Letters From an American

Heather Cox Richardson: 100 Million Shots

Plus, looking for the story behind January 6.

Heather Cox Richardson: Million Shots

Victoria Legerwood-Rivera, an Attendance Counselor at Stoddert Elementary School in Washington, D.C., receives a COVID-19 vaccine during an event with President Joe Biden, celebrating the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

March 12, 2021

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a global pandemic. A year later, almost 30 million of us have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and we have lost more than 530,000 of us to Covid-19. Our economy has buckled.

The horror of the past year, exacerbated by the former president’s reluctance to use the government to combat the pandemic, has revealed what seem to be two different camps in America today.

On the one hand is a Democratic administration determined to use the government to fight the coronavirus and rebuild the country. Forty years after President Ronald Reagan announced that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem,” President Biden and his team are using the vaccine program to demonstrate what the federal government can do.

When he took office, Biden promised to deliver 100 million shots within his first 100 days. Today, the U.S. passed the landmark of administering more than 100 million vaccines. This includes 16.5 million administered under the previous administration, but since today also set a record of 2.9 million vaccines given, Biden should significantly surpass his initial goal.

In his first prime-time address last night, the president directed states, territories, and tribal governments to make all adults eligible to get the vaccine by May 1. To meet this milestone, the federal government will launch a new website to enable people to find vaccines, allow new vaccinators—dentists, paramedics, and midwives—and establish new vaccine locations.

Biden promised not to relent until we beat the virus, and asked Americans to do their part by getting the vaccine and helping friends and family get one, too. “[I]f we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together — by July the Fourth, there’s a good chance you, your family and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day…. After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special.”

“The government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital,” Biden said. “It’s us. All of us. We the people.

Biden’s address was in part a victory lap after he signed the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping measure that launches the country in the direction it has avoided since 1981, using the national government not to cut taxes, which favors those with wealth, but rather to support working families and children.

The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion bill providing direct payments of up to $1400 to Americans hobbled by the pandemic, expanding unemployment benefits by $300 a week, lowering the cost of healthcare, expanding the child tax credit, putting about $20 billion into vaccine distribution, and offering $350 billion to state, local, and tribal governments. It was supported by 76% of the American people, an extraordinary level of popularity. Tonight, according to Twitter, $1400 checks were already appearing in people’s bank accounts, illustrating that government really can help people quickly and efficiently.

And yet, despite the popularity of the American Rescue Plan, it passed without a single Republican vote.

And therein lies the other camp: those Republicans determined to retake control to stop the sort of government Biden is embracing. (Indeed, the American Rescue Plan had to be adjusted at the last minute because Republican-led legislatures were talking about using the stimulus money to finance tax cuts.)

Knowing how popular the American Rescue Plan is, Republicans have gone after it only half-heartedly, instead trying to divert attention with cultural issues, saying, for example, that the people in power were “canceling” Dr. Seuss books because of their racism (the truth is that the books’ publisher has decided to stop printing six of the author’s more obscure books). They also expressed horror over the “canceling” of Mr. Potato Head after Hasbro’s marketing decision to add a gender-neutral Potato Head toy to its Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head toys (I cannot believe I am writing this…) although companies’ addition of gender-specific toys has always been about capturing new markets.

Today, Republicans pushed back on Biden’s vaccine success by taking offense at what they suggested was his attempt to dictate how we spend the Fourth of July. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted an image of a steak on a grill with a star over it and the caption “COME AND TAKE IT.”

Voting Rights

While Republican leaders try to rile up voters against the new administration, Republican state legislators in 43 states are trying to limit the vote. Arizona state representative John Kavanaugh, who chairs the state’s Government and Elections Committee, made headlines yesterday when he explained that Republicans were happy to create measures that kept people from voting because “everybody shouldn’t be voting…. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

The conviction that the government must remain in the hands of Republicans drove the January 6 insurrection, and more information is emerging about just how deep support for that insurrection ran. Law enforcement has swept up for their role in the riot two Oath Keepers who were working as Trump loyalist Roger Stone’s bodyguards.

Today, the day after Attorney General Merrick Garland took the helm at the Justice Department, federal prosecutors asked for delays in cases relating to the Capitol riot, calling their work “likely the most complex investigation ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” They have executed more than 900 search warrants, viewed more than 15,000 hours of camera footage, examined 1600 electronic devices, and interviewed 80,000 witnesses. About 300 suspects have already been charged, with more charges likely.

And yet, although Trump’s former acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, said yesterday that it is “pretty definitive” that Trump’s speech on January 6 inspired the attack, Republican leaders continue to court the former president. This may be in part because there are signs that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) might be stepping down (there is a move afoot in the Kentucky legislature to change the law to remove the ability of the Democratic governor to choose a senator’s replacement), which leaves power sloshing around at the top of the Republican Party. Winning Trump’s endorsement would splash some of that power into specific buckets.

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who declared his net worth at the end of 2017 to be more than $200 million, tweeted today that he had a “great” meeting with Trump last night. “We are all focused on winning back the Senate majority in 2022 and saving our country from the radical policies of today’s Democrat [sic] Party,” he wrote.

Scott has asked the country’s governors and mayors “to reject and return any federal funding” of the $350 billion set aside for them, outside of that directly attached to Covid-19 expenses. His hope is to “send a clear message to Washington: politicians in Congress should quit recklessly spending other people’s money.”

We’ll see. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for a “big, bold and transformational” infrastructure bill. She emphasized that infrastructure improvements have always been bipartisan, and that they would create jobs in every zip code.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.