The Hill’s Morning Report — South Carolina in hurricane Ian’s path
Hurricane Ian is not done.
Revived by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, the Category 1 storm this morning with sustained winds of 85 mph is swirling up the Atlantic Coast toward South Carolina, where it is expected to arrive today. In its wake are at least 12 fatalities confirmed in Florida, shoreline streets reduced to barren sand at Fort Myers Beach, damaged bridges and causeways and inland communities transformed into debris-choked rivers up to rooftops.
Residents with small boats navigated muddy, stinking byways. Owners of large power boats found their vessels aground and stacked into improbable piles by the powerful onslaught of what came ashore as a Category 4 monster with sustained winds of at least 150 mph. It is perhaps the largest natural disaster in Florida history, according to the state’s fire marshal (CNN).
The U.S. Coast Guard based in Clearwater, Fla., described harrowing rescues on Wednesday and Thursday of kayakers in trouble, a boat captain who was plowed into mangroves in Cape Coral near where the storm made landfall and in need of medical care, and a boater who found himself nearly capsized (The Washington Post).
The National Hurricane Center at 5 a.m. ET said a hurricane warning is in effect from Savannah River on the border between Georgia and South Carolina to Cape Fear, N.C. The storm “will approach and reach the coast of South Carolina today, and then move farther inland across eastern South Carolina and central North Carolina tonight and Saturday,” the Hurricane Center reports. Hurricane-force winds this morning extend 70 miles out from Ian’s eye. “Major to record river flooding will continue across central Florida through next week,” according to the forecast.
By every measure, the storm’s toll appears enormous. People living in communities that took a direct hit along the Gulf Coast in the Sunshine State triggered at least 500 rescue responses. Searches for victims continue. At least 2.3 million customers were without power on Thursday. Some businesses were reduced to sodden splinters. Tourist attractions that closed ahead of the storm will require repairs to reopen.
A rough estimate of financial losses from the hurricane was just beginning to emerge on Thursday. An initial analysis from Fitch Ratings found that Florida losses covered by insurance alone could range from $25 billion to $40 billion. Officials were assessing what they called widespread damage.
“When you look at Fort Myers Beach in particular, there’s no words to describe it,” Lee County, Fla., Sheriff Carmine Marceno said (The New York Times).
President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Florida, which will provide 100 percent federal funding in some counties for reconstruction and other needs. He vowed that affected states and residents will receive the government’s sustained support.
“We’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life,” he added Thursday during a visit to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Biden said he would visit Florida soon to tour damage and meet with residents and officials.
“We’re going to do our best to build Florida back as quickly as possible. But we’re not going to be leaving,” the president said.
▪ The Washington Post: Biden doubles down on federal hurricane aid to Puerto Rico, still recovering from Fiona.
▪ The Washington Post: Hurricane Ian is expected to make its second U.S. landfall near Charleston, S.C., at midday, bringing high winds, heavy rain and several feet of storm surge.
▪ The New York Times: Here’s how Hurricane Ian became so powerful.
▪ NewsNation: How to help people impacted by Hurricane Ian.
LEADING THE DAY
The Senate on Thursday approved a sweeping stopgap spending bill, likely averting a government shutdown ahead of a looming Friday deadline. Lawmakers in the House are expected to vote on — and approve — the measure today.
The short-term spending package, which passed the Senate 72-25, will fund the federal government at its current levels through Dec. 16 (The Hill).
“This legislation avoids a very bad thing — shutting down the government — and does a lot of good things: money for the people of Ukraine, funding for communities reeling from natural disasters, aid to families with their heating bills, just to name a few,” Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) confirmed Thursday, just ahead of the vote. “Millions and millions of people can breathe easy knowing that we have done this in a timely way and the money to continue the government will be there.”
Congress rarely passes spending measures on time, relying on temporary substitutes that buy time for negotiations for the new fiscal year.
Thursday’s bill encompasses more than $12 billion in emergency military and economic funding to aid Ukraine. It also includes, among other items, $1 billion in energy utility assistance for low-income families, $20 million for the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., and billions in disaster aid (Politico).
Last minute additions to the package include Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) request for disaster relief assistance for coastal Alaskan communities slammed by flooding and landslides caused by Typhoon Merbok, arguing that the state should receive the same kind of disaster relief that was granted to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona (The Hill).
Passage of the bill was all-but guaranteed after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) agreed to remove his permitting reform proposal — which would overhaul federal rules for approving large energy projects — from the spending package. Manchin’s language in recent days had come under heavy criticism from both sides of the aisle, threatening to stall or upend the whole bill (The Hill).
▪ CNN: “This is not the best job in the world”: Manchin says he hasn’t made any decisions on running for reelection.
▪ The Washington Post: Senate passes bill to avert shutdown, fund government until Dec. 16.
▪ Roll Call: Stopgap funding bill passes Senate; House vote on deck Friday.
The legislation now heads to the House, where members are expected to vote today, sending the bill to Biden ahead of the midnight deadline.
“So much depends on when they’re going to get this over to us. That’s what we’re waiting for,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told Politico. “We could do this tomorrow, it’s gonna get done.”
Both chambers now head into recess until after the midterm elections. Schumer confirmed Thursday that the Senate’s next roll call vote will be on Nov. 14, though senators will return Oct. 11 for a non-voting day to discuss this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a path to securing abortion access for service members (Defense One).
Schumer warned of an “extremely busy” lame-duck session after the midterms when Congress will have to pass a full budget — or another continuing resolution — and allocate federal resources to Florida to aid the state’s recovery from Hurricane Ian, among other bills.
▪ Business Insider: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) chides staffers as they race to prep her for a stopgap government funding vote: “I don’t even know what that is.”
▪ Roll Call: Bill would allow “Dreamers” to join the military, become citizens.
While stopgap spending bills have become commonplace in government funding, they often frustrate agencies like the Department of Defense, writes The Hill’s Jordan Williams. While the Pentagon has learned to manage its budget despite delays from continuing resolutions, they’re not inconsequential. Short-term spending packages often cause delays in the department’s ability to start certain projects, and in a year marked by record inflation, experts warn that a continuing resolution essentially amounts to a funding cut for the Pentagon.
▪ Defense Daily: Senate won’t vote on fiscal year 2023 NDAA until after midterm elections.
▪ The Hill: Senators: Pentagon request for critical munitions acquisition fund should be in NDAA.
The Senate on Thursday also voted to confirm U.S. ambassadors to four countries — Belize, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua and Panama. Retired figure skater Michelle Kwan, who worked on Biden’s campaign in 2020, will serve as ambassador to Belize (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➤ POLITICS & INVESTIGATIONS
The House panel investigating events before, during and after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attacks questioned Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, on Thursday about her false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Trump, seeking to learn more about her contacts at the time with White House officials and others.
Thomas, a well-connected conservative activist, stood by her assertions without offering evidence or explanation during a voluntary appearance before the panel, portraying herself as among many Americans who believe that the 2020 election was stolen, according to news accounts (The Hill).
Members of the committee wanted to learn more from Thomas about her efforts to help Trump try to overturn election results, including text messages with former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin soon after Trump’s defeat. Those exchanges are part of material gathered by the committee, which anticipates holding a ninth public hearing before the midterm elections, said Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) (CNN).
“As she has said from the outset, Mrs. Thomas had significant concerns about fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election,” Mark Paoletta, her attorney, said in a Thursday statement. “And, as she told the Committee, her minimal and mainstream activity focused on ensuring that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated.”
▪ The Hill: U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday sided with Trump’s legal team saying they can hold off on affirming the accuracy of the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago documents inventory. The special master’s document review deadline is now Dec. 16.
▪ Politico: GOP offers strained Trump defenses in Mar-a-Lago probe — for now.
▪ The Washington Post: Nearly 700 days later, most Republicans still believe Trump’s big lie.
Trump on Saturday will headline a rally in Macomb County, Mich., the latest in a series of campaign events in battleground states ahead of the November elections, reports The Hill’s Niall Stanage. The former president wants to help GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, who has struggled in the general election contest. Two recent polls showed Dixon lagging incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) by double digits.
The Bridge: Trump to stump for Dixon, Matthew DePerno, the GOP candidate running for Michigan attorney general, and Kristina Karamo, GOP candidate for Michigan secretary of state.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), one of three border-state governors who booked buses and other chartered transportation to move migrants to blue states, will debate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D) tonight. The Hill’s Julia Manchester unpacks what’s at stake for Abbott, who holds a comfortable lead in his bid for reelection and amid chatter that he, too, is considering a White House bid.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is leading the charge against Sen. Ron Johnson, the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican incumbent, accusing him of being out of step with the rest of the state, particularly on the issue of abortion rights, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Baldwin has not been shy about taking political aim at her colleague as Democrats’ Senate majority hangs in the balance.
Congressional Republicans will find themselves in a sticky situation next year if they capture the House, the Senate or both, The Hill’s Emily Brooks and Mychael Schnell report. If they get to call the shots, Republicans are expected to face pressure from Trump to thwart the Justice Department’s probes into his presidency. Some Republicans have floated defunding parts of the FBI in response to what they say is a “political” raid on Mar-a-Lago.
Politico: GOP readies political heartburn for an FBI it won’t defund.
Biden’s recent decision to forgive some student loan debt for eligible borrowers has become a flashpoint in some quarters amid the midterm campaigns. On Thursday, the Education Department estimated the projected costs to taxpayers at $305 billion over 10 years and $379 billion over the projected total life of the program, close to an estimate of $400 billion released by the Congressional Budget Office and disputed by the White House (The Hill). Biden’s team in August said the costs of the loan forgiveness policy, now the subject of litigation, would be approximately $240 billion.
■ Biden, DeSantis and the politics of hurricanes, by Tevi Troy, guest essayist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3BNKJu8
■ Italy and Sweden show why Biden must fix the immigration system, by Fareed Zakaria, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3UMFrrs
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is scheduled to talk to reporters at 10:45 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 8:55 a.m. for a pro forma session. Senators are scheduled to return to Washington on Nov. 14.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Briefing at 9 a.m. Biden and first lady Jill Biden will attend a Supreme Court investiture ceremony at 10 a.m. for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ahead of the court’s new term on Monday (USA Today). Vice President Harris, just returned from Asia, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, will also attend. The president will speak at 11:30 a.m. about federal hurricane response. Biden and the first lady will host a noon reception to celebrate the Jewish New Year. The vice president and Emhoff (who will speak) will participate. Biden and the first lady will host a reception for Hispanic Heritage Month at 4 p.m.
The first lady also has on her schedule remarks at 12:50 p.m. to the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly at the Department of State at 10:30 a.m. The secretary will hold a joint press conference with Joly at 11:30 a.m.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is in Sacramento, Calif., where he will visit the University of California Davis Health COVID-19 vaccination pop-up clinic at an elementary school with a Latino student enrollment. The secretary will tie his visit and an announcement at 2:25 p.m. PT to National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. will report on U.S. consumer spending in August. The Wall Street Journal explains what the report may show about inflation.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2:45 p.m.
Misery loves company, and the U.S. economy is no exception, writes The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. As the country fights stubbornly high inflation rates and braces for climbing unemployment figures, Americans also face headwinds from across the pond in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. A looming recession in Europe could sap even more energy from the U.S. economy, leading to a dismal stock market, falling exports, and a decline in tourism.
▪ CNN: The U.K. is gripped by an economic crisis of its own making.
▪ Fortune: There was one person who predicted exactly what was going to happen to the U.K. under Prime Minister Liz Truss’s “fairy tale” economics — and he was ridiculed for it.
▪ Reuters: Energy crisis sires new European order: a strong Italy and ailing Germany.
▪ CNN: Germany will borrow nearly $200 billion to cap consumers’ energy bills.
A missile attack on a convoy of cars in southern Ukraine has killed over 20 civilians today, hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to move forward with the annexation of four Ukrainian territories, signaling the latest escalation of its war in Ukraine and sparking outcry from the U.S. and its partners (Reuters and The Hill).
“It certainly is Putin’s intention to have us believe that he’s raising the stakes. This is the biggest land grab since the second World War,” Marshall Billingslea, a former special presidential envoy for arms control at the State Department, told The Hill. “He’s effectively putting down a marker, and we should expect the Russians to immediately signal that this is now Russian territory, and therefore their threat to escalate applies to any effort to retake these territories by Ukraine or anyone else.”
▪ Reuters: Putin to host Kremlin ceremony annexing parts of Ukraine.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Escalation of Ukraine war effort raises risks to Russia’s Putin at home and abroad.
▪ The New York Times: “Putin is a fool”: Intercepted calls reveal Russian army in disarray.
▪ The Hill: U.S. imposes oil sanctions against Chinese companies accused of aiding Iran.
Efforts to regulate how tech companies collect and use kids’ and teens’ data gained momentum across the country this past year, and supporters say the push is credited to a former Facebook product manager, The Hill’s Rebecca Klar reports. In the year since Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen came forward — releasing hundreds of internal documents that offered a peek inside how the social media behemoth operates — Congress, state legislatures and federal agencies are cracking down on how tech firms serve kids and teens.
The House on Thursday passed a package of antitrust bills aimed at boosting enforcers’ ability to take on powerful tech firms. The bill marks the first major antitrust reform package to pass on the House floor as part of a three-year process that started with a House Judiciary Committee investigation into the market power of tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Meta (The Hill).
▪ Bloomberg News: New antitrust bill will bolster U.S. fight against tech giants with small reforms.
▪ CNBC: House passes antitrust bill that hikes M&A fees as larger efforts targeting tech have stalled.
▪ The Hill: Meta to freeze hirings, cut staff.
▪ The Hill: Billionaire Elon Musk said Russian media had “a lot of bulls—, but some good points too” after the Ukraine invasion.
▪ Bloomberg News: Airbnb guests are at the mercy of hosts for hurricane refunds.
➤ POX, PANDEMIC & HEALTH
As monkeypox cases rise in the U.S. and the COVID-19 pandemic continues on a global scale, researchers are warning that these kinds of viruses — which spread between humans and animals and are known as zoonotic diseases — will become increasingly commonplace.
Human expansion into previously uninhabited areas coupled with the destruction of animal habitats mean there’s more human-animal interaction and more opportunity for disease to spread (NPR).
“Right now, much of the climate change focus has been focused on, ‘Well, this is bad for the environment, and we’re going to see floods, and we’re going to see heat waves, and this may affect economic survival,’” Carl Fichtenbaum, the vice chairperson for clinical research for internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati, told NPR. “But people aren’t always looking at it in terms of health and human disease, which is very costly.”
▪ The New York Times: New infectious threats are coming. The U.S. probably won’t contain them.
▪ The Hill: LGBTQ+ groups call on Congress, White House to direct more resources toward monkeypox.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved a controversial drug designed to slow the progression of ALS, a neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (NBC News).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,059,288. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 343, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And finally … 👏👏👏 Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! From a distant asteroid to the moon, readers successfully puzzled their way through outer space. 🪐💥🌑🚀
Here’s who reached for a galaxy of trivia and splash landed in the winner’s circle: Patrick Kavanagh, Daniel Bachhuber, Ki Harvey, Stephen Delano, David Letostak, Harry Strulovici, Pam Manges, Amanda Fisher, Joe Atchue, Jaina Mehta, Len Jones, Dick Baznik, Jerry LaCamera, Barbara Golian, Joan Domingues, John van Santen, “Bradley,” Cliff Grulke, Luther Berg, Richard Baznik, Randall Patrick, Peter Spofera, Stan Wasser, Eric Truax, Steve James and John O’Donnell.
They knew that NASA’s final manned Apollo lunar landing took place in 1972.
The first woman to fly in space was Valentina Tereshkova.
Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, was Monday’s NASA experiment to crash into asteroid Dimorphos in case Earth one day needs to redirect a big rock.
The hottest planet in our solar system is Venus, which, by the way, has an average surface temperature that could melt lead.