Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden kicks off midterms as ‘a choice’

President Biden
AP/Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd in a overflow room at a rally hosted by the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, in Rockville, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden on Thursday kicked off his party’s drive to get Democratic candidates elected in November with a national message warning that Republicans are taking away reproductive and voting rights while bowing to special interests, extremists and the toxic influence of former President Trump.

“What we’re seeing now, is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy,” the president told a crowd of donors outside Washington in a Maryland suburb before a subsequent rally. “It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism.”

In 2020, Biden told voters his mission was to save the middle class while uniting the country. Two years later as president, the question is whether he can save his party while overcoming voters’ pessimism that the country is on the wrong track.

“This fall will be a choice between these two visions,” he said as a heckler momentarily interrupted his remarks. “In 18 months, COVID no longer controls our lives. A record number of Americans are working. … Businesses are growing.”

The president, who shared his stage with Wes Moore, Democrats’ candidate for governor in Maryland, raced through a script packed with references to conservative blockades in Congress, “climate deniers,” “MAGA Republicans” and Big Pharma. “They lost,” he shouted.

Biden is viewed by some Democrats as an awkward standard-bearer, in part because a majority of Americans disapprove of his performance amid high prices, an exhausting pandemic and relentless partisanship. Some in his party hope he hangs up his political career after one term. Some are not hiding their disinterest in his help as they campaign.

Biden’s message: Think again. “Things are beginning to change a little bit,” he told supporters on Thursday. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

Until a few weeks ago, Republicans were optimistic they could flip the House, send Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) packing, and tilt control of the Senate in their favor next year. But as Election Day approaches, the GOP concedes it has a case of political jitters as Biden and congressional leaders tout their newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act and its historic climate change provisions and drug pricing pluses. At the same time, record-high gasoline prices have fallen, and states’ restrictive abortion laws are mobilizing female voters to think about keeping Democrats in power in Washington. 

Biden’s job approval has inched up to 44 percent, the highest it’s been in a year, according to a Gallup survey released on Thursday (The Hill). 

The president and many Democratic candidates are opting to revive some of the same themes they successfully used in 2020. It’s a risk, since midterms are usually a referendum on the party in power in the White House. Most of America says the nation is on the wrong track. It’s Biden’s job before Nov. 8 to persuade them otherwise.

Heading into the 2010 midterms, former President Obama also attempted to nationalize the off-year stakes to help Democratic candidates. His job approval was 45 percent. His party lost 63 House seats and control of the lower chamber and barely held onto a Senate majority after a loss of six seats. Obama glumly called it a “shellacking” the day after the elections. Biden remembers those results, and also the script.

If you want to know what will happen if the other party takes over Congress, all you’ve got to do is take a look at what they’ve done the last 18 months,” Obama told a Miami audience at a Democratic National Committee event almost exactly a dozen years ago. “On issue after issue, they’ve sided with special interests over the middle class. They voted to give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. … We’ve got to start asking, what’s good for America?”

Similarly, former President Clinton in 1994 responded to Republicans’ nationalized campaign for divided government with a narrative about Democrats’ achievements in Washington. His job approval at the time was 39 percent. He accused conservatives of being “out there with all their pie-in-the-sky schemes and all their no-saying and now a lot of their denial about what they did and didn’t do when they were up here. We have a record.” 

“These elections can be our friend,” he told his party during a September 1994 fundraiser.

The result, however, was a “Republican sweep” in which Clinton’s party lost 52 House seats (plus two in special elections earlier that year) and eight Senate seats. The GOP captured the House majority for the first time in four decades, gained 12 governorships and regained control in 20 state legislatures.      

For the next 75 days, Biden, 79, will test the campaign messages he knows by heart in search of winning results. He’ll make his pitch on Sept. 9 in red-state Ohio, where there’s an open Senate race and a groundbreaking for a new Intel semiconductor plant. He’ll also raise some campaign money in New York City on Sept. 19 while he’s there for a United Nations speech about uncertainties in the rest of the world.


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Politico: Mehmet Oz shifts strategy in Pennsylvania as his campaign ails.

The Associated Press: Herschel Walker skips details in bid to oust Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

The Hill: Democrats clash over side deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), raising shutdown risk.


LEADING THE DAY

MORE IN POLITICS

A federal magistrate judge on Thursday said he will release a redacted version of the affidavit that led him to greenlight a warrant to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. 

Judge Bruce Reinhart made the decision days after he called on the Justice Department (DOJ) to propose redactions for the document, having fretted that they could ultimately render a public release of the affidavit “meaningless.” However, Reinhart said in his order that the proposed redactions are sufficient, as the DOJ made compelling points to leave sealed information, including witness identities and details about the investigation’s “strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods.”

“I find that the Government has met its burden of showing a compelling reason/good cause to seal portions of the Affidavit,” Reinhart wrote, adding that he decided it was “the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire affidavit.”

Reinhart ordered prosecutors to file a public version of its redacted document by noon.

Prosecutors have argued that the document’s release would compromise the department’s probe as it is in its “early stages” (The Hill).

While the wait is on for the unsealed affidavit, the former president faces a deadline in federal court today, as he must sufficiently explain why he wants a special master to review the government documents taken from his Florida property on Aug. 8. The documents, which include batches that are considered “classified” by the FBI as part of the National Archives’ case that he removed materials that are not his to keep (CNN).

CNN: Inside Trump’s public bravado and private resistance over Mar-a-Lago documents.

Politico: Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows ordered to testify in Fulton County probe of Trump election overturn efforts.

The New York Times: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) seeks to keep distance from Trump inquiry. 

The New York Times: Florida pair pleads guilty in theft of diary of Ashley Biden, daughter of the president.

The Hill’s Niall Stanage asks how Anthony Fauci, 81, went from a national icon to one of its most divisive figures. In the early days of the pandemic, Fauci’s approval rating was near 80 percent and media headlines proclaimed the infectious disease expert in charge of the government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as “America’s doctor.” 

Leading to his decision to depart government in December, Fauci has often been asked about the impact of polarization on public health and on his approach to public messaging during the pandemic. Is he the victim of political forces outside his control, or were there missteps that contributed to the change?


IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

STATE WATCH

Those who live in four more GOP-led states – Idaho, Tennessee, Texas and North Dakota – this week experience the beginning of “trigger laws” restricting abortion rights, while litigation continues in some cases. Of the four states, all but North Dakota already had anti-abortion laws in place that largely blocked patients from accessing the procedure. Many clinics that provided abortions have either stopped offering those services or moved to other states where abortion remains legal. The Associated Press updates current situations in the four states.

ADMINISTRATION

The largest student loan forgiveness plan in U.S. history, announced at the White House on Wednesday, also leaves plenty of questions as borrowers try to navigate the administration’s new policies. Here are five of the biggest questions (The Hill).

CNN: How an indecisive Biden finally made his mind up on student loan debt.

Jim Tankersley, The New York Times: Biden student loan plan squarely targets the middle class.

The Pentagon on Thursday issued a massive overhaul of its policy related to preventing the deaths of civilians in U.S. military operations. A 36-page plan, laid out by the Department of Defense, ​​titled the “Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan,” calls for sweeping changes in military planning, training, doctrine and policy for all future conflicts, according to Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman. 

Ryder noted to reporters that the idea is to install at all operational levels individuals “who are trained to have an understanding of civilian harm, the aspects of civilian harm mitigation, and operational planning,” from the outset of any mission (The Hill). 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the plan earlier in the week.

“We will ensure that we are well prepared to prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm in current and future conflicts,” Austin wrote of the plan. “Importantly, this plan is scalable and relevant to both counterterrorism operations and large-scale conflicts against peer adversaries” (The New York Times).

CNN: U.S. carries out additional airstrikes in Syria following rocket attack that injured US troops.

The Health and Human Services Department today is facilitating a flight from Europe and the Netherlands to the United States to deliver the equivalent of 862,000 eight-ounce bottles of baby formula for use under medical supervision. The shipment of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula and SMA Nutrition Althéra specialty formula products from Switzerland and the Netherlands will be flown to New York City and moved by truck to Plainfield, Ind., for distribution, the White House announced on Thursday. 


OPINION

■ What Democrats should do if they somehow win in November, by Jamelle Bouie, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3R8WJMT

■ California’s plan to ban new gas-powered cars is misguided, by Henry Olsen, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3Kog6PD


WHERE AND WHEN

The House will meet at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session. It will reconvene on Sept. 13.

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session during its summer recess, which ends Sept. 6.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Briefat 9:30 a.m. Biden will mark Women’s Equality Day by dropping by a Roosevelt Room gathering at 11 a.m. with state and local elected officials where the focus is scheduled to be reproductive health care. The president will depart the White House at 1:55 p.m. for his Delaware home and remain there over the weekend.

Vice President Harris has no public events. She departed Hawaii on Thursday and is in Los Angeles.

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 12:45 p.m.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at 10 a.m. EST delivers a much-anticipated speech at the annual economic forum held in Jackson Hole, Wyo., sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. reports on U.S. consumer spending in July. With high inflation as a backdrop, the data will get a lot of attention.


🖥  Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv, on YouTube and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.


ELSEWHERE

INTERNATIONAL

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a major buildup of troops on Thursday in an apparent effort to replenish forces fighting in Ukraine. The move to increase the number of troops by 137,000, or 13 percent, to 1.15 million by the end of the year came amid chilling developments on the ground in Ukraine, including fears of a nuclear catastrophe and missile strikes aimed by Russia on Wednesday against civilians (The Associated Press). 

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant controlled by Russia in Ukraine was temporarily cut off from the electrical grid for the first time on Thursday, forcing a momentary blackout in the surrounding areas after a power line was damaged. Moscow is using the plant as a base from which to launch attacks (The Associated Press). 

Inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, who plan to enter the plant before Sept. 5, will be given wider latitude than initially sought. IAEA officials had originally planned to try to ensure that enriched-uranium stockpiles had not gone missing from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant during the course of the six-month war. The inclusion of security and safety experts will allow the IAEA to potentially perform a forensic evaluation of shelling against the plant, which could be used to hold attackers responsible (Bloomberg News and Yahoo News). 

The Associated Press: IAEA mission seeks to visit the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Mykhail Podolyak barely flinched as air raid sirens wailed in Kyiv, signaling incoming Russian missiles. Sitting in his office at the heavily fortified presidential administration building in Ukraine’s capital, the adviser to the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky said the sirens have become a normal part of life six months into the war with Russia. “We’re getting used to this new lifestyle — we are used to the wailing sirens now, and to the bombardments because the Russian Federation is mostly aiming at the civilian population and civilian infrastructure,” he said through a translator during an interview with The Hill’s Laura Kelly.

The Hill: Here’s every weapon the U.S. has supplied to Ukraine with $13 billion.

Daily Beast: Friends of Kremlin critic and international businessman Dan Rapoport do not believe he died on Aug. 14 as the result of a suicide leap off a building in Washington, D.C.

Reuters analysis: China’s navy begins to erase the imaginary Taiwan Strait median line.

  POX, PANDEMIC & HEALTH

Cases of monkeypox globally fell 21 percent in the past week, according to a report  from the World Health Organization on Thursday. Europe’s outbreak might be ebbing but cases in the Americas show a “continuing steep rise,” according to the organization. “In Latin America in particular, insufficient awareness or public health measures are combining with a lack of access to vaccines to fan the flames of the outbreak,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. In late July, he declared the unprecedented spread of monkeypox to dozens of countries to be a global emergency (The Associated Press). 

🎾 Novak Djokovic will not compete in the U.S. Open, ending his Grand Slam season because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. The Wimbledon champion and 21-time Grand Slam winner is barred under U.S. foreign travel restrictions from entering the country for the tournament, which begins Monday in New York, without being vaccinated. “Sadly, I will not be able to travel to NY this time for US Open,” Djokovic wrote, adding that he would “keep in good shape and positive spirit and wait for an opportunity to compete again” (The Associated Press).

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,043,089. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 389, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


THE CLOSER

And finally … 👏👏👏 It’s time to give an extended round of applause to our Morning Report Quiz winners! This week’s puzzle marked today’s 102nd anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment handing women the right to vote.

Here’s who came through the winner’s circle this week: Stanley Wasser, Harry Strulovici, Patrick Kavanagh, Pam Manges, Ki Harvey, Len Jones, Randall S. Patrick, Joan Domingues and Steve James.

They knew that roughly 26 million women were handed the ability to vote in the 1920 presidential election after the amendment was certified.

Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, marking the completion of the ratification process.

Women’s Equality Day was established in 1973. 

Finally, Mississippi, having rejected the amendment in early 1920, became the 48th and last state to certify it in 1984.


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