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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Kamala Harris says administration did not anticipate Omicron

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Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration failed to anticipate the variables that prolonged and exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it downplayed the role misinformation could play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans.

“We didn’t expect a delta to come. I think most scholars – whose advice and guidance we relied on – didn’t see a delta coming.” “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that is the nature of what this horrific virus was, which, as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”

Harris made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Times in her ceremonial desk and touched on immigration, women’s health, and the criticism she has received for her management style and role as a leader in the making of history. But the vice president has repeatedly returned to the Biden administration’s main challenge: fighting the pandemic — thanks to the rapidly spreading new alternative, Omicron — has prompted many Americans to suspend travel plans, cancel holiday parties and once again stock up on masks.

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“I understand. I understand. I totally get it,” she said. “I mean, you know, one of the concerns I have is the undiagnosed and untreated trauma of varying degrees that everyone has experienced.”

President Biden celebrated “independence” from the virus in an upbeat speech on July 4, saying, “While the virus has not been defeated, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. It is our ability to make sure that it never happens again.” “.

At the time, some public health experts warned that his optimism was premature, given that the delta variant was already a significant threat.

Harris denied that the administration had declared victory prematurely or ever.

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“We didn’t beat it,” she said. “I don’t think in any way anyone can claim victory when, you know, 800,000 people have died from this virus.”

Many Americans, particularly conservatives, have resisted Biden’s call for a COVID-19 vaccination, a measure that public health officials say is necessary to avoid hospitalization and death from the disease. Harris cited a unique regret for her failure to appreciate the power of misinformation to persuade people to trust a vaccine.

“I’m going to take it very seriously,” she said of the misinformation. “The biggest threat that remains to the American people is the threat to the unvaccinated. Most of those who believe in the efficacy of the vaccine and the seriousness of the virus have been vaccinated. This bothers me deeply.”

But it would hardly come as a surprise to Harris. She spent much of her time in the administration’s early months trying to overcome hesitation among some blacks, who had endured a history of abuse by the medical community. Former President Trump repeatedly promoted disinformation while in office, especially with the outbreak of the pandemic. He remains active in promoting the false claim that the elections were stolen, a conspiracy theory shared by many of those who reject vaccination.

More than 70% of Americans have received at least one vaccine injection. But polls and statewide data suggest Democrats are more likely to do so than Republicans. An NPR investigation found that the higher the county vote total for Trump, the lower the COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Some conservatives have accused Harris of contributing to the politicization of the response to the pandemic, which he denied in the interview.

Vice President Kamala Harris tours a COVID-19 vaccination site in Chicago in April.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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Harris hedged when asked in September 2020 if she would take a vaccine if it was approved before the election, saying it would be “a problem for all of us” because “I wouldn’t trust Donald Trump.” She added, however, that she trusts “a reliable source of information that talks about efficacy and reliability. … I wouldn’t take his word for it.”

“He wants us to inject bleach,” she added, referring to Trump’s widely derided proposal in April 2020 that injecting people with disinfectants might kill the virus.

Harris cited the pandemic in response to questions about her role in management and the challenges she faces. Some Americans and political experts expected Harris to have an extraordinary level of influence and visibility. The 79-year-old Biden is not only the oldest president in history but he also served as vice president and spoke about the importance of the role.

While Harris has received some high-level assignments, including overseeing the administration’s efforts to address the root causes of migration from Central America, she has not had the effect of some of her predecessors. As Vice President, Biden has been a major dealmaker with Congress, leading negotiations on forming a new government in Iraq and overseeing the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus spending plan.

It’s not a fair comparison, Harris said, because of what the Biden administration has faced in its quest to curb the all-consuming epidemic.

Harris has not said if she believes her race and gender have contributed to the criticism she faced as vice president.

“I’ll leave that for others to evaluate,” she said.

The issue is complicated for Harris. She said she believed her representation as a black woman was important on many of the issues addressed by the White House, but she was reluctant to identify some, such as maternal health and reducing maternal mortality, for fear of classifying them as causes of particular concern. .

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“It should not be a priority on the basis of race or gender when black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth, Native women are more likely to die in childbirth, and rural women are 60% more likely to die in childbirth,” she said. The whole community is harmed in this way. And so I’m reluctant to attribute that to my race or gender, lest anyone decide that if you’re not that race or gender, that shouldn’t be a priority.”

Harris’ notable assignments include resisting Republican efforts at the state level to limit voting rights and attempting to limit immigration by tackling poverty, corruption, and crime in immigrants’ countries of origin.

Neither of them was easy. Two bills on voting rights lack votes in the Senate to overcome Republican stalling. The number of migrants stopping near the border has reached record levels this year.

Harris did not answer directly whether she should take responsibility for the record immigration numbers or commit to a timetable for reducing them. Instead, she cited her work to attract more private investment to Central America, which this week amounted to $1.2 billion in commitments from dozens of private companies.

The assignment made Harris a magnet for criticism. The right tried to overburden her with problems at the border. Meanwhile, the left was furious when she went to Guatemala during the summer and told immigrants: “Don’t come.”

The administration took a hit in its efforts to tackle immigration challenges Thursday, when the senator decided that a series of legal changes — including new work visas for some illegal immigrants here — could not be included in the department’s comprehensive Environmental and Social Services bill. . Biden and Harris have been cruising the country seeking to sell the proposal, which Democrats are pushing in a way that doesn’t require them to overcome the disruption.

Harris expressed frustration with the ruling but did not offer an alternative plan.

“We have to continue to appeal to the American people to expect Congress and its elected representatives to take action on this issue,” she said in the 20-minute interview. “We can’t give it up, that’s for sure.”

Some of the excitement felt by Harris’s supporters with her election has clearly given way to exasperation as she continues to suffer from declining support and continued criticism from Republicans and some Democrats. She faced a recent wave of stories about high-level employee departures and her history of staff turnover dating back to her time as California’s attorney general.

Harris said she is the most strict with herself, and that many employees and former employees will “talk about how they have been directed, nurtured and supported” by her.

When asked to recall moments when she was shocked by the date she was making, Harris said it happens all the time, especially when she’s at an event and parents show her pictures of their kids watching her swearing in as Vice President.

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