The Hill's Morning Report - COVID-19 alarms escalate; Trump under fire over Russia




Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday. 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, 125,803.


Countries have now confirmed more than 10 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 500,000 fatalities and no end in sight (Reuters).

In the United States, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Sunday that “the window is closing” to beat COVID-19. In the United Kingdom, the phrase used over the weekend by scientist Sir Jeremy Farrar to describe risks this summer for parts of England was “on a knife edge.” 


In Florida, where coronavirus infections are notching daily records, Mariely Ferraro, 40, a heart-monitor technician, used a different word to describe a disease she contracted seven weeks ago, along with her entire family: “Scary.”


Her children have recovered, but she has been unable to shake COVID-19. “I think the situation in Florida is scary,” Ferraro said. “The numbers are climbing, and the numbers are scary. I wish there was a way that it could be explained. If there were 9,000 people in one day, are they symptomatic? Do they have fevers? Are they sick?” (The New York Times).


The crisis of rampant transmissions in states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, South Carolina and California is evident (Reuters graphic). The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports that state preemption laws mean that cities in the Lone Star State cannot issue COVID-19 edicts of their own. Big cities, run by Democrats in Texas, accuse the GOP-led state government of making the pandemic worse. 


The question being asked by the public this week is what can be done now that COVID-19 containment has failed after months of mixed federal and state messages, muddled science, political blame-shaming and lockdown sacrifices people are unwilling to repeat. 


Azar (pictured below) endorsed masks, as did Vice President Pence, who wore one on Sunday during a trip to Dallas. 


We need to wear our face coverings if we’re in settings where we can’t social distance, particularly in these hot zones,” the secretary said.


“For anyone, if you can't maintain social distancing. ...it's just a good idea to wear a mask," Pence said after months of not challenging Trump’s personal aversion to face coverings. 


The Washington Post: The choir at a Pence event in Texas did not wear masks while singing. Why an issue? At a March choir practice in Washington state, a choir member infected with COVID-19 passed the virus to 52 others while singing, and two of them died.


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas MORE (D-Calif.) said it’s time for masks to be a federal mandate nationwide.  


CNN: If 95 percent of Americans wore masks now, a University of Washington health institute projects there would be 33,0000 fewer fatalities by October. As imprecise as such projections are, a swelling body of research agrees masks would significantly reduce the spread of infection.


The Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports that as the coronavirus surge spreads south and west, the president has repeatedly brushed off concerns. He much prefers to talk up economic growth and investor confidence.


The steady rise of COVID-19 cases in a number of states forced some governors to retreat from or pause reopenings. May’s easing of business closures and social distancing rules spurred a surprising rebound in hiring, consumer spending and retail sales, reports The Hill’s Sylvan Lane


The Hill’s wrap on Sunday chat shows: The coronavirus resurgence dominates. ”No doubt” the coronavirus “has the upper hand,” said former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden (The Hill). 





Register today for The Hill's LGBTQ+ Virtual Event, Unfinished Business


America's Unfinished Business: An LGBTQ+ Summit


On Tuesday, June 30, The Hill Virtually Live hosts a Pride month summit to discuss the fragility of civil rights in America today with a focus on the LGBTQ+ community. Olympic medalist Adam Rippon, Rep. Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Female lawmakers, officials call for more women at all levels of government to improve equity Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report MORE, Chasten Buttigieg, Alphonso David, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize Dueling town halls represent high stakes for Trump MORE and more join Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons. Register Now! 


CONGRESS: Pelosi on Sunday said the House has called for a report to Congress about a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia last year offered and paid bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops. She also suggested Congress wants information about who in the U.S. government was briefed about the intelligence and when, as well as the options discussed for a U.S. response. 


Reacting to a The New York Times account on Friday of a classified intelligence assessment, Pelosi said she received no information at the time from administration officials about Russia’s alleged bounty plot or about President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE’s knowledge, adding it is “as bad as it gets” and “totally outrageous.


She suggested the president’s years of public support for Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinSafeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt DOJ: Russian hackers targeted 2018 Olympics, French elections Putin stands with Belarus's dictator — we should stand by its people MORE boxed Trump in. “The president wants to ignore any allegation against Russia,” she asserted during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”    


The White House did not repudiate The Times’s reporting about a Moscow plot, although current and former Trump advisers said they had not “heard” such information and Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Ratcliffe, Schiff battle over Biden emails, politicized intelligence Juan Williams: Trump's search for dirt falls flat MORE said neither Trump nor Pence was told about such an assessment.


BBC: Russia and the Taliban deny The New York Times report of bounty payouts to kill U.S. troops.


Trump on Twitter said he was not briefed about Russia’s strategy and suggested The Times’s sources may be incorrect (The Hill). The president added to his earlier comments late on Sunday by affirming that the U.S. intelligence community possessed such information about Russia and the Taliban. He said intelligence officials did not share the information with him or the vice president. “Intel just reported to me they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” he tweeted.Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”


CBS News reported on Sunday that the National Security Council was reviewing past intelligence data over the weekend and did not find included in the President’s Daily Brief any references to a Russia plan to incentivize the killings of U.S. forces.


On Sunday, the Times added to its reporting, “United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter.”


“The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.”


The Washington Post: Russian bounties to Taliban-led militants are believed to have resulted in the deaths of U.S. troops, according to intelligence assessments. Sources said it was unclear how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted as a result of the program.


The New York Times: Afghan deaths sap brief optimism about a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban.





> ObamaCare: The House today is expected to vote to expand the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s tax credits as well as pressure states to expand Medicaid programs with the promise of more federal funds, and cap what any person may pay for coverage premiums at 8.5 percent of their income (BGov). The Trump administration last week asked the Supreme Court to overturn ObamaCare as unconstitutional (The Hill).


> Senate majority in 2021? Democratic senators are feeling increasingly bullish about their chances of winning back the Senate majority in November, The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. Democrats have seen their odds improved by late entries into Senate races, favorable recent polling and missteps by Trump.


> Senate rules: Democratic senators are talking among themselves about whether to reform or abolish the filibuster, which they wield against Republicans this year, but see as a serious obstacle to getting legislation passed and nominees confirmed should Democratic candidates capture the Senate majority beginning in January. In the Senate, the filibuster is an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill by offering numerous procedural motions. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears Tom Cotton: 'No doubt' coronavirus won't stop confirmation of SCOTUS nominee MORE (D-W.Va.), a prominent moderate, said last week that he’s now open to filibuster reform, a shift from where he was a year ago (The Hill). 


2020 POLITICS: A president who can’t articulate a second-term agenda, handed the coronavirus crisis to 50 states, retweets and then deletes a video in which one of his admirers bellows “white power,” and describes a “transition to greatness” while 20 million Americans are without jobs. Trump’s brawling bid for reelection at the moment looks troubled as he plays to a shrinking base of voters, seemingly without a campaign plan beyond “rebranding” his opponent, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter Trump narrows Biden's lead in Pennsylvania: poll Florida breaks first-day early voting record with 350K ballots cast MORE, as a danger to the nation.


As The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes, if the presidential election is a referendum on Trump, the incumbent needs to lay out a case for voters to vote "yes" beyond fear of Biden — “and he has not so far provided it.”


The Hill: Jonathan Easley pores over recent polling and explains where things stand in 13 battleground states. The sum of the surveys shows Biden with many different paths to the White House as of June and Trump potentially facing a wipeout election that would do significant damage to GOP efforts to hold the Senate.


The New York Times: How the Trump campaign is drawing former President Obama out of retirement.


> Another House target among primary-revved progressives: Excited by results in last Tuesday's congressional primaries in which House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelIs Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches MORE (D-N.Y.) is expected (when all ballots are counted) to be the loser to Democratic challenger Jamaal Bowman, progressives have targeted another high-ranking House Democrat, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: Kudlow confident that Trump can 'round up' Senate GOP behind coronavirus relief deal | US deficit spikes to record .1T Top Democrat: Tax credit expansions must be in next coronavirus relief package Treasury withheld nearly M from FDNY 9/11 health program MORE of Massachusetts. Alex Morse, the 31-year-old mayor of Holyoke, Mass., wants to defeat Neal, who is 71 and has been in Congress since 1989 (The Hill).


> Entertainment: Go vote” was Beyoncé’s message on Sunday while accepting the Black Entertainment Television (BET) humanitarian award. “Your voices are being heard and you’re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain,” the superstar singer said at the BET Awards, which celebrated its 20 years of highlighting excellence in African American-led entertainment. The ceremony, filmed virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, focused most of its commentary on topics such as systematic racism and equal rights (The Associated Press).


> You can’t always have (the tunes) you want: Like clockwork, it happens every presidential election cycle when Republican campaigns craft rally playlists that progressive musical artists find less than brand-burnishing. The Rolling Stones are threatening legal action over the Trump campaign’s continued use of the band’s music, including “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (The Hill). … The family of the late rocker Tom Petty says it doesn’t want the Trump campaign to play Petty’s music as accompaniment to what it says is a “campaign of hate.” Trump’s team played “I Won’t Back Down” at the president’s recent rally in Tulsa, Okla. (NPR).




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!


Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Democrats accuse tech companies of deceitful tactics in campaign against Calif. ballot measure Congress fiddles while the US burns, floods, and ails MORE (D-Calif.): The woman Biden isn’t considering for vice president, but should, by James Downie, digital opinions editor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3eH9vPZ


President Trump tries to cover his tracks by attacking the rule of law, by Chris Gagin, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3dHWIeH


The House meets at 9 a.m. to consider legislation to expand the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.


The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act.


The president, who canceled his plans to head to New Jersey over the weekend and instead played golf at his club in Sterling, Va., is scheduled to have lunch with Pence at the White House today.


Pence, who was in Dallas on Sunday, has postponed appearances originally planned this week in Arizona and Florida “out of an abundance of caution” due to coronavirus surges in those states. He is still expected to meet with governors and local officials, but will skip campaign events. He’s joining Trump for lunch today.


The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget hosts a webinar, “Projecting COVID’s Fiscal Impact,” today at 2 p.m. with Senior Vice President and Senior Policy Director Marc Goldwein. He plans to reveal new budget projections and talk about the effects of the pandemic on deficits, debt, federal trust funds and long-term sustainability, plus potential implications of more fiscal help this summer from Congress and the White House. Registration is HERE.


Invitation: The Hill Virtually Live hosts a Pride Month summit on Tuesday at 11 a.m. to discuss civil rights in America with a focus on the LGBTQ community. Olympic medalist Adam Rippon, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Chasten Buttigieg, Alphonso David, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and more join Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons. Register HERE


The Hill’s Coronavirus Report has updates and exclusive video interviews with policymakers emailed each day. Sign up HERE!


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.


International: Polish nationalist President Andrzej Duda won the first round of Sunday’s election in his country but will have to face the centrist mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, in a run-off on July 12 in a race that could transform the nation’s ties with the European Union (BBC and Reuters). ... French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronFrench high school teacher decapitated in possible terrorist attack France sets one-day record with more than 30,000 new COVID-19 cases French ministers' homes searched in probe of response to virus MORE is two years away from a presidential election, but on Sunday his government suffered a pounding in municipal contests in France. The vote, delayed for months by the coronavirus crisis, could deprive Macron of winning a single contest in a major city. The Green Party surged (Reuters ). ...Worried health officials in the United Kingdom say England should brace for a possible surge in new cases of coronavirus soon after pubs, restaurants, hotels and many other businesses reopen on Saturday this week, the date set by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Scotland and Northern Ireland expect to ease some lockdowns on other dates in July) (BBC). … Organizers of an advertising boycott aimed at Facebook are taking the pressure to Europe, appealing to companies to nudge the social media company to remove hate speech from the platform. Since the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign launched this month, more than 160 companies, including Verizon Communications and Unilever, signed on to stop buying ads on Facebook for the month of July (Reuters). … In Europe, the vast majority of people in nearly every country surveyed for a new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations said their perceptions of the United States are increasingly negative. Two-thirds of those polled in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Denmark said the coronavirus crisis has lowered their opinions of America and its government. They see a U.S. that is, at best, a fair-weather friend.”


Boeing: Three days of crucial flight tests, possibly beginning today, are planned for Boeing’s 737 Max this week, part of the company’s long effort to return to the skies following two crashes that killed 346 people (BBC).


Paranormal pitch: Quite an email entreaty from the Center for Inquiry’s Investigations Group (a nonprofit that says it’s mission is “defending science”): “Can you read other people’s thoughts? Can you move objects with your mind? Can you predict the future? More to the point, can you prove it? If you can, the Center for Inquiry Investigations Group will give you $250,000.” 


Pride month: The 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade remained a party in New York City on Sunday. The parade was canceled because of the coronavirus, but that didn’t stop politicians from participating. Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioCitigroup executive to run for NYC mayor: report Treasury withheld nearly M from FDNY 9/11 health program New York theaters display banners urging governor to reopen cinemas MORE (D), joined by his wife, Chirlane McCray, addressed a socially distanced media scrum and onlookers, as did Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerTrump to lift Sudan terror sponsor designation Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts The 2016 and 2020 Senate votes are about the same thing: constitutionalist judges MORE (D-N.Y.). Gotham’s grand marshals put the event on wheels this year.





And finally … by wind and will. ... Amid the coronavirus crisis, some adventurous souls insist on going the distance to reconnect with the ones they love. Here are two examples to ponder over your coffee this morning. (Hollywood, these should be movies-of-the-week):


Juan Manuel Ballestero, 47, an accomplished sailor and wanderer who found himself in lockdown on a Portuguese island when the pandemic turned the world upside down in March, wanted to rejoin his father, Carlos Alberto Ballestero, a former sea captain who turned 90 at home in Argentina in May. Unable to fly as borders shut, the younger Ballestero decided to sail across the Atlantic during a solitary sojourn that wound up taking 85 days in his 29-foot sailboat. Father and son were reunited, virus-free and in time for Father’s Day. 


“Faith keeps you standing in these situations,” the son said. “I learned about myself; this voyage gave me lots of humility” (The New York Times).


Endurance athlete Corey Cappelloni decided to run 218 miles from Washington, D.C., to his 98-year-old grandmother’s nursing home in Scranton, Pa., over seven days to raise money for charity and encourage Ruth Andres, “Nana,” to keep fighting after she contracted COVID-19 and received care in isolation.


Cappelloni wasn't sure he could endure the equivalent of seven ultramarathons of 31.2 miles, longer than a standard 26.2-mile marathon, in as many days. He was posting good daily times, but on day six, he hit the body’s limit, the wall. Exhausted and hurting, he slowed to a walk. Then came a text message and a huge mental lift: Nana had made a full recovery.


"She had some very rough days," Cappelloni said in a video he posted after he arrived June 19 to fanfare. "But you know, she fought through them, and that's what I'm doing today" (The Associated Press).