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Essential Politics: Turkey time for Biden

President Biden speaks in front of a large white turkey.
President Biden pardons Peanut Butter, the national Thanksgiving turkey, in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

It’s almost Thanksgiving, so in the tradition of the holiday, it’s time to give thanks.

I’m thankful for my family, our health — and no longer wondering when President Biden is going to choose a Federal Reserve chairman. After what felt like an eternity of speculation, he decided to nominate Jerome Powell to another term. Lael Brainard, who was also under consideration, was nominated for vice chair.

The announcement at the beginning of the week ended a guessing game that had been a recurring feature of White House briefings, which I regularly attend as one of our Washington-based reporters.

“Can I ask you — forgive me — for an update on Fed timing?” Bloomberg journalist Josh Wingrove asked recently.

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“You don’t have to apologize,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki assured him. It would happen before Thanksgiving, she promised, so “hopefully all of you financial reporters can rest easily with your turkey and mashed potatoes or whatever you like to eat.”

Justin Sink, another Bloomberg colleague, tried again the next day. He noted that there was “one conspicuous thing” missing from the White House’s preview for the holiday week.

“What’s the president’s favorite Thanksgiving meal?” Psaki responded.

No, that wasn’t what Sink was asking about. Now we finally know the answer.

President Biden at a lectern, flanked by Jerome Powell and Lael Brainard.
President Biden announces that he is nominating Jerome Powell, left, for a second four-year term as Federal Reserve chair, and Lael Brainard, right, as vice chair.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

So what about inflation?

Biden’s decision to re-nominate Powell was highly anticipated because inflation has become an increasingly difficult issue for his administration. Prices are rising faster than they have in three decades, souring voters on an otherwise strong economic recovery from a recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty in the country,” Biden acknowledged when announcing his choice of Powell and Brainard. “We know it’s tough for families to keep up with the rising costs of gasoline, food, housing and other essentials.”

Some Americans may see evidence of that during Thanksgiving, and the American Farm Bureau estimates that a traditional Thanksgiving feast will cost about 14% more this year than in 2020. Republicans have called it “Biden’s #ThanksgivingTax” as they try to undercut Democrats heading into next year’s midterm election.

Diane Swonk, the chief economist at the financial services firm of Grant Thornton, said inflation is “going to get worse before it’s going to get better.” That could prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to cool down the economy.

However, Swonk said, regulators run the risk of overreacting because economists expect inflation to slow down on its own next year.

“When we’re dealing with inflation, you don’t want to snuff out growth so quickly,” she said. “You want to tamp it down, but you don’t want to derail the recovery.”

She added, “Getting it just right isn’t easy to do.”

On the waterfront

One of the factors driving inflation is the convoluted supply chain crisis, which has made it more difficult for Americans to get the stuff they want, when they want it. The coronavirus continues to disrupt overseas manufacturing, and cargo ships have been idling off California’s coast as they await space on docks to unload their goods.

However, there are signs of progress. The number of containers idling at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been dwindling since companies were threatened with fines, my colleague Sam Dean reported. Biden hailed the loosening bottleneck in a tweet, saying “by working with the ports, industry, and labor, my Administration has helped speed things up in a matter of weeks.”

But some people aren’t counting on UPS and FedEx to get their Christmas gifts on time. Ronald D. White has been reporting on people who do their holiday shopping through Facebook groups that are part of the “Buy Nothing” network, where people search for things their neighbors no longer want.

“The Buy Nothing ethos has been surging by providing goods and personal connection during a time when both have been in short supply,” White wrote. People have given away clothing, cigar humidors, cooking ingredients and even a hot tub. I can vouch for my local chapter in Washington, where I’ve gifted Christmas lights and a space heater while picking up toys for our toddler and even flagstones for a landscaping project.

Just be sure to read White’s guide to Buy Nothing groups before diving in — they’re communities with their own lingos and expectations.

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Pandemic update

Last week, U.S. public health officials approved making COVID-19 booster shots available to all adults, instantly making 135 million Americans eligible for the additional doses.

More people will become eligible in coming weeks because boosters are recommended either six months after the last dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two months after the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Jeff Zients, who heads Biden’s COVID-19 task force, said a total of 3 million booster shots were administered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Now the White House is pushing more people to get boosters, sharing research that shows additional shots are important to maintain high levels of protection against COVID-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, pointed to data showing that “the immunity clearly wanes” months after people’s initial dose of vaccine.

“We know we need boosters,” he said.

During Monday’s briefing on COVID-19, Fauci showed a simple flow chart on what Americans should do.

“Protect yourself, your family and your community — get boosted!” the chart said. Decorated with a wreath and snowman, it ended on a happy note: “Enjoy the holidays!”

A syringe is filled from a vial.
A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

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A Thanksgiving ritual for the Bidens

Last year, a lot of holiday celebrations were smaller because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was no different for Biden, who had just been elected president when he decided to spend Thanksgiving in Delaware with only his wife, their daughter and their son-in-law.

It’s back to normal for the Biden family, and they’re heading to Nantucket, the small island off the coast of Massachusetts where they’ve been going since 1975.

Biden wrote about his first trip there in his memoir “Promise Me, Dad,” which was excerpted in a local magazine. “It was chilly on the little island at the end of November, but you could smell the tangy salt air of the Atlantic,” Biden wrote. “The island had emptied for the season, so we had much of the place to ourselves.” When it was time to leave, “I was already thinking about a return trip the next year.”

This trip will be Biden’s first as president, but his family got a taste of the experience of traveling with an enormous government entourage when he served as vice president. His grandchildren weren’t thrilled, since they were used to spending the hours-long drive from Delaware to Massachusetts flipping through toy catalogs to make Christmas lists.

Biden wrote that “they filed into my private cabin on Air Force Two en masse, from fifteen-year-old Naomi to three-year-old Hunter. They had all talked it over and the finding was unanimous: this new mode of travel just wasn’t going to work for them. ‘Pop,’ Naomi spoke for the group, ‘can we drive again next year?’”

Maybe Air Force One will be more fun?

A quick programming note: This newsletter is taking Friday off for the holiday. We’ll be back in your inbox next week.

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