The Hill’s Morning Report — Pence returned classified documents — now what?
Editor’s note: The Hill’s Morning Report is our daily newsletter that dives deep into Washington’s agenda. To subscribe, click here or fill out the box below.
News that former Vice President Mike Pence retained classified documents at his home in Indiana until the FBI retrieved them last week blunted the partisan potency of a controversy House Republicans had aimed full bore at President Biden.
GOP lawmakers expressed surprise on Tuesday when CNN first reported the development. They quickly reformulated assessments of the president’s prolonged paper chase in Wilmington, Del., while suggesting low-level staff members may have mistakenly packed classified documents with Pence’s personal papers before he left office.
Pence is weighing a presidential race in 2024 and is on a book tour with a new memoir. The Justice Department and FBI are reviewing the discovery by his lawyer Matt Morgan according to CBS News, of about a dozen pages of material marked classified and stored at the former vice president’s home. Pence says he’s cooperating with the Justice Department and with congressional overseers.
“Can we all agree it shouldn’t happen?” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Tuesday during an interview on SiriusXM’s “The Briefing with Steve Scully.”
“And can we come up with a system that guarantees it won’t happen again going forward?” he continued. “I know that this should be just built-in discipline, but we’ve got to institutionalize that discipline so that there’s some sort of a process where somebody other than the interns are packing your boxes before you leave the [vice presidential residence at the] Naval Observatory or the White House West Wing.”
▪ The Hill: The discovery of Pence’s classified documents and their return to the government complicate efforts by congressional Republicans to attack Biden over his handling of sensitive materials dating to his years as vice president and senator.
▪ The Hill: Pence’s retention of vice presidential records clashes with his previous comments.
▪ The Hill: Former President Trump defended Pence on social media as an “innocent man.” Trump is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for possible obstruction after the FBI needed a subpoena to seize presidential records Trump initially claimed he did not possess. Agents last summer found clearly marked classified materials at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Until two special counsels assigned by the Justice Department are finished investigating the circumstances of Trump’s withholding of classified records from the National Archives and Biden’s rolling discoveries of past classified materials, House Republican investigators can convene oversight hearings but will gain scant sworn testimony or fresh information from the central players.
Senators on both sides of the aisle were caught off guard Tuesday to learn about Pence’s documents, The Hill’s Al Weaver reports.
“I don’t know what the hell is going on around here. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “I have no reason to believe it’s nefarious in any way, but clearly at the executive branch they’re just packing boxes.”
Rubio on Tuesday told Fox News, “I think [Biden’s handling of documents] is more concerning for the following reasons. Number one, we’re talking about eight years of vice presidential service. Number two, and the one that’s really bizarre, is [some of these] documents [are from Biden’s years in] the Senate. … For a senator to take classified documents, they would have to do it almost deliberately.”
Rubio added, “These are the kinds of things we need answers to right now. We’re not getting any answers from the director of national intelligence, but we will. And I think there’s a bipartisan commitment, frankly, to get those answers.”
The senator told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday that he expects to discuss the controversy today when Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), along with Rubio, requested information from Haines about potential national security vulnerabilities following the discovery at Mar-a-Lago of more than 100 presidential records with various classified markings.
Although some House Republicans have suggested Biden’s storage in a private office and at home of materials that should have been in the Archives could lead to impeachment charges, Senate Republicans frown on that idea, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.
▪ Punchbowl News: The White House plans to invite Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to meet with Biden before the State of the Union address on Feb. 7. Details are still in flux.
▪ The Hill: Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wants to be reelected during the party’s winter meeting in California, which ends on Friday. She has critics and two competitors for the job she’s held since 2016.
▪ The Hill: Chances of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis winning over large numbers of Black voters in a hypothetical presidential contest could fade because of state policies he supports, which his critics describe as “racist” and “anti-Black.”
▪ The Hill: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) on Tuesday asked a Georgia judge not to make public a special grand jury’s report because decisions about possible criminal charges “are imminent” following an extensive probe into whether Trump and allies sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in the state.
LEADING THE DAY
The Justice Department and several states on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging the search and advertising behemoth illegally monopolized the $250 billion U.S. online ad market through a years-long practice of anticompetitive acquisitions, self-dealing, and forcing businesses to use multiple products and services that it offers.
The complaint is seeking to break up the company’s advertising business, along with unspecified damages for harm directly impacting the federal government. Google earned about $169 billion in digital ads worldwide in 2022, but the vast majority of that revenue comes from search ads, or are ads that businesses place on user searches that might be relevant to them. It’s the second Justice Department antitrust suit filed against the tech giant since 2020 (Vox and The Hill). Attorney General Merrick Garland at a press conference called Google’s practices a 15-year illegal monopolization “scheme.”
“Website creators earn less, and advertisers pay more,” Garland said.
Google called the complaint “flawed,” and alleged it would hamper competition, but progressives welcomed the lawsuit.
“As the Justice Department’s suit meticulously documents, Google is a buyer, broker, and digital advertising exchange with pervasive conflicts of interest,” Matt Stoller with the American Economic Liberties Project, told Politico. “Google regularly abuses this power, manipulating markets, muscling out any form of competition, and inspiring fear across the commercial landscape.”
The Treasury Department has suspended new investments in a federal retirement program, the latest in a string of actions it has taken to prevent default after the government hit its debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told congressional leaders Tuesday. The department is taking so-called extraordinary measures to keep paying its bills after it breached its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit Thursday.
As congressional leaders and the White House remain in a stalemate about whether to raise the debt ceiling or enact spending cuts, Yellen has said she expects the actions to prevent default at least until June 5 (CNBC).
The Hill’s Sylvan Lane explains five ways the federal government can try to keep the U.S. out of default, from a bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling to a discharge petition, payment prioritization, invoking the 14th Amendment, or minting a $1 trillion coin.
▪ The Washington Post: The White House today unveiled new tenant protections amid soaring rental costs, with heavy reliance on state and local governments as well as housing providers around the nation.
▪ Reuters: Separately, Treasury Tuesday said it reallocated and awarded $690 million to 89 state and local grantees to assist renters facing financial hardship.
▪ Yahoo News: On Tuesday, Treasury took additional “extraordinary measures” to pay bills while the statutory limit on borrowing is depleted.
▪ Reuters: Yellen, who says she is not leaving the administration, says the Internal Revenue Service needs to be “completely redone.”
▪ The Atlantic: Amid the debt ceiling debate, the trillion-dollar coin may be the least bad option.
▪ Politico: Biden on Tuesday met with Democratic leaders in the Roosevelt Room.
The IRS warned Monday as the 2023 tax filing season opened that taxpayers should be prepared for smaller refunds this year, writes The Hill’s Tobias Burns. This comes as pandemic-era relief measures approved by Congress expire, including an expanded version of the child tax credit as well as a credit for people who didn’t receive the full amount of economic stimulus sent out by the federal government in 2021.
▪ Gizmodo: NASA and the Pentagon announced an alliance to develop advanced propulsion technology for civilian and criminal space defenses.
▪ The Washington Post: How special counsel Jack Smith charged Kosovo’s president and blew up a Trump meeting.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Ticketmaster defended its online market power in the digital ticketing space at an unusually unified Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, after months of increased scrutiny following a chaotic sale of tickets to Taylor Swift’s upcoming tour that branded the site as an anti-hero to many of Swift’s devotees. The company has long been a target of lawmakers after its merger with Live Nation in 2010, but sparks started to fly after the messy rollout and ultimate cancellation of the public sale to the pop star’s nationwide tour reignited public attention. The hearing to kick off the committee’s activity for the year may also boost efforts from a bipartisan group of lawmakers looking to revamp antitrust laws.
“May I suggest, respectfully, Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me,’” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, quoting recent Swift lyrics.
Although not directly related to bills put forward to target tech giants, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) may use the opportunity to advocate for her bipartisan antitrust reform bills that failed to get across the finish line last year. The Hill’s Karl Evers-Hillstrom and Rebecca Klar have rounded up five key takeaways from the hearing.
▪ Bloomberg News: Senators fault Ticketmaster “monopoly” for Taylor Swift ticket debacle.
▪ Time: Who is Clyde Lawrence, the Ticketmaster hearing witness?
▪ Pitchfork: Senate holds hearing on Ticketmaster operations: “The solutions are there for the taking.”
▪ Vox: The problem with Ticketmaster, explained not by Taylor Swift.
Some senators are eyeing a divided Congress as a chance to reform Social Security, writes The Hill’s Aris Folley. While changes to Social Security are a perpetually heavy lift for Congress, the idea has taken on traction as some House Republicans have eyed potential reforms to entitlement programs as part of debt ceiling negotiations.
“A wise senator said that whenever you see reforms shore up those kinds of programs, it usually takes a divided Congress,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told The Hill this week. “So, maybe that historically bodes well for something that would make sure that Americans have a secure retirement system.”
▪ The Kansas City Star: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) will introduce legislation to ban Tik Tok nationwide.
▪ Washington Monthly: Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) reckless new committee.
McCarthy’s promotion of conservative firebrands to the powerful House Rules Committee has given some of his leading GOP detractors enormous new powers to dictate the party’s legislative agenda — and could lead to headaches for Republican leaders down the line. As The Hill’s Mike Lillis and Mychael Schnell report, the Rules Committee, a relatively obscure panel, gets the last crack at most legislation before it’s sent to the House floor, dictating not only the content of those proposals but also the rules by which they’ll be debated.
Historically, Speakers of both parties have stacked the committee with their allies to ensure that their desired agenda has few roadblocks when bills come to the floor. But this year is different. Faced with a revolt from conservatives in his own conference, McCarthy promised them new spots on the Rules panel, making good on that offer on Monday when he named three conservatives — Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) — to the committee.
The trio has been highly critical of the procedures of past Congresses, vowing to use their new perch to ensure that rank-and-file lawmakers have a chance to amend proposals on the floor. And their numbers are significant on the 13-member panel: The three can join forces to block most any legislation from leaving the Rules Committee, which could create enormous headaches for GOP leaders hoping to fast-track any must-pass bills with their new majority.
Truth & Consequences? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) remains firmly in the headlines as more details about his past emerge.
A newly published interview Santos conducted with Brazilian journalists in December includes a new slate of falsehoods, ranging from claims that he was mugged on a busy New York City street in 2021 without anyone noticing and that he was the target of an assassination attempt (Vanity Fair). While Santos’s ever-changing claims about his past are making for good late-night television, some of his Long Island constituents told The Washington Post they both regretted their choice of candidate and were resigned to his status as a member of Congress.
“Every day that he’s still there, we are suffering. I mean, he’s become a joke on late-night talk shows, but to us, it’s not funny because we deserve a real congressman,” North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena, who endorsed Santos during his campaign but has since called on him to resign, told the Post.
McCarthy on Tuesday said Santos will be removed from office if the House Ethics Committee finds that the embattled congressman broke the law. The remark is McCarthy’s most extensive comment yet on potential punishments Santos could face (The Hill).
▪ The Hill: Santos skips White House event for new members.
▪ The Daily Beast: Santos admits $500,000 “personal” loan to his campaign wasn’t personal.
▪ Vox: “A made-up life”: Congress has never seen anyone like Santos.
▪ CBS News: New Siena poll reveals most Democrats, nearly half of Republicans say Santos should resign.
▪ Business Insider: In a resurfaced 2020 interview, Santos claimed he met the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein and entertained the idea that he could still be alive.
▪ NBC News: Santos promised to explain himself within a week. It’s been a month.
The U.S. and Germany are set to send tanks to Ukraine after weeks of debate. CNN reports that, according to three US officials familiar with the deliberations, the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send U.S.-made Abrams tanks and could make an announcement as soon as this week. A growing cohort of congressional lawmakers had been pushing the Biden administration to send battle tanks to Ukraine, The Hill’s Brad Dress reports.
The lawmakers, which included Democrats and Republicans in both chambers, raised their voices as Germany and the U.S. stalled on sending tanks to Ukraine. The bipartisan calls mounted more pressure on the Pentagon to act decisively on the issue so Ukraine could get the weapons it needs to respond to an expected Russian offensive in the spring with a counteroffensive of its own. Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said in a statement that such a supply would broaden the conflict and could lead to a “U.S. ‘proxy-war’ with our country,” he added, calling Washington “the real aggressor in the current conflict (The Washington Post).
Germany’s reluctance to send tanks, or to approve the transfer of the German-made tanks from the many European countries that stock them has frustrated some NATO allies as well as Ukraine. Poland promised to supply Kyiv with Leopard 2 tanks of its own and Ukraine has been telling allies it urgently needs the equipment to stave off a potential Russian offensive (The New York Times).
Berlin on Wednesday confirmed its plans to send over a dozen of its sought-after tanks from the Bunsdeswehr stocks after “months of debate” involving a hesitant Chancellor Olaf Scholz (The Washington Post and CNN).
▪ Der Spiegel: Germany’s tank debate: Why the chancellor deliberated over tanks.
▪ The New York Times: The Pentagon will increase artillery production sixfold for Ukraine.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday held a surprise meeting in the capital Amman with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid heightened diplomatic tensions over the Temple Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif or the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem. Netanyahu, whose relationship with the king was strained when he was last in power, in 2018, committed to maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem (Axios and Al Jazeera).
▪ The New York Times: Inflation is so high in Egypt that eggs are a luxury.
▪ Foreign Policy: “They have to balance”: New Iraqi leader tilts the scales toward the U.S.
▪ NBC News: Pope Francis says homosexuality is a sin but not a crime and criticizes “unjust” anti-gay laws.
■ Things are looking pretty weird for Merrick Garland, by Jack Goldsmith, guest essay, The New York Times.https://nyti.ms/3RclV6j
■ The George Santos malignancy, by former Rep. John LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.), opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3wqzNjE
WHERE AND WHEN
👉 INVITATIONS to The Hill’s upcoming virtual events: Thursday, 1 p.m. ET, “Expanding Adult Vaccine Access,” with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure and Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). RSVP and save your spot.
🎤 Friday, 2 p.m. ET, The Hill’s live virtual newsmaker event with Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in discussion with The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. RSVP and join live.
📲 Ask 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 10 a.m.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8:30 a.m. Biden will have lunch with Vice President Harris at 12:30 p.m.
The vice president today will travel to her home state of California to react to a pair of mass shootings since the weekend that left a total of nearly 20 people dead. She will visit the Los Angeles area (The Hill).
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen begins today in South Africa, where she toured a wildlife park and spoke about Treasury Department efforts to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.
First lady Jill Biden at 11 a.m. will donate to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History two outfits she wore on Inauguration Day in 2021 to be part of its First Ladies Collection.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
Long COVID-19 is having a significant effect on America’s workforce, a new analysis shows, as it is preventing substantial numbers of people from going back to work, while others continue needing medical care long after returning to their jobs.
The study, published Tuesday by New York’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, found that in 2020 and 2021, about 71 percent of people the fund classified as experiencing long COVID-19 either required continuing medical treatment or were unable to work for six months or more. More than a year after contracting COVID-19, 18 percent of these patients had still not returned to work, and more than three-fourths of them were younger than 60 (The New York Times).
“Long Covid has harmed the work force,” said the report, by the New York State Insurance Fund, a state agency financed by employer-paid premiums. The findings, it added, “highlight long Covid as an underappreciated yet important reason for the many unfilled jobs and declining labor participation rate in the economy, and they presage a possible reduction in productivity as employers feel the strains of an increasingly sick work force.”
ABC News: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for kids, according to new data.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
▪ The Hill: The Food and Drug Administration issues guidance to reduce lead exposure in baby food.
▪ The New York Times: A dilemma for governments: How to pay for million-dollar therapies.
▪ Time: Life’s uncertainty has led to a mental health crisis at work.
Researchers at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, today unveiled a new health dashboard organized to sort through 435 congressional districts using 36 measures related to health. Some observations shared by the creators: People living in congressional districts in the 11 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are twice as likely to be uninsured compared to those in states with expanded Medicaid coverage; residents of congressional districts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas are almost 3.5 times on average more likely to be uninsured than those in congressional districts in New England; and Black newborns are roughly twice as likely to be underweight at birth than white babies in more than three-quarters of the congressional districts in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,105,204. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,953 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 … ☀️ Hot, flashy, magnetic.
Active regions of the sun are producing what are described as violent solar flares that are expected to remain facing Earth until today, after which the light show should disappear from view, reports Space.com. The intense bursts of radiation coming from the release of magnetic energy a million times greater than the energy from a volcanic eruption on Earth pose little risk aside from minor radio blackouts. A flare appears when intense magnetic fields snap after tangling, emerging as sudden, intense bright areas of the sun lasting several minutes to hours. Check out video HERE.