The TAKE with Rick Klein
The pandemic may be over and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s career in government is coming to a close.
But COVID-19 politics never really left — and could grow more relevant in the coming political season, even if things like mask mandates and vaccine requirements are in the past for many.
The virus has been an awkward part of year-ending debates over government funding, immigration policy and even the annual defense authorization bill. It’s scrambling economic national-security calculations, particularly as China ends its “zero COVID” policy.
Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, tweeted himself into culture wars and more by declaring this week that “my pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.” Then there’s Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is signaling a desire to transform vaccine skepticism into potential prosecutions.
DeSantis on Tuesday announced plans to seek a special grand jury “to investigate any and all wrongdoing in Florida with respect to COVID-19 vaccines.”
He is drafting behind a common conservative refrain about the need for more independent vetting of vaccine research, and it’s not clear what the results of a grand jury probe would be. But he is widely believed to be considering a 2024 run for the White House against former President Donald Trump — who fumed about but never actually fired Fauci during the administration’s much-maligned handling of the pandemic, a topic sure to come up in the primary season.
Before leaving his roles in government at the end of the year, Fauci is warning against the dangers of misinformation and disinformation eroding trust in science. In an interview with ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Jen Ashton, Fauci called it “preposterous” that he has faced “vicious attacks” for encouraging people to follow sound science.
Those attacks are unlikely to dissipate. Whether or not COVID-19 is top of mind for most Americans, it won’t be far from the political conversations to come.
The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper
Though a massive celebration of the Respect for Marriage Act took place at the White House on Tuesday, not everyone is happy about it. A couple of Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation are being criticized by the GOP leaders in their home states.
Several county party officials in Iowa and Indiana have taken action to censure or condemn Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., for their votes in support of the legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriage.
The Des Moines County GOP Chair John Jennison told ABC News’ Hannah Demissie that the county committee voted to condemn Ernst for not following the party’s platform and that he personally asked her not to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act.
Ernst told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott on Tuesday that she stands by her vote and pointed to exemptions in the legislation for religious groups. Under the new law, those groups are not required to provide goods or services to marriages they object to and tax-exempt status cannot be rescinded for refusing to perform or respect a marriage.
“The majority of Iowans, including Iowa Republicans, support same-sex marriage,” Ernst said.
The moves to penalize GOP lawmakers who voted yes to the Respect for Marriage Act illustrate the gulf between parts of the Republican Party and public opinion. According to a Gallup poll in May, 71% of Americans said they support legal same-sex marriage, a figure that is more than 40 points higher than in 1996, when the question was first asked.
The TIP with Alisa Wiersema
There will be one more voting process on the 2022 calendar before the end of the year, as announced by Virginia Democrats, but it won’t be an election. Against the backdrop of some national Democrats pushing for the abandonment of caucuses in the 2024 campaign cycle, the state party is set to hold a firehouse primary on Dec. 20 to choose a nominee for the special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Donald McEachin, who represented Virginia’s 4th Congressional District.
The party-run process will entail Democrats holding an unassembled caucus to decide on a nominee across several locations in the district.
According to state voting laws, both parties must nominate a candidate by 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 23 and the timeline is already setting off a sprint for candidates to throw their hats in the ring while also organizing their potential campaigns. To top off the pressure, the holiday-week date is likely to result in low voter turnout.
“A Firehouse Primary allows as many candidates and voters to participate in the democratic process as possible. The Fourth Congressional District Democratic Committee is committed to holding a smooth, transparent, and expedient process to select a nominee,” Alexsis Rodgers, the chairwoman of the 4th Congressional District Democratic Committee, said in a statement.
As of Tuesday, at least five Democrats had expressed their intention to run in the blue-leaning district, which covers the state capitol of Richmond and which McEachin won with about 65% of the vote prior to his death. The special election will be held on Feb. 21.
ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast. “Start Here” begins Wednesday morning with the latest on FTX — the federal charges in the Southern District of New York against Sam Bankman-Fried and what the new CEO of the bankrupt firm told Congress on Tuesday. ABC’s Aaron Katersky leads us off. Then ABC’s Mireya Villarreal discusses a new reality on drug cartel farms: narco slaves. And ABC’s Katie Kindelan guides us through the reflections of Sandy Hook survivors on the 10th anniversary of the shooting. http://apple.co/2HPocUL
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY
- At 3:40 p.m. ET, President Joe Biden hosts African leaders for a summit to “underscore the value the United States places on our collaboration with Africa on the most pressing global challenges and opportunities,” the White House said. Biden will also speak at a U.S.-Africa business forum, at 1:30 p.m. ET, and at 7 p.m. ET holds a dinner for African leaders with first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day’s top stories in politics. Please check back Thursday for the latest.