New twists shape politics of COVID and schools: The Note

No politician in either party wants to be seen as standing against parents.

January 26, 2022, 6:02 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

As a soundbite made famous in last year's Virginia governor's race made clear, no politician in either party wants to be seen as standing against parents.

But while some Republicans see an easy opening in the COVID era, neither party has a definite hold on issues relevant to parents. That's in part because they are not the kind of issues that have easy answers, or that allow for an easy taking of sides.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level are using "National School Choice Week" to press for bills that would allow parents to disregard COVID mandates when it comes to their own children.

PHOTO: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly in the House chambers at the Capitol, Jan. 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly in the House chambers at the Capitol, Jan. 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va.
Steve Helber/AP

The issue is playing out in legal fights in a number of states, including Virginia, where Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has signed an executive order allowing students to attend school without masks. Seven school districts are suing for the right to keep mask mandates at their schools in place.

"To parents, I say: We respect you," Youngkin wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Tuesday.

A different twist is developing in San Francisco, where three progressive school board members are facing a recall vote next month. Frustrations over the handling of school reopenings and COVID accommodations have left many Democrats -- including Mayor London Breed -- supporting the recall push.

"Competence matters," the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote this week in endorsing the recalls. "That's as true for those pursuing a progressive agenda as it is for anyone else."

Another sign of the changing politics of COVID comes in how President Joe Biden has handled questions on the topic of late. The president has said numerous times in recent weeks that whatever the threats of a new variant, schools should remain open.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., isn't up for reelection until 2024, but political groups and donors are already laying the groundwork in hopes of removing her.

On the heels of Sinema's censure by Arizona's Democratic Party for her refusal to support a Senate rule change that could have made way for the passage of voting reform legislation, an advocacy group for Latino voters -- Voto Latino -- has launched a campaign called "Adios Sinema."

PHOTO: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema walks to her office in the basement of the Capitol Building, Jan. 19, 2022.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema walks to her office in the basement of the Capitol Building, Jan. 19, 2022.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The group is planning a six-figure investment during her primary, citing Sinema's stance on not only voting rights but also minimum wage, pandemic relief for the undocumented and "other reforms" impacting the Latino community.

"Sinema's actions directly undermine and suppress the right and wellbeing of Latinos that elected her into office," reads a statement on the group's website.

In an interview with CNN, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., confirmed reports that he met with some of Sinema's donors in New York. Gallego is a Harvard grad, a veteran and the son of Hispanic immigrants who has flirted with the idea of running against Sinema in a primary. Gallego said he wouldn't make a decision on a primary bid until next year but that he's gotten assurances from donors they will support him if he gets in the race.

"I'll have meetings with anybody that's interested in talking to me about that race," Gallego said. "And it hasn't just been donors. It's been everyday Arizonans. It's been labor unions and, you know, a lot of groups that have helped turn Arizona into a blue state so those conversations will be ongoing."

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

The aftershocks of states' redistricting efforts are manifesting across the country with just months to go until the midterm primaries are in full swing. In some cases, the new maps are forcing incumbents to reassess their reelection plans -- like in the case of Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, who announced on Tuesday he would not be seeking reelection in his new Tennessee district.

"Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville. No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville," Cooper said in a statement, adding, "there's no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates."

PHOTO: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks a news conference announcing new funding for gun violence prevention programs, in Philadelphia, Jan. 20, 2022.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks a news conference announcing new funding for gun violence prevention programs, in Philadelphia, Jan. 20, 2022.
Matt Rourke/AP

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, redistricting is also taking a toll on election administration after last month's warnings from the former acting secretary of state appeared to do little to speed up the implementation of new maps. An impasse between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over what the final version of the new map should look like is making it more likely the state's Commonwealth Court may ultimately have to draw it.

In December, the secretary of state's office said redistricting needed to be completed by Jan. 24 so candidates could have enough time to officially begin filing paperwork to run in their districts. With that deadline in the rearview mirror, it is now unclear whether lawmakers would be willing to adjust the state's election calendar. The last time they pushed back election dates was in 2020 to accommodate for fallout from the emerging pandemic.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Wednesday's Start Here begins with Col. Stephen Ganyard's analysis of military strategy in Ukraine. Then, ABC's Sasha Pezenik reports on the debate surrounding the availability of monoclonal antibodies. And, Temple University Vice Provost of Admissions Shawn Abbott explains how the planned changes to SAT tests will affect future college admissions. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

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