. If their shares are held indirectly in mutual funds, they are not required to step aside.

He did not suggest imposing penalties for repeat violators. For the most part, federal judges are responsible for deciding when they should remove themselves from a case.

As chief justice, Roberts serves as the leader of the federal judiciary.

Roberts received the highest job approval rating of 11 U.S. leaders in a Gallup poll taken in early December and released earlier this week, with 60% approving of how he is handling his role.

Only two other leaders received positive job approval ratings from a majority of Americans surveyed: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell (53%) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden (52%).

Roberts was the only leader who received majority approval from both Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%).

He fared much better in the poll than elected leaders. Biden was approved by 43%, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) by 40% and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by 34%.

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Source: latimes.com

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