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The Morning Dispatch: Of Vaccines and Variants
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The Morning Dispatch: Of Vaccines and Variants

Plus: The fruits of this weekend's G7 summit in England.

Happy Monday! This space originally contained some gloating about how the Chicago Cubs swept the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend, but that mysteriously went missing from TMD overnight. We plan to launch a full-scale editorial investigation.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Israeli Parliament voted narrowly yesterday to formally approve the anti-Benjamin Netanyahu coalition government negotiated by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lipid. The vote elevated Bennett to prime minister, a position Netanyahu had held for the past 12 years.

  • The New York Times reported last week that, in an effort to investigate the leaking of classified information, the Trump Justice Department subpoenaed Apple in 2017 and 2018 for “data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members.” Former Attorney General Bill Barr told Politico he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case” while he led the Justice Department, and The Daily Beast reported former Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been telling associates the same. Top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, plan to call Barr and Sessions to testify on the matter, and the Justice Department’s inspector general announced plans to investigate the matter internally.

  • Yesterday, the New York Times added that the Trump Justice Department also subpoenaed Apple in February 2018 to access information about Don McGahn and his wife. McGahn was serving as President Trump’s White House counsel at the time. 

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday that the Department of Justice will double its voting rights enforcement staff as part of a broader effort to “ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy.”

  • The Biden administration announced Friday that it plans to return $2 billion in funding to the Pentagon which the Trump administration had diverted to pay for the border wall. “Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or responsible use of Federal funds,” the administration said. The money will instead be used for the Pentagon projects it was originally allocated for, including an elementary school for service members in Germany, a construction project at a Florida Air Force base, and a missile defense project in Alaska.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration told Johnson & Johnson it would approve the distribution of 10 million vaccine doses made in a troubled Baltimore plant, but ordered another 60 million doses to be thrown out due to potential contamination concerns.

  • The United States confirmed 4,197 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 0.7 percent of the 641,763 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 104 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 599,768. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 14,683 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 1,209,817 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 173,840,483 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Vaccines and Variants

With vaccines and balmy weather continuing to beat back the coronavirus across the United States, the Biden administration is setting its sights on the ongoing epidemics still raging in other countries around the world.

Last month, the White House said it was on pace to share 80 million doses—60 million of which were from AstraZeneca, which is not being administered in the U.S.—with other countries by the end of June. On Friday, however, the administration raised the stakes considerably, announcing it had inked a deal with vaccine manufacturer Pfizer to buy another half-billion doses at a “not-for-profit” price, to be donated for distribution by the World Health Organization to poorer countries whose vaccination efforts are lagging behind.

The announcement came as part of a broader commitment by the world’s wealthier democratic nations to accelerate global vaccination. Last week, Biden traveled to England to meet with other leaders of the Group of Seven—which along with the U.S. is composed of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK. In all, the countries pledged over the weekend to supply one billion doses to poorer countries over the next year.

“Our immediate focus is beating COVID-19 and we set a collective goal of ending the pandemic in 2022,” the leaders said in a joint statement following the summit. “The COVID-19 pandemic is not under control anywhere until it is under control everywhere.”

There are significant geopolitical concerns at play here. “Vaccine diplomacy” has during the pandemic become a significant part of how bigger countries build relationships with smaller ones. In this respect, G7 countries have so far lagged behind China, which has already exported hundreds of millions of doses of its own (somewhat less effective) vaccines.

But there’s an element of epidemiological self-interest in play too. Even countries with high vaccination rates, epidemiologists say, will again face growing risk if the virus continues to rage unchecked in various countries around the world. The more global transmission, the higher the chances of the development of new variants that can slip by the immunization bestowed by vaccines.

Even today in America, the variants currently in circulation remain a fly in the ointment of what has otherwise been a devastatingly effective (if not yet universal) national vaccine drive. None of today’s variants have proven themselves the truly catastrophic game-changers some feared last winter that they might be—the sort against which Pfizer and Moderna would offer no immunity, launching our year-long vaccination project back to the drawing board again.

Instead, these variants have nibbled around the edges of the jabs’ protection. The Pfizer vaccine, which bestows a remarkable 95 percent immunity against earlier strains on fully vaccinated people, performs marginally less well—88 percent—against the so-called Delta variant, which was first catalogued in India in February and now accounts for about 10 percent of new U.S. cases. (Protection after just one dose of Pfizer, on the other hand, is significantly worse against the Delta variant—only about 33 percent effective rather than 80 percent.)

Despite Delta and other variants continuing to spread, it’s unlikely we’ll see anything like a return to the dark days of last year, when the virus raged through a wholly unvaccinated population despite huge-scale containment efforts. But experts warn it’s possible we will still see a significant spike in cases as the weather cools again, particularly if overall vaccination rates remain in the “good-not-great” range.

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that the Delta variant is currently “doubling every two weeks” as a share of U.S. COVID cases, meaning it is spreading more efficiently than other strains.

“That doesn’t mean that we’re going to see a sharp uptick in infections, but it does mean that this is going to take over. And I think the risk is really to the fall that this could spike a new epidemic heading into the fall,” he said. “I think in parts of the country where you have less vaccination, particularly in parts of the south, where you have some cities where vaccination rates are low, there’s a risk that you could see outbreaks with this new variant.”

As of this morning, 62 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and 51.3 percent are fully vaccinated.

The G7 Convenes in Cornwall

“America is back at the table,” President Biden proclaimed in an address capping off the weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England. “The lack of participation in the past and full engagement was noticed significantly, not only by the leaders of those countries, but by the people in the G7 countries. And America is back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values.” 

The not-so-subtle dig at the previous administration signaled Biden’s intent to make good on his campaign promise to restore American multilateralism after a four-year retreat—and the meeting of economic powerhouses offered the first real opportunity to put that effort on display. But unity in rhetoric and unity in practice may have been at odds in Cornwall, as reports emerged of world leaders butting heads over a number of key issues.

The annual summit—which was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic—brings together the leaders of France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to deliberate on issues of global importance. Representatives of the European Union, India, South Korea, and Australia were also in attendance. 

Several points of contention arose over the weekend, as the world’s leading democracies came to grips with a new American administration, the waning stages of COVID in the developed world, and heightened tension between the U.S. and its autocratic adversaries in Russia and China—the latter of which came into focus more than once. According to the joint communiqué, the G7 agreed to condemn the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, ramp up collective pressure against unfair trading practices, and combat forced labor in various economic sectors. 

The group—led by Biden—also put forth the “build back better world partnership,” or “B3W,” to provide the developing world with a “democratic alternative” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In theory, the plan would allocate G7 funding to provide infrastructure assistance to poor countries worldwide. In practice, securing those funds could be easier said than done. “I don’t see the Europeans putting up the money for this,” Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Dispatch

The driving force behind the global project—confronting Chinese economic power—is also said to have ruffled feathers at the summit, particularly among leaders from mainland Europe. 

A recent Gallup poll found 45 percent of Americans consider China to be the United States’ foremost enemy, more than twice as many as said so last year. Amid significant domestic pressure, Biden led the effort to call out China on issues ranging from its human rights abuses to low export prices. While many of the president’s agenda items appeared in the text of the communiqué, at least one portion of the summit was stalled as infighting between heads of state over how to address Beijing dominated the conversation.

“Our allies, some of them, feel the need to deal with these authoritarians in many respects in much more intimate ways, or necessary ways, than we do,” Miller said. “We toggle back and forth between somehow believing we can convert it to a liberal China, or at least a more acceptable partner observing our rules of the road on one hand … and on the other, we toggle toward this notion that China is ten feet tall and it’s a rising power that we need to somehow oppose.”

Russia, which was a member of the G7 until its invasion of Crimea in 2014,  was also discussed ahead of Biden’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin this week. Among other demands—that Russia respect Ukrainian sovereignty, explain opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, and uphold freedom of the press—the communiqué called on Moscow to “identify, disrupt, and hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency to launder ransoms, and other cybercrimes.”

In his closing press conference, Biden signaled an openness to exchange cyber criminals with Russia, addressing two recent ransomware attacks on U.S. infrastructure originating from Russian soil. Putin first proposed the idea during a media appearance over the weekend, during which he also said that Moscow’s relationship with Washington had devolved to an all-time low. 

“I think he’s right that it’s a low point, and it depends on how he responds to acting consistent with international norms, which, in many cases, he has not,” Biden concurred Sunday, later adding that “there’s no guarantee” the U.S. can change the behavior of an autocratic government.

Therein lies the weakness of the G7’s other lofty goals. The meeting sought to lay the groundwork for a number of ambitious transnational projects—including limiting climate change, planning for future pandemics, and establishing a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15 percent. Each of them require Chinese and Russian cooperation.

“[Biden] talks about putting America back at the head of the table. I’m assuming that means the table of democratic polities and to mobilize them in the service of American interests. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I just think you have to have a cruel and unforgiving assessment of how likely that’s going to be to accomplish what it is you want to accomplish,” Miller said. “If you divide the world into democracies and authoritarian powers, how do you tackle transnational issues—like climate, pandemic, non-proliferation, bio-diversity—that require everybody to cooperate?”

Biden is scheduled to meet Putin on Wednesday—a meeting Tom Joscelyn previewed in his latest Vital Interests (🔒).

Worth Your Time

  • Writing in National Review on the anniversary of former President Ronald Reagan’s powerful 1987 “Tear Down This Wall” speech, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster contends that Reagan’s message of Western resolve is applicable to today’s conflict with China. “While analogies between the 21st-century competition with the CCP and the 20th-century competition with the Soviet Union are imperfect, America’s experience during the Cold War demonstrated that prevailing in competitions abroad requires confidence in democratic principles and institutions at home,” he writes. “The speech retains its importance because it demonstrates the need for an unambiguous understanding of the nature of today’s competition with the CCP, reveals how that understanding can help restore confidence in and gratitude for democratic governance, and encourages a renewed international commitment to the unalienable rights to which all peoples are entitled.”

  • “The geostrategic realities are such that even though our military forces are leaving, we cannot turn our backs on Afghanistan,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates writes in the New York Times. “The outcome in Afghanistan still matters in terms of American interests. We turned our backs on Afghanistan after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989; we must not do so again after the last of our troops depart. We must assure the Afghans of our continuing support—and sustain that support—through every means available short of ground troops. The consequences of another Taliban takeover in Kabul would not be limited to the people of Afghanistan.”

  • The growth of the executive branch in modern American history has come with its fair share of distortions and challenges. Writing for Reason, Ronald Bailey looks at the now-defunct Keystone XL Pipeline as a case in point. “American politicians have become adept at bending ostensibly fair and transparent bureaucratic procedures to justify decisions that they have already made,” he writes. “The result is that citizens and companies increasingly cannot count on the stability and certainty of the law when making decisions about their lives and businesses.”

Presented Without Comment: Striker the Samoyed Was Robbed Edition

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Mitch Daniels—the former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University—joined Sarah and Steve on the Friday Dispatch Podcast to discuss innovation in higher education, America’s “spirit of adventure,” and Purdue’s new civics literacy test.

  • Infrastructure and police reform negotiations have been the focus of much Capitol Hill attention the past few weeks, but there are many other issues before Congress as well. In Friday’s Uphill (🔒), Haley explains the division among members on how to address name, image, and likeness rules for college athletes at the federal level.

  • In an aptly titled piece for the site, Ryan explains how the headline-writing process works. Why do so few journalists actually write their own headlines? How have the incentives surrounding headline-writing changed over time? As Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Peggy Noonan told The Dispatch, “I am deeply resentful that others write my headlines, and deeply relieved I don’t have to.”

  • In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention published a resolution that contained the following words: “Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.” In Sunday’s French Press, David urges an SBC roiled with divisions over how to handle racism and sexual abuse to heed its own advice. “We live every day with the dreadful consequences of character failures in national politics, including hatred, division, and incompetence,” he writes. “Yet if those words are true for politicians, how much more are they for leaders of the church?” The SBC annual meeting is set to take place in Nashville this week.

  • On the site today: Chris Stirewalt on the issue polling surrounding Democrats’ For the People Act, and Emanuele Ottolenghi on what the Iranian Navy is doing in the southern Atlantic.

Let Us Know

This is going to get contentious, but try your best to keep it cordial. In light of the Westminster Dog Show this weekend, what is the definitive best dog breed?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), Tripp Grebe (@tripper_grebe), Emma Rogers (@emw_96), Price St. Clair (@PriceStClair1), Jonathan Chew (@JonathanChew19), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).