The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden, House GOP trade blows
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Biden, House GOP trade blows
Weekend air waves and social media were filled with barbed rhetoric and accusations so riddled with Washington-speak that few casual listeners can sort it all out.
On Sunday, a House GOP committee chairman used the term “crime scene” to describe the recent discovery by the president’s lawyers of classified documents, which long ago should have been turned over to the National Archives, found at President Biden’s Wilmington, Del., home. Separately, a federal special counsel is tasked to gather the facts as the Biden paper chase continues.
On Monday, the president knocked House Republicans as “fiscally demented” for casting Democrats in Washington as big spenders who balloon the federal deficit.
“They don’t quite get it,” Biden said to laughter during a speech on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (The Hill).
“House Republicans are playing politics in a shamelessly hypocritical attempt to attack President Biden,” White House spokesman Ian Sams told Fox News Digital Monday.
Republicans say they don’t want to raise the cap on what the government can borrow to pay its bills without simultaneously achieving spending cuts, even as the Treasury Department warns that default is officially a real and pending danger beginning on Thursday (The Hill).
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement Friday that “a default forced by extreme MAGA Republicans could plunge the country into a deep recession and lead to even higher costs for America’s working families on everything from mortgages and car loans to credit card interest rates.”
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has floated the kind of budget-cap deal seen during the last battle over the debt ceiling during the Trump administration, which would involve capping federal spending levels in return for the House votes needed to raise the statutory debt ceiling.
The clash over classified documents, which involves a criminal investigation in the case of former President Trump’s foot-dragging to return presidential records, has emboldened Trump’s supporters to go after Biden and is likely to drag on for months as Democrats try to lay out their arguments for the 2024 presidential election.
House investigators last week asked for logs of visitors to the president’s Delaware home, akin to visitor logs maintained by the White House. They were told by Biden’s representatives, corroborated by the U.S. Secret Service, that no such records are kept for the president’s private residence (The Hill, The New York Times).
Schumer’s 2024 strategy had been to run against the perceived excesses of the House GOP majority, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. But the New York progressive, who does not have much of a relationship with McCarthy, must also navigate legislative compromises if a U.S. default is to be averted and the government funded rather than shuttered.
Republicans have flirted with both risks in the past while messaging to voters and pressuring Democrats. Those partisan faceoffs proved popular with the base. But the public in general blamed the GOP.
▪ The Hill: Biden documents case marks Attorney General Merrick Garland’s latest test.
▪ C-SPAN: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, tonight will deliver a speech about the status of the working class in the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington at 7 p.m.
▪ The Hill: Eight Senate seats most likely to flip in 2024.
▪ The Hill: Five mayoral races to watch this year.
▪ Politico: “The most important election nobody’s ever heard of”: A spring state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin has serious implications for abortion policy, voting rights and more in the perennial battleground.
▪ The Hill: Wyoming state lawmakers propose to ban electric vehicle sales to protect the oil and gas industry.
LEADING THE DAY
U.S. lawmakers on Monday attended a posh private luncheon with dozens of influential CEOs at the Hotel Schatzalp in Davos, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, which continues through Friday (CNBC). Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and a few House members were there, along with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia.
Top U.S. officials sent to Davos by the Biden administration are Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Special Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry (Bloomberg News). CNN reports that the glitzy gathering in the Alps is seen by some as having less relevancy in 2023, although top government officials expected to participate include Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
▪ The Hill: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to meet with Chinese leader Liu in Zurich, Switzerland, on her way to Africa.
▪ Politico EU: U.S. lawmakers in Davos tell Europeans: America is not protectionist.
Truth & consequences? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) remains firmly in the headlines this week — as well as in his House seat.
The Washington Post reported that Santos has deeper ties than previously known to a businessman who cultivated close links with a Trump confidant who is a cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch. According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, Andrew Intrater — whose cousin is Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the Russian energy industry — and his wife each gave the maximum $5,800 to Santos’s main campaign committee and tens of thousands more since 2020 to committees linked to him.
Meanwhile, according to Business Insider, two of Santos’s former roommates say he took a Burberry scarf from one of them and wore it in public a year later to a 2021 “Stop the Steal” rally at which Santos claimed his own 2020 election was stolen from him.
And The New York Times reports that Santos inspired no shortage of suspicion during his 2022 campaign, including in the upper echelons of the Republican Party, yet many fellow party members looked the other way.
▪ New York magazine: The luckiest liar in politics. How Santos outran the truth.
▪ The Hill: The seven quirkiest bill names using acronyms.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
The U.S. military’s new, expanded combat training of Ukrainian forces began in Germany on Sunday, with a goal of getting a battalion of about 500 troops back on the battlefield to fight Russia in the next five to eight weeks, according to Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The so-called combined arms training is aimed at honing the skills of the Ukrainian forces so they will be better prepared to launch an offensive or counter any surge in Russian attacks (NPR).
The death toll from a Russian missile strike in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro rose to 40 on Monday, with dozens more missing, making it the deadliest civilian incident of Moscow’s three-month campaign of firing missiles at cities far from the front. Officials acknowledged little hope of finding anyone else alive in the rubble, but President Volodymyr Zelensky said the rescue operation would continue “as long as there is even the slightest chance to save lives” (Reuters).
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “flailing” decision this week to name a new leader for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine reflects a growing sense of desperation as the Kremlin continues its unsuccessful battlefield slog, writes The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell. The appointment of Gen. Valery Gerasimov, former chief of the general staff, as overall commander of the country’s so-called special military operation has experts dubious of Putin’s wartime strategy following a series of humiliating battlefield losses this past autumn. But the switch up — which saw the demotion of Gen. Sergey Surovikin, commander of the invasion since October — could also indicate a coming escalation of Russia’s brutal war tactics, experts fear.
▪ The Washington Post: Germany’s defense minister resigns after string of blunders — including issues of arming Ukraine.
▪ Reuters: Tanks for Ukraine in sight as holdout Germany says new minister to decide.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Dozens of Russian draftees died in a Ukrainian strike. Putin’s war machine rolled on.
▪ CNN: A high-level U.S. delegation met on Monday with Zelensky and Ukrainians in Kyiv.
▪ CNN: Russian former military commander seeks asylum in Norway.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday moved to block gender recognition legislation passed recently by Scotland’s Parliament, opening up a constitutional rift between the two countries and stoking a highly charged debate over transgender rights. Members of the Scottish Parliament voted last month to allow transgender people to have the gender with which they identify legally recognized, but the British government in London argues that the move breaches equality legislation that applies across Britain by affording people different treatment depending on where they live.
The Hill: British government blocks Scottish law that would have made it easier for people to change their gender for legal purposes.
“If there is a decision to challenge, then in my view then it will quite simply be a political decision and it will be using trans people, already one of the most vulnerable stigmatized groups in our society, as a political weapon,” Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Monday. “I think that will be unconscionable, indefensible and really quite disgraceful.”
The move marks the first time a prime minister has invoked a statute known as the Scotland Act of 1998, which sets out the powers of the Scottish Parliament and says the government in London has the ability to block laws that affect issues that fall under the purview of the British government (The New York Times).
▪ Reuters: Brazil’s crowdfunded insurrection leaves paper trail for police.
▪ Bloomberg News: Italy’s most-wanted mafia boss arrested after 30 years in hiding.
▪ The New York Times: China’s latest source of unrest: unpaid “zero COVID” workers.
▪ Bloomberg News: China’s population shrinks for the first time since the 1960s in a seismic shift.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: China’s economic growth fell to near-historic lows as COVID-19 took a bite.
Women in Afghanistan are finding avenues to pursue education as the Taliban continues to crack down on women’s rights, recently banning female students from going to university, writes The Hill’s Lexi Lonas. The December announcement from the Taliban immediately banning women from university caused at least one online U.S. college — the University of the People — to see an increase in Afghan female applicants.
The school, which works with thousands of refugees, reported in one week after the Taliban’s new ban that it received 2,208 applications. The school already has 2,000 Afghan women enrolled and 10,000 Afghan women who’ve applied.
“I think that the women who come to us, most of them, stopped at school,” University of the People President Shai Reshef told The Hill. “They stopped studying, and they were forced to leave school. And as such, they have the desire to study. They want to feel that they’re part of the world.”
■ The hard reality of a debt-ceiling showdown, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3iJUUdG
■ This is how red states silence blue cities. And democracy, by Margaret Renkl, contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3knvbZ1
■ The Supreme Court justices do not seem to be getting along, by Steven Mazie, contributor, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3ITwKbq
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 return for legislative business on Jan. 24. It will meet briefly at 2 p.m.
The Senate meets at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Bidenwill meet at the White House with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte at 11:15 a.m. in the Oval Office. He will have lunch with Vice President Harris at 12:45 p.m. He will greet NBA champions the Golden State Warriors at 2:45 p.m. in the East Room. Harris will also make remarks.
The vice president will have lunch with the president and join Biden in welcoming the Golden State Warriors to the White House.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff at 11:30 a.m. will speak ahead of a talk with the filmmakers of “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein. At 6:15 p.m., he will speak at a reception for the Democratic Mayors Association at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington.
Yellen will stop in Switzerland for a meeting with Chinese official Liu before traveling in Africa through Jan. 28 with itineraries in Senegal, Zambia and then South Africa. Her events in Senegal begin on Friday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at the department at 2 p.m. They will hold a joint press conference at 3:20 p.m.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:45 p.m.
The United States Conference of Mayors will hold a winter meeting in Washington today through Friday.
The National League of Cities will mark today’s National Day of Racial Healing with events today and Wednesday in Washington.
➤ TECH & AI
ChatGPT — the new, free artificial intelligence tool — has only been around for five weeks but is already raising tough questions about the future of AI in education, the tech industry and a host of professions.
The program, which was developed by San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI, trawls vast amounts of data and information to generate natural-sounding text based on queries or prompts. It can write and debug code in a range of programming languages and generate poems and essays — even mimicking literary styles. While some experts say it’s a groundbreaking feat of AI that could replace humans for different tasks, others warn that ChatGPT and similar tools could flood the internet with misinformation. Bloomberg News has rounded up answers to some of the most common questions surrounding the program.
As ChatGPT gains popularity — and enterprising students start using it to perform tasks like essay writing — school systems across the country are grappling with whether to ban it outright or allow its use in certain situations. New York City school officials announced plans to block ChatGPT earlier this month, and several jurisdictions across the D.C. region have started doing the same (WTOP).
But others think differently. Writing for The New York Times, technology columnist Kevin Roose argues that “schools should thoughtfully embrace ChatGPT as a teaching aid — one that could unlock student creativity, offer personalized tutoring, and better prepare students to work alongside AI systems as adults.”
▪ Inside Higher Education: To harness the potential and avert the risks of OpenAI’s new chat bot, academics should think a few years out, invite students into the conversation and — most of all — experiment, not panic.
▪ The New York Times: Alarmed by AI chatbots, universities are revamping how they teach.
Meanwhile in October, the online emotional support service Koko ran an experiment in which GPT-3, a newly popular artificial intelligence chatbot, wrote responses either in whole or in part. While workers at Koko could edit the responses and were still pushing the buttons to send them, they weren’t always the authors.
Koko co-founder Robert Morris said about 4,000 people got responses from Koko at least partly written by AI. The experiment has blown up into an intense controversy since it was disclosed a week ago and may serve as a preview of more ethical disputes to come as AI works its way into more products and health services (NBC News).
The Wall Street Journal: Microsoft plans to build OpenAI capabilities into all products.
🚘 Drivers can expect more electric cars and autonomous features to hit the market in the next few years as car makers go high-tech and tech industry giants like Google and Amazon branch further into automotives, writes The Hill’s Rebecca Klar. Cars are offering opportunities for innovation where software and artificial intelligence “really come together in one,” Patrick Brady, vice president of automotive at Google, said during a Consumer Electronics Show panel last week.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
A woman in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C., is suing in a first of a kind lawsuit in the District Court. The reason? The smell of marijuana, which Josefa Ippolito-Shepherd said is a nuisance as it filters up to her home.
“I have the right to breathe fresh air in my home,” Ippolito-Shepherd told The Washington Post before the trial. “I’m not talking about if I go to someone else’s house or a place people go to smoke pot. They have the freedom to do whatever. I just do not want to be invaded in my own home.”
Her lawsuit is one of the first of its kind; despite the legalization of marijuana in many states and jurisdictions, not much research has emerged regarding the effects of secondhand smoke exposure, or the smell. Overall, local governments are not passing major reform on this front, but the signature scent of marijuana is now an increasingly ubiquitous olfactory experience in cities where smoking is most common.
The omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is still gaining ground within the U.S., accounting for at least 43 percent of sequenced cases from the last week, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the subvariant does not have any mutations known to make people sicker when they catch the virus, according to a World Health Organization risk assessment published Wednesday.
But the agency noted in the report that it doesn’t have any real-world data on how XBB.1.5 is affecting patients’ health, so it cannot draw any conclusions at this time about its actual severity (Axios and CNBC).
▪ TIME Magazine: As COVID-19 barrels through China, some are turning to the black market amid drug shortages.
▪ ABC News: Celebrities test positive for COVID-19 after the Golden Globes.
▪ The New York Times: No increased stroke risk linked to Pfizer’s COVID-19 boosters, federal officials say.
▪ NBC News: Beginning today, all U.S. military veterans who are in suicidal crisis are eligible for free care at any VA or private facility. They do not have to be enrolled in the VA health system for free mental health care without copays or fees. More than 18 million veterans in the U.S. could be eligible.
Information about COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability 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): 1,099,885. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,907 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … Step softly and carry tools! NASA astronaut and former test pilot Nicole Mann, 45, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut and structural engineer Koichi Wakata, 59, are preparing for their first spacewalk duties outside the International Space Station on Friday. Both are veterans of NASA missions and long periods in space.
NASA estimates their work, which will be broadcast live, could take six and a half hours. They’re expected to complete the installation of two mounting platforms as part of planned solar power improvements, which were begun during a previous spacewalk.