Joe Biden has been president for just more than 100 days, but already his term is looking a lot like that of Jimmy Carter: Long gas lines, runaway inflation, rising unemployment, unrest in the Middle East. The parallels aren't perfect, but the similarities are eerie. And, of course, the press coverage of Biden has not been at all what it would have been had all these woes occurred during former President Donald Trump's time in office.
Meanwhile, Republicans decided that one of their own wasn't worthy of holding the third-highest position in House GOP leadership. And conservative lawmakers blasted the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for endlessly delivering "conflicting and confusing" guidance over COVID-19 — just days before the health agency reversed course and announced Americans no longer have to wear masks if they’re vaccinated. Here's your latest installment of Washington Wire.
1. Shades of Carter: Gas Lines Return
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Thousands of gas stations across the Southeast ran out of fuel after a cyberattack forced the closure of the 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline, which moves more than 100 million gallons of fuel from Texas to New Jersey every day — nearly 50% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast. The company suspended all operations for nearly a week.
On social media, multiple videos went viral of people showing that their gas stations were out of fuel in states including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and others. Some analysts said that panic buying could be playing a role in gas stations running out of fuel.
But the White House didn't do much to assuage the panic buying. Team Biden never announced that it would tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stem the crisis, and the president's spokesman said simply that Biden was keeping an eye on the situation.
2. Pump Prices Highest Since Obama
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The national average price for a gallon of gasoline soared to its highest level this week since the Obama era and is likely going to continue increasing at least in the short term.
"On the week, the national gas price average jumped six cents to $2.96," the American Automobile Association reported on Monday. "If the trend continues, an increase of three more cents would make the national average the most expensive since November 2014 – the last time we saw average prices at $2.99 and higher."
By Wednesday, however, the national average price for a gallon of gas had soared to over $3, meaning gas is now at its highest point in six and a half years.
The prices were already rising before the mess with Colonial Pipeline.
3. Four Governors Declare Emergencies
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The governors of four states had little faith in the White House quickly solving the gas crisis, issuing state of emergency declarations as they faced gas outages sparked by the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attacks.
Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia have all implemented states of emergency. Biden took heat for his slow reaction to the attack, with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasting the president for essentially shrugging his shoulders in response.
"This pipeline actually doesn’t touch Florida, but it does feed into many of our gas stations. So we declared a state of emergency. We’re lifting restrictions to be able to get more fuel in the pumps," DeSantis said.
"The Biden administration needs to take this seriously," he added. "Their initial response is, ‘Oh, this is a private pipeline,’ and just shrug their shoulders. This is important infrastructure for our country, and it could impact our economy greatly if they don’t respond."
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4. Inflation Soars Under Biden
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Newly released numbers from the federal government show the U.S. economy is overheating and inflation is growing at an even higher rate than anticipated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported: "The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.8 percent in April on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.6 percent in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 4.2 percent before seasonal adjustment. This is the largest 12-month increase since a 4.9-percent increase for the period ending September 2008."
The 12-month inflation rate soared past the expectations of economists, who predicted inflation would fall around 3.6% and 0.6% lower than the actual 4.2% inflationary spike.
The news came less than a week after the Biden administration suffered a major setback when April's jobs report showed that only 266,000 jobs were added to the economy, 700,000 less than had been projected.
5. GOP Turns On One Of Its Own
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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who joined Democrats in January to approve articles of impeachment against Trump, was voted out of her position as No. 3 in House Republican leadership.
Cheney did not take the news lying down. "We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution," said Cheney. "The nation needs it. The nation needs a strong Republican Party. The nation needs a party that that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism. And I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that’s how this party goes forward. And I plan to lead the fight to do that."
When asked how concerned she was that Trump might end back up in the Oval Office and what she was prepared to do to prevent that, Cheney said, "I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office."
"We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language," she said. "We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution. And I think it’s very important that we make sure whomever we elect is somebody who will be faithful to the Constitution."
6. Lawmakers Rip CDC Head For 'Conflicting, Confusing Guidance'
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Republican lawmakers blasted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky during a Senate hearing, with one lawmaker complaining about "conflicting, confusing guidance" from the U.S. health agency.
"I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don't anymore," Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said during a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday.
Collins told Walensky that she "used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC" but now feels it has issued "conflicting, confusing guidance" that has contradicted health officials or other findings by experts.
She accused the agency of "exaggerating" the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
"So, here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does this matter?" Collins asked. "It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendation, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following."
7. CDC's About Face On Mask Mandates
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Just days after she was ripped on Capitol Hill, Walensky did an about face on mask mandates.
Under the new guidance, the CDC says Americans who have been fully vaccinated — those who received their final dose more than 14 days prior — don’t need to wear masks for most indoor or outdoor activities. Walensky said the guidance update reflects new data and scientific literature.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Dr. Walensky told reporters in a virtual press conference on Thursday afternoon. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that we have stopped doing because of the pandemic.”