The Hill's Morning Report - An incredibly busy week; Iowa caucuses today




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DES MOINES, Iowa — Caucus day has arrived in Iowa, and it is still anybody’s race as Democratic contenders look to draw first blood in the battle for the party’s nomination. 


For months, Democrats have jockeyed for position in the state. The race, however, remains unpredictable, triggering outpourings of energy at candidate events across the state and some nail-biting inside candidates’ headquarters.


Over the weekend, top-tier candidates found themselves mobbed by enthusiastic Iowans (and news media, including The Hill’s journos) at packed events across the Hawkeye State, many of which needed overflow rooms to handle the crowds. This has raised the stakes for Monday, and there are predictions of a record turnout. 


According to recent polls, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE (I-Vt.) is the slight favorite, with attention showered on other front-of-the-pack aspirants in the race. But no one has brought more attention to the contest than the person not competing in it: President TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal MORE. During interviews with caucus-goers, Iowans again and again say they’re focused on the idea of defeating Trump and are tailoring their choice with that goal in mind. 


“I keep coming back to that,” said Kim Darr, 60, a supporter of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegGas shortages spread to more states Biden officials warn against hoarding gasoline amid shortages Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE from Granger, Iowa, speaking about the electability issue, which she elevated above concerns such as addressing mental illness and immigration reforms. 


“There are many, many issues,” said Merron Hart, 68, of Ankeny, Iowa, before coming back to the theme of electability and the party’s need to support the candidate who can win. “But that is my top priority. I want my vote to count, and I don’t want the other person to win.


RealClearPolitics final Iowa polling average: Sanders, 24.2 percent; former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE, 20.2 percent; Buttigieg, 16.4 percent; Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' McConnell hits Democratic critics of Israel MORE (D-Mass.), 15.6 percent; and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar Klobuchar offers tribute to her father, who died Wednesday The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill MORE (D-Minn.), 8.6 percent.


The Associated Press: In Iowa, anxiety and unpredictability cloud caucus finish.


For many caucus goers, there is a conflict between who they believe can beat Trump and the values they care about. The state’s first-in-the-nation status also plays a role, though, with some arguing that it’s not time for them to acquiesce to another candidate at this point.


“That’s the tough question. Ultimately, I want someone who’s going to beat Trump,” said Des Moines voter Stacy Kausalik, 34, who supports Warren. “But at this point, we’re the first state to vote so I don’t want to settle when I could vote for who I really stand behind and maybe help push her forward and convince other people to look into her, too.”





Candidates, in turn, have tailored their messages to the voters. At events on Saturday, staffers and volunteers at Klobuchar’s events handed out shirts prominently featuring the words, “Amy Klobuchar will beat Donald Trump.” The argument is the main crux of Biden’s pitch to voters. He has repeatedly said the reason the Trump campaign has 80 surrogates roaming the state today is that the president sees him as a threat.


“I’ve been the object of their affection for a while,” Biden told a crowd in Burlington, Iowa, on Friday, noting that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) went out of his way to purchase airtime in Iowa against him recently.


At Buttigieg’s final event on Sunday, the loudest cheer the Midwestern mayor received during his remarks was when he described “when the sun comes up” on the day Trump is no longer president.


“The No. 1 thing I’m hearing about now is we’ve got to make absolutely sure that we win in November,” Buttigieg told a crowd of more than 2,000 people at Lincoln High School. 


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump threatens to overshadow Democrats in Iowa. 


The Washington Post: Candidates power to end of Iowa campaign with competing visions of unity and electability.


Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times: Democrats had a 2020 vision. This isn’t quite what they expected.


Despite his front-runner status, voters at multiple events expressed concern about Sanders, specifically over his age and demeanor. In the final days, Buttigieg used specific lines to ding the Vermont Independent (along with Biden), but notably didn’t mention Sanders by name at his final event of the day on Sunday.


On Monday night, all eyes will watch where supporters for non-viable candidates line up on caucus night. As Reid Wilson writes while on the ground in Iowa, candidates must receive 15 percent of the vote in an initial alignment in order to stay viable. Supporters of those who do not reach the threshold for viability are then free to migrate to a viable candidate’s team. 


“Speeches ensue, arms are twisted, friendships tested, and hours can tick by,” as Reid puts it.


MORE from Reid: Iowa poll snafu leaves Democrats guessing on eve of caucuses.


How the candidates shake out Monday night (or Tuesday morning, depending on how close the race is) will have a profound effect on the rest of the early voting schedule. The New Hampshire primary will take place only eight days after the Iowa result. Sanders is the clear favorite there, polls show. 


After the first four states weigh in, a big fish awaits the primary field as former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergNew York mayoral candidates go viral for vastly underestimating housing costs Melinda Gates tapped divorce lawyers in 2019 after Epstein links to husband: report Giving away the COVID vaccine formula helps no one and harms America MORE deploys what he hopes will be a shock and awe strategy on Super Tuesday. Since his late entrance in November, Bloomberg has embarked on a quixotic bid to snag the Democratic nomination. According to his end-of-year Federal Election Commission report, his self-financed campaign spent $200 million in the first five weeks. 


The Hill: Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Iowa caucuses.


The Associated Press: Everything you need to know about the Iowa caucuses.


The Hill: The key questions facing top Democrats in Iowa.





IMPEACHMENT & CONGRESS: The Senate today will hear closing arguments from House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team, with each side permitted up to two hours to speak, according to a resolution adopted Friday. The Senate will then adjourn the trial until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, when senators will weigh final votes on two House-passed articles of impeachment. Trump is accused of abusing his power and obstructing Congress after trying to use U.S. military assistance and the authority of his office as leverage to get Ukraine to dig up dirt about Biden, a political rival. Trump says he did nothing wrong.


It is all but certain the president will be acquitted at the conclusion of the third presidential impeachment trial in American history. Voters will cast their first ballots today in the 2020 contests that will select a Democratic nominee. Trump, who touts a “stay the course” economic message in his bid for a second term, will address the nation during his State of the Union address in the House chamber on Tuesday night.


A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday reaffirmed the country’s divide over the impeachment drama, as well as the remarkable stability Trump has shown in polls during the controversy. Majorities of voters believe he abused his power and obstructed Congress but are split, largely along party lines, over whether those actions justify removing Trump from office, especially in an election year, the poll found.


House Democrats — who cheered when several Senate Republicans said they proved their case about Trump’s actions with Ukraine — are leery about the president’s strong hold over the Republican Party and the power of incumbency this year. Some say they will boycott the State of the Union speech, while others plan to bring special guests who embody progressive policy priorities. Democratic Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoMore than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill Biden-McConnell cold war unlikely to end at White House If you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume MORE of Hawaii said she plans to attend Trump’s speech to “bear witness” on Tuesday night without standing or applauding him (The Hill).


> Authorization for the use of military force: A pair of House-passed bills seeking to rein in the president’s military power when it comes to Iran are dead on arrival in the Senate, but the fight in Congress is not over. Senate war power legislation and the annual defense policy bill are new battlegrounds where lawmakers will try to reassert the sway of the legislative branch over Trump’s ability to take the United States to war with Iran (The Hill).


> Leafy shield: House Republicans are drafting legislative cover to respond to voters’ assertions Congress should battle climate change. Legislation is expected to be unveiled this week that would support the planting of new trees as a way to respond to rising carbon emissions. Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanThree questions about Biden's conservation goals Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water GOP lawmaker barricaded himself in bathroom with sword during Capitol riot MORE (R-Ark.) backs a measure that would commit the United States to plant 3.3 billion trees each year over the next 30 years. The approach has not reassured climate scientists, who say resolving the climate crisis takes more than trees (The Hill). 


> Medicaid politics: House Democrats believe the Trump administration is politically vulnerable when it comes to the federal-state health care program for the poor. Following an announcement last week that the administration plans to help states shrink Medicaid benefits under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, lawmakers have vowed to fight. Bottom line: Court challenges are the predicted response (The Hill).


CORONAVIRUS: The coronavirus has killed 362 people worldwide and the number of cases has risen to 17,485, according to the latest data. Eleven patients have been diagnosed in the United States as of Sunday night, and the first new coronavirus death recorded outside of China was reported over the weekend in the Philippines, where a man from Wuhan traveled before dying on Saturday (Reuters).


At the epicenter of the outbreak in China, Wuhan is overwhelmed as the city functions in lockdown, the government completed construction of a new hospital to treat the surge in patients, and health care personnel struggle to care for the ill while dealing with supply shortages (The New York Times).


People who are asymptomatic carriers of the new coronavirus, coupled with a long incubation period before infection produces symptoms has meant that controlling the spread is a significant challenge. Researchers are trying to learn how the virus is changing as it moves from person to person (The Associated Press).


China, the second largest economy in the world, is being walled off as countries introduce travel restrictions, airlines suspend flights and governments evacuate their citizens. During a Fox News interview broadcast on Sunday, Trump described the travel controls the administration imposed and hinted more actions are possible.


CNN: U.S. restrictions went into effect Sunday evening for travelers including U.S. citizens. The coronavirus is officially a U.S. public health emergency, according to the government. 


"Well, we've pretty much shut it down, coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China,” the president told Fox News’ Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityJenner says she didn't vote in 2020: 'I just couldn't get excited about it' White House says Biden won't 'underestimate Trump' if he runs in 2024 McConnell safe in power, despite Trump's wrath MORE. “We’re offering them tremendous help," Trump said. "But we can’t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. So, we're going to see what happens."


The administration over the weekend announced military housing for returning travelers who flee China and may need to be temporarily quarantined and screened for infection. They can reside on four military bases under the supervision of the Health and Human Services Department, the Pentagon announced (The Hill).


Although Trump mentioned the medical and expert assistance to China offered by the United States, Beijing has not accepted the offer or responded to the administration, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” (Reuters).


Major American companies that do business in China are pulling out. Apple has temporarily closed 42 stores in mainland China because of the virus (The Associated Press).







WHITE HOUSE & ADMINISTRATION: It won’t surprise anyone that the president plans to use his State of the Union speech to talk up his record and the strength of the U.S. economy. He was advised by Republican senators and pundits over the weekend to ignore the entire impeachment saga and rise above the scarlet “I.” They want to hear the president lay out a GOP agenda for a second term, one that can boost Republican candidates nationwide for months to come.


Trump’s aides tell reporters he will focus on Tuesday night on delivering an optimistic message that stresses economic opportunity and America’s strength in the world (The Associated Press).


The Hill’s Sylvan Lane and Naomi Jagoda report on the U.S. economic record three years into the Trump presidency and economists’ view that growth has slowed slightly heading toward November. 


During an interview with Hannity broadcast before the Super Bowl on Sunday, Trump celebrated historically low U.S. unemployment statistics and "the good stuff" in the economy that he said the news media paid less attention to while reporting on impeachment. The president warned Americans that the “radical left” and Democratic presidential candidates want to control the White House and Congress, which he suggested would jeopardize U.S. economic gains. 




The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!


Iowa and New Hampshire haters should think twice, by Albert Hunt, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2RRl268 


Democrats need a “dark horse,” not a front-runner, to win in November, by Lara M. Brown, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/37Ru20N 


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program is devoted to Iowa news today: Paul Steinhauser, political reporter and New Hampshire primary specialist; Republican National Committee spokeswoman Liz Harrington; Jennifer Holdsworth, surrogate advocate with the Buttigieg campaign; and Chuck Rocha, senior adviser for the Sanders campaign. Coverage at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.


The House meets at 1:30 p.m. 


The Senate convenes at 11 a.m.


The president will have lunch with Vice President Pence at 12:30 p.m.


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoPompeo on CIA recruitment: We can't risk national security to appease 'liberal, woke agenda' DNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates Dozens of scientists call for deeper investigation into origins of COVID-19, including the lab theory MORE is in Uzbekistan where he met this morning with Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov in Tashkent, and then held a joint press conference with him. Later, the secretary met with staff and family at the U.S. Embassy. This afternoon, Pompeo will participate in a ministerial gathering in Tashkent, after which he will meet with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.


London: A man wearing a fake explosive device stabbed two people in south London on Sunday before he was shot and killed by police officers in what authorities called a terrorist attack. Police said Sudesh Amman, 20, recently released from prison, had served a sentence for "Islamist-related terrorism" offenses, including charges of possessing terrorist documents and disseminating terrorist publications (The Washington Post). Police were tracking Amman at the time of the stabbings but said they were unable to prevent the attacks outside a pharmacy (The Associated Press).


Brexit: Two days after Great Britain left the European Union, British officials called on the European Union to strike a Canada-style free trade arrangement that imposes few tariffs while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares for an address to lay out the British stance in negotiations. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that while they want to minimize tariffs, they will not seek to align regulations with the EU. The prime minister's goal is to have a deal in place by the end of 2020 (The Associated Press). 


Nigeria: The Nigerian government announced Saturday that it will push to rectify security concerns cited by the Trump administration when it revealed plans against handing out visas to Nigerian immigrants. The White House announced Friday that immigrants from Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, will not be eligible for visas allowing them to remain in the U.S. permanently. The new policy will take effect on Feb. 21 (The Associated Press).


And finally … Both Trump and billionaire Bloomberg featured black women in their expensive Super Bowl ads on Sunday at a time when both face major challenges in building support among African American voters. It cost their campaigns more than $10 million apiece to reach the giant audience during the most-watched television broadcast all year, the exciting NFL championship game in which the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20. 


Bloomberg’s 60-second spot featured Calandrian Kemp, a Texas mother whose son George was shot to death. In the ad, she mourned her loss and says the gun lobby has good reason to fear Bloomberg, whose long fight for gun control is a central plank of his campaign.


Trump ran two 30-second ads. One featured Alice Johnson, who was released from a prison in Alabama under a law Trump signed that eased mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crimes. Her case was championed by reality TV star Kim Kardashian WestKimberly (Kim) Noel Kardashian WestKim Kardashian denies claims she bought 'looted' Roman statue Kim Kardashian West files for divorce from Kanye Biden finds a few Trump moves he'll keep MORE. Trump’s other Super Bowl ad said America is “stronger, safer and more prosperous than ever before” (The Los Angeles Times and CNN).


The president’s campaign team worked to capitalize on the football excitement with a fundraising email to supporters, with reprises of Trump’s ads: “My team just launched the Official Trump Super Bowl Ad Blitz Fund to make sure EVERY Patriot gets the chance to see our Super Bowl ads and to finally know the FACTS that the Left is trying to cover up. I’ve set a goal of raising $1,000,000 by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT to flood the airwaves with our ads and to show the Democrats that they cannot silence me and my administration.”


Bloomberg’s campaign, leaving no ad space unexplored, also invested in a “talking dogs” endorsement for “Mike” during Animal Planet’s popular Puppy Bowl program on Sunday (Ad Week).


The Hill: Trump shares, then deletes tweet praising Chiefs for representing the “Great State of Kansas.”