Not long after the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court came the news that numerous officials in Washington had tested positive for Covid-19. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Merrick Garland both tested positive for the virus in quick succession. This came after Washington’s glitzy elite agreed for the Gridiron Dinner, which made your dispatcher happy he is not cool enough to attend. All in all, 72 people who attended the dinner have now tested positive.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last week that she had tested positive not too long after she visited the White House for an event with former president Barack Obama. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also tested positive.
But one thing the outbreak has not done is spurred Congress into passing a $10bn package to fight the virus. The White House has warned it could be impossible to purchase therapeutics or pay for vaccines and boosters without it, and pharmaceutical companies are already passing costs onto patients. But last week, Senate Republicans objected to the Biden administration rolling back a Trump-era immigration order called Title 42 that blocked asylum seekers from the US-Mexico border, and that in turn led them to demand an amendment upholding it be added to the Covid -19 packages. This is the reason why Congress has suddenly stalled on a bill that seems like it should be straightforwardly simple.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, told your dispatcher that it was “very concerning to everybody how you explain at home we need $10bn more dollars for this and you voted for it but it’s no longer a problem at the border, according to the administration”. He said it was “almost certain” that a deal would not be done before recess, and indeed it did not get done.
And asked ahead of Jackson’s confirmation vote if he was optimistic that the deal could be done that week, Senator Mitt Romney simply replied: “Not at all.” Shortly after the vote to confirm Jackson, the Senate did indeed scram, and will not return to the Capitol until April 25.
The fact that Covid is moving through the District indiscriminately seems to have failed to move Washington. A massive superspreader event among Washington’s elites did not trigger a moment where they set aside partisan differences to focus on passing relief; if anything, it made Republicans dig their heels in on immigration. Meanwhile, many Democrats, including ones in difficult races, say that the Covid relief effort and the administration’s actions on immigration are unrelated.
“I think that we need to pass Covid relief and one really doesn’t have anything to do with the other,” Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, who is facing a tough Senate race in Georgia, told your reporter. “We already had a deal on Covid relief. So stop playing games with the American people’s health. Let’s pass Covid relief.”
Shortly after the chat, Warnock announced he had tested positive for Covid-19.