Where there was once a fight about whether Americans should still wear masks, new guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – wrapped in a push to get more Americans vaccinated – could create a fight over taking them off.
The guidance, nuanced and focused on the fully vaccinated, created a new incentive for people skeptical of the shot to join the majority of Americans who have bought in.
It both allows President Joe Biden, who oddly wore a mask outdoors to deliver the news, to check an item off his 100-day to-do list and pushes forward to the next difficult chapter of his Covid response, which is getting enough Americans vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
Biden’s first 100 days. If Biden had a super power, it would be invisibility. Former President Donald Trump was omnipresent. There has probably been at least one day since January 20 when you didn’t think about the President or the government at all.
Biden hasn’t exactly changed America. He’s just changed the role of the presidency back to something more in line with what it was before Trump tried to blow it up.
He won’t brag about it in quite that way when he gives his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday and lays out his accomplishments after nearly 100 days in office, but that goal of moderation and normalcy is behind almost everything he’s done.
Alpha vs. beta. Trump was the alpha, crashing around with bold promises he couldn’t deliver and demanding credit for everything.
Biden’s happy to be beta, letting the government work around him and taking credit for what comes.
He’s had help, of course. Most notably, Twitter did the public service of turning off the amplification system that made Trump’s every bullying comment and misleading claim ricochet around social media and the mainstream news.
It’s been very quiet out there. Without easy access to the former President’s interior monologue, there have been moments during the short Biden administration where you might have forgotten Trump existed, too.
Where Trump picked fights with government agencies, openly questioning their judgment or second-guessing their guidance, Biden’s happy to appear to follow their lead.
His big announcement of an easing of mask recommendations Tuesday came after the CDC, which hasn’t exactly moved quickly on Covid guidance, came around to it.
A lack of theater. Trump often spiked the football when he had no cause. He triumphantly ripped his mask off in a made-for-TV moment after returning to the White House from his own scary Covid infection.
Even when Biden has something to celebrate, he can confuse it, like wearing his mask outdoors to tell reporters about new CDC guidance that vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks outdoors anymore.
Trying to appear bipartisan. Both Trump and Biden had to rely on their own parties to pass legislation, but Trump interacted with Congress by threatening shutdowns and vetoes, making impossible demands and generally bullying both Republicans and Democrats. Biden has tried to appear like he’s looking for Republicans to sign on to his Covid relief bill. Rather than get frustrated with Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who have stood in the way of goals like a $15 minimum wage, Biden has played the long game, knowing he’ll need Manchin’s support in the future on gun control, policing and infrastructure.
Where Trump made off-the-cuff and improbable but inspiring promises about Covid – like promising to be back to normal by Easter 2020 – Biden has set easily achievable markers, like getting 200 million shots in American arms or getting more kids back in American schools. We can argue about whether his goals are ambitious enough. We cannot argue that they haven’t been achieved.
There are even topics on which Biden has drafted off Trump, like pulling out of Afghanistan, that rare subject that unites the two men. Biden delayed the pullout date from May 1 to September 11 of this year, but stuck with Trump’s pledge to leave. The hard part had already been done.
The hard part is just beginning for Biden. An invisibility cloak won’t help him break through a united Republican blockade in the Senate.
Having exploited Senate rules to pass his massive Covid relief bill without Republicans, he’ll have to do it again to pass his massive infrastructure bill, unless he can break Republicans away from the herd and get them to work with him.
Having delivered a temporary and transformational priority of progressives – a new cash assistance for low and middle income parents – he’ll need to figure out how to make it permanent.
Having promised to reshape the country away from fossil fuels and toward a greener future, he’ll have to figure out how to get even the skeptical moderate Democrats to support a new way of thinking. And he’ll need Manchin, who comes from a coal state, to buy in.
And he’ll have to contend, more and more, with misinformation directed straight at him, such as the latest false conspiracy theory that his climate policy is to take away red meat.