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Politics Chat: Biden Does Not Meet July 4th Vaccination Goal


Good morning, and happy Fourth of July.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Put simply, our economy is on the move, and we have COVID-19 on the run.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Joe Biden on Friday talking about a stronger-than-anticipated monthly jobs report and giving credit to his team and to a relief bill passed with only Democratic support. The good numbers for Biden come amid a disappointment, though, a failure to reach a self-declared vaccination goal for the country and a rise in coronavirus infections in some parts of the United States with low vaccination rates. Joining me now to discuss, NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Hello. Happy Fourth.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Thank you. Happy Fourth to you as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start there. Months ago, the president set today, July Fourth, as a point where Americans could celebrate independence from the virus. But we did not reach the goal of having 70% percent of adults receive at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. We're very close, though, with 67%. But how is the administration talking about this?

KHALID: Well, I should point out that, you know, the White House is eager to point out that this is kind of a return to normalcy. And I think just a clear example of that is, later today, I'm going to be at the White House where some 1,000 people are invited to celebrate the Fourth of July. It's the biggest in-person event that the president's held since he's taken office. And over the weekend, he, the first lady, the vice president, they've all been out at these sort of campaign-style stops celebrating, you know, in their words, the progress that the country has made in combating the virus.

But as you mentioned, Lulu, the administration is falling short of its own target of having at least 70% of people with one vaccine dose by July Fourth. And the president told reporters Friday that he is concerned about unvaccinated people getting together in parts of the country where the vaccination rate remains low. You know, he said he's not concerned that this weekend is going to lead to another major outbreak, but he is concerned that lives will be lost, which I thought was, frankly, very stark language.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's go back to the job numbers, though, because part of the fallout of this pandemic is, of course, economic. They're good. Eight hundred fifty thousand jobs created in June, but employment is still not where it was pre-pandemic, we should note.

KHALID: Yeah, and the best way to interpret those job numbers is that they are promising. You know, they are objectively good numbers if you were in a healthy economy. But overall, the economy is still down some 6.8 million jobs from pre-pandemic levels. And there are some concerns that the labor participation rate is not rising as fast as it ought to be, which might be driven by the fact that some people are just leaving the workforce altogether, you know, maybe retiring early. So I will say, you know, the economy is recovering. The Congressional Budget Office just doubled its projected growth for 2021, but it is perhaps not rising as rapidly as some folks might hope it would.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, Asma, as we look at the performance of the Biden administration, I mean, it is, of course, then time for our weekly infrastructure question. The House passed a bill that was largely along party lines; only two Republicans voted for it. Meanwhile, details are still being hammered out in the Senate between members of both parties. What's the latest on that?

KHALID: Well, as you mentioned, the House passed its own infrastructure package this week. This was a $715 billion deal. It incorporates a greater focus on climate change. And I would say I interpret this as being a way for the House to insert themselves into the infrastructure conversation and give them a bargaining chip in these negotiations. Ultimately, the Senate and the House will have to find some agreement on infrastructure. But to me, the bigger issue is that there are some progressives in the party who say that the only way they will agree to any infrastructure deal is if there is also a separate, bigger deal on issues that Democrats support, the so-called reconciliation bill.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does this kind of slog mean for the administration's other policy initiatives?

KHALID: Oh, gosh. You know, Lulu, that to me is the question I've been asking folks constantly the last couple of weeks. There are a whole number of big policy agenda items that the Biden administration has said that they want to tackle. That includes things like police reform, voting rights. And when I speak with Democrats, there is this question of really if you can't reach a bipartisan agreement, say, on something like even the January 6 Commission, how are you going to be able to reach bipartisan agreement on some of these other bigger policy questions? And I will say that even some of the more moderate voices in the party are skeptical that really you're going to be able to reach bipartisan agreement. And they say the kind of proof is going to be after the July Fourth recess because if you're not getting anywhere by then, they just don't know that bipartisanship is going to be a viable solution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you.

KHALID: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.