Although there is hope on the horizon as wastewater samples suggests that the omicron variant surge has peaked in Massachusetts, COVID-19 continues to dominate the news, straining hospitals and threatening to disrupt in-person teaching in some districts. Boston Public School students are expected to walk out this morning demanding remote learning. Peter Kadzis, GBH News politics editor, and Adam Reilly, politics reporter, joined host Henry Santoro on Morning Edition today to discuss the political fallout. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Santoro: For all the criticism we hear from Democrats about Baker, when the governor testified before the Pandemic Management Committee earlier this week, the legislators didn't seem to lay a glove on him. Was anybody surprised by that?
Kadzis: I wasn't, really. The day began with Baker announcing the purchase of  million rapid home tests and the deployment of 500 National Guard members. What that shows is, as the state's chief executive, he's very much in control. And most legislators, except for his diehard critics, recognize that he began the day by asserting his dominance, if you will. And I think Adam can speak to Governor Baker's rhetorical agility when he doesn't want to answer a question, but I don't want to speak for him.
Reilly: Oh, I'm happy to take that suggestion and run with it. There was a point where in the hearing, the governor was asked if he'd considered implementing a standard for higher quality masks to be used moving forward. And instead of answering that question, he kind of yelled at the questioner about why in-person learning in schools is essential and non-negotiable. He did the classic thing that we learned to do in broadcast, where you get a question that you don't want to field and you just answer a different question. You talk about what you want to talk about. I was a little surprised that the tone was as relatively collegial as it was — that moment of grumpiness notwithstanding.
I think it reflects a couple of things. First off, it's easier to be harshly critical of someone when you're not talking with them face-to-face, even if it's face-to-face over Zoom. And also, we hear frequently people calling on the governor to do more, saying that he's not doing enough when it comes to COVID management. The truth is, and this always bears repeating, the Legislature is Democrat-controlled and has a veto-proof majority. And if the Legislature as a body wanted to do the things they're complaining the governor hasn't done, they could go ahead and do them. And I think sometimes it's easier to criticize him for not taking action than to take action themselves.
"If the Legislature as a body wanted to do the things they're complaining the governor hasn't done, they could go ahead and do them."-Adam Reilly
Santoro: COVID is front and center — Mayor Michelle Wu won big time when a state court rejected a move by the police and fire unions to halt Boston's vaccine mandate, which says that all city workers must be vaccinated by tomorrow, Saturday. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Biden's mandate for health workers, but says that big employers, employers like GBH, can't be compelled to force vaccinations. Are these fights over or are they just beginning?
Kadzis: Well, with the city, it's going to go into arbitration and that'll take months. And frankly, unions have a very good track record of winning in arbitration. I don't know if COVID will make a difference. As for the Supreme Court, the president still has a bag of tricks of executive actions, but that the ruling wasn't that surprising, at least to me, because it seemed like the Biden administration was overreaching.
However, if you read the decision — the majority of the Supreme Court justices seemed to be the best medieval minds in the business. I mean, President George Washington even said when inoculation was brand new, that it was the duty of every member, every head of a household to make sure that his dependents were vaccinated. So, George Washington seems to be wiser than the Supreme Court.
Reilly: I'll take a crack at that, too. My sense is that the fight is pretty much over on the federal level. I don't think it's over on the city level, even though I'm not sure that really matters. There's a poll I want to mention really quickly. The MassINC Polling Group did this in late December. They found that 73 percent of people in Boston and inner suburbs were in favor of requiring proof of vaccination from on-site employees, and 65 percent of people in Boston and inner suburbs were in favor of requiring vaccination from customers. So those are strong majorities. Clearly, plenty of people disagree.
I don't think that the people have been protesting the mayor's policies are going to change her mind. And I also don't think they're going to prevail in court, but they believe that a horrific wrong is being done to them and that they're fighting for truth and justice and the American way. And I think they're going to keep on making their displeasure known. I'm not sure it matters.
"Teachers unions, whether it's COVID or whether it's any other workplace related issue, they want to dictate the rules."-Peter Kadzis
Santoro: Many businesses have figured out a way to make this pandemic surge work. It boils down to working from home. Why are public schools so glaringly different and not remote learning from home?
Kadzis: Well, most parents want their kids in school. The big difference is the teachers unions — teachers unions, whether it's COVID or whether it's any other workplace related issue, they want to dictate the rules. Catholic schools and private schools in Massachusetts are very successfully going ahead with in-person learning.
It's a complicated issue and parents have very mixed emotions. But the single biggest driving force here is, quite understandably, the teachers unions, and to refer back to a previous question, the Democratic members of the Legislature most critical of Baker are, for the most part, closely as someone aligned with the teachers unions.
Santoro: Adam, you have two little ones. So how are you? What are your thoughts on this?
Reilly: I have two kids, one of whom actually heading into the holidays, got COVID at school. Turned out she was fine. She was fully vaccinated and had a mild case, and the rest of us dodged it. I'm very torn. I kind of come down somewhere close to where Michelle Wu is. It's clearly better for kids to be in school. My kids were thrilled to go back this fall and I hope that they can stay there.
That being said, it drives me a little crazy every time I hear about a parent who has sent kids to school with COVID symptoms, who has not been tested, who they then interact closely with. That makes me see red. And depending on whether I've heard an anecdote like that on a given day, I'm going to be more or less inclined to say, yeah, we should be able to remote learning, especially when we're in the midst of a search like this one in.
Santoro: As far as Massachusetts is concerned, who's winning the political game here? Is Michelle Wu winning or is Charlie Baker winning it?
Kadzis: Well, I think in their respective spheres, they're both doing quite well. MassINC did a flash poll recently, when they showed that Governor Baker still enjoyed 60 percent approval ratings. Anecdotally in my neighborhood Jamaica Plain, which granted is very progressive, Wu is very popular.
Santoro: Adam Reilly is the host of Talking Politics, it airs tonight at 7 p.m. on GBH, as well as every Friday night. Adam, what's coming up tonight?
Reilly: We'll talk about all this stuff at greater length and we'll also dig into the Mass. And Cass clearances, and we'll have a few of our colleagues on air — Tori Bedford, Craig LeMoult and Saraya Wintersmith.