The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden poised to sign bill to avert rail strike
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The Senate voted on Thursday to avert a nationwide rail strike, sending the legislation to President Biden’s desk.
The Senate passage of the bill — which follows its passage in the House on Wednesday — forces a deal between national freight railroads and their unions and stops a potential Dec. 9 strike that could have crippled nationwide travel and commerce ahead of the busy holiday season. Support for the legislation was overwhelmingly bipartisan, passing the Senate 80-15 (The Hill and The Washington Post).
“Congress’ decisive action ensures that we will avoid the impending, devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country,” Biden said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “Communities will maintain access to clean drinking water. Farmers and ranchers will continue to be able to bring food to market and feed their livestock. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in a number of industries will keep their jobs.”
While the bill avoids a strike, it does not provide rail workers with the paid sick leave benefits union leaders had demanded in recent months. Under the agreement, rail workers are set to receive a roughly 24 percent pay increase by 2024 and will gain more flexibility to take time off for doctor’s appointments. They will also receive one paid personal day — but not any new, dedicated time off for illnesses.
The proposal to give workers seven days of sick leave, which was championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other liberal lawmakers, failed to pick up enough Republican support to overcome a 60-vote threshold set for adopting the measure and fell in a 52-43 vote (The Hill).
Tony Cardwell, president of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division — one of the four unions that rejected the tentative agreement — told Politico that “what’s frustrating is that the railroads know that their backstop is federal government intervening in a strike.”
“The railroads would have come running to the bargaining table if they knew that we would have been able to go on strike,” Cardwell said. “But they were reliant on the Congress stopping our strike, and therefore they bargained in bad faith.”
▪ New York Magazine: Why America’s railroads refuse to give their workers paid leave.
▪ Bloomberg Law: Railway labor dispute tests Democrats’ longtime ties with unions.
▪ The New York Times: Congress moved to avert a rail strike. Here’s how and why.
Senate Democrats voted by secret ballot Thursday to reject a proposal sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to bar senior party leadership from also chairing A-list committees, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
The reform was aimed squarely at top members of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (N.Y.) leadership team and would have required three Democratic chairs — Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (Ill.), Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) — to pick between their gavels or their senior leadership positions.
Whitehouse declined to comment in detail about his proposed reform, telling The Hill this week: “Caucus stuff stays in caucus.”
House Minority Leader-elect Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is off to a smooth start with congressional progressives and advocacy groups, pacifying reservations about whether he’s left-leaning enough to lead the new Democratic caucus, according to reporting by The Hill’s Hanna Trudo, Mike Lillis and Mychael Schnell.
“Hakeem’s instincts are more progressive than some folks recognize,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Thursday. “I expect that to become apparent as the fight is on with Republicans on everything from protecting Social Security benefits to reinstating the expanded Child Tax Credit to fighting right-wing efforts to claw back bold climate policy.”
Roll Call: Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) backed by acclamation as Democrats fill out their leadership team, as Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.) drops challenge launched on Wednesday for assistant leader.
Biden has asked leaders of the Democratic National Committee to make South Carolina the nation’s first primary state, followed by New Hampshire — where the first in the nation primary is typically held — and Nevada a week later, and hold subsequent weekly primaries in Georgia and Michigan, sources tell The Washington Post.
The decision to radically change the Democratic party’s presidential nominating calendar for 2024 came as a shock to party officials and state leaders who had been lobbying hard in recent weeks to gain a place in the early calendar. Biden’s move is meant to signal his party’s commitment to elevating more variety — demographic, geographic and economic — in the early nominating process.
Politico: Michigan poised to replace Iowa as early Democratic presidential state.
▪ The Hill’s Niall Stanage: Five reasons the race between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, to be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff, matters.
▪ Politico: Biden world once ignored Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Now it’s making her the face of the GOP.
▪ NBC News and Vanity Fair: Elon Musk suspended Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, from Twitter for posting a swastika. The rapper, who dined with Trump, told Alex Jones “I’m a Nazi,” and listed things he loves about Hitler.
LEADING THE DAY
Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron erected a mostly united front on Thursday at the White House after a three-hour meeting punctuated by an abundance of photos showing the 80-year-old American leader and his 44-year-old counterpart in various displays of bonhomie.
During the first state visit he’s hosted as president, Biden said during a joint press conference with Macron that he would be willing to talk to President Vladimir Putin if the Russian leader expressed a desire to end the war with Ukraine. Biden made clear any such talks would require NATO consultation (The New York Times).
Biden has previously said Ukraine, which through President Volodymyr Zelensky has outlined tough demands for any potential accord with Russia, would not be undercut by the West.
Biden, who on Thursday called Putin “sick” and has previously called him a killer, has argued the goal is for Ukraine to win against Russia. After nine months of war and painful energy and economic sacrifices descending on Europe this winter, Macron has been a persistent advocate for a negotiated, diplomatic agreement with Russia, although the contours of such a deal, given Putin’s stated aims and wartime tactics, are murky.
“I’m prepared if he’s willing to talk to find out what he’s willing to do,” Biden said. “But I’ll only do it in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it on my own.”
Reuters: Biden condemned Putin’s “grasping ambition.”
During an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Macron said the war has one viable exit ramp. “The only way to find a solution would be through negotiations,” he said, according to a CBS preview. “I don’t see a military option on the ground.”
During an interview with ABC broadcast on Thursday, Macron said he plans to speak with Putin in “the coming days,” and played down the idea of disagreements with Biden about Ukraine, offering assurances that Ukrainians will not be pressured to accept a compromise they oppose (The Washington Post).
“We have to respect Ukrainians to design the moments and the conditions in which they will negotiate about their territory and their future,” Macron said.
Although France is disgruntled about Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and its subsidies for green energy companies, which it sees as unfair economic competition, Macron and Biden publicly made light of the friction. “There’s a lot we can work out,” Biden said, referring to “glitches” in a law he and fellow Democrats have described as historic.
Macron leaned in, touched Biden’s hand while they spoke in the Oval Office, threw his arm around the elder president and offered a grinning thumbs-up while cameras whirred. The French president, fluent in English and known for his energy and turns of phrase, talked about “succeeding together.”
▪ The Hill’s In the Know: Biden’s first state dinner draws famous faces.
▪ The New York Times: Biden and Macron toast their alliance with lobster and American-made cheese.
▪ Market Watch: The gifts that Macron and Biden exchanged ahead of the holidays evidenced thoughtful diplomacy.
🔎 An IRS watchdog said Thursday that it “did not identify misconduct” in the rare, invasive audits of former FBI Director James Comey and his former top deputy, Andrew McCabe, both of whom former President Trump saw as political enemies when he was in office. The recent review blamed a possible IRS “programming error” behind the audits of the then-FBI officials. Key federal employees interviewed by the watchdog denied that any manager asked them to intercede in the audits to target a specific taxpayer. The House Ways and Means Committee wants to know more (Politico and The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
In Ukraine, Russian troops that last month withdrew from Kherson and fled across the Dnieper River are trying to shell the southern city into dark, frigid misery and submission. Electrical services that had recently been restored were knocked out again on Thursday under Russia’s punishing bombardment (The New York Times).
There are 6 million people in Ukraine without power, a dangerous condition during a cold winter that cannot be controlled by Ukrainians and is endlessly aggravated by Russian forces, who use basic infrastructure — power, water, transportation, shipping, food supplies — as a slow-motion weapon of war. Authorities have urged vulnerable residents of Kherson to leave the city.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday defended Russia’s tactics and denied the Kremlin’s targeting of civilians and urban services rather than military targets is a war crime — an assertion made by Ukraine, some members of the United Nations and NATO.
Lavrov told a news conference that the Russian military goes after targets that are used to replenish Ukrainian forces with weapons provided by Western nations and that the Ukrainian forces rely on to operate. He did not elaborate (The New York Times).
In Kyiv, a city of more than 3 million people, Ukrainians rely on ingenuity to try to keep lights on and food on tables, relying on flashlights and lanterns, generators, emergency power kits and outdoor grills. City officials estimate that 1.5 million people in Kyiv are without power for more than 12 hours a day while trying to live, work and go to school (The New York Times).
In China, public unrest in major cities over COVID-19 restrictions and the government’s heavy-handed pandemic policies will soon be met with an announcement that some curbs will ease, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, China’s economy has slowed and the nation’s roar of dissent may outlast the citizen clashes with authorities on the streets, writes New York Times chief China correspondent Chris Buckley.
“It’s like some national subconsciousness that resurfaces,” said Geremie Barmé, a scholar in New Zealand who studies dissent in China. “Now it’s resurfaced again, this projection of self and of rights and ideas.”
South China Morning Post: China’s road to economic recovery is “slow, costly and bumpy.”
European Council President Charles Michel, while visiting Beijing on Thursday, repeated Europe’s request to Chinese President Xi Jinping to use his influence with Russia to help end the war with Ukraine (Reuters).
The Wall Street Journal: The European Union has asked its members to set a Russia oil price cap at $60 a barrel.
North Korea’s assertiveintercontinental ballistic missile testing has triggered U.S. sanctions imposed on three senior North Korean officials who are tied to the country’s weapons program (Reuters and The Hill).
A week ahead of a major international biodiversity gathering in Canada, the United Nations reports that international spending to protect nature must double by 2025 in order to meet the challenges of climate change, land degradation and the loss of biodiversity. Governments now spend about $154 billion per year on “nature-based solutions,” which use natural systems and processes to tackle social and emotional goals (The Hill).
■ Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and the markets talk past one another, byMohamed A. El-Erian, Bloomberg Opinion columnist. https://bloom.bg/3un3Szy
■ The Supreme Court has another chance to uphold religious liberty for small business owners, by David Boaz, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3B2pDsa
■ A state dinner throws everyone off, just a little. And that’s glorious, by Robin Givhan, senior critic-at-large, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3VIIUXJ
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at 9 a.m.
The Senate will convene on Monday at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Frances Behm to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. He will travel to Boston and at 2:50 p.m. greet British royals Prince William and Princess Kate, who are in the city on other business and will be at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum (Boston.com). The president will participate in an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers phone bank at 4:10 p.m. and a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser at 5:45 p.m. The president will depart Boston and travel to Camp David to spend the weekend.
The vice president is in Washington and has no public events.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 9:30 a.m. will speak in Washington at a World AIDS Day event hosted by the Business Council for International Understanding. He will meet at 3:30 p.m. with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry at the State Department.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. in Washington to announce expansion of naloxone access for drug overdose cases and to discuss the government’s ongoing overdose prevention strategy.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will participate in a fireside chat at noon at the NewDEAL Leaders Conference in Washington and discuss administration support for state and local governments and communities.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department will report at 8:30 a.m. on employment in November.
The Supreme Court on Thursday announced it will expedite the review of the legality of Biden’s federal student loan debt cancellation program and hold oral arguments in February (The Hill). The White House applauded the news, repeating in a statement the administration’s view that Biden’s forgiveness program is legal and economically important to 40 million eligible borrowers and their families.
Lower courts have put the program on hold, and the Biden administration has asked the justices to either allow it to go forward while legal challenges continue, or to take up the issue themselves. The White House recently extended the pause on federal loan repayment, scheduled to expire at the end of the year, to give the high court time to act.
The Biden plan would cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for more than 40 million borrowers (The Washington Post).
In other education news, fewer than half of students who applied early to college this year submitted test scores, writes The Hill’s Daniel de Visé. This could be a watershed moment in admission testing, when a COVID-19-era “test-optional” hiccup evolved into something more permanent. Just three years ago, 4 applicants in 5 included test scores in their Common App submissions. The big question, moving forward, is whether applicants without test scores get a fair shake in college admissions.
The Chronicle of Higher Education: A new push to make financial-aid offers more transparent.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering a new approach to blood donation by gay and bisexual men amid an ongoing national blood shortage. Currently, the agency prohibits blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the previous three months — a scaled-down version of the full prohibition enacted in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic for fear of HIV transmission.
The new plan would require men who have sex with men to fill out a questionnaire about recent sexual activity, among other risk factors. The idea, still under debate, would be to allow those with no new partners in the last three months to donate (The Wall Street Journal).
🦠 Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) announced on Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19, was without symptoms and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (The Hill). “Argh. … I tested positive. I’m asymptomatic and feel totally fine. Downside: I will follow CDC rules and isolate. Upside: maybe now I can finally finish shingling the backyard shed,” Murphy tweeted.
▪ The Hill: Pandemic-induced stress physically changed adolescents’ brains: study.
▪ The Washington Post: Virginia reported the state’s first death from monkeypox, also known as “mpox.”
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): 1,081,147. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 1,780 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 … 👏👏👏 Magnifique! We have Morning Report Quiz winners! Puzzlers this week Googled or guessed some trivia in honor of the French president’s state visit to Washington.
Here’s who went 4/4: Dan Woolley, Lou Tisler, Kathleen Kovalik, Pam Manges, Bill Grieshober, Stan Wasser, Candi Cee, Ki Harvey, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Harris, Richard Baznik, J. Jerry LaCamera Jr., William Chittam, Robert Bradley, Terry Pflaumer, Luther Berg, Steve James and Harry Strulovici.
They knew that Jacques Chirac was former President Reagan’s guest of honor at a 1987 White House state dinner for France.
Macron in 2017 impressed and flattered former President Trump as his guest of honor at a lavish Bastille Day parade. A few months later in 2018, Trump honored Macron and France with a state visit and state dinner at the White House.
France is known for its excellent wine, but the White House, by tradition, served American wines at Thursday’s state dinner. Thus, the correct answer is “false” in response to the quiz fiction that only French wine is served when the White House hosts a head of state from France.
Macron’s response last year after Biden apologized about the U.S. handling of a submarine deal that infuriated France was barbed. “Trust is like love: Declarations are good, but proof is better,” he said.