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Biden resets after Delta frustrates his hope to declare Covid independence

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.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks about the bombings at the Kabul airport that killed at least 12 U.S. service members, from the East Room of the White House on Aug. 26, 2021.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — Just two months ago, on July 4th, President Biden gave a speech saying that the United States was “closer than ever to declaring our independence” from the coronavirus.

Today, at 5:00 p.m. ET, the president is delivering remarks on his new plan to combat the Delta variant and encourage more vaccinations.

That jarring reversal — in the span of just two months — helps explain Biden’s slide in the polls, even when you take Afghanistan out of the equation.

On July 4, the U.S. was averaging about 12,000 new Covid cases and just some 200 deaths per day.

Today, on Sept. 9, it’s approximately 150,000 new Covid cases and 1,500 deaths a day.

And when it comes to the percentage of the population that’s fully vaccinated, the nation ranks below not only Canada and most European countries — but also Chile, Cambodia and Ecuador.

According to NBC’s White House team, Biden’s speech today will focus on six points: vaccinating the unvaccinated; furthering protection for the vaccinated; keeping schools safely open; increasing testing and requiring masks; protecting the economic recovery and improving care for those with Covid.

We know we sound like a broken record, but it’s true: How Covid goes, so goes Biden’s presidency. It’s that simple.

And yes, the chief culprits for the rising cases and deaths have been unvaccinated Americans from red parts of the country — over which Biden has little control.

Still, he was elected to do one job: get Covid right.

But the Covid situation right now is anything but right.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

Almost 30,000: The number of child Covid-19 patients who were hospitalized in August, per a New York Times analysis.

40,611,072: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 205,547 more since yesterday morning.)

656,905: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,157 more since yesterday morning.)

376,955,132: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC.

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

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

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Talking policy with Benjy: Housing crunch

Housing policy took on more prominence within the Democratic Party even before Covid-19 threatened a wave of evictions. Politicians are calling for new investments in housing, expanded rent relief, and incentives to reform zoning rules to address problems ranging from homelessness, to racial disparities, to middle class families getting squeezed out of expensive cities.

The reconciliation framework includes up to $332 billion to spend on related programs — from long-delayed repairs for public housing, to rental assistance, to community development block grants. The Senate Finance Committee might also include some tax credits aimed at incentivizing more affordable housing.

“It might be a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to get the level of sustained investment needed to address the country’s affordable housing crisis, but the money has to be spent well,” Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told NBC News.

But unlike other Democratic issue areas in the bill, there isn’t one big marketable policy change at stake, like free community college, or universal pre-K, or a new Medicare dental and vision benefit, or closing the Medicaid gap in Obamacare. Instead, it’s mostly about funding a hodgepodge of existing programs and tax incentives that have been neglected in the past.

That has some activists worried that the money might not make a noticeable enough difference. Yentel’s pitch is to make ending homelessness the headline cause and focus funding there. Her group is backing a bill by the influential House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters to devote $200 billion to low-income rental assistance, $45 billion for affordable housing grants, and $75 billion to address a backlog of public housing repairs.

“$332 billion could be spread thinly across multiple housing and community development programs and have a marginal impact, or the money could be targeted in a way that could be transformational to efforts to end homelessness,” Yentel said.

But this is one of a number of areas where Democrats could face tough choices, especially if centrist members force them to reduce the bill’s overall price tag by hundreds of billions, even trillions, of dollars.

“I’m not concerned about any opposition within the party to this level of investment in affordable housing,” Yentel said. “I think the concern is the much bigger question of whether the Democrats are able to hold together and agree to a $3.5 trillion package.”

California dreamin’

There’s a lot of news out of California just days before Tuesday’s recall vote.

Democrats are bringing in the cavalry — Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to her home state to campaign for Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Newsom effort is up on television with a new ad from former President Barack Obama that warns a vote for Republicans is a vote against “common-sense Covid-safety measures,” and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is telling her supporters the recall is “nightmare fuel.”

Not to be outdone, Republican Larry Elder is also up with a few new spots, one where a purported young Democrat blasts Newsom and calls on his peers to “wake up,” and another where someone compares Newsom to “a guy in high school who took my girlfriend, then went onto the next girl.”

Wednesday also turned ugly on the trail, when a protestor in a gorilla mask threw an egg at Elder.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Wisconsin’s former GOP lieutenant governor is officially running to oust Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden administration is preparing to sue Texas over its restrictive abortion law.

The Supreme Court blocked the execution of Texas man who wanted a pastor to lay his hands on him in the death chamber.

Supreme Court justices are returning to the courtroom in October, the first time since the pandemic began last year.

The FBI has released new footage of a suspect who may have placed pipe bombs near the RNC and DNC around the Jan. 6 riot.

College football season has met the Delta variant. Here’s what we know.

Former President Trump praised former Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a statement decrying the removal of a Lee statue from Richmond.