What looked a few days ago to be a slow post-holiday morning on the Sunday shows will be newsy instead as America awaits updates on the new Omicron variant from South Africa. No cases of O have been detected in the U.S. as I write this on Saturday morning but that’s surely due to poor surveillance by the country’s health bureaucracy, not a true absence of the variant. South Africa and the United Kingdom have nimble genomic sequencing infrastructure. The U.S. … does not. Omicron is probably already here and spreading.
Whether that’s something we need to worry about is a separate matter. Booked this morning to address the subject are the top two at NIH, Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci. Collins will chat with “Fox News Sunday” while Fauci speaks to “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation,” although they may not have much to say since testing on Omicron will take upwards of two weeks. Quietly, though, the feds are getting ready for bad news behind the scenes — just in case:
While no cases have been found in the U.S., Biden health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House held a series of meetings over the past two days to plan for U.S. cases of the variant and possible spikes in disease spread across the country…
Fauci and other top Biden health officials have reviewed a limited set of data on Omicron in coordination with international officials in South Africa and Israel, focusing on the degree to which the variant can spread. Fauci, along with top officials from the CDC briefed President Joe Biden Friday morning, advocating that he shut down travel from seven countries in southern Africa, including South Africa.
“One thing is clear is that [Omicron] is very transmissible,” Fauci said. “The reason you close the borders is to buy you time so you can better prepare and learn more about the variant, its transmissibility, its potential evasion of immune responses, and its seriousness of disease it causes.”
Expect Collins and Fauci to push hard, as usual, for everyone to get boosted as quickly as possible. At the moment, less than 20 percent of the vaccinated population has bothered to get a third dose despite the warnings about waning immunity. If Omicron turns out to be as transmissible as Fauci fears, a huge number of Americans — many of them vaccinated with two doses — are going to get COVID this winter.
Elsewhere, three senators are scheduled to discuss the increasingly cloudy forecast for Biden’s Build Back Better bill: Bill Cassidy and Amy Klobuchar are set for “This Week” while John Barrasso guests on “Fox News Sunday.” The man with a de facto veto over Biden’s agenda, Joe Manchin, isn’t booked but Axios is hearing whispers that BBB won’t pass anytime soon:
Manchin may end up supporting a package in the $1.75 trillion range this year, Axios is told, but he’s more inclined to wait and watch how inflation plays out at home and across the country.
Given the number of differences he has with the House version of the bill, he sees 2022 as a much more likely timeframe, the people familiar with his thinking say.
His acid statement Monday on Biden’s decision to tap the strategic petroleum reserve — calling in a “an important policy Band-Aid” — was filled with long-simmering frustrations, and indicates he’s far from a final deal.
Jamie Weinstein made the point yesterday that the potential threat from Omicron might make Manchin even more skittish about Build Back Better. It’s conceivable, if unlikely, that the new variant will do enough damage to the economy that another round of COVID relief will be needed. Manchin might decide that BBB should be backburnered for now, at least until the risk from the new variant has abated.
Finally, two enemies of Donald Trump from different political camps are on tap. Top crony turned enemy Michael Cohen will be on “Meet the Press” while Adam Schiff will talk with “State of the Union” about the January 6 commission and the Steele dossier. The full line-up is at the AP.
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