The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill
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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It’s Thursday. We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the daily co-creators, so find us @asimendinger and @alweaver22 on Twitter and recommend the Morning Report to your friends. CLICK HERE to subscribe!
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 97,722. Tuesday, 98,223. Wednesday, 98,929. Thursday, 100,442.
More than 100,000 people are dead in the United States because of a virus no one had heard of before late last year, until the microscopic pathogen brought life and lives to a halt.
The grim tally, which some compare to the casualties of war and previous disease outbreaks, is so gargantuan that it is difficult for even those trained to deal with death and grieving to get their arms around it.
President Trump, who understands that a vaccine is the holy grail of halting the contagion, has said little this week about the fatalities. He had hoped on Wednesday to take advantage of a cheerier milestone with the SpaceX manned launch in Florida, but stormy weather postponed until Saturday the first U.S. blastoff with NASA astronauts in nearly a decade. He says he will fly back to Florida to see it.
Before he can witness the excitement of a rescheduled event, today’s report on weekly jobless claims will serve as another reminder that U.S. unemployment could reach 20 percent or more by next month. The economic picture will get worse before it improves: Boeing, the stalwart American manufacturer, announced on Wednesday that it will lay off more than 6,000 workers this week because of falling demand during the pandemic (CNBC).
A puzzle among some of the president’s allies is Trump’s showy but controversial appeals to his base this week, including distracting social media feuds aimed at TV’s Joe Scarborough and former President Obama; at Twitter over added fact-checks to Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting fraud, and at North Carolina’s governor, who is leery of lifting restrictions on in-person conventions of thousands of attendees, including the GOP’s nominating convention planned in Charlotte in August (The Hill).
The Wall Street Journal: Trump today may order federal regulators to hold companies such as Twitter and Facebook liable if they curb users’ speech, according to a draft described on Wednesday night. The president is unhappy with social media outlets, Twitter in particular, for fact-checking his tweets and labeling conservative commentary that crosses a line into falsehood. Reuters reports that Trump is expected to order a review of a law that protects Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google from being held responsible for material posted by users.
The Hill: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defends decision to fact check Trump tweet: “More transparency from us is critical.”
Trump’s schedule today calls for a presidential discussion with experts about the upcoming hurricane season. Adding angst to anxiety, the president will call public attention to the risk of natural disasters while at the same time reckoning with an unprecedented pandemic and a recession.
As Niall Stanage writes in his Memo, the president at the moment does not appear as sure-footed as his supporters would like, whether on policy, pandemics or presidential politics.
NPR: Vice President Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, owns between $506,0000 and $1.64 million in stocks that could pose conflicts because of the federal coronavirus response.
However, Wednesday did bring some good news, as Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that the stay-at-home order in the nation’s capital will be lifted on Friday after nearly two months. The decision comes after the district experienced 14 days of declining community spread of the virus and a stabilization in hospitalizations.
“In my mind, I call it stay-at-home light,” said Bowser of the relaxed restrictions. “It means the stay-at-home order has been lifted, and some activities have been added back to what we can do, but they are minimal.”
Among other things, D.C. residents will be able to eat out at a restaurant with outdoor seating, shop curbside at nonessential stores and get haircuts (The Washington Post).
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that most of the state will move out of “phase one” of its reopening. However, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County are not included (Fox 5).
Universities and colleges across the country also announced plans to bring students back in the fall, including Michigan State, Utah State, the University of Utah, and a number of schools in Massachusetts.
CNN: Disney World set for July reopening. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom to reopen on July 11; Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15.
On Capitol Hill, a veto threat from the president forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) late Wednesday to hastily pull from the floor a bill that would have reauthorized intelligence surveillance programs. Opposition from members in both parties created doubts it could pass, and after a series of delays, the Speaker made a rare retreat. The fate of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization is unclear (The Hill).
While in session on Wednesday, lawmakers voted via proxy for the first time in House history in response to coronavirus health risks that are keeping some lawmakers out of Washington. Roughly 70 members cast votes by proxy through colleagues who were present in the chamber (The Hill). The history-making change was used as the House agreed to sanction senior Chinese officials responsible for the forced labor camps who have targeted Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China (The Hill).
House Republicans sued Pelosi arguing proxy voting is unconstitutional. The new process allows one lawmaker to cast votes for up to 10 colleagues.
The Hill: GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas.
The Hill: Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) subpoena vote.
The New York Times: Sam Johnson, Former P.O.W. and long-serving Texas congressman, dies at 89.
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LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) stock is continuing to rise as former Vice President Joe Biden’s potential running mate, but she is facing one major obstacle to nabbing the spot: her Senate seat going red.
If Warren is nominated and assumes the vice presidency, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) could fill her seat on a temporary basis with someone from the GOP. The possibility is giving some Democrats pause as Biden weighs his running mate options, as Warren’s hypothetical replacement would likely be seated for nearly three months and could prove decisive in what is expected to be a narrow majority one way or the other.
However, Warren is in regular contact with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and plans to hold a big online fundraiser for him on June 15. According to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Amie Parnes, the Massachusetts progressive has also shown her eagerness to join the team as she has made a concerted outreach effort with some of Biden’s top allies in the Senate, including Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.).
Polling wise, Warren’s selection could boost Biden. According to a Morning Consult-Politico survey released Wednesday, 26 percent of registered voters said they would be more likely to vote for Biden if he chose her, putting her ahead of the other eight women he is said to be considering.
The Hill: Biden hopes to have his VP pick by Aug. 1.
Politico: Trump allies fret over rising Biden threat: “Why are you not burying him?”
Christian Paz, The Atlantic: All the president’s lies about the coronavirus (an unfinished compendium).
Politico: The general election scenario Democrats are dreading.
Joshua Green, Bloomberg Businessweek: Trump is not giving up on long-shot efforts to woo black voters.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
INTERNATIONAL POLICY: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the United States no longer views Hong Kong as politically autonomous from China, a stark escalation in response to Beijing’s plan to impose new security restrictions on territory in which pro-democracy demonstrations have been raging for at least a year (The Hill). … Chinese lawmakers in Beijing on Thursday endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong by a vote of 2,878 to 1 with 6 abstentions. Activists in Hong Kong say the law will undermine civil liberties and might be used to suppress political activity (The Associated Press).
> South Korea: A new surge in coronavirus infections on Thursday, the worst in eight weeks, sparked concerns about a second wave of COVID-19 and triggered the return of tougher social distancing requirements. One company is in the spotlight with 82 cases linked to its warehouse facility this week (Reuters).
> Iran and its international partners: The Trump administration is ending sanctions waivers that allow Russian, Chinese and European companies to work on sensitive Iranian nuclear sites, dealing another major blow to the Iran nuclear deal and raising the prospect of covert advances in Tehran’s nuclear program, according to The Washington Post.
> Brazil: Sao Paulo state — home to 46 million people and where more than 6,700 people have died because of the coronavirus (one-fourth of all deaths to date in Brazil) — will reopen some of its closed businesses starting June 1. Gov. João Doria said Wednesday that stay-at-home recommendations will remain in effect until June 15 but that some economic activity will resume in regions where new cases have slowed and enough intensive care beds are available (The Associated Press and Yahoo News).
> Venezuela: The Trump administration is preparing to charge the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in the coming months with crimes that could include drug trafficking and corruption. If the United States indicts first lady Cilia Flores, charges are expected to stem, at least in part, from a thwarted cocaine transaction that has already landed two of her nephews in a Florida penitentiary (Reuters).
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Trump is a genius at distracting us from his deadly incompetence. This is how a thug acts, by Scott Martelle, opinion contributor, The Los Angeles Times. https://lat.ms/2TNfxWN
Governors shouldn’t be exempt from the effects of their policies, by Corey R. Lewandowski, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2X9sY5a
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House will convene at 9 a.m. and for legislative business at noon. Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference from the Capitol at 10:45 a.m. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will hold his own at 11:30 a.m. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies holds a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on the response of the Department of Veterans Affairs to COVID-19, with Secretary Robert Wilkie testifying.
The Senate will meet at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The president will receive a briefing this afternoon about the upcoming hurricane season, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts will be active this year.
Economic indicators: The government at 8:30 a.m. will report on jobless claims last week as well as orders for durable goods in April, which are expected to show a sharp drop in consumer demand. Initial filings for unemployment last week are expected to total approximately 2.1 million, according to analysts, bringing the nine-week total to 38 million (Yahoo Finance.)
Axios will host a live virtual event at 12:30 p.m. about the severe impact of the coronavirus on seniors in long-term care facilities. Guests include Sens. Casey and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Registration is HERE.
➔ Crime: Trump said he asked the Justice Department and the FBI to expedite an investigation into the death of George Floyd, who died after being taken into custody by Minneapolis police this week. Floyd was black. “We’re going to get a very full report,” the president said on Wednesday, adding that bystander video showing a police officer’s knee on Floyd’s neck on the pavement as he struggled to breathe showed an event Trump described as “very sad” (The Hill). Pelosi on Wednesday described Floyd’s death as “a crime” (The Hill). Four Minneapolis police officers involved were fired.
➔ Sexual abuse: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Cloud in Minnesota will pay victims of sexual abuse $22.5 million and is set to file for bankruptcy after 70 people said they were abused by 41 diocesan priests dating back to the 1950s. With the settlement, the diocese will become the fifth diocese to file for bankruptcy after settling abuse claims (The Associated Press).
➔ Sweet tooth: A black bear that was seen roaming around Fort Myers, Fla., was lured in by an incredibly humane trap: doughnuts. After the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided against tranquilizing the bear, noting that drugs don’t always work on a 250-pound juvenile scavenger, officers devised a trap using Krispy Kreme doughnuts and blueberry pie-scented spray, which worked. A wildlife official said the bear was relocated to a state-managed wildlife area (The Associated Press).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the SpaceX rocket and NASA astronauts, who may make it aloft this weekend, we’re eager for some smart guesses about U.S. exploration of space.
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
For years, American astronauts have relied on the prowess of which nation to be able to travel to and from the International Space Station?
- United States
Trump wants the United States to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 in order to do what?
- Prepare to launch a U.S. exploratory mission to Mars
- Monitor Chinese unmanned landings on the moon
- Annex the moon as a U.S. territory
- We made this up. The president says the U.S. already went to the moon. No need to return.
Which of these is true about the two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, selected for the SpaceX manned flight (pictured below)?
- They are both married to astronauts
- They are both colonels in the military
- They are both test pilots
- They are both veterans of space shuttle flights
- All of the above
Elon Musk’s scrappy SpaceX has been in a space-race rivalry for years with which private competitor?
- Aero Synergie
The first space tourist, American businessman Dennis Tito, spent nearly eight days on the International Space Station. What did he reportedly pay for his roundtrip ticket?
- No charge; selection by lottery
- $5 million
- $20 million
- $1 billion