Biden’s challenge in defining new COVID normal: The Note

Biden is being forced to confront his own previous statements of optimism.

December 21, 2021, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The threat posed by COVID-19 is not the same as it once was. Neither, though, is the promise of emerging on the other side of the pandemic.

President Joe Biden is set to address the nation Tuesday about a new variant that represents a wearying challenge to Americans. He is being forced to confront his own previous statements of optimism, in addition to realities of logistics and politics that make it seem like this is going to last a whole while longer.

Biden plans to announce no new shutdowns, according to the White House. But fresh restrictions are going to be a fact of life for many Americans this winter, with schools making contingency plans, and companies and municipalities making their own decisions.

Central to Tuesday’s announcement is that some 500 million tests will be available to Americans who ask for them. That, though, won’t kick into gear until after the New Year -- well into the omicron surge and after holiday celebrations and travel.

The president also plans to "issue a stark warning" about what lies ahead for people who choose to shun vaccines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. But scolding has already been shown to have severe limits -- and the unvaccinated are particularly disinclined to trust the word of Biden or his team.

Public approval of Biden's handling of COVID-19 is down nearly 20 points since March, to 53% in an ABC/Ipsos poll from last weekend.

It's hard to imagine the numbers have ticked up since then, given omicron's rapid spread, and other recent polls show the public's trust in Biden providing accurate pandemic information slipping over time.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

In response to the intense backlash from Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin has doubled down on his refusal to support the president's Build Back Better social spending plan.

"I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from, [where] they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they'll be submissive," Manchin said.

It's not just his opposition to the spending plan that puts Manchin at odds with Democrats. According to ABC's Rachel Scott and Benjamin Siegel, Manchin privately questioned whether parents would use child tax credit payments to buy drugs and if paid family leave would be misused to go hunting during deer season. Census Bureau data shows that the bulk of spending after the first child tax credit went toward food, clothing and school-related expenditures.

Manchin's reported comments resurrect the myth of the "welfare queen" originally employed by Ronald Reagan and his allies to campaign against entitlements. It implies that the poorest among us are inherently irresponsible and incapable of utilizing government services for their intended purpose. Manchin's office didn't deny the comments.

Manchin's utilization of the stereotype, even privately, provides another glaring example of how out of step he is with the current Democratic Party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the GOP might be a better fit during a Fox radio interview.

'We certainly welcome him to join us if he were so inclined," McConnell said.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

The Republican fields in Pennsylvania's headlining statewide elections appear to be taking shape ahead of the new year, with two longtime rumored names expected to announce Senate and gubernatorial runs in the state that clinched Biden's 2020 victory.

According to AdImpact, on Monday, business executive David McCormick launched his first broadcast advertising buy in the Pennsylvania Senate race, despite having yet to formally announce his candidacy. McCormick is currently the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, an investment management firm located in Connecticut, and is married to Dina Powell McCormick, who served as deputy national security adviser to former President Donald Trump.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano -- who attended the Jan. 6 rally and backs Trump's false claims of election fraud -- recently teased an upcoming announcement regarding a likely gubernatorial run. In a video posted to Facebook, Mastriano also took aim at members of his own party, predicting "political hit pieces from the Republicans that are going to come out" when he launches his campaign.

Trump has yet to endorse a candidate for governor and has not signaled a replacement endorsement in the Senate race after his first pick, Sean Parnell, dropped out of the running last month. Neither of the two statewide races currently have a clear Republican frontrunner, so the former president's choice -- or potential lack thereof -- is likely to weigh heavily on the primary season.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here on Tuesday morning begins with the White House response to COVID-19. ABC's Sarah Kolinovsky reports on Biden's plan for the winter surge. Then, ABC's Aaron Katersky details the latest developments in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. And, ABC's Luis Martinez explains the new Pentagon guidelines to limit extremism in the military. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

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