The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden, McCarthy to meet amid 2024 backdrop
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Both political parties this week will put actions behind narratives they believe could mold the future of American politics.
President Biden starts the week by reminding Americans specifically how the Democratic Party, working with some Republicans, sought to untangle East Coast infrastructure bottlenecks. And by Friday in Philadelphia, the president and Vice President Harris, along with the Democratic National Committee a day later, are expected to lean into the 2024 presidential race.
Biden will be in Baltimore today and in New York City on Tuesday to tout federal road and tunnel projects made possible through last year’s enactment of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. By Friday, Biden and Harris will be in Philadelphia in battleground Pennsylvania for appearances that lean into an anticipated reelection campaign and ahead of a national party vote scheduled on Saturday to decide the Democrats’ 2024 lineup of state primaries (New Jersey Monitor).
At the same time, Republicans in Congress will hold the first in a series of investigations they championed as priorities this year. Early polling suggests most Americans believe the new House majority may be inflexible and determined to investigate Biden rather than concentrating on other issues (NBC News).
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will meet with Biden on Wednesday at the White House (The Hill). He wants to begin negotiating federal spending and debt, since his far-right colleagues say they won’t increase federal borrowing without achieving deep spending reductions in a proposed swap. Biden says the borrowing-or-spending cuts power play is a no-go. Democrats have urged Republicans to specify programs they would slash. McCarthy, wary of getting on the wrong side of senior voters, now says Social Security and Medicare, roughly a third of the total federal budget, are off the table for cuts (The Hill). Under pressure, the Speaker has softened threats from some colleagues, promising the U.S. will not default on its obligations (ABC News).
“I want to find a reasonable and a responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling but take control of this runaway spending,” McCarthy told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” later adding, “I don’t think there’s anyone in America who doesn’t agree that there’s some wasteful Washington spending that we can eliminate.”
While McCarthy ponders the debt ceiling Rubik’s Cube, his GOP colleagues on Wednesday will officially launch promised investigations, with the aim of weakening the Biden administration as well as Democratic candidates.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) says his panel on Wednesday will probe “rampant waste of taxpayer dollars” in federal pandemic relief programs (CNN). The Trump administration was in charge as pandemic stimulus checks and loan programs rolled out in 2020 and 2021. The Biden administration overhauled the distribution of available vaccines and American Rescue Plan Act funding with assistance from states, Congress and the private sector.
The week will also reveal new economic clues: The Federal Reserve on Wednesday is expected to hike interest rates for the eighth time since 2022 to continue battling inflation (The Hill). The U.S. employment picture in January, which included prominent layoff announcements in the tech sector and beyond, could come into clearer focus with a Labor Department jobs report on Friday (CNN).
By the weekend, Biden and his team, along with lawmakers and the news media, will be mobilizing for the annual State of the Union address on Feb. 7, which starts an unofficial countdown clock headed toward the 2024 elections.
▪ Washington Monthly: Are Republicans forgetting what former President Trump taught them about Social Security and Medicare?
▪ The New York Times: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), political arsonist, has new powers. What will he do with them?
▪ Politico: GOP national sales tax talk backfires, as Democrats see political gold.
LEADING THE DAY
The discovery of classified documents at the homes of Biden, Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence prompts new discussions on Capitol Hill and in the media about possible reforms that could prevent future mishandling of sensitive materials as well as overclassification by the government, The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Al Weaver report.
▪ Axios: Calls mount for reform of laws on classified documents.
▪ NBC News: On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) sparred over classified documents and the “weaponization” of the FBI.
▪ CBS News: Public sees Biden cooperating with documents investigation; job approval remains unchanged — poll.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the way Biden and Pence ended up with classified documents at their respective residences must be clarified (The Hill). He said while Pence has denied any involvement in transporting documents to his home after serving during the Trump administration, Biden may have taken documents home during his time as a senator while commuting by train.
“The chain of custody in each of these issues is going to be important,” Turner said. “It certainly should be part of the Department of Justice investigation. How did these documents get where they were going and where we ultimately found them but also what happened to them in the interim?”
A big priority for House Republicans in the next few months is the debt ceiling, as congressional leaders must find a fix for the U.S. hitting its debt limit before June to avoid default. But in spite of all the tough talk in Washington around the debt ceiling, there are signs that the can will be kicked further down the road.
House GOP leaders are considering proposing a short-term extension of the federal debt ceiling to delay the risk of a default until Sept. 30, Bloomberg News reports, in a step that would allow more time to resolve an impasse with Democrats — but it isn’t clear whether the Democratic-controlled Senate or even the White House would agree to briefly putting off a reckoning on the debt ceiling.
The Washington Post: Mint the coin? Buy back bonds? Seven “gimmicks” for dodging the debt limit.
Biden this week marked the beginning of his working relationship with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who he’ll have to rely on when it comes to Republican threats of spending cuts and a showdown over the country’s debt ceiling. Before now, Biden and Jeffries did not have a close relationship and had never met one on one, a source close to Jeffries told The Hill, adding that those dynamics offer the Democrats a clean slate and predicted the pair will become close.
They are “very similar people with a very similar background,” the source said, adding that “they’re both from working class families with hard working parents that instilled the right values in them.”
The Congressional Black Caucus on Sunday said its members want a meeting this week with the president to urge him to “jumpstart negotiations now” with Congress to enact federal legislation to reform policing. “The brutal beating of Tyre Nichols was murder and is a grim reminder that we still have a long way to go in solving systemic police violence in America,” the caucus said in a statement (The Hill).
Ben Crump, lawyer for the Nichols family, also called on Congress to pass federal police reforms in the wake of the 29-year-old’s death in Memphis, Tenn., last week (The Hill). “Shame on us if we don’t use his tragic death to finally get the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed,” Crump, who also leads the Floyd family legal team, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We told President Biden that when he talked to us.” Crump placed the onus on Biden to spark a renewed push for policing reform, saying the president should “marshall the United States Senate” and “try to get the House to re-engage.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is seeking to carve out a new role for himself now that he’s no longer the powerbroker he was in last year’s 50-50 Senate, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Manchin now envisions a role for himself as a shuttle diplomat working to bridge the partisan divide between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and McCarthy, whom Manchin describes as a friend. But whether Manchin can get any Democrats to follow his lead is a big question. The West Virginia senator does have some leverage over fellow Democrats in that they desperately need him to run for reelection to keep his seat, as Republicans think West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) is looking seriously at a Manchin challenge.
New York: 2024 looks very dark for Senate Democrats.
The addition of Republican Reps. Chip Roy (Texas), Ralph Norman (S.C.), and Thomas Massie (Ky.) to the House Rules Committee — one of the concessions that helped McCarthy secure the gavel — means that the frequent antagonists of leadership have the opportunity to create significant barriers to getting legislation to the House floor. But as The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports, the three congressmen forecast that if they use their leverage, it will be to enforce the kind of open-process demands that fueled resistance to McCarthy in the drawn-out Speakership battle.
“I’m ready and fully prepared to vote for rules on bills that I’ll be a ‘hell no’ on the bill when it gets to the floor,” Massie said.
The House Intelligence Committee has changed with the retirement of its prior ranking member and removal of its former chairman, write The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch and Mike Lillis, and some lawmakers hope the panel will shed its partisan image. The committee launched with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and then-Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) at the helm in the last Congress, both national figures whose epic battles, waged predominantly over issues related to Trump, came to symbolize the panel’s shift from a rare bastion of bipartisan cooperation to an arena of partisan warfare.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) at the Republican Governors Association meeting last year.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he is considering a White House bid in 2024, making him the latest high-profile Republican to consider challenging Trump in the primaries.
“I really don’t have a timeline,” he said. “I’m spending a lot of time naturally trying to grow the party as Republicans, talk to independents, talk to the next generation of potential Republican voters that right now no one is really reaching out to.”
Another likely GOP candidate is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has yet to announce his candidacy but has lined up advisers in key early primary states, including Iowa and New Hampshire (The Washington Post).
Support for another Trump bid for the presidency among GOP-aligned voters declined across a number of CNN polls on the topic last year. In July, 44 percent wanted Trump to be the party’s nominee, but by December, only 38 percent said the same.
Trump this weekend hit the campaign trail in South Carolina and New Hampshire after a sedate start to his White House bid after its November kickoff. He criticized a possible run by DeSantis, saying, “If he runs, that’s fine. I’m way up in the polls” and asserting he was responsible for the Florida governor’s political rise (The Hill and The Guardian).
“He’s going to have to do what he wants to do, but he may run,” Trump added. “I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over.”
▪ Time: Trump delivered a bitter speech in New Hampshire filled with falsehoods.
▪ The New York Times: The former president, now free to post again on Facebook and Twitter, has increasingly amplified far-right accounts on Truth Social. Experts on extremism worry that he will bring this approach to a far wider audience.
▪ Vox: Trump struggled with identity at his first public campaign stop.
Trump’s biggest applause in New Hampshire on Saturday came 45 minutes into his speech, when he introduced a new proposal to crack down on critical race theory in public school classrooms. He also drew an enthusiastic response when he proposed a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits (Axios).
The former president’s education platform, which he unveiled on Thursday, calls for cutting federal funds to any education program that involves “critical race theory, gender ideology, or other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content onto our children.” He’s not the only Republican who views education as a winning issue in the 2024 race, The Hill’s Julia Manchester writes, as DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, both seen as top potential challengers to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, have made headlines in recent weeks with their own education-related actions.
DeSantis sparked controversy most recently by rejecting an Advanced Placement African American studies course, while Youngkin launched an investigation into multiple Northern Virginia schools for not giving students the news that they had qualified for National Merit Scholarships in a timely fashion.
Meanwhile, in the Midwest, a race for a Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin could determine the future of abortion rights in a state likely to play a crucial role in the 2024 presidential election, writes The Hill’s Caroline Vakil. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has a 4-3 conservative majority, but conservative Justice Patience Roggensack is opting not to seek another term, evenly splitting the court along ideological lines. When voters head to the polls for a February primary, Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki said that anger following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year is still motivating people and will likely play a crucial role in this year’s state judicial race.
“The midterms did not go the way Republicans thought they would, and I really believe that one of the main reasons behind that was the Dobbs decision. Nothing has fundamentally changed in the landscape,” Zepecki told The Hill. “That means that all of a sudden the voters who are passionate about abortion in November of last year aren’t gonna go, ‘Oh, well, we did what we could. Oh, well, we’ll just live with this.’”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Ukrainian officials are breaking new ground — and possibly reshaping the future of cyberwarfare — as they seek to convince the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate whether certain Russian cyberattacks could constitute war crimes, writes The Hill’s Ines Kagubare. Cyberattacks have increasingly become a part of modern warfare, and have been repeatedly used by Russian forces amid the country’s war in Ukraine to target critical infrastructure.
While such attacks are not listed as a form of war crime under the Geneva Conventions, legal experts and researchers have previously made the case for the court to prosecute Russian cyberattacks — but the reported push from Ukrainian officials marks the first time a sovereign government has made such a request to the court.
“News that Ukrainian officials are weighing cyberattacks as potential war crimes is reflective of how seriously governments are taking these growing and evolving threats,” said Paul Martini, CEO and chief technology officer at cybersecurity firm iboss.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Time may be on Russia’s side, some Western backers of Ukraine worry.
▪ The New York Times: Russia and Ukraine battle for control of villages near the key city of Bakhmut.
▪ Politico EU: In divided Russia, “compassion has become civil resistance.”
How long can the U.S. continue to supply Ukraine from its own weapons stockpiles without hindering its own security? The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell and Brad Dress report a roundup of concerns heard among analysts. With nearly $27 billion in weapons committed to Kyiv since the start of Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, attack on the country, Washington shows no sign of slowing down on the lethal aid packages. But experts question what that might mean for U.S. military readiness should another conflict pop up with China in the near future.
▪ The Washington Post: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fires party chair in latest scandal for Conservatives.
▪ The New York Times: Nazi soldiers buried a treasure. Nearly 80 years later, in a small village in the Netherlands, the search goes on.
▪ The Washington Post: Radioactive needle in a haystack: Tiny capsule lost in rural Australia.
▪ Reuters: Blast kills at least 19 worshippers at mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will step into a hotbed of violence and political strife when he lands in Israel today amid signs of the chronic challenges that have kept the Middle East among America’s most urgent global concerns despite the Biden administration’s attempt to reengineer its foreign policy. His visit to Israel and the West Bank will mark the highest-profile U.S. engagement with the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to date. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition, critics say, has taken steps to weaken the country’s democratic system and further inflame the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Blinken began his three-day visit to the Middle East in Egypt on Sunday (The Washington Post and Reuters).
▪ Reuters: Israel seals synagogue shooter’s home; Netanyahu vows crackdown.
▪ Bloomberg News: Israel vows tough action as violence with Palestinians escalates.
▪ Haaretz: 2,000 Israeli high schoolers protest in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul plans.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Israel strikes Iran amid an international push to contain Tehran.
■ In Israel, India, and elsewhere the civilization state is taking over, by Bruno Maçães, contributor, Time. https://bit.ly/3RfPwvG
■ The economy keeps defying media expectations. It’s part of a pattern, by Jennifer Rubin, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3Dq1Sf4
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at noon.
The Senate meets at 3 p.m.
The president, in Delaware, will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will travel at 12:50 p.m. from New Castle, Del., to Baltimore, Md., to describe at 2:45 p.m. the federal support enacted last year to replace the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, and anticipated improvements for commuters between Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. The president will arrive at the White House at 4:05 p.m.
The vice president will travel to Raleigh, N.C., for an event promoting federal support for small businesses. She will fly back to Washington this afternoon.
The secretary of state this morning met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, and with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Blinken and Shoukry held a joint press conference. The secretary traveled to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the two spoke with the press. Blinken is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, President Isaac Herzog and other senior leaders in Jerusalem in the afternoon and evening (The Jerusalem Post).
First lady Jill Biden will visit New York’s U.S. Army Garrison Fort Drum at 12:30 p.m. as part of the Joining Forces initiative, accompanied by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is in Berlin, where he joins special envoys and coordinators at the Topography of Terror Museum for a tour and discussion about combating antisemitism around the world. He’ll visit the Museum of Jewish Life and meet staff members from the U.S. Embassy. Emhoff will be a guest at a dinner hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutman with guests from the community along with other government officials.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
The Food and Drug Administration plans to revise a policy that excluded most gay and bisexual men from blood donation, instead adopting an approach that will screen donors depending on their recent sexual activity, agency officials announced Friday. The move follows years of criticism from LGBTQ advocates, who have described the prohibition as unscientific and discriminatory. Federal officials have long justified the exclusion of gay and bisexual men, which was put in place in the 1980s, as a way to keep HIV out of the blood supply. In 2015, the agency allowed gay and bisexual men to donate if they had not had sexual contact with other men for the previous year, and that period was reduced to three months during the COVID-19 pandemic (The Hill).
South Carolina attorney Christopher Hanson, who has advocated changes in the FDA’s blood donation policies on behalf of an LGBTQ health center in Washington, D.C., told The New York Times the agency’s proposal was an important step forward.
“It’s an entirely powerful experience because you are giving blood to save lives,” Hanson said. “Knowing when you’re in a monogamous marriage that you’re being denied that ability, I said to myself, ‘I need to find other ways to help people.’”
▪ The Washington Post: What new questions will I be asked when I donate blood?
▪ The Atlantic: The flu-ification of COVID-19 policy is almost complete as health officials transition to annual shots.
▪ Reuters: World Health Organization maintains highest alert over COVID-19, but sees hope ahead.
▪ PBS: An FDA advisory panel endorsed a one-shot approach to COVID-19 vaccination. Here’s what that means.
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): 1,107,646. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,756 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 … Gridirons and hard courts, as in sports, sports, sports!
🏈 Readers almost assuredly know this by now, but just in case, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs will face off in Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12.
The Eagles on Sunday beat the shorthanded San Francisco 49ers, 31-7, for the NFC championship (Philadelphia Inquirer) and the Chiefs topped the Cincinnati Bengals with a late field goal in a down-to-the-wire AFC title game (The Washington Post and CNN).
Details, details: The Super Bowl will be played at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and broadcast by Fox at 6:30 p.m. ET. Halftime features Rihanna, plus pre-show performances by Emmy-winning actor Sheryl Lee Ralph, country music star Chris Stapleton and R&B crooner Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds (CNN).
Yahoo Sports: How to watch the 2023 Super Bowl.
🎾 Also on Sunday, Novak Djokovic of Serbia beat Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in straight sets, 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5), to win a 10th Australian Open title and a record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam. At 35, Djokovic lost a single set during the competition Down Under this year. After winning, he went to the players’ box and sobbed, the significance and emotion of his achievement overcoming him. Even as he returned to his seat on the court, he hid his face in a towel and the television cameras picked up the sound of his crying.
“Not playing last year [because of Australian COVID-19 vaccination requirements], coming back this year. I want to thank all the people who made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable,” Djokovic said. “Only the team and family knows what we’ve been through these last four to five weeks and this is the biggest victory of my life considering those circumstances” (CNN).
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