The Hill’s Morning Report — Senate protects same-sex marriage; House aims to avert rail strike
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Amid the nation’s shifting politics and Congress’s fluctuating incentives to compromise, the Senate on Tuesday approved bipartisan legislation that codifies same-sex marriage and interracial marriage (The Hill).
The measure, which originated in the House, was modified before 61 senators approved, including 19 Republicans. Thirty-six GOP senators opposed the bill, which must return to the House for consideration before the measure can be signed by the president (The Hill).
In its Senate-approved form, the measure repeals the Defense of Marriage Act and requires state recognition of legal same-sex and interracial marriages but does not codify the Supreme Court’s 2015 that legalized same-sex unions nationwide or prevent the high court from eventually overturning the landmark decision. Republicans pushed for religious freedom protections and amended language that shields nonprofit religious organizations from having to provide services in support of same-sex marriages.
The measure gathered momentum following the Supreme Court’s June decision that overturned the federal right to an abortion, a ruling that included a concurring opinion from conservative Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested same-sex marriage rights were wrongly decided.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a leading progressive, called the legislation a positive “first step” but said “we’ve got more work to do” when it comes to preserving equal marriage rights.
“What the Respect for Marriage Act would say is that you must recognize valid marriages regardless of sexual orientation, national origin and race,” said Naomi Goldberg, deputy director of the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks state and federal legislation affecting the nation’s LGBTQ community. “What’s important,” she added, “is that it doesn’t touch the current statutory or constitutional patterns that exist in the majority of states. Those are still on the books.”
Ahead of the Senate vote, President Biden asked House and Senate leaders from both parties to join him in the Oval Office on Tuesday to discuss the pending legislative agenda in December at a time when Democrats still control the House.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters participants “made some good progress” (CBS News).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said leaders concur on a need for an omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded. But he warned that negotiations over the specifics could drag out until Christmas, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. Government funding technically runs out on Dec. 16. Democrats would prefer a funding bill that keeps the government open through the end of the fiscal year next fall.
Compounding lawmakers’ time-sensitive worries are calls for congressional intervention to prevent economic damage that could result if employees of freight rail companies try to strike next month. Action by the House and Senate could end the threat of a national shutdown, but it would also anger rail workers who rejected a contract they say provides too few benefits such as paid sick leave (The Hill).
Biden, who presents himself publicly as firmly pro-union, wants to keep consumer goods, coal and other necessities moving along freight rail lines this winter. Some rail passengers also travel along freight tracks.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday while at the White House said a rail strike would mean serious economic risks.
“Weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike. … We could lose 750,000 jobs, some of them union jobs. That must be avoided,” Pelosi said.
She plans to move legislation today that embodies a contract deal tentatively reached by rail companies and most unions that were part of negotiations in September (Politico).
Business groups warned the administration and Congress that federal action needs to be swift because railroads may begin curtailing shipments as early as this week (Bloomberg News).
▪ The Hill: A potential rail strike has thrown Biden and Congress a lame-duck curveball, threatening to upend an already volatile economy while dividing Democrats over plans for a federal fix.
▪ The Hill’s Niall Stanage explains why a rail strike is a U.S. risk and why Congress is stepping in.
▪ The Hill: A possible strike by freight rail workers would hinder delivery of coal and ethanol, an ingredient in gasoline, posing potential economic challenges.
LEADING THE DAY
Police presence increased in China’s big cities Tuesday in an effort to prevent fresh protests, with security services harnessing the country’s pervasive surveillance system to hunt down participants in mass protests calling for an end to the country’s “zero COVID” policies and criticizing the government.
The central public health authority, meanwhile, has urged local governments to avoid unnecessary and lengthy lockdowns. Authorities also mellowed their language about the dangers posed by the virus, saying the now-prevalent omicron variant causes less serious disease (The Wall Street Journal and Reuters).
The protests come on the heels of months of economic upheaval due to strict containment policies. President Xi Jinping’s unbending approach to the pandemic has hurt businesses and strangled growth, squeezing the world’s second-largest economy, where youth unemployment reached a record 20 percent and corporate profits sagged (The New York Times).
“The government has no good options at this point,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist for Capital Economics, a research firm, told the Times. “Whatever they do, it’s hard to see how there won’t be significant restrictions imposed across large parts of the country, which is going to have a huge impact on weakening the economy.”
▪ The New York Times: What China’s COVID-19 protesters are calling for.
▪ The Washington Post: Pentagon warns of China’s plans for dominance in Taiwan and beyond.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, participating in a NATO summit held in Romania, said the Biden administration will put $53 million toward helping Ukraine purchase transformers, circuit breakers and other hardware as officials scramble to help the country withstand a sustained Russian assault that has plunged millions into darkness and cold.
Blinken announced the plan during talks with counterparts from the Group of Seven bloc. It’s a sign of the international concern about the growing energy crisis in Ukraine, where millions have lost access to heat, electricity and running water as winter sets in (The Washington Post and The New York Times).
▪ Reuters: NATO seeks to shore up Russia’s neighbors as Moscow attacks Ukraine on multiple fronts.
▪ The New York Times: In Ukraine, more signs of war crimes emerge behind retreating Russian forces.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on Tuesday that a prisoner swap before the end of the year involving WNBA star Brittney Griner and American Paul Whelan, both jailed in Russia, remains possible (The Associated Press).
“There always is a chance,” he said. “Regrettably, there have been a few occasions when it seemed that a decision in favor of it was about to be made, but it never happened,” he added without elaborating. Ryabkov noted that a prisoner swap “would undoubtedly send a positive signal that not everything is so utterly hopeless in Russian-U.S. relations.” In his view, “such a signal would be appropriate, if we could work it out,” he continued.
The Biden administration reportedly has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “merchant of death.”
In Moscow, U.S. Chargee d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks are ongoing about freeing Griner, but that Russia had not offered a “serious response” to U.S. proposals (The Guardian).
Biden will host French President Emmanuel Macron this week for the administration’s first official state visit after a lengthy hiatus due to the pandemic, The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Alex Gangitano report. Biden is hosting Macron for the diplomatic honor in a sign of the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and France at a time when cooperation on the war in Ukraine, climate change and other global priorities are top of mind, administration officials said.
▪ The New York Times: As Macron pays state visit to the U.S., Ukraine tests an old alliance.
▪ The Washington Post: Macron to promote nuclear energy in the U.S. as industry faces a crisis in France.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is toeing a delicate line on national security issues in the lame-duck session, torn between competing factions of the GOP as he weighs a series of moves targeting the Biden administration and other Washington Democrats in the next Congress, writes The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch.
McCarthy has said he plans to boot a pair of Democrats from the Intelligence Committee, and another from Foreign Affairs, while also threatening to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border. Before that, however, McCarthy is threatening to withhold GOP support for a lame-duck vote on a bipartisan defense policy bill. By pushing the debate into the next year, when Republicans control the House, McCarthy has said he aims to fight Democratic “wokeism” in the military.
McConnell is likely to take a different approach on the defense bill and strategy on funding the government.
Politico: Republican National Committee commissions “review” of party tactics after disappointing midterm.
Meanwhile in Arizona, a Republican county is threatening to hold up the state’s certification of the 2022 midterm results. While all the counties in the Grand Canyon State were required to certify their results by Monday, Cochise County’s refusal to do so has sparked legal action from Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), who won her election to be the state’s next governor.
The Hill’s Caroline Vakil has the details about Hobbs’ lawsuit compelling Cochise County to certify its election, Arizona’s Dec. 5 statewide canvass deadline and what legal challenges could come next.
Biden may be weighing whether he’s running for reelection in 2024, but he’s already taking on Trump, writes The Hill’s Amie Parnes. Since the midterm elections — when Democrats were able to hold off an expected Republican wave — a more confident Biden has poked Trump and Republicans regularly in remarks, comments and asides with reporters. The swipes have been particularly prevalent in recent days as the president contemplates whether to take on Trump in a rematch.
“It feels like one of the takeaways from the midterms is that creating a binary choice between he and Trump is beneficial for President Biden,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “It appears that the White House is going to continue to be bullish whenever Trump creates an opportunity for contrast. I think any White House is going to become more proactive as they gear up for reelection. Feels like it’s on schedule for this White House to adjust.”
The Hill: Progressives cool on finding an alternative to Biden.
McConnell on Tuesday condemned Trump for having dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. McConnell, who typically avoids conflict with the former president and has not spoken to him since 2020, made a pointed criticism of his electability.
“There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, [is] highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” he told reporters at the start of his weekly press conference.
McConnell’s comments came a day after Senate Republicans across the political spectrum criticized Trump’s decision to host Fuentes and Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, at his dinner table at Mar-a-Lago shortly before Thanksgiving.
▪ The New York Times: McCarthy disavowed Fuentes and his ideology but declined to directly criticize Trump for meeting with him.
▪ The New York Times: Jewish allies call Trump’s dinner with antisemites a breaking point.
▪ Politico: Georgia Senate hopeful Herschel Walker (R) to Trump: Please phone it in.
■ Xi Jinping will crack down on the protesters. The only question is how, by John Pomfret, contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3Vf22N8
■ It’s time for a Christmas truce in the COVID wars, by Walter Schapiro, columnist, Roll Call. https://bit.ly/3GXtdaQ
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at 9 a.m. House Democrats hold their leadership elections today.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Camille Velez-Rive to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Puerto Rico.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden and Vice President Harris will speak at a White House Tribal Nations Summit at the Interior Department at 11:30 a.m. Biden and first lady Jill Biden will help light the National Christmas Tree during a televised event on the Ellipse beginning at 5 p.m. (NBC4).
Vice President Harris will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron at 10:10 a.m. at NASA headquarters regarding space cooperation. She will speak at 3 p.m. at the White House Tribal Nations Summit. Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony this evening.
Blinken is in Bucharest, where he is participating this morning in the third session of a NATO summit. He will meet with Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib before he joins the fourth session of the NATO gathering, for a discussion about the impact of Russian disinformation. Blinken also will meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in the morning. In the afternoon, the secretary holds a press conference and meets with U.S. Embassy staff and families in Bucharest.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will answer questions at 9:15 a.m. posed by Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times’ Dealbook Summit in New York City. In the evening, she will tape an interview with “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” to broadcast on CBS at 11:35 p.m.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will speak at 1:30 p.m. at Washington’s Brookings Institution about the “Economic Outlook, Inflation and the Labor Market.”
Economic indicators: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. will report a second estimate of gross domestic product and a preliminary assessment of corporate profits in the third quarter of this year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will report at 10 a.m. on job openings and labor turnover.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) will speak between 9:30 a.m. and midday at the National Press Club about pending legislation and U.S. election issues during an event hosted by Issue One, which advocates for political reforms. Information is HERE.
The first lady also will host a media preview at 3 p.m. in advance of Thursday’s state dinner to honor the president of France.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.
➤ STATE WATCH
Mayor Eric Adams (D) on Tuesday said New York City will begin to hospitalize more mentally ill people involuntarily (The Hill).
The mayor directed city agencies, such as the New York Police Department and emergency responders, to bring the mentally ill to hospitals for extended emergency care. Adams said that the city has a “moral obligation” to help those with severe mental illness get the “treatment and care” they need.
“The common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent, suicidal or presenting a risk of imminent harm,” Adams said.
The directive that asserts that law enforcement and first responders can remove people from subways and city streets based on initial assessments of their mental health is controversial among advocates for the homeless, hospitals that would receive such people and be expected to hold them, and some New York City taxpayers.
Training for New York police officers, emergency medical services and other medical personnel will begin immediately, Adams said. But in a memo posted online, city officials said case law does not provide “extensive guidance” on removals for mental health evaluations.
Other large cities struggle with how to help homeless people, in particular those dealing with mental illness (The New York Times). In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently signed a law that could force some homeless people with disorders including schizophrenia into treatment. Many states have laws that allow for involuntary outpatient treatment, and Washington state allows people to be committed to hospitals if a judge finds they pose a threat to themselves or others.
In San Francisco, the city will allow police to deploy robots that can kill people (San Francisco Chronicle).
Politico: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)-backed school boards begin ousting Florida educators.
In Jackson, Miss., where the federal government is overseeing a drinking water crisis, the Justice Department will appoint a third-party manager responsible for stabilizing the water system for the city. Jackson experienced its second water-quality crisis in as many years in August (The Hill).
A federal jury in Washington on Tuesday determined that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, another member of the far-right organization, were guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The jury found three other members of the group not guilty on that charge. The offense is generally defined as conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state and could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
All five were found guilty of other charges, including obstruction of an official proceeding, in the most serious case to grow out of the Justice Department’s investigation into the Capitol attack (NBC News).
Federal prosecutors alleged that the five defendants conspired to oppose the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to Biden but did not prove that there was a pre-coordinated plan to storm the U.S. Capitol.
Prosecutors played audio of Rhodes continuing to plot to oppose the government after the attack on the Capitol.
“We should have brought rifles. We could have fixed it right then and there,” Rhodes said in a Jan. 10, 2021, meeting with a man who he believed would be able to pass along a message to Trump. “I’d hang f—in’ Pelosi from the lamppost.”
▪ The Hill: Oath Keepers’ Rhodes convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Judge Raymond Dearie, the special master in the federal documents dispute between Trump and the Justice Department over national security and other materials removed from the White House by the former president, may be wrapping up his work ahead of time (The Washington Times).
Dearie faces a Dec. 16 deadline to report on evidence seized by FBI agents at Trump’s Florida home, but the 11th Circuit Court has indicated it may take the case away from him any day, and the Justice Department has a hearing scheduled Thursday, reported The New York Sun.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
A so-called universal flu vaccine that scientists have been trying to create for decades is in its early stages, The New York Times reports. A new study describes successful animal tests of this kind of vaccine; like the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, the experimental flu vaccine relies on mRNA.
The vaccine is still in its early stages — tested only in mice and ferrets — but provides important proof that a single shot could be used against an entire family of viruses. If the vaccine succeeds in people, the approach could be used against other virus families, perhaps including the coronavirus. The vaccine wouldn’t replace yearly flu shots but would provide protection against severe disease and death.
“There’s a real need for new influenza vaccines to provide protection against pandemic threats that are out there,” Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who led the work, told the Times. “If there’s a new influenza pandemic tomorrow, if we had a vaccine like this that was widely employed before that pandemic, we might not have to shut everything down.”
The blood-thinning drug Apixaban, also known by its brand name Eliquis, which is given as a potential life-saver to many patients recovering from severe COVID-19, does not work and can cause major bleeding, research shows. The findings have led to calls for doctors to stop advising people to take the drug because it does not stop them from dying or ending up back in the hospital and can produce serious side effects (The Guardian).
▪ Verywell: Will omicron show up on rapid COVID-19 tests?
▪ CBS News: Health agencies are renaming “monkeypox” as “mpox” to reduce global social stigma.
▪ The Washington Post: Parkinson’s disease patients and researchers search for an exercise “prescription.”
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,079,888. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,644 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … ⚽ Victory with injury: In the World Cup on Tuesday, Team USA defeated Iran 1-0 to advance to the knockout round while a star goalie recovers.
Yahoo Sports: U.S. forward Christian Pulisic is listed as day to day after sustaining a pelvic injury during Tuesday’s game.
The last time Iran and the United States faced off at a World Cup, in 1998, Iran’s players gave the Americans white flowers as a peace gesture before winning 2-1 in what state media called the “match of the century” (Bloomberg News). This time, the match held value for Iranian anti-regime protesters, as the country’s continued presence in the World Cup meant more days in the spotlight at the world’s biggest sporting event and more focus on their country and their cause.
Pulisic, perhaps Team USA’s brightest star and the scorer of Tuesday’s winning goal, was forced to leave the game at halftime after sustaining a pelvic injury when he crashed into Iran’s goalkeeper. He briefly re-entered the game, but was forced to sub out minutes later. Coach Gregg Berhalter said Pulisic appeared “in good spirits” in a celebratory video call after the game after being taken to a hospital as a precaution.