The Cabinet post Biden won’t fill
With help from Myah Ward
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump is expected to begin the week of Feb. 8.
FOOD CZAR — Millions of people, including 14 million children, said they didn’t have enough food to eat last year because of closed schools and lost jobs. Today, a 15 percent boost to one food program was one of President Joe Biden’s moves to try to blunt Covid’s economic fallout. Biden increased the amount of money families with children get through a pandemic program that replaces meals those kids used to get at school.
Chef José Andrés wants Biden to go one step further: Create a food secretary who sits on the National Security Council. Andrés, who runs restaurants across the country and started the nonprofit World Central Kitchen a decade ago to feed people in other countries after natural disasters, says this new role would help reduce food insecurity in America.
He saw firsthand last year how farmers let billions of dollars in crops rot, even as millions went hungry. He threw his support behind a bipartisan bill that would direct federal emergency funding to restaurants and nonprofits to help them feed people. He chatted with Nightly today about pandemic eating and how he thinks the Biden administration should overhaul food policy. This conversation has been edited.
You started World Central Kitchen a decade ago to help people after an earthquake in Haiti. Did you ever imagine that you would have to bring those efforts home to the U.S.?
The moment I came to realize food was sometimes an afterthought was after Katrina, when thousands lost their homes. The Superdome became the home for thousands of men and women. I always say that the stadiums are actually a gigantic restaurant that entertains. There is no reason why we were not supposed to respond to Katrina by bringing a group of cooks like me, a couple of trucks full of food.
You’ve proposed the creation of a national director of food and nutrition, a food czar — if you had the job what would be the first thing you do?
I left school at 14, 15. I am a man of action, and this is where I feel happy. I have to run my restaurants.
Nobody in America has been in charge of having a 360-degree approach to come up with quick solutions to the issues we are facing. It’s the moment to do it, the same way that after Sept. 11, we created the national director of intelligence who sits on the National Security Council. To bring all the different agencies together to start giving more importance to understanding what food means.
We need to make sure that schools have kitchens that can feed children food made fresh, hopefully with food that more often than not will come from the rural local economy and create jobs in suburban areas and rural communities.
The subsidies we give through the USDA and the farm bill always end up in the hands of very few companies. This is wrong. We need to make sure the power of the federal government helps the small farmers of America, diversifying the food sources, empowering rural areas all across America.
The Obamas loved D.C. dining. They often celebrated at my favorite Washington restaurant, Rasika. Trump didn’t go to restaurants in town. How do you expect Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the rest of the administration to make their mark on the D.C. food scene?
They will do a lot of takeout until they feel that it’s safe to start going to restaurants.
We know Vice President Harris, from her times at Howard University, she knew the area well. She has her favorite places as a young student. And she’s an amazing chef. I think that’s going to be very, very good for the food community. I love that she is the cook in chief.
What are you cooking at home these days?
We cook what my daughters and my wife like to eat. We get fancy sometimes, but many times we want a very humble lentils cooked with a whole bunch of vegetables in the Spanish way. But to me, they are not humble, those lentils. To me they are rich and elegant because I can only eat them at home.
We cook a lot of chickpeas and spinach, which is one of the favorite recipes of my wife, dishes from the south of Spain that have Arab influence. We cook many, many, many soups, stews from different parts of Spain. Sometimes we try to do a Chinese fried rice our way. We try to do an Italian pasta our way. I call my Indian friends to give me a recipe to make dal and other Indian recipes. We try to make a jerk chicken that is not too spicy because my girls don’t like spicy, but I love jerk chicken.
Do you think a $15 minimum wage Biden proposed today for federal contractors should apply to restaurants?
Watch to see if Andrés can answer in 3 minutes or less.
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PRESS SPRAY — Biden signed an executive action Wednesday requiring masks on federal land. Hours later, the president removed his face mask while speaking at the Lincoln Memorial. Press secretary Jen Psaki has also removed her face covering during the press briefings this week at the White House.
“We take a number of Covid precautions here, as you know,” Psaki said Thursday, responding to a question about Biden ditching his mask. “I don’t know that I have more for you on it than that.”
Nightly’s Myah Ward asked public health experts if Psaki should keep her mask on at the podium, and whether taking it off poses a risk.
“I do not think it is necessary that Jen Psaki wear a mask at the podium during her briefings because there are many mitigation steps in place to delimit the risk. White House staff and reporters are tested daily, they are all socially distanced, and everyone else is masked. This makes the whole situation low risk.” — Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
“When the backslapping and shoulder grabbing of the joyful inaugural was accompanied by some maskless celebrities and politicians moving through the crowds, one could appreciate just how difficult it is to adhere to mask wearing and physical distancing with high fidelity. If these violations of mask and distancing had happened in a local school, there would be re-education of the classroom. While there was no deliberate or flagrant flouting of mask use at the inauguration, as there was among certain congresspersons on Jan. 6 at the beleaguered Capitol or routinely in the White House over the past year, there is still a need for much greater care than we saw on the Inauguration Day television screen.
“Outdoors with distancing, giving speeches or singing facing unoccupied spaces are all lower risk. The Press Room of the White House and other similarly enclosed spaces are another story, however. Until all attendees are vaccinated fully, when an individual poses a query or provides a response, one should wear one’s mask. If muffling for the media is a problem, then perhaps a plexiglass barrier and a nearby higher volume air purifier could be added so that journalists or the press officers (or analogous settings) are kept safe. (That’s what my university did for its professors, but we still lectured in masks.)
“Nurses and doctors do all their critical communications while wearing masks, often N95 or KN95 styles, for many hours at a time. It is not difficult or particularly cumbersome to wear cloth or surgical masks. I even saw a women’s college basketball game on television recently played with all the athletes wearing masks. Wearing masks saves lives. Between 2,000 to 4,000 people die each day from Covid-19 and wearing masks as a routine, taking them off only when distances and alternative barriers permit, is the right thing to do for everyone’s safety.” — Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health
TRUMP’S LIBRARY CARD — For months, as the end of Donald Trump’s term approached, historians and journalists have been playing a speculation game: What will Trump’s presidential library be like?
“A shrine to his ego,” predicted a historian in the Washington Post. Others imagine a theme park, or a “full MAGA” exercise in rebranding his presidency. One report said he’s trying to raise an astonishing $2 billion to build it.
Here’s another, more likely possibility, author and former congressional staffer Anthony Clark writes: There won’t be one.
It’s not because he doesn’t read books (presidential libraries aren’t that kind of library), and not because his presidency ended in a shocking insurrection at the U.S. Capitol fanned by Trump himself, resulting in a second impeachment. Other presidents have stepped down in borderline disgrace — Richard Nixon resigned; Herbert Hoover lost in a landslide, blamed for the Great Depression — and still got their libraries.
Trump likely won’t even manage to build a private library, such as the one Nixon finally created for himself. Or the “center” for which Barack Obama has had great difficulty even breaking ground, which will lack a government presence, a research facility, or archives.
Presidential libraries are complicated. And if you understand how they work — and how Trump himself works — it’s nearly impossible to imagine him actually pulling it off. The consequences of this failure, for Trump and his supporters, will go beyond just a building: Without a library, a center or some kind of institute to shore up his reputation, his legacy as a president and his place in history are likely to fall even further out of his control.
EVERYONE IN DISARRAY — Democrats are in control of the Senate. But Ron Johnson is still leading the Homeland Security Committee, even though he’s term-limited and in the minority.
It’s the latest complication of the 50-50 Senate split. “I’m still chairman,” the Wisconsin Republican said this week. “They haven’t hung my picture in the cloakroom yet so that’s a sign I guess.”
As Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiate a power sharing agreement for a 50-50 Senate, congressional reporter Marianne LeVine writes, committee assignments are still up in the air. That means that Republicans like Johnson are, for now, holding hearings and markups for Biden’s Cabinet nominees, even though Democrats are in charge of the Senate floor.
THE JOE AND MITCH SHOW — Democrats have control of the House, the Senate and the White House. But if they want to get anything done, like a massive Covid bill, they’re gonna have to work with Republicans in the Senate. In the latest POLITICO Dispatch, Alex Thompson reports on how Biden’s decades-long relationship with McConnell could take center stage.
Nightly asked you: In an executive order issued Monday, former President Donald Trump listed 244 people he’d like to see honored with statues in a National Garden of American Heroes, including Muhammad Ali and Amelia Earhart. It is unlikely to get built. But if the garden were to come to fruition, which non-political figure would you like to see in it, and why? Select, lightly edited responses are below:
“Rosa Parks: Parks’ actions continue to inspire and embody the true American spirit, tenacity, determination, hope and drive, in spite of the abhorrent hideousness of adversity and injustice. She proves that by standing together in unity as a nation, for what is right, always moving forward in the presence and persistence of truth, we can become a better people.” — Naomi Teter, residential elder care specialist, Altadena, Calif.
“James Brown: His career influenced genres of music and generations of musicians.” — Peter Gemma, retired, Lexington, Ky.
“Elizabeth Ann Seton: She was the first American saint, founded the first Catholic girls school in the U.S., founded Sisters of Charity, was the mother of five children and wife to an ailing husband.” — Thomas William Howard, teacher, Springfield, Va.
“George Gershwin: The American composer who probably understood America and its people more than any orchestral composer that preceded him. His love of the land and its people soar in his music.” — Patt Keane, retired, Minneapolis
“Dolly Parton. No additional explanation needed.” — William Owen, businessman, Knoxville, Tenn.
“Erin Brockovich: I’m an environmental scientist who has volunteered in the U.S. and Mexico advising citizens about their water pollution problems. It’s amazing how Erin’s tenacity and willingness to seek answers was able to actually help, to be effective when all seemed lost for the voiceless.” — Janna Owens, activist, Birmingham, Ala.
“I’d like to see an ‘everyman or everywoman’ statue to represent the people who died of Covid. I think we need to remember these people. They may not be known outside their families or neighborhoods or wherever, but they were a hero or heroine to someone.” — Kim Gillan, health regulatory affairs, Sioux Falls, S.D.
“Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the microchip, co-founder of Intel and the original ‘Mayor of Silicon Valley’ who created a culture of collaboration, dismissed hierarchy and promoted good ideas no matter the source. He’s responsible for so much of the technology and tech culture that defines modern life today.” — Doug Cutchins, university administrator, Abu Dhabi, UAE
YET ANOTHER BERNIE MEME REFERENCE — The end of the Trump era and the start of Biden’s presidency didn’t mean a pause in political satire and cartoons, and Matt Wuerker takes us through the latest in his Punchlines Weekend Wrap.
MORE BAD NEWS FROM BORIS — Scientists have found “some evidence” that the British variant of coronavirus is associated with “a higher degree of mortality,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
All current evidence continues to show that the vaccines “remain effective” against this variant that was first identified in the fall, Johnson told a press conference today. “I must tell you this afternoon that we’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said.
THE CAPITOL UNDER GUARD — Unlike military operations overseas, the National Guard deployment for Biden’s inauguration occurred under the watchful eyes of photographers everywhere. Photojournalists captured troop movements; social media posts expressed both support and alarm; and even some military personnel themselves leaked images to members of the media to document difficult working and living conditions. Head to our collection of images from the week, showing the spectacle of thousands of soldiers, at times fully armed with weapons of war.
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