The Hill’s Morning Report — House acts to avert rail strike; Biden urges swift Senate vote
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The House moved with speed on Wednesday to avert a rail strike that lawmakers fear could wreck the economy, choosing instead to intervene and impose an accord on freight rail companies and union workers (The Hill).
The measures face headwinds in the Senate today, where Republicans are reluctant to intervene before a possible Dec. 9 walkout by rail workers, despite President Biden’s entreaties to help keep freight rail moving during the holiday season, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he will hold up the bill unless he gets a roll call vote on giving workers seven guaranteed sick days and other senators could make their own demands, delaying the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters this week that he is willing to fast-track the House-passed measure, but some of his GOP colleagues are opposed.
The Hill: Labor activists grumbled Wednesday as paid leave for rail workers, approved by the House, appears likely to die in the Senate.
By a vote of 290 to 137, the House approved a resolution that mirrored a tentative agreement negotiated by the two largest rail unions in September with help from the Biden administration. It would provide workers with 24 percent raises over five years and allow them to take time off for medical appointments without being penalized, a key sticking point for workers.
Seventy-nine Republicans supported the House measure. Eight Democrats — Reps. Judy Chu (Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.), Jared Golden (Maine), Donald Norcross (N.J.), Mary Peltola (Alaska), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Norma Torres (Calif.) — voted “no.”
House lawmakers also passed a separate measure by a vote of 221 to 207 to give rail workers seven days of paid sick leave per year. Three Republicans, Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and John Katko (N.Y.), joined all Democrats present to back the paid leave.
Union leaders had asked for 15 days of paid sick leave, but the tentative agreement between the rail companies and the unions included just one additional personal day, which sparked pushback from union workers and some Democrats in Congress.
The decision by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to hold a vote on a separate bill that would give rail workers extra sick leave was intended to address those concerns.
While some Republicans were supportive of the tentative agreement, recognizing that there was little time and few other options to avert a strike, some used the moment as an opportunity to criticize Biden and his administration for failing to resolve the rail impasse and to keep Congress out of it.
After the House vote, Biden called on the Senate to act.
“Let me say that again: without action this week, disruptions to our auto supply chains, our ability to move food to tables, and our ability to remove hazardous waste from gasoline refineries will begin,” the president said in a statement.
How the Senate will proceed, however, remains unclear. Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) could either bring the measures up as a package or consider them separately.
Railroads urged senators to pass the bill implementing the tentative agreement but reject the measure guaranteeing paid sick leave.
“Unless Congress wants to become the de facto endgame for future negotiations, any effort to put its thumb on the bargaining scale to artificially advantage either party, or otherwise obstruct a swift resolution, would be wholly irresponsible, and risk a timely outcome to avoid significant economic harm,” Association of American Railroads President Ian Jefferies said in a statement.
It is the first time since the 1990s that Congress has used its power under the Railway Labor Act to intervene in a national rail labor dispute. Progressive lawmakers say they are particularly frustrated about being pressed to override the will of rail workers who sought basic workplace rights, The New York Times reported.
House Democrats on Wednesday elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to head the party in the next Congress, marking a generational shift after 20 years under the Pelosi reign while making Jeffries the first Black figure to lead either party in Congress. He ran unopposed (The Hill).
▪ BBC: What to expect from Jeffries, chosen to become the House Democrats’ leader.
▪ Roll Call: Jeffries becomes first Black leader of either party to be elected to lead a congressional caucus.
In a surprise move on Wednesday that will be put to a vote today among House Democrats, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) challenged Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) for election to be assistant leader to serve the caucus in the minority next year (The Hill). Clyburn, who many assumed would be unopposed for the position, previously said he wanted to remain in the Democratic leadership ranks at age 82 to represent the South.
▪ The Hill: House Democrats on Wednesday elected Rep. Ted Lieu of California to serve as vice chair of the caucus next year, solidifying his place as the highest ranking Asian American in Congress.
▪ The Hill: Republican Indiana Sen. Mike Braun on Wednesday filed paperwork to run for governor in the Hoosier State, creating an open Senate seat in 2024.
▪ The Hill: Eyeing GOP House control come January, Senate conservatives press their leaders to back a short-term government funding bill rather than an omnibus spending measure that covers the fiscal year into next fall.
▪ The Hill: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday said the central bank will keep raising interest rates but at a slower pace.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Fed chair says a labor-market slowdown will be needed to bring inflation back to the central bank’s 2 percent target
▪ CNN: Georgia Judge Robert McBurney, who oversees a special purpose grand jury investigation into 2020 election interference in Fulton County Superior Court, in a Wednesday ruling singled out Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer, one of the fake electors for former President Trump, for the role he played in efforts to overturn the presidential election.
LEADING THE DAY
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is expected to go to the House floor to fight for his Speakership bid, writes The Hill’s Emily Brooks, as GOP opponents signal their stance is hardening and they will not make it easy for him to win a majority vote of those present.
McCarthy, who was nominated to the post last month, faces a full House vote in January. And members of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus — home to several members seeking to derail his Speakership bid — are trying to use the ensuing debates to secure rule changes that would hand more power to individual members.
▪ Roll Call: Republican leader faces a perilous path to Speaker’s gavel amid conservatives’ push to scrap home-state projects.
▪ Forbes: Here are all the Republicans who oppose McCarthy’s leadership bid.
▪ New York magazine: The many ways MAGA Republicans threaten McCarthy.
Biden, meanwhile, views his call to resurrect an assault weapons ban — which he helped enact in 1994 and which expired in 2004 — as a political winner. A ban on “weapons of war” and high-capacity ammunition clips lacks enough support in Congress without a Democratic supermajority. But as a political issue, Democrats believe they can cast Republicans as extreme on gun rights ahead of 2024 elections and amid America’s epidemic of mass shootings (The Hill).
However, U.S. sales of firearms on the day after Thanksgiving suggest Americans’ enthusiasm for gun ownership is undiminished even as mass shootings escalate. Black Friday was likely the third-biggest day for gun sales ever. The FBI recorded 192,749 background checks (The Washington Examiner).
In Nevada, Democrats are making a concerted effort for the state to hold the party’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary following a surprisingly strong showing in this year’s midterm elections, writes The Hill’s Julia Manchester. The effort comes as the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws panel convenes this week to discuss its early state calendar — and follows years of haggling as party officials seek to change up the order of early-primary states.
This time, however, Nevada Democrats are optimistic about their chances, citing not just a successful midterm but also the demographics of their state, which they say more accurately reflects the makeup of the party.
▪ Vox: Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s lonely and deeply absurd quest to challenge the Arizona election results.
▪ Bloomberg News: An Arizona county’s refusal to certify election results could cost the GOP a House seat.
CNN: Georgia Democrats want an investigation by state officials of GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s official residency a week before the state’s runoff contest following news reports that the former football celebrity’s primary residence, based on state tax benefits, is in Texas. “I live in Texas,” Walker said in January when speaking to University of Georgia College Republicans. Walker sat for interviews at his Texas home twice in September 2021 and in February and March this year.
Former President Obama will campaign today in Atlanta for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) ahead of the close Dec. 6 Senate runoff (Bloomberg News).
Republicans eyeing presidential bids in 2024 are trying to strike a delicate balance when it comes to weighing in on Trump, aiming to criticize his actions and rhetoric without appearing to attack the man himself and alienate his supporters, The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports. The high-wire act was on full display in recent days as Republicans, including some who are weighing a 2024 campaign, were quick to condemn antisemitism after Trump dined with a white nationalist, but in many cases qualified their criticism or avoided going after Trump altogether.
▪ The Hill: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) set off 2024 chatter with news of “Decades of Decadence,” a book set for release in June. The former 2016 GOP presidential candidate who won reelection to the Senate last month, also authored a memoir, “An American Son,” published in 2012, and “American Dreams,” released in 2015.
▪ The Atlantic: Just wait until you get to know Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
▪ NBC News: The inside story of Trump’s explosive dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes.
After a series of guilty verdicts in the Oath Keepers trial, one legal expert says the ruling is a warning sign to members of extremist groups still awaiting trial for their role in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, writes The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch.
▪ Politico: McCarthy is demanding the chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), preserve all transcripts and records from the panel’s work.
▪ CBS News: The House Jan. 6 committee conducted what is likely to be its final interview, Thompson said.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
China is set to announce in coming days an easing of its COVID-19 quarantine protocols and a reduction in mass testing, Reuters reports, a marked shift in policy after anger over the country’s restrictive “zero-COVID” policies fuelled widespread protests.
Authorities had been trying to stamp out the demonstrations and vigils that spread across the country within the past week. Police have reportedly shown up at homes in the middle of the night, stopped individuals and searched their phones for banned apps, and summoned people for questioning at police stations. The Washington Post reports that since the protests started in response to a deadly apartment building fire last week in Urumqi, police tracked down an unknown number of demonstrators and advised them not to attend any more such gatherings.
“The tried-and-true tactics range from the most brutal to the less discernible, applied to people based on their circumstances,” Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Post. “The authorities have already resorted to harassment and intimidation of those who went to the protest scenes.”
The cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing announced an easing of COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday, a day after protesters in southern Guangzhou clashed with police. The protests have become a show of public defiance unprecedented since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012 (Reuters).
▪ The Atlantic: The popular defiance is a direct challenge to the Communist Party leader’s authority.
▪ Vox: What makes China’s wave of protests different this time?
▪ The New York Times: “Breach of the big silence”: protests stretch China’s censorship to its limits.
The reported arrest of a Western journalist this week covering demonstrations against the government in China has highlighted the country’s effort to suppress independent reporting and control the narrative about what is happening within its borders, writes The Hill’s Dominick Mastrangelo.
With state-controlled media in China largely ignoring the protests, a handful of independent and international news organizations have been providing the majority of the reporting from the ground. Experts say China’s effort to spread propaganda and fight against critical international press coverage shows how important media messaging is to the larger agenda of one of the world’s largest superpowers and a leading U.S. foreign adversary.
In Ukraine, Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure are forcing millions of refugees who intended to return home to stay put, prolonging their ordeal and straining Europe’s ability to absorb one of the biggest migrant flows in decades.
The repeated strikes on power stations and heating equipment have caused rolling blackouts in Ukraine, depriving millions across the country of power, heating and running water amid freezing temperatures, leading Kyiv to urge Ukrainian refugees to stay where they are for now (The Wall Street Journal).
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Moscow was ready to listen if anyone wanted to hold talks on Ukraine — if the West changed its mind about the merit of discussing security proposals that Moscow floated in December (Reuters).
Meanwhile, the United Nations on Thursday launched a record-breaking appeal to international donors for $51.5 billion to tackle spiraling levels of desperation, fueled in part by the war in Ukraine. The disruption to food and fertilizer shipments caused by the war, combined with climate-related disasters and a looming threat of a global economic recession, has produced what the appeal warns is “the largest global food crisis in modern history” (The New York Times).
▪ Axios: Why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky believes Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.
▪ The Washington Post: In Ukraine’s capital, Putin’s attacks don’t dim the resolve to fight Russia.
▪ The Hill: Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Russian attacks on Ukraine energy infrastructure as “barbaric.”
▪ Reuters: NATO seeks to shore up Russia’s neighbors as Moscow attacks Ukraine on multiple fronts.
■ House Republicans face a triple threat, by Matthew Green, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3GYAXcE
■ Enough with shipping migrants out of state, by Khalil Cumberbatch and Marc Levin, contributors, Washington Monthly. https://bit.ly/3irtlFj
WHERE AND WHEN
👉 The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene at noon.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Jerry Blackwell to be a U.S. district judge for the District of Minnesota.
The president at 8 a.m. will receive the President’s Daily Brief. He and first lady Jill Biden will welcome President Emmanuel Macron of France and his wife, Brigitte Macron, to the White House with a South Lawn arrival ceremony at 9 a.m. Biden will meet with Macron at 10 a.m. before their joint press conference at 11:45 a.m. In honor of the Macrons and the U.S. alliance with France, the president and first lady will host the first state dinner of Biden’s term with invited guests at 7 p.m.
The vice president and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the White House arrival ceremony and state dinner for the Macrons. The vice president also will attend the state luncheon.
The first lady, separate from the president’s schedule, will host Brigitte Macron at Planet Word, an interactive museum in Washington, D.C., at 10:30 a.m. They will be joined by local public school students enrolled in a French immersion education.
Economic indicators: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report on claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending Nov. 26. In a separate report on Wednesday, job openings fell in October, reversing a surprise jump in September (Bloomberg News).
➤ STATE WATCH
Biden on Wednesday designated Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada, a biologically diverse landscape of nearly 450,000 acres sacred to 10 Yuman-speaking tribes as well as the Hopi and Chemehuevi Paiute, as a national monument (The Washington Post).
During a White House Tribal Nations summit, the president acknowledged the federal government’s choppy historical record when it comes to treaty commitments to Native Americans while touting his own economic, environmental and educational initiatives. “No one’s ever done as much as this administration, period,” he said. “I am committed.” He vowed to make an official visit to Indian Country as president.
R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco and vape companies on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court for an emergency injunction that would stop a flavored-tobacco ban set to go into effect in California later this month (Politico). The high court filing comes after two lower courts, including the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, denied stay requests from the industry. The group first requested a preliminary injunction in the District Court of the Southern District of California the day after 62 percent of Californians voted to uphold a statewide ban on flavored-tobacco products in stores and vending machines.
The Atlantic: The contested idea that the Constitution grants state legislatures some level of special authority in administering federal elections that may not be constrained by state courts or perhaps even state constitutions will come before the Supreme Court on Dec. 7 in Moore v. Harper.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
In the United States, COVID-19 remains a serious risk to the elderly because COVID deaths are occurring predominantly among seniors. All told, the 65-plus age group last month accounted for nearly 90 percent of COVID-19 deaths despite that age category being only 16 percent of the population. Last month, people 85 and older represented 41.4 percent of deaths, those 75 to 84 were 30 percent of deaths, and those 65 to 74 were 17.5 percent of deaths, according to a sobering analysis by The Washington Post.
The coronavirus is likely to rank third as a cause of death this year, or 150,000 to 175,000 fatalities, the Post reports. By comparison, heart disease and cancer kill roughly 600,000 people each year; accidents, 170,000; stroke, 150,000; and Alzheimer’s, 120,000. Flu, in contrast, kills 12,000 to 52,000.
In an unusual decision triggered by the ever-changing COVID-19 virus, the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday rescinded emergency-use approval of Eli Lilly’s bebtelovimab monoclonal antibody treatment because the government said it is not expected to be effective at neutralizing the two most dominant omicron subvariants currently circulating in the United States (The Hill).
🦠 Former President Clinton, 76, announced on Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19 with manageable symptoms. “I’m doing fine overall and keeping myself busy at home. I’m grateful to be vaccinated and boosted, which has kept my case mild, and I urge everyone to do the same, especially as we move into the winter months,” he tweeted.
▪ CNBC: Long COVID-19 may be “the next public health disaster” — with a $3.7 trillion economic impact rivaling the Great Recession.
▪ The Hill: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention award over $3 billion to bolster public health workforce, infrastructure.
▪ The New York Times: Is spreading medical misinformation a doctor’s free speech right?
▪ The Washington Post: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday it will begin an expansion of wastewater testing for the virus that causes polio beyond New York, where it has been detected, to include monitoring in Philadelphia and Detroit. Once underway, testing will last at least four months.
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): 1,080,444. 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.)
Try Our Morning Report Quiz
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the French president’s state visit to Washington, we’re eager for some smart guesses about protocol, state dinners and diplospeak.
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
In 1987, former President Reagan, who enjoyed state dinners, hosted a White House evening for France at which Dionne Warwick was the celebrity entertainer. Which French president was the guest of honor?
- Nicolas Sarkozy
- Charles de Gaulle
- Jacques Chirac
- François Hollande
French President Emmanuel Macron, tonight’s guest at the White House, attended his first U.S. state dinner in 2018, hosted by former President Trump. In France in 2017, Macron impressed and flattered Trump by making him the guest of honor at a lavish _______.
- Bastille Day parade
- Dinner at Versailles
- Folies Bergère show
- Soccer exhibition at Olympique de Marseilles
France is known for its excellent wine, so only French wine is served when the White House hosts a head of state from France.
Biden last year apologized publicly to Macron for the U.S. handling of a submarine deal with Australia and the U.K. that infuriated France, which was cut out of a contract worth an estimated $66 billion. Which of these was Macron’s reaction after Biden’s efforts to smooth relations (as recounted in news coverage this week)?
- “Apology accepted”
- “Trust is like love: Declarations are good, but proof is better”