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CDC EXPRESSES URGENCY ON UNVAXED: The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention struck a new tone of urgency on Thursday about the coronavirus pandemic, warning that the United States is “not out of the woods yet” and is once again at “another pivotal point in this pandemic” as the highly infectious Delta variant rips through communities with low rates of vaccination (New York Times). The warning from the director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, during a briefing by members of the White House Covid-19 response team, was a marked shift from just weeks ago, when President Biden threw a big Fourth of July party on the South Lawn of the White House to declare independence from the virus. It reflects a growing concern among administration officials that the gains they appeared to have made are being erased — and that the current surge in cases will overwhelm health systems in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low and hospitalizations are high. Still, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain at a fraction of their previous devastating peaks.

ALABAMA GOV. IVEY BLAMES COVID SURGE ON UNVAXED: On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey addressed concerns about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the state and its low vaccination rate (CBS42). “Let’s be crystal clear about this issue. And media, I want you to start reporting the facts. The new cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100% of the new hospitalizations are with unvaccinated folks. And the deaths are certainly occurring with the unvaccinated folks. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain,” Gov. Ivey said during an event for Landing in Birmingham Thursday. When asked how the state can get more shots into the arms of residents, Ivey did not hold back her displeasure with the lack of success previous plans have had. I don’t know, you tell me. Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the vaccinated folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” she said. “I’ve done all I know how to do. I can encourage you to do something but I can’t make you take care of yourself.

BUTTIGIEG SITTING PRETTY: No matter what happens to BIF, Pete Buttigieg has already won (Politico Playbook). The Iowa caucus winner-turned-Transportation secretary has redefined the backwater Cabinet position where Democrats typically plant their obligatory Republican senior official and vice versa (e.g. Obama/LaHood, Bush/Mineta). Buttigieg has assumed celebrity status in D.C., a mainstay of Playbook “spotteds”: In the past six months we’ve seen him riding his bike to work. It’s Buttigieg who’s been on late-night TV not once, but twice — not to mention appearing on “The View” and hopping aboard an Amtrak for a “Today” show soft-focus feature. Back in April, he sat next to Biden in the armed seat typically designated for the VP. Buttigieg, in short, has gotten all the upside and none of the dirty work. He’s building valuable relationships with members of both parties around the country as he sells the infrastructure package, without the haggling and arm-twisting to get it passed.

DAN RYAN EXPRESSWAY SHOOTINGS AT ALL-TIME HIGH: A Jeep Wrangler was left covered in bullet holes in the latest shooting on the Dan Ryan early Wednesday morning near 37th Street (CBSChicago). It was also the 43rd shooting on the Dan Ryan just this year, making it the most dangerous expressway in the area. CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported Wednesday on information from Illinois State Police, detailing every one of the shootings on the area’s expressways this year. The numbers show the Dan Ryan is not only the most dangerous expressway for shootings, but there are specific areas worse than others. CBS 2 mapped out every single one and found the five worst areas on the Dan Ryan. There were five shootings near 47th Street, four shootings near 95th Street, and three shootings each at 87th Street, 75th Street, and 63rd Street. It’s not just the where — it’s the when. CBS 2 found a plurality of the 134 expressway shootings this year happened between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

COVID SUBDUED OLYMPICS OPEN TONIGHT: The Olympics opening ceremony began Friday stripped of pomp after the pandemic forced a change to the bustling celebrations that opened previous Games (Wall Street Journal). A simple stage featuring a model of Mt. Fuji was set up as the focus of a show seen by fewer than 1,000 people at the National Stadium in Tokyo. Performances will highlight the challenges of the pandemic for athletes and remember those lost to Covid-19. Planners are hoping to hold the attention of the global television audience with celebrations of Japanese culture, including the use of a medley of videogame songs during the “parade of nations” featuring athletes from more than 200 countries. Only around 5,700 athletes will join the parade, down from more than 10,000 in the opening ceremony in Rio in 2016. The U.S. group is set to be around 260, less than half of the 613 athletes in Team USA.


TRUMP WEIGHING VEEPS (BUT NOT PENCE): Donald Trump and his advisers are convinced that if he runs again for president in 2024, the Republican nomination will be his. Their confidence is so supreme that they view almost all of the emerging field not as competition but as possible vice presidential picks (Politico). As things stand now, Trump is extremely unlikely to run again with former Vice President Mike Pence as his number two, advisers say. Some Trump aides have also written off Pence’s political future, at least at the presidential level, privately arguing that he has failed to capture anything close to the same kind of enthusiasm as Trump. They point to anger among the most diehard Trump supporters over Pence’s decision to carry out his Constitutional duty in certifying Biden’s election win. “The vice president is an incredible man and was a great vice president, but he has a huge obstacle — problem — in trying to be the nominee after dealing with what he’s dealt with over the last six months,” said another Trump adviser, pointing to his recent reception at conservative events. Asked specifically if there was a chance Pence could serve as Trump’s number two again, the adviser replied: “zero.”

DeSANTIS FACES ISSUES ON HOMEFRONT: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing mounting pressure on the home front as he looks to cement his superstar status among Republicans nationally (The Hill). Over the past week, COVID-19 infections have surged in Florida to the point that the state now accounts for about 1 in 5 new cases. The vaccination rate, meanwhile, has begun to level off. At the same time, Florida’s Gulf Coast is suffering from a particularly harsh bout of red tide, prompting local officials to call on the governor to declare a state of emergency. The troubles in Florida are putting pressure on DeSantis as he seeks to carve out a more robust national profile for himself in anticipation of what his supporters and critics alike see as a potential 2024 presidential run.

DeSANTIS RAISING CASH OUTSIDE OF FLA: Almost half of the money to re-elect Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is coming from outside the state, with more people donating from outside Florida than in, Selene San Felice writes in Axios. The Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC has more than $44.5 million on hand. 47% of the PAC's donations this year — $17 million of $36.7 million — came from 6,929 out-of-state donors. It's gasoline on the fire of a possible presidential run.


PELOSI MULLS ADDING REPUBLICANS TO JAN. 6 COMMITTEE: Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seriously considering adding more anti-Trump Republicans to the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger as the leading contender (Politico). Pelosi suggested Thursday that she would consider appointing more Republicans to the Jan. 6 probe, less than 24 hours after she nixed two vocally pro-Trump GOP lawmakers for the select panel. Her GOP appointee to the investigation, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), separately made clear that she would support two well-known additions to the committee: Kinzinger (R-Ill.), her partner in conservative opposition to Donald Trump, and former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), a possible pick as Cheney's outside adviser in the investigation. “We’ll see,” Pelosi told reporters when asked if she’d appoint more Republicans to serve alongside Cheney. “It’s not even bipartisan; it’s nonpartisan. It’s about seeking the truth and that’s what we owe the American people.”

PELOSI 'DEADLY SERIOUS' ABOUT JAN. 6: Unfazed by Republican threats of a boycott, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Thursday that a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection will take on its “deadly serious” work whether Republicans participate or not (AP). The Republicans’ House leader, Kevin McCarthy, called the committee a “sham process” and suggested that GOP lawmakers who take part could face consequences. McCarthy said Pelosi’s rejection of two of the Republicans he had attempted to appoint was an “egregious abuse of power.” The escalating tension between the two parties — before the investigation has even started — is emblematic of the raw partisan anger that has only worsened on Capitol Hill since former President Donald Trump’s supporters laid siege to the Capitol and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.



WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN SLAPS SANCTIONS ON CUBA - President Joe Biden on Thursday announced plans to slap targeted individual sanctions on Cuba regime officials and entities, bucking the progressive voices in his own party who called for an end to the embargo (Politico). The sanctions target Alvaro Lopez Miera, the head of the armed forces in Cuba, and the Cuban Ministry of the Interior’s Special National Brigade, known as the "black berets," for their involvement in the crackdown after historic protests in more than 40 cities across the island. "This is just the beginning — the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people," Biden said in a statement.

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN SAYS CDC WILL RECOMMEND MASKS FOR KIDS - President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will "probably" advise children under age 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to wear masks in school this fall (NBC News). Biden said at a CNN town hall in Cincinnati that kids older than 12 who are fully vaccinated should not wear masks, but he acknowledged that it could be difficult for some school districts to determine who is and is not vaccinated. "It's going to get a little big tight in terms of, well, are Mom or Dad being honest that Johnny did or did not get vaccinated? That's going to raise questions," Biden said. "It's a matter of community responsibility."

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN SCHEDULE - President Biden's schduled: 10 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief. Noon: Biden and Harris will have lunch together. 7:45 p.m.: Biden will participate in a campaign event for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Va. 8:45 p.m.: Biden will leave the White House en route to Wilmington, Del., where he is scheduled to arrive at 9:40 p.m. Press secretary Jen Psaki will brief at 12:30 p.m. First lady Jill Biden and Mariko Suga participated in a bilateral engagement at Akasaka Palace at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday. The first lady met virtually with members of the USA Olympic team at 10:30 p.m. EDT Thursday. She met Emperor Naruhito of Japan at the Imperial Palace at 1:30 a.m. EDT. Biden will attend the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony as head of the U.S. delegation at 7 a.m. EDT.

JUSTICE: BLOOMINGTON MAN CHARGED IN CAPITOL INSURRECTION - A Bloomington man has been charged with four crimes in relation to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol (Indiana Public Media). Antony Vo, 28, is accused of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without authority and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building. Vo is not currently in jail, and will appear in court on July 26. Vo graduated from Hamilton Southeastern in 2011 and frequently appeared on the honor roll. He now must surrender his passport and submit to regular monitoring. Vo last attended IU in Spring 2020, but is not enrolled now, a university spokesperson said. One of Vo’s former classmates from high school and college was not surprised when they first learned of the charges. “He just kind of became a crazy Trump guy.”

COVID: ADAMS SAYS DELTA VARIANT COULD SHUT SOCIETY DOWN - Dr. Jerome Adams, former U.S. surgeon general, and WISH-TV’s medical expert, says the best way to protect children attending school in person is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated (WISH-TV). Adams spoke with News 8’s Phil Sanchez Tuesday and gave his thoughts on the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending universal masking in schools for everyone over the age of 2. “What people need to remember is last year when kids were in school, they were mostly masked up,” Adams said. “They were socially distanced. There were a lot fewer people in school and we didn’t have a Delta variant that is four times as likely to be passed along. So different environment this year. And that’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics says if we don’t want quarantines, if we don’t want shutdowns, if we really want to keep our kids in school until we can get them vaccinated, we need to look at other measures and one of those measures — the most important one — is masking.”

MLB: 'RETIRED' YERMINATOR RETURNS - Less than 24 hours after saying he was stepping away from baseball, Yermin Mercedes was in uniform for the White Sox’ Triple-A Charlotte Knights for their game in Durham, N.C., on Thursday (Chicago Sun-Times). That word came from the White Sox, who learned from everyone else Wednesday that Mercedes, demoted from the major-league club to Charlotte after falling into a prolonged hitting slump, said on Instagram that he was quitting. “It could be just a little frustration,“ White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "I’ll explain to him that he has a big-league future.” Apparently it was just that. Mercedes apologized for his actions Thursday. “I will never give up,” Mercedes posted. “I last 10 years in the minor leagues. My dream is to be a player established in the big leagues. “I apologize.”

MLB: CARDINALS DOWN CUBS 3-2 - Kwang Hyun-Kim earned his fifth straight win on his 33rd birthday and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 3-2 Thursday night (ESPN). Nolan Arenado and Dylan Carlson homered as the Cardinals improved to a game over .500 at 49-48. It's the Cardinals first winning record since being 36-35 after winning the first game of a doubleheader at Atlanta on June 20.

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