The Hill’s Morning Report — Sinema suspense; US kills al Qaeda 9/11 plotter
If there’s a legislative version of “Garbo speaks,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s close-up is what Democrats await with no small measure of trepidation.
The Arizona Democrat — labeled a maverick and privately described by President Biden and his aides as a puzzle following his discussions with her about his scuttled agenda last year — could make or break a slimmed-down bill intended to battle climate change, lower drug prices, curb health plan costs=, and raise some taxes on the rich and corporations. Democrats hope voters would give them credit for such strides during the November elections.
Sinema’s colleagues are tapping their toes, impatient to hear her views on a proposed $670 billion climate and tax deal unveiled last week, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.
They may have to wait. Sinema’s staff says she wants to pore over the text and examine various analyses of the bill.
“Sen. Sinema does not have comment as she’s reviewing the bill text and will need to see what comes out of the parliamentarian process,” a spokesperson for the senator told Fox News Digital on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and co-dealmaker Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was a stumbling block during his party’s Build Back Better endeavor last year, decided not to consult Sinema in advance about legislation now called the Inflation Reduction Act. The Arizona senator, who will likely face a primary challenge in 2024, previously bucked similar but larger versions of proposed tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, which were sought by the White House.
▪ CNN: All eyes turn to Sinema as Democrats face a week that could transform Biden’s presidency.
▪ The New York Times: Here are some hurdles facing the Inflation Reduction Act.
Sinema has zeroed in on at least one of the big questions in the mix: Will the Senate parliamentarian bless the proposal under the arcane budget rules that would allow Democrats to propel the measure with just 50 or more votes? Will the process drag further into August and complicate various deadlines? Will more senators come down with COVID-19 and need to isolate, snarling whip counts and the bill’s potential passage? Manchin has said he plans to talk with Sinema this week about why he backs the measure (The Hill).
“Over the coming days, both sides will continue conversations with the parliamentarian,” he said on Monday. “Our timeline has not changed, and I expect to bring this legislation to the floor to begin voting this week” (Politico).
The Hill: The Schumer-Manchin deal would “nudge” the economy and inflation “in the right direction,” according to Moody’s Analytics.
🌏 Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continues her travels with fellow lawmakers to Asia-Pacific countries and will be in Taiwan on Tuesday night, according to a senior Taiwanese official and U.S. officials (The Hill). Pelosi was in Singapore on Monday and also plans stops in Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. The White House warned China on Monday against taking any escalatory actions in reaction to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit (The Hill and CNN).
China warned that a Pelosi visit to Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province, would undermine relations between the United States and China.
“There is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit, consistent with long standing U.S. policy, into some sort of crisis or conflict, or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” National Security Council strategic coordinator for communications John Kirby said on Monday.
© Associated Press / Andy Wong | In Beijing, a man at a newsstand on Sunday used a magnifying glass to read a newspaper headline about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Asia visit.
▪ The Associated Press: Bumps and bipartisanship in the long fight for a semiconductor bill.
▪ 🦠 The Hill: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Monday on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19, the latest confirmed case among lawmakers who have been in and out of precautionary isolation this summer, complicating whip counts in the narrowly divided Senate.
LEADING THE DAY
Voters in five states will head to the polls to sort out primary contests today, including in Missouri, where former President Trump on Monday made his official foray into the state’s Senate contests and endorsed multiple candidates for the party’s nomination.
Trump early on Tuesday teased on his social media platform that he would be endorsing in the Show Me State’s primary, tossing a wrench into the nominating fight. However, he ultimately could not decide between state Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) and former Gov. Eric Greitens (R), so instead he just endorsed “ERIC.”
The move was simply a formalization of what many knew: that he favored the two candidates and opposes Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), having released a statement in early July saying as much. The move also makes sense on its face, as Schmitt is the favorite and Greitens is perhaps the Trump-iest candidate in the race. The former governor also has Kimberly Guilfoyle, the fianceé of Donald Trump Jr., on his payroll.
Unlike in some states, a last-minute endorsement could matter in Missouri, as there is no early voting in the state. But how much impact it will have is unclear, as Schmitt and Greitens will not be able to reap the full benefits of it. However, both Erics quickly ran with the endorsement in the push to replace the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
▪ The Hill: Trump endorsement of “Eric” in Missouri triggers confusion.
▪ Politico: Inside the wild Bedminster, N.J., lobbying spree that led to Trump’s double Missouri endorsement.
▪ The Hill: Five things to watch ahead of primaries.
Elsewhere on the primary map tonight are key races in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and Washington.
Out West, Arizona’s GOP primaries for Senate and governor are both under the microscope, as two Trump-backed candidates are looking to make it across the finish line and into the general.
Blake Masters, a former top adviser to Peter Thiel, is the solid favorite in the Senate. However, it’s the governor’s race where a close finish could be in store between former local TV anchor Kari Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson, who is supported by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and former Vice President Mike Pence.
▪ The Hill: Kansas vote tees up high stakes test for Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
▪ Julia Manchester, The Hill: What Arizona’s primaries will tell us about the GOP.
▪ The Associated Press: Arizona GOP primary tests power of Trump’s election lies.
▪ NPR: They voted to impeach Trump. Now Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) try to navigate tough primaries.
▪ Niall Stanage: The Memo: Republicans are worried that things are going wrong for Mehmet Oz.
Guy Reffitt, a Texas man convicted of storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, received 87 months in prison on Monday, marking the harshest sentence any of the hundreds of prosecuted rioters have received.
Reffitt was convicted on five felony offenses in March, including for threatening his teenage son, who turned him over to the FBI. Prosecutors were seeking a 15-year sentence for Reffitt, who wanted to physically remove members of Congress from the electoral count. He was described by prosecutors as a domestic terrorist.
He is the first involved in the Jan. 6 attack to go to trial. Previously, the longest Jan. 6-related sentence was five years and three months for two men who pleaded guilty to assaulting police officers (The Associated Press).
▪ The Associated Press: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) challenges 2020 Georgia election probe subpoena.
▪ The Hill: “Main Street” GOP group unveils platform with hopes of boosting moderates.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
A U.S. drone strike carried out by the CIA on a safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the weekend killed Egyptian terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, 71, who became the al Qaeda leader after Osama bin Laden’s death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in 2011 (The Hill).
Biden, during an eight-minute address to the nation Monday from the White House, said that “justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more,” championing a counterterrorism accomplishment 11 months after he ordered American troops to exit Afghanistan at the end of the two-decade war (The Associated Press).
Saying that al-Zawahiri “carved a trail of murder,” including the terror attacks of 9/11, Biden noted that he gave his approval to kill the al Qaeda leader last week after U.S. intelligence began tracking the long-sought target at his location earlier this year. The president, noting that he kept congressional leaders informed, said no Afghan civilians or family members of al-Zawahiri were killed in the strike.
The CIA fired two Hellfire missiles to kill the former physician, who stood on a balcony he favored in a house in Kabul (The New York Times). The missiles were immediately speculated in global news accounts to be R9X Hellfires, which have no warhead and do not create explosions but instead carry six razor-like blades that open during impact with a target (South China Morning Post).
In Afghanistan, Haqqani Taliban leaders were aware of al-Zawahiri’s presence in the Kabul area, a U.S. official said, in “clear violation of the Doha agreement,” and took steps to conceal his presence, restricting access to the safe house after the Saturday missile strike and rapidly relocating members of the al Qaeda leader’s family, including his daughter and her children. The U.S. did not alert Taliban officials in advance of the drone missile operation (CNN).
The Washington Post reported that a former member of al-Qaeda who later joined the Islamic State downplayed the significance of al-Zawahiri’s death, noting that he was barely visible in recent years. “I’m sure Biden will try to make it sound as if it’s something big, but actually it’s not significant for us at all,” said the member of the Islamic State who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Ayman al-Zawahiri became the emir after bin Laden, and now he is a shaheed [martyr]. And that’s it for us. The significant question will be: Who will become the new leader now?”
The FBI’s “Most Wanted” alert about the terrorist now says “deceased.”
Reuters: Al-Zawahiri: From Cairo physician to al Qaeda leader.
Last month, Biden announced a U.S. airstrike in Syria that killed ISIS leader Maher al Agal.
© Associated Press / Osama bin Laden and No. 2 Ayman al Zawahiri in 1998 in Khost, Afghanistan.
For Ukraine, Biden authorized $550 million more in ammunition for Western artillery batteries used against Russian forces, according to the White House (The Hill).
Vice President Harris on Monday at the National Hurricane Center in Miami announced $1 billion in grants available to states to address flooding and extreme heat exacerbated by climate change (The Associated Press).
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday announced it charged 11 people in an alleged $300 million fraudulent crypto Ponzi scheme (CNBC).
■ Biden has tested positive again. That’s no reason to avoid Paxlovid, by Leana S. Wen, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3ByF4K3
■ Pelosi’s Taiwan straits, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3vy7kIH
■ Even in success, why Biden’s al-Zawahiri victory lap will be short, by Jeff Greenfield, opinion contributor, Politico. https://politi.co/3QbVmfN
WHERE AND WHEN
The House is out for the August recess and will return to Washington on Sept. 13. The lower chamber could convene later this month, pending Senate action.
The Senate convenes at noon to resume consideration of the nomination of Elizabeth Hanes to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Biden will join an event remotely to celebrate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signing an executive directive to implement the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.
The vice president has no public events scheduled.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with counterparts through Aug. 12 in the following countries: Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo and Rwanda.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen meets this afternoon with the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, a quarterly requirement to confer with members who are private financial representatives and advise about the state of the economy as well as make recommendations about technical debt management issues.
The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 3:30 p.m.
Russia is leaning toward rejecting a proposed 2-for-1 prisoner swap involving WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, Bloomberg News reported on Monday. According to the report, Moscow wants two Russians in return for the American pair instead of just one, having viewed the proposal as not equal. The U.S. has reportedly proposed the trade for Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer.
➤ PANDEMIC, POX & POLIO
It’s confusing, but here’s how you know you are unlikely to be contagious after contracting COVID-19: Research shows that people continue to shed virus that can be cultured in a laboratory — a good test of the potential to pass along the virus — for about eight days on average after testing positive. Experts say it is very unlikely to pass along the virus after 10 days, even if a person still is testing positive. But a reminder: Every patient is different. There is no hard-and-fast rule for how sick a person will get or how long a person remains infectious (The Washington Post).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,030,498. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 357, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) followed New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in declaring a state of emergency over monkeypox. The city on Saturday declared a public health emergency over the virus, which has spread so fast that the Big Apple has 25 percent of all confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States (NBC News). Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) followed suit, issuing a public health emergency for the state (WGN), as did California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) (CNBC).
What about the milkmaids? To this day no one knows where the virus known as cowpox, which eradicated smallpox, originated. And yet, this mystery microbe is still being used — including in the vaccines currently being deployed against monkeypox (BBC).
© Associated Press / Marcio Jose Sanchez | In Encino, Calif., people lined up at a monkeypox vaccination site on Thursday.
The New York State Health Department on Monday urged all New Yorkers, including children, to get vaccinated against polio immediately if they have not been inoculated already. The vaccine used in the U.S. does not have live virus. Following a polio case in Rockland County, N.Y., the virus that causes polio was found in wastewater samples from early June, according to state officials (WHEC News10).
➤ LEGAL CORNER
West Virginia counties and cities on Monday struck a $400 million tentative settlement with three major U.S. drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — for their roles in the rise of the opioid epidemic, according to lawyers. Individual counties and municipalities involved in the settlement must approve it, with the funds set to be disbursed over 12 years (The Associated Press).
© Associated Press / Timothy D. Easley | Members of the Winchester, Ky., Fire Department last week rescued people stranded in floodwaters.
And finally … 👏👏👏 Amid the horrors of extreme flooding in eastern Kentucky, which killed at least 37 people to date, are uplifting accounts of victims plucked from rooftops by helicopters and others saved by neighbors wading, floating or boating through deep, muddy waters.
Some dramatic video shown by NBC News recounted scenes of one 83-year-old woman being rescued by a helicopter off a roof peeking above flood waters. The only parts of houses seen in the video, posted to Facebook by Wolfe County Search and Rescue Team, are the tops of roofs. The post said that a Wolfe County swift water crew broke through the window of one of the houses to get to a family of five trapped inside. The crew got the family members to the roof, where a helicopter crew hoisted each to safety.
CNN: Kentucky resident Nathan Day, a former coal miner and resident of Hindman, Knott County, and his wife Krystal rescued five children and two of his former teachers from the roof of a nearby house in rising water in the dark early Thursday morning. “You heard a lot of people screaming and begging for anyone to help,” Day told CNN. “At 3 o’clock in the morning, I was in that water with my wife. I put a child under each arm and one around my neck and took them back to my house. The oldest child was holding a small dog,” he added.