Transcript of Biden’s Speech on Ending Our War in Afghanistan

Below is a shortened, slightly edited transcript of Biden’s speech this afternoon. He explains his decision and responds to criticism (much of the criticism coming from what can only be described as an elite media freakout). I got the transcript from Rev.com, a company that uses AI with human support to create transcripts, captions and translations:

Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The longest war in American history. We completed one of the biggest air lifts in history with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts felt were possible. No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history, and only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it. And we did it today. . . .

In April, I made a decision to end this war. As part of that decision, we set the date of August 31st for American troops to withdraw. Since March, we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan. All the way back as far as March.

The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces that we had trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil war with the Taliban.

That assumption that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time . . . turned out not to be accurate. But, I still instructed our National Security Team to prepare for every eventuality, even that one, and that’s what we did.

So we were ready, when the Afghan Security Forces, after two decades of fighting for their country and losing thousands of their own, did not hold on as long as anyone expected. We were ready when they and the people of Afghanistan watched their own government collapse and the president flee . . .

As a result, to safely extract American citizens before August 31st, as well as embassy personnel, allies, and partners, and those Afghans who had worked with us and fought alongside of us for 20 years, I had authorized 6,000 troops, American troops to Kabul to help secure the airport.

As General McKenzie said, this is the way the mission was designed. It was designed to operate under severe stress and attack and that’s what it did.

After we started the evacuation 17 days ago, we did initial outreach and analysis and identified around 5,000 Americans who had decided earlier to stay in Afghanistan but now wanted to leave. Our operation ended up getting more than 5,500 Americans out. We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff in the United States Embassy and their families, totalling roughly 2,500 people. We got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States out as well.

Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long time residents, who earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan. The bottom line, 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.

Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan. . . .

We are joined by over 100 countries that are determined to make sure the Taliban upholds those commitments. It will include ongoing efforts in Afghanistan to reopen the airport as well as overland routes, allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

The Taliban has made public commitments broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans. We don’t take them by their word alone, but by their actions. And we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.

Let me be clear, leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives. My predecessor signed an agreement with the Taliban to remove US troops by May 1st, just months after I was inaugurated. It included no requirement that the Taliban work out a cooperative governing arrangement with the Afghan government. But it did authorize the release of 5,000 prisoners last year, including some of the Taliban’s top war commanders . . .

By the time I came to office the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country. The previous administration’s agreement said that if we stuck to the May 1st deadline, the Taliban wouldn’t attack any American forces. But if we stayed, all bets were off. [Note: the previous president had reduced the number of American troops in the country to 2,500.]

So we were left with a simple decision, either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren’t leaving and commit thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating. . . .

The decision to end the military operation at the Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisors. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff and all the service chiefs and the commanders in the field, their recommendation was that the safest way to secure the passage of the remaining Americans and others out of the country was not to continue with 6,000 troops on the ground in harm’s way in Kabul, but rather to get them out through non-military means.

In the 17 days that we operated in Kabul, after the Taliban seized power, we engage in an around the clock effort to provide every American the opportunity to leave. Our State Department was working 24/7 contacting and talking, and in some cases walking Americans into the airport. Again, more than 5,500 Americans were airlifted out. And for those who remain, we will make arrangements to get them out if they so choose.

As for the Afghans, we and our partners have airlifted 100,000 of them, no country in history has done more to airlift out the residents of another country than we have done. We will continue to work to help more people leave the country who are at risk. We’re far from done. . . .

I take responsibility for the decision. Now some say we should have started mass evacuation sooner and “Couldn’t this have been done in a more orderly manner?” I respectfully disagree. Imagine if we’d begun evacuations in June or July, bringing in thousands of American troops and evacuated more than 120,000 people in the middle of a civil war. There would still have been a rush to the airport, a breakdown in confidence and control of the government, and it would still have been a very difficult and dangerous mission.

The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenge and threats we faced. None. There are those who would say we should have stayed indefinitely, for years on end. They ask, “Why don’t we just keep doing what we were doing? Why do we have to change anything?”

[But] this is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan.
The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America. Not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow. . . . I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.

But I also know that the threat from terrorism [has] changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change too. . . . As Commander in Chief, I firmly believe the best path to guard our safety and our security lies in a tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy that goes after terror where it is today, not where it was two decades ago. That’s what’s in our national interest.

Here’s a critical thing to understand, the world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. We’re confronted with cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation. We have to shore up America’s competitiveness to meet these new challenges in the competition for the 21st century. . . .

As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation in the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals. Not ones we’ll never reach. And second, I want to stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.

This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. We saw a mission of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan . . . morph into a counter-insurgency, nation-building, trying to create a democratic, cohesive and united Afghanistan, something that has never been done over centuries of their history.

Moving on from that mindset and those kinds of large scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home. . . .

My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over. I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today, I’ve honored that commitment. It was time to be honest with the American people again. . . .

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago. After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan, a cost that researchers at Brown University estimated was over $300 million a day . . . for two decades. . . . You could take the number of $1 trillion, as many say. That’s still $150 million a day for two decades. And what have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?

. . . And most of all, after 800,000 Americans served in Afghanistan . . . After 20,744 American service men and women injured. And the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week. . . .

So when I hear that we could have, should have, continued the so-called “low grade effort” in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low costs, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on. . . . A lot of our veterans and our families have gone through hell. Deployment after deployment, months and years away from their families, . . . financial struggles, divorces, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress. . . .

There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war. . . . As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it’s time to look at the future, not the past. To a future that’s safer, to a future that’s more secure. To a future the honors those who served and all those who gave what President Lincoln called, “Their last full measure of devotion.”

I give you my word, with all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision and the best decision for America. . . .

This President Is An Adult. Are We?

Unlike the toddler he replaced. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post writes about Biden’s grown up approach to Afghanistan and how so many Americans are behaving like children:

President Biden on Thursday mournfully delivered information to the country that was disagreeable to many Americans: There is no way to withdraw from a futile war without messiness. The expectation that there would be no misery or casualties was a fantasy.

A case in point is the issue of Afghan refugees. “I know of no conflict, as a student of history — no conflict where, when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country would get out,” Biden said solemnly. His historical memory is accurate.

The United States has transported roughly 120,000 Afghans and American citizens to safety at great human cost. That miraculous feat is a tribute to the humanity and bravery of the U.S. military and civilian personnel and volunteers. But any hope of depopulating a war-torn country, and ending the suffering there (including the dismal future for millions of women and girls) after our defeat is not grounded in reality. It belongs with the magical thinking that the United States could create a nation state in Afghanistan.

A week ago, many in the media were lecturing the administration for abandoning Afghans. Now, after we evacuated about 120,000 people at the cost of 13 American lives, reporters wanted to know why we were keeping troops at the airport. In response to such a question on Thursday, Biden said: “There are additional American citizens, there are additional green-card holders, there are additional personnel of our allies, there are additional SIV cardholders, there are additional Afghans that have helped us, and there are additional groups of individuals that — who have contacted us from women’s groups, to NGOs, and others, who have expressly indicated they want to get out.”) He was criticized for “abandoning” Afghans; when we stay to rescue them he gets faulted for risking American lives.

The insistence that there must have been a painless way — or, by gosh, a less painless way! — to lose a 20-year war, rescue all imperiled Afghans and avoid any more casualties is a fable too many insist on cultivating.

We should have kept control of Bagram airfield! (Bagram is 30 miles or so from Kabul. The U.S. military would have had to protect any caravan of refugees transported there, while also defending a very large facility.)

We should have pulled out everyone in April! (Would not the Afghan government have crumbled then?)

We should have known the army would collapse! (Apparently 20 years of training and effort to forge a national identity was a waste of time.)

Just leave a few thousand U.S. troops there! (And attacks akin to what happened on Thursday would magically cease? One should think long and hard before increasing the number of Gold Star parents.)

Biden seemed sincerely interested in confronting the media’s favored storylines. As reporters scoffed at the notion that the United States trusts the Taliban to provide security, Biden explained, “No one trusts them; we’re just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities. And it’s in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can.” He added, “And like I said, even in the midst of everything that happened today, over 7,000 people have gotten out; over 5,000 Americans overall.”

He might have saved his breath. Reporters will ask the same question over and over again, as if to suggest that they would have a more sophisticated approach to dealing with the Taliban than those on the ground.

The conviction that a president should have foreseen everything and escaped the consequences of a disastrous war is reflective of the mind-set of highly educated professionals, who are convinced all problems can be addressed if only we find someone wise enough to see around all the corners. There is no way to defuse the certitude of Biden’s critics, or to dispel their self-serving rationale for leaving troops there indefinitely. Biden, like all presidents, must do what he thinks is right and leave the verdict to voters — and to history.

. . . The worst of the recent errors may have been believing the Afghan government and military could stand on their own, at least for a year. That, in turn, set the pace of visa processing and evacuations and the timing of a final withdrawal. The paths not taken (rushing to the exit sooner, leaving troops there indefinitely) could have had dire consequences as well, but these are abstract — while the suffering we watch is concrete and gut-wrenching.

We need some sober reflection on the folly of overeager interventionism. We need to come to terms with the delusional feedback loop between civilian and military leaders. Instead we have a media and political culture that are not serious or attentive enough to grasp that dilemmas 20 years in the making have no good answer, just less terrible ones. Everything is reduced to a partisan question. (Is Biden in crisis? Is this a boost for Republicans?) The media, it seems, does not know how to cover a tragedy without viewing it through the lens of horse-race politics. It is so much easier to pronounce the exit a “disaster” than to consider if one’s advocacy over 20 years contributed to the groupthink that sent young men and women to die. Confronted with 13 dead Americans, the press is eager to demonstrate Biden missed the obvious, safe course. What that is, they do not explain.

This week’s loss of life — both American and Afghan — is heartbreaking. With a mainstream media obsessed with stoking partisan squabbling, and Americans refusing to process the consequences of their own choices, it does make one pessimistic about self-government.

Unquote.

David Rothkopf knocks down criticisms one by one at USA Today.

Biden’s Budget Would Make a Difference

Presidents present a proposed federal budget every year, but it’s Congress that decides what the budget will be. Nevertheless, President Biden’s budget is a welcome change. From Paul Krugman of The New York Times:

Many reports about the Biden administration’s budget proposal, released Friday, convey the sense that it’s huge. President Biden, scream some of the headlines, wants to spend SIX TRILLION DOLLARS next year. . . . It takes some digging to learn that the baseline — the amount the administration estimates we’d spend next fiscal year without [Biden’s] new policies — is $5.7 trillion.

In fact, one of the most striking things about Biden’s budget initiative — arguably about his whole administration — is its relative modesty in terms of both money spent and claims about what that spending would accomplish. He is neither proposing nor promising a revolution, just policies that would make Americans’ lives significantly better.

And I, for one, find this hugely refreshing after Former Guy’s achievement-free bombast.

Now, the Biden plan is by no means trivial. The budget proposes spending 24.5 percent of G.D.P. over the next decade, up from a baseline of 22.7 percent. That increase, mainly driven by increased expenditures for infrastructure and families, is bigger than it looks because so much of the baseline is devoted to the military, Medicare and Social Security. But it’s not socialism, either. It would still leave the United States with a smaller government than most other wealthy countries’.

Still, the extra spending would make a huge difference to some economic sectors, notably renewable energy, and vastly improve some American lives, especially those of lower-income families with children.

Notably, however, the administration is not claiming that these policies would dramatically accelerate economic growth. Former Guy’s economists predicted that their policies would produce sustained G.D.P. growth of 3 percent a year, which would have been extraordinary in an economy whose working-age population is barely growing. Biden’s economists are projecting growth of less than 2 percent after the economy has bounced back from the pandemic.

Why this modesty? Part of it may be political strategy: Biden likes to underpromise and overdeliver, the way he did with vaccinations. The administration’s economists are actually quite optimistic, for example, about the possibility that child care and other family policies would expand labor force participation and that investing in children would yield big economic returns in the long run.

But they also know history. Governments can do a lot to fight short-term recessions (or make them worse), but the fact is that it’s very hard for policy to make a big difference to the economy’s long-term growth rate.

This is something the right has never understood. (It’s difficult to get people to understand something when their salaries depend on their not understanding it.)

Conservatives are constantly pushing the claim that tax cuts, in particular, will supercharge growth; they love to cite the supposed economic triumph of Ronald Reagan. But Reagan presided over only a couple of years of very rapid growth, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. Over the course of the 1980s, the economy grew only 0.015 percentage points faster — basically a rounding error — than it did in the troubled 1970s.

And looking more broadly across history at both the national and the state levels shows predictions that tax cuts will produce economic miracles have never panned out — not once. Neither, by the way, have predictions that tax hikes, like the increased levies on corporations and the wealthy that Biden is proposing, will lead to disaster.

So it makes sense for the Biden administration to avoid making big claims about economic growth. But does this mean that its plans are no big deal? Not at all.

. . . While government policies rarely have major effects on the economy’s overall growth rate, they can have huge effects on the quality of people’s lives. Governments can, for example, ensure that their citizens have access to affordable health care; they can drastically reduce the number of children whose lives are scarred by poverty. The Biden plan would take big steps on these and other fronts.

And this is the sense in which the Biden plan, despite its relatively moderate price tag, represents a radical departure from past economic policy.

For the past four decades, U.S. economic debate has been dominated by an ideology fundamentally opposed to spending money to help ordinary citizens: We can’t borrow more, lest we provoke a debt crisis. We can’t raise taxes on those able to pay, lest we destroy their incentive to create wealth.

The Biden budget, however, reveals an administration free from these fears. The budget doesn’t propose huge deficit spending, but it does point out that the burden of federal debt, properly measured, is minimal. And administration officials have made it clear that they don’t buy into low-tax propaganda.

You could say that the most important thing about this budget isn’t so much the dollars it would deliver as the dogma it dismisses. And if Biden’s presidency is seen as a success, this ideological liberation will have huge consequences.

Can Biden Finally Get Us Past Reagan?

God, I hope so. According to one view of American history, Joe Biden could be extremely important. He could be our first truly “post-Reagan” president. From Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times:

During Donald Trump’s presidency, I sometimes took comfort in the Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek’s concept of “political time.”

In Skowronek’s formulation, presidential history moves in 40- to 60-year cycles, or “regimes.” Each is inaugurated by transformative, “reconstructive” leaders who define the boundaries of political possibility for their successors.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was such a figure. For decades following his presidency, Republicans and Democrats alike accepted many of the basic assumptions of the New Deal. Ronald Reagan was another. After him, even Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama feared deficit spending, inflation and anything that smacked of “big government.”

I found Skowronek’s schema reassuring because of where Txxxx seemed to fit into it. Skowronek thought Txxxx was a “late regime affiliate” — a category that includes Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. Such figures, he’s written, are outsiders from the party of a dominant but decrepit regime.

They use the “internal disarray and festering weakness of the establishment” to “seize the initiative.” Promising to save a faltering political order, they end up imploding and bringing the old regime down with them. No such leader, he wrote, has ever been re-elected.

During Txxxx’s reign, Skowronek’s ideas gained some popular currency, offering a way to make sense of a presidency that seemed anomalous and bizarre. “We are still in the middle of Txxxx’s rendition of the type,” he wrote in an updated edition of his book “Presidential Leadership in Political Time,” “but we have seen this movie before, and it has always ended the same way.”

Skowronek doesn’t present his theory as a skeleton key to history. It’s a way of understanding historical dynamics, not predicting the future. Still, if Txxxx represented the last gasps of Reaganism instead of the birth of something new, then after him, Skowronek suggests, a fresh regime could begin.

When Joe Biden became the Democratic nominee, it seemed that the coming of a new era had been delayed. Reconstructive leaders, in Skowronek’s formulation, repudiate the doctrines of an establishment that no longer has answers for the existential challenges the country faces. Biden, Skowronek told me, is “a guy who’s made his way up through establishment Democratic politics.” Nothing about him seemed trailblazing.

Yet as Biden’s administration begins, there are signs that a new politics is coalescing. When, in his inauguration speech, Biden touted “unity,” he framed it as a national rejection of the dark forces unleashed by his discredited predecessor, not stale Gang of Eight bipartisanship. He takes power at a time when what was once conventional wisdom about deficits, inflation and the proper size of government has fallen apart. That means Biden, who has been in national office since before Reagan’s presidency, has the potential to be our first truly post-Reagan president.

“Biden has a huge opportunity to finally get our nation past the Reagan narrative that has still lingered,” said Representative Ro Khanna, who was a national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. “And the opportunity is to show that government, by getting the shots in every person’s arm of the vaccines, and building infrastructure, and helping working families, is going to be a force for good.”

A number of the officials Biden has selected — like Rohit Chopra for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gary Gensler for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bharat Ramamurti for the National Economic Council — would have fit easily into an Elizabeth Warren administration. Biden has signed executive orders increasing food stamp benefits, took steps to institute a $15-an-hour minimum wage for federal employees and contractors, and announced plans to replace the federal fleet with electric vehicles. His administration is working on a child tax credit that would send monthly payments to most American parents.

Skowronek told me he’s grown more hopeful about Biden just in the last few weeks: “The old Reagan formulas have lost their purchase, there is new urgency in the moment, and the president has an insurgent left at his back.”

This is the second Democratic administration in a row to inherit a country wrecked by its predecessor. But Biden’s plans to take on the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant economic disaster have been a departure from Obama’s approach to the 2008 financial crisis. The difference isn’t just in the scale of the emergencies, but in the politics guiding the administrations’ responses.

In “A Promised Land,” the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama described a meeting just before he took office, when the economic data looked increasingly bleak. After an aide proposed a trillion-dollar rescue package, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, began “to sputter like a cartoon character spitting out a bad meal.” Emanuel, according to Obama, said the figure would be a nonstarter with many Democrats, never mind Republicans. In Obama’s telling, Biden, then vice president, nodded his head in agreement.

Now Emanuel, hated by progressives, has been frozen out of Biden’s administration, and the new president has come out of the gate with a $1.9 trillion proposal. In addition to $1,400 checks to most Americans and an increase in federal unemployment aid to $400 a week, it includes a national $15-an-hour minimum wage, something dismissed as utopian when Bernie Sanders ran on it in 2016.

What has changed is not just the politics but the economic consensus. Recently I spoke to Jared Bernstein, a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers . . .  When Biden was vice president, Bernstein was his chief economic adviser, and he said the meetings he’s in now are very different from those he was in during the last economic crisis.

Back then, Bernstein said, there was a widespread fear that too much government borrowing would crowd out private borrowing, raising interest rates. That thinking, he said, has changed. As Biden told reporters this month, “Every major economist thinks we should be investing in deficit spending in order to generate economic growth.”

It’s not just that the Democratic Party has moved left — the old Reaganite consensus in the Republican Party has collapsed. There’s nothing new about Republicans ignoring deficits — deficits almost never matter to Republicans when they’re in power. What is new is the forthright rejection of laissez-faire economics among populist nationalists like Senator Hawley of Missouri, who joined with Sanders to demand higher stimulus payments to individuals in the last round of Covid relief.

That doesn’t mean we should be optimistic about people like Hawley, who wouldn’t even admit that Biden won the election, helping the new administration pass important legislation. But Republicans are going to have an increasingly difficult time making a coherent case against economic mercy for the beleaguered populace.

“This idea that the inflation hawks will come back — I just think they’re living in an era that has disappeared,” Elizabeth Warren told me.

However popular it is, Biden’s agenda will be possible only if Democrats find a way to legislate in the face of Republican nihilism. They’ll have to either convince moderates to finally jettison the filibuster, or pass economic legislation through reconciliation, a process that requires only a majority vote. Where Congress is stalemated, Biden will have to make aggressive use of executive orders and other types of administrative action. But he has at least the potential to be the grandfather of a more socially democratic America.

A moderate president, says Skowronek, can also be a transformative one. “It’s a mistake to think that moderation is a weakness in the politics of reconstruction,” he said, noting that both Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt were “viciously” attacked from the left. “Moderation can stand as an asset if it’s firmly grounded in a repudiation of the manifest failure and bankruptcy of the old order. In that sense, moderation is not a compromise or a middle ground. It’s the establishment of a new common sense.”

There is, of course, no guarantee that Biden will fully rise to the moment. Skowronek has always expected that eventually American politics will change so much that the patterns he identified will no longer apply. “All I can say is that so many of the elements, the constellation of elements that you would associate with a pivot point, are in place,” he said. In this national nadir, we can only hope that history repeats itself.

The Arrival of the Good News Stories

They’re already showing up. For example:

“President-elect Biden to end Keystone XL pipeline in fight on climate change” (Washington Post)

“Attorney Roberta Kaplan is about to make Txxxx’s life extremely difficult” (Washington Post) [she represents E. Jean Carroll, who’s suing him for defamation, and Mary Trump, who’s suing him for stealing her inheritance]

“Biden taps Warren ally Chopra to lead Consumer Bureau” (Politico)

“Txxxx’s Census Director To Quit After Trying To Rush Out ‘Indefensible’ Report” (NPR)

“Biden to sign executive orders rejoining Paris climate accord and rescinding travel ban on first day” (CNN)

“Biden’s ambitious 100-day plan to erase Txxxx’s legacy” (CNN)

Of course, these stories will remind us of what went before:

I wish I could tell you that the incoming Biden administration had a genius plan for combating Covid-19, thick with ideas no one else had thought of and strategies no one else had tried. But it doesn’t.

What it does have is the obvious plan for combating Covid-19, full of ideas many others have thought of and strategies it is appalling we haven’t yet tried. That it is possible for Joe Biden and his team to release a plan this straightforward is the most damning indictment of the Txxxx administration’s coronavirus response imaginable.

The Txxxx administration seemed to believe a vaccine would solve the coronavirus problem, freeing President Txxxx and his advisers of the pesky work of governance. But vaccines don’t save people; vaccinations do. And vaccinating more than 300 million people, at breakneck speed, is a challenge that only the federal government has the resources to meet. The Txxxx administration, in other words, had it backward. The development of the vaccines meant merely that the most logistically daunting phase of the crisis, in terms of the federal government’s role, could finally begin.

In the absence of a coordinated federal campaign, the job has fallen to overstretched, under-resourced state and local governments, with predictably wan results. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the roughly 31 million doses that have been sent out, about 12 million have been used.

The good news is that the incoming Biden administration sees the situation clearly. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country,” Biden said on Friday. “You have my word that we will manage the hell out of this operation.”
The person in charge of managing the hell out of the operation is Jeff Zients . . . In a Saturday briefing with journalists, Zients broke the plan down into four buckets. Loosen the restrictions on who can get vaccinated (and when). Set up many more sites where vaccinations can take place. Mobilize more medical personnel to deliver the vaccinations. And use the might of the federal government to increase the vaccine supply by manufacturing whatever is needed, whenever it is needed, to accelerate the effort. “We’re going to throw the full resources and weight of the federal government behind this emergency,” Zients promised.

Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening. Biden’s team members intend to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of vaccination sites in gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, and to deploy mobile vaccination options to reach those who can’t travel or who live in remote places. They want to mobilize the National Guard to staff the effort and ensure that strapped states don’t have to bear the cost. They want to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign. They want to launch a massive public education blitz, aimed at communities skeptical of the vaccine. They’re evaluating how to eke out more doses from the existing supply — there is, for instance, a particular vial that will get you six doses out of a given quantity of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than five, and they are looking at whether the Defense Production Act could accelerate production of that particular vial and other, similarly useful goods.