With help from Renuka Rayasam
BREAKING TONIGHT — A federal vaccine advisory panel today recommended the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine for people 18 and over, more than a week after the Biden administration called its use to be paused over a potential link to rare and severe blood clots.
THE NON-YANG GANG — People outside of New York City could be forgiven for thinking Andrew Yang is the only person running for mayor. The former presidential candidate and tech entrepreneur is ahead in all the early polls and has sucked up a ton of the oxygen in the race thus far.
But there are seven other viable candidates competing for the Democratic nod in the June 22 primary and much of the campaign money has yet to be spent on TV and mailers.
So while Yang is the clear frontrunner at 22 percent per a recent NY1/Ipsos poll, roughly 26 percent of voters are still undecided. If the last competitive primary in 2013 is any indication, it’s still too early to tell who will come out on top.
Love or hate NYC, this is the most interesting election this year in America and the winner tends to have a national profile that all but a handful of politicians would envy (even if the office has been more curse than blessing for people with national aspirations; see Giuliani, Bloomberg, de Blasio).
Here’s who is best positioned to overtake Yang — and how they’re maneuvering politically in the crowded primary.
Leading the pack is Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who came in at 13 percent according to the latest polling. A Black former NYPD captain and New York state senator, Adams has raised close to $9 million — one of the biggest hauls in the race — and has yet to spend much of it. Adams is running a more conservative campaign focused on public safety.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer is closing in on Adams for second place at 11 percent. The career politician has a comparable war-chest to Adams and has won the backing of younger progressive leaders in New York.
The remaining five are battling it out in the single digits. Former City Hall attorney and MSNBC legal analyst Maya Wiley is looking to become the first Black woman mayor of New York. She’s gained some key labor support and political endorsements.
Former Citigroup exec Ray McGuire is campaigning on his rags-to-riches story, coming from poverty to become a powerful Black leader on Wall Street. McGuire has been pounding the airwaves but still polled fourth in the recent survey at six percent.
Shaun Donovan, the former HUD secretary and OMB director under President Barack Obama, is running on his extensive government experience. Donovan also came in at six percent in the NY1/Ipsos poll.
Not far behind them are Dianne Morales and Kathryn Garcia. Morales, a former nonprofit CEO, is running as an unapologetic leftist who would cut the NYPD budget in half. She would be the first Afro-Latina mayor of New York. And Garcia, another possibility to be the first woman mayor, has the most city management experience of anyone. She’s running on her track record as the sanitation commissioner, interim head of the city housing authority, Covid-19 food czar and former executive at the city’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Adding to the uncertainty of the race is the citywide debut of ranked-choice voting, where voters rank five primary candidates in order of preference. The primary is also being held in June rather than September after a change in state law in 2019, cutting off the crucial summer campaign season as the city is just now emerging from lockdown.
So while Yang’s the person to beat, the math doesn’t add up just yet to him landing in Gracie Mansion.
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. We’re eager to head into the weekend, though maybe not as eager as health care reporter Sarah Owermohle’s cat was to join her on TV. Reach out with news, tips and ideas for us at [email protected] and [email protected], or on Twitter at @Giambusso and @renurayasam.
SURPRISE! IT’S A LOBBYING CAMPAIGN! A lobbying onslaught from the health care industry nearly stopped Congress from passing a nationwide ban on “surprise” medical bills last year. Now, the same powerful groups are racing to sway federal agencies tasked with making the new law work — with billions of dollars and promised patient protections on the line, health care reporter Susannah Luthi writes.
Health groups and consumer advocates are mounting a lobbying campaign to shape forthcoming federal rules around the ban, which bars hospitals and doctors from sending unexpected, usually large bills to insured patients who unwittingly received out-of-network care. While the practice was widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans, health groups fought bitterly during the law’s drafting over who would pick up the costs they could no longer bill to patients.
The legislation, passed as part of the year-end spending deal and hailed as a critical consumer protection, charged the Biden administration with hammering out many of the complicated and politically fraught details of how to shield patients from the surprise bills. The outcome will provide an early sign of how aggressively the Biden administration will regulate an industry that’s readying battle against Democrats’ more ambitious health care reforms, including on drug pricing and lowering the Medicare age.
The groups that have begun lobbying the administration include large hospital systems and health insurers, major trade associations, air ambulance companies and private equity-backed physician staffing firms, including at least one that was connected to a successful dark-money effort that poured tens of millions of dollars into killing an earlier surprise billing fix opposed by health care providers.
Groups have already spent heavily on lobbying and are expected to soon intensify their efforts, putting patient advocates on high alert over whether the new protections could be watered down during the rulemaking process and leave consumers still vulnerable to unexpectedly large bills.
THE BIDEN APPROACH — In June, Biden will make his first overseas trip to Cornwall, England, and then onto Brussels, where he will meet with EU leaders and attend a NATO meeting.
But first Biden looks poised to upset a NATO ally, Turkey, by declaring the early 20th century massacre of Armenians a genocide, keeping a campaign promise he made a year ago. Nightly’s Renuka Rayasam chatted with foreign affairs correspondent Nahal Toosi about what we know so far about Biden’s approach to allies and adversaries. This conversation has been edited.
Is it a big deal if Biden calls the Armenian massacre a genocide on Saturday?
Yes. It’s a big deal. It will likely deepen the growing rift between the United States and Turkey, which denies a genocide occurred. Turkey is a NATO ally in a very sensitive part of the world, and damaging our relationship with them isn’t going to be ideal.
In the past, presidents have decided it’s not worth angering Turkey by using the term ‘genocide’ when it comes to what happened to the Armenians. Turkey could in theory kick the U.S. out of an airbase called Incirlik. It could use its military and other assets to cause problems in places like Syria. It could stop cooperation on other fronts, like fighting terrorism.
At the same time, under Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the relationship has been getting worse for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is his dictatorial tendencies, so what’s using the word ‘genocide’ now really going to do? I’m guessing Biden’s calculation is now different than his predecessors, though President Ronald Reagan did use the word in reference to Armenians at least once.
So why do it?
Well, he can say he kept a promise. He can escape charges of hypocrisy, especially given his insistence that he cares about human rights. He also can show he’s not going to be bullied around by Turkey and its president.
One caveat, though: I won’t believe that Biden does this until he really does it. Other presidents have promised to use the “g” word and haven’t. And even if he does use it, the context in which he uses it will matter. For instance, will it be coming from him? Or will he quote someone else as saying it? Watch for those nuances.
Has Biden lived up to his promises generally when it comes to dealing with foreign countries?
It’s a mixed bag. Certainly, Biden and his team have made efforts to reach out to and coordinate with traditional allies, like those in Europe or in Japan and South Korea. He’s heading to Europe. Well, Britain and Europe. Is Britain still part of Europe? LOL.
But he’s also said he’s willing to cooperate with adversaries on issues of common interest, like climate change.
What really strikes me as interesting is how — despite all of Biden’s claims that he cares about human rights and democracy — they haven’t stopped trying to stay friendly with a number of countries, like Egypt, that are run by dictators with horrific human rights records. In some cases, the administration seems to have calculated it’s not worth losing those partners.
— Caitlyn Jenner running for California governor: The former Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon turned TV star and activist is officially running for governor in California. Her entry puts a Hollywood-sized spotlight on the GOP-led effort to eject Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office — complicating his path, firing up social media and raising questions about just how much of a circus-like atmosphere will dominate the election to determine who will lead the world’s fifth-largest economy.
— U.S. military sends reinforcements ahead of Afghanistan drawdown: The U.S. military is boosting its presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East region for security purposes ahead of beginning a full withdrawal, the Pentagon announced today.
— Demings ‘seriously considering’ challenging DeSantis or Rubio: Florida Rep. Val Demings said she’s “seriously considering” a statewide bid against Sen. Marco Rubio or Gov. Ron DeSantis, boosting Democratic hopes in a battleground state that’s growing increasingly red. Demings, a former Orlando police chief, rose to national prominence as a House impeachment manager and as a possible running mate for Joe Biden last year.
Nightly asked you: A New York Times headline-turned-viral meme posits that “you can be a different person after the pandemic.” How has the pandemic changed you? Your select, lightly edited responses are below:
“I feel more authentic. A year with little outside influence on how I spend my time and present myself has led me down some weird paths with hair, hobbies, clothes and personality. I feel more comfortable in who I am, which has the added benefit of aiding in my journey to sobriety. Last drink was our last day in the office, and I’m hoping I won’t need that social crutch anymore when life picks back up, and I’ll feel more confident existing as I am.” — Megan Cowher, project operations analyst, New York City
“I know I will never take certain things for granted again. From the big things, such as seeing loved ones at gatherings, to the small things that include just sitting at a coffee shop and watching people go by. I know now that I will forever be thankful for those moments when I experience them going forward.” — Tristan Fitzpatrick, communications, Arlington, Va.
“I don’t know how many people will say this, but I have not changed at all. I am exactly the same person I was before all of this started, except for the fact that I have washed my hands more often during that period than probably during my entire life before them. (I’m 60.) Other than that, same old me.” — Karlis Streips, journalist, Chicago
“Much more conscious of social interactions, even remote ones (either over Zoom or socially distant), that I mostly took for granted before Covid. Will work hard to maintain them when the pandemic is over.” — David Liebschutz, professor and executive coach, Delmar, N.Y.
“I’ve decided I’ll wear a mask when I’m out in crowds during flu seasons in the future.” — Janis Taylor, retired, Iowa City, Iowa
A WEEK THAT COULD USE SOME LEVITY — Brooke Minters takes us through the latest in political satire and cartoons in the Weekend Wrap, focusing mostly on the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial and the global climate summit.
IT’S BEEN, ONE YEAR — One year ago today, President Donald Trump took to the White House briefing room and encouraged his top health officials to study the injection of bleach into the human body as a means of fighting Covid. It was a watershed moment, soon to become iconic in the annals of presidential briefings. It arguably changed the course of political history, Meridith McGraw and Sam Stein write.
Some ex-Trump aides say they don’t even think about that day as the wildest they experienced — with the conceit that there were simply too many others. But for those there, it was instantly shocking, even by Trump standards. It quickly came to symbolize the chaotic essence of his presidency and his handling of the pandemic. Twelve months later, with the pandemic still lingering and a U.S. death toll nearing 570,000, it still does.
“For me, it was the craziest and most surreal moment I had ever witnessed in a presidential press conference,” said ABC’s chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl, who was the first reporter at the briefing to question Trump’s musings about bleach.
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