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America's vaccination divide didn't happen by accident

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
A healthcare worker from the El Paso Fire Department administers a Moderna Covid-19 vaccination near the Santa Fe International Bridge in El Paso, Texas, on May 7, 2021.
A healthcare worker from the El Paso Fire Department administers a Moderna Covid-19 vaccination near the Santa Fe International Bridge in El Paso, Texas, on May 7, 2021.Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — We’ve told you how red states with the nation’s lowest vaccination rates are seeing many of the greatest increases in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Now let us count the ways in which this isn’t happening by accident.

  • The former director of immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health says she was fired for relaying how kids ages 14 and higher can get vaccinated without their parents’ consent.
  • The Tennessean also reports that the state’s Health Department has halted all vaccine outreach to Tennessee kids — not just for Covid-19, but for all diseases.
  • In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson tweeted that he “directed” his state’s health department that sending the government door-to-door to promote getting the Covid-19 vaccine “would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri,” even though he also said he encourages residents to get the vaccine and that he’s gotten it himself.
  • In Georgia, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted — misleadingly — that the vaccines are not safe.
  • And conservative news outlets like Fox News and Newsmax have peddled misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was “perplexed” why more Americans aren’t getting vaccinated.

“I don't know how many times y'all heard me say this, but I'm a huge fan of vaccination. As a polio victim myself when I was young, I've studied that disease. Seventy years, 70 years to come up with two vaccines that finally ended the polio threat,” he said.

“And so I'm perplexed by the difficulty we have in finishing the job.”

But that difficulty has been no accident.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

34,093,240: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 52,227 more than yesterday morning.)

611,345: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 243 more since yesterday morning.)

335,487,779: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC.

48.2 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

59.1 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Up to $300 a month: The amount in child tax credit payments that eligible parents will start receiving as early as today

About 93,000: The number of overdose deaths last year in the U.S., a number that hit a new record

10 days: How long Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who was diagnosed with an intestinal obstruction yesterday, has had the hiccups

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy: Here’s what’s in the reconciliation plan

One way to look at the $3.5 trillion megabill Democratic leaders unveiled on Wednesday: It's the product of 10 years of pent-up legislation blocked by Republicans. Imagine, if you will, that Mitch McConnell has been collecting the ghosts of failed Democratic bills and storing them in a high-tech containment unit. Then one day he's forced to shut it down, and they all come exploding out at once.

The new budget plan isn’t the spending bill itself, just a loose framework to guide Democrats in the coming months, but it's still a critical test of the caucus’ appetite for spending.

So what’s in it? The top progressive priority so far has been climate, where Republicans agreed to some related spending in infrastructure, but nowhere near the amount advocates wanted. The resolution calls for tax incentives for renewable energy and electric vehicles, a “Civilian Climate Corps” that would tackle green projects, and investments in reducing emissions in building and agriculture, among other items. Notably, it includes a clean energy standard, a big ask from environmental groups that may not make it past reconciliation rules.

On health care, the bill would extend a boost to Affordable Care Act subsidies from the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 rescue package earlier this year. It also calls for closing the “Medicaid gap” in states that have refused to accept ACA funding, although it’s not yet clear how they’d go about it. The budget plan does not include a top Bernie Sanders priority, lowering the Medicare age to 60 or below, but it does include his proposal to expand Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision, and hearing.

The framework calls for giving the government more leverage to negotiate lower drug prices, a tough issue that’s especially important to Democrats, not only because of rising health care costs, but because it’s a significant source of potential revenue for their bill.

As expected, the plan extends the up-to $300 monthly child tax credit that started going out in July as part of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 rescue package that Biden signed earlier this year, as well as tax credits for low-income workers and dependent care. For how long is unclear.

Many of Biden’s “human infrastructure” proposals are included in some form. Among them are universal pre-K and funding for child care, new benefits for community college students, investments in HBCUs and MSIs, investments in affordable housing and food programs, and funding to cover home-based and community care for seniors and people with disabilities.

And there may be more coming on issues like immigration and labor, even though they may be harder to get past the Senate parliamentarian.

In line with Biden’s 2020 pledge, the resolution rules out tax increases on families making over $400,000. It also names small businesses and family farms as off-limits. Finding $3.5 trillion in pay-fors is likely the single biggest challenge for Democrats moving forward as there’s already moderate unease with some of Biden’s proposals for tax hikes on wealthy investors and corporations.

There may be some wiggle room — “long term economic growth” is listed as a pay-for — but it all depends on how much the Manchins of the world are willing to accept the reasoning. For what it’s worth, the bipartisan deal the moderates negotiated also relies on some fuzzy math.

Meeting Merkel

President Biden today meets at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the two holding a joint press conference at 4:15 p.m. ET.

“A senior administration official said they plan to discuss the threat of climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, security challenges such as Afghanistan, addressing cyberattacks and aggression by Russia and China’s rising influence,” per NBC News.

Before meeting with Merkel, Biden delivers remarks at 11:45 a.m. ET promoting the child tax credits in the Covid-19 relief law.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Jonathan Allen looks at the influence Bernie Sanders has had on the Democratic agenda in Washington.

Will Mitch McConnell actually let the bipartisan infrastructure bill pass? And why?

Angela Merkel is on a goodbye tour in Washington.

A new report from GAO blames poor training and inconsistent oversight for many of the fatal training accidents involving military combat vehicles in the past decade, NBC’s Courtney Kube writes.

George W. Bush is taking issue with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

An Idaho man who was seen dangling from the Senate gallery on January 6 has pled guilty to charges stemming from the riot.

A new book from two Washington Post journalists reports that Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was worried that former President Trump would try to use the U.S. military to stay in office.