The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! 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 co-creators, and readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 214,771; Tuesday, 215,086.

On the first of four days of partisan jousting to consider Judge Amy Coney Barrett to become the sixth conservative vote on the Supreme Court, combatants on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday plunged the high court into fast-moving political waters just weeks before Nov. 3.


From Barrett’s biography to reproductive rights and the Affordable Care Act to the pandemic and election integrity, senators on both sides of the aisle leaped to take the offensive and land blows against one another in prepared remarks. Questioning of Barrett begins today.


“This is probably not about persuading each other unless something really dramatic happens,” said Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration Graham congratulates former rival Harrison on being picked to lead DNC MORE (R-S.C.), a stalwart Trump supporter who is in a ferocious contest for reelection in the Palmetto State against Democrat Jaime Harrison. “All the Republicans will vote yes; all the Democrats will vote no.” (The New York Times)


The Hill: Gloves come off early during Barrett confirmation hearing.


The New York Times: Two parties offer dueling views of Barrett as confirmation fight begins.


CNBC and The Associated Press: Barrett takes Senate questions today.


Anticipating that committee Democrats will fail to block or slow Barrett’s rapid trajectory toward a Senate floor vote this month, progressives sought to advise the 48-year-old appeals court judge, whose confirmation appeared implicit in their statements.


Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) urged Barrett to recuse herself from any case that comes before the Supreme Court involving the upcoming election (The Hill). Because President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen forward for impeachment book Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again Man known as 'QAnon Shaman' asks Trump for pardon after storming Capitol MORE has publicly said he wants Barrett on the court to weigh election challenges he has vowed to take to court after Nov. 3, the president’s choice to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader Ginsburg, George Floyd among options for 'Remember the Titans' school's new name Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol Lindsey Graham praises Merrick Garland as 'sound choice' to serve as attorney general MORE will this week be pressed to answer recusal questions.


Republicans on the committee commended Barrett as “brilliant” and hailed her originalist approach to the Constitution, said to be in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she once clerked before he died in 2016.


Across the aisle, Democrats said Trump’s nominee is an existential threat to ObamaCare, the decade-old law Republicans have for years said they would replace and the Supreme Court has upheld twice. Democrats view health care as a politically potent issue that resonates with voters and galvanizes the Democratic base (The Hill).


The hearings are a major moment for Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden calls for swift action while outlining .9 trillion virus relief package Porter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's growing isolation as administration comes to an end MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenConfirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed Biden's Sunday inauguration rehearsal postponed due to security concerns: report Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again MORE’s running mate, who is participating this week via remote hookup (The Hill). 


The Washington Post: Barrett promises to be apolitical as Democrats warn of threat to health care. 


Another committee member who faces voters this fall is freshman Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Military survivors of child sex abuse deserve more NASA selects the next Artemis moonwalkers while SpaceX flies a Starship MORE (R-Iowa), who has tied herself to Trump and may suffer for it next month, according to Iowa political analysts. Although the president won the state by 9 points in 2016, the senator has called 2020 a “tough, tough, tough year.” Ernst, who is nervously eyeing suburban female voters who have turned away from Trump, on Monday focused on Barrett’s gender (Fox News). The president plans to campaign in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday.


Taking a painful lesson from the nominee’s 2017 hearings before she joined the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by a Senate vote of 55-43, Democrats went out of their way on Monday to avoid linking Barrett’s conservative views to her Catholic faith (The Hill). 


Committee ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Trump vetoes bipartisan driftnet fishing bill Dumping Abraham Lincoln? A word of advice to the 'cancel culture' MORE (D-Calif.) (pictured below with Graham) was criticized three years ago for telling Barrett, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that's a concern.” The comment sparked bipartisan backlash and helped the former law professor rise as a conservative judicial star (The Associated Press).  


Paul Kane, The Washington Post analysis: Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Lawmakers, leaders offer condolences following the death of Capitol Police officer GOP senators urging Trump officials to not resign after Capitol chaos MORE (R-Utah), a member of the Judiciary Committee who tested positive for COVID-19 after falling ill early this month, appeared in-person during the first day of the Barrett hearing without a mask and while periodically whispering to his colleagues.



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2020 POLITICS: The president on Monday night made his return to the campaign trail with a rally in Sanford, Fla., as he launches a final three-week sprint ahead of Election Day in a bid to improve his chances of winning a second term.


Appearing at Orlando Sanford International Airport, the president was emboldened by his recovery from COVID-19, claiming that he is now "immune" to the virus while painting a rosy picture of his administration’s response to the pandemic. He also touted the effort to fast-track a vaccine, vowed a swift economic recovery despite stagnant stimulus talks, and He also launched a multi-pronged attack against his Democratic opponent.


“The nice part, I went through it. Now they say I'm immune. I feel so powerful. I'll walk into that audience. I'll walk in there, I'll kiss everyone in that audience. I'll kiss the guys and the beautiful women—everybody,” Trump said (The Hill).


Trump’s appearance came hours after Sean Conley, the White House physician, wrote in a memorandum to the White House press office that the president tested negative for the novel coronavirus on consecutive days. 


“Repeatedly negative antigen tests, taken in context with additional clinical and laboratory data, including viral load, subgenomic RNA, and PCR cycle threshold measurements, as well as ongoing assessment of viral culture date, all indicate a lack of detectable viral replication,” Conley wrote (CNBC).


Upon pulling up to Air Force One on Monday, Trump appeared maskless while the rest of his staff donned face coverings — a departure from previous White House policy.


The Washington Post: Trump returns to campaign trail after bout with covid-19, amid criticism he is still not taking pandemic seriously.


As The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels write, Monday’s rally kicked off what is expected to be a frantic three-week stretch for Trump as he looks to make up for lost time while he recovered from the virus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the White House. The bout with COVID-19 took up 10 days, which could have otherwise been spent in battleground states the Trump team has trained its focus on. 


Today, Trump returns to western Pennsylvania for a rally, before taking his roadshow to Iowa and North Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday. The Trump campaign announced on Monday night that the president will also make campaign appearances in Ocala, Fla., and Macon, Ga., on Friday. 


While Trump trails Biden by a significant margin nationally, polls indicate a tight race in Florida, North Carolina and Iowa — all of which the president won in 2016. However, Trump has consistently trailed the former VP in the Keystone State. According to the latest RealClearPolitics average, Biden leads in Pennsylvania by 7.3 percentage points, with some surveys showing him ahead by double digits.


Meanwhile, Biden made news on Monday by saying he is “not a fan of court packing” during an interview in Cincinnati, Ohio (The Washington Post). The enthusiasm among some Democrats to expand the number of Supreme Court justices beyond nine if a Democrat is in the White House and Congress is under Democratic control prompted the party’s presidential nominee to be coy on the subject for weeks, inviting criticism on all sides. 


“I’ve already spoken on — I’m not a fan of court packing. But I’m not — I don’t want to get off on that whole issue,” Biden told WKRC TV in Cincinnati. “I want to keep focused.” 


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden landslide creeps into view.


The Washington Post: With no debate, will Trump and Biden face off in town halls on separate networks?


The Hill: Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes Should there be a 'Secretary of Thought'? Post-holiday COVID-19 surge hits new deadly records MORE’s tensions with Trump escalate over a campaign ad. The virologist told CNBC on Monday that he intends to remain in his position regardless of who wins the presidential election. “This is too important a problem. I’ve devoted my entire professional life to fighting infectious diseases. This is an outbreak of historic proportions, the likes of which we have not seen in 102 years,” Fauci said. “I’m not going to walk away from this outbreak no matter who’s the president.”



While the president’s struggles burst into view, Senate Republicans are scrambling in search of daylight from Trump as they look to save the party’s majority in the upper chamber. 


As The Hill’s Reid Wilson notes in his latest dispatch from Phoenix, a number of Senate Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Murkowski blasts Trump's election claims, calls House impeachment appropriate MORE (Ky.), Sens. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Rick Scott will 'likely' join challenge to election results Former NY GOP gov calls election challenges 'grave threat to our freedom' MORE (Texas), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE (Maine) and Graham — have all offered words of criticism in recent weeks on issues relating to the White House’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic or stimulus negotiations.


Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 Top GOP senators acknowledge Biden as president-elect after Electoral College vote MORE (N.C.) apologized for going maskless at a White House event where he and other senators contracted the coronavirus, while Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (Ariz.) danced around answering whether she is proud of her support for the president during a recent debate. 


However, history has been mixed to Republicans who have distanced themselves from Trump’s orbit. While former Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBottom line Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 Bottom line MORE (R-N.H.) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length MORE (R-Ill.) lost their bids for reelection in 2016, Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators call for commission to investigate Capitol attack Wisconsin Democrats make ad buy calling on Johnson to resign Efforts to secure elections likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress MORE (R-Wis.) won tight contests, fueled by outperforming Trump in suburban areas, highlighting the high wire act Senate Republicans are attempting to pull off. 


“If you’re trying to disassociate yourself from the president and establish your own brand this late in the race, you’re probably in trouble. That process needed to have begun months ago, if not years ago.” said Ken Spain, a longtime GOP strategist who held senior positions at the National Republican Congressional Committee. “There are some Republican senators who have established their own brand in their home states. Because of that, they still have a chance of winning.”


The Hill: During a Monday debate in Kentucky, McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, dodged questions about court packing. McConnell leads McGrath by 7 points in a late-September survey of the contest.


National Review: Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersTwo Senate committees vow probe of security failure during Capitol riots US government caught blindsided over sophisticated cyber hack, experts say Krebs emphasizes security of election as senators butt heads MORE (D-Mich.), Republican John James in virtual tie for Michigan Senate seat: Poll. 


The Hill: Alarm grows over Trump team's efforts to monitor polls.


CORONAVIRUS: Johnson & Johnson paused a late-stage COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial because of a subject’s “unexplained illness.” The company downplayed the event as an expected part of human clinical trials, but declined to add details on Monday night (The Associated Press and STAT).  


Herd immunity: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday called the advocacy in some quarters of herd immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic “simply unethical.” Referring to the current goal of vaccinating the public against the virus when such drugs are available, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the science about immunity to the novel coronavirus was too new, with many uncertainties. “Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he told a media briefing, according to The Associated Press. “Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” he said.


Experts: Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on Monday that the United States is facing a “whole lot of trouble” as COVID-19 infections continue to surge through fall and into winter (CNBC). … Morning Report is inclined to read anything about COVID-19 reported by The New York Times’s Donald G. McNeil Jr., so this headline caught our attention: “A dose of optimism, as the pandemic rages on.” McNeil, a self-described “gloomy Cassandra” about COVID-19 and veteran of previous pandemics and epidemics, unpacks why some of the most respected experts think COVID-19 could run its course by 2021 (The New York Times). 


Outbreaks: Mainland China reports the first locally transmitted COVID-19 infections in nearly two months (Reuters). … The Vatican announced on Monday that four members of the Swiss Guards (pictured below), the armed force that protects Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope Francis gets COVID-19 vaccine Pope says the 'movement' of violence at the Capitol must be condemned Feehery: The great schism MORE, tested positive for COVID-19. Four guards are experiencing symptoms and are in isolation, with the Vatican adding in a statement that contact tracing has begun. The results indicating infection appeared on Sunday (NBC News).



POTUS tweets: “Big spike in the China Plague in Europe and other places that the Fake News used to hold up as examples of places that are doing well, in order to make the U.S look bad. Be strong and vigilant, it will run its course. Vaccines and cures are coming fast!” Trump wrote before 8 a.m. on Monday as he prepared to conclude his semi-quarantine to return to campaigning following hospitalization with COVID-19.


Masks: A Wisconsin judge on Monday blocked an effort by Republicans to end Democratic Gov. Tony EversTony EversEight governors call on feds to immediately send out vaccine doses now in reserve Marquette men's basketball team wears black uniforms to protest Jacob Blake decision Wisconsin governor slams decision to not charge officers in Jacob Blake shooting MORE’s statewide mask mandate at a time when coronavirus cases are surging. A conservative group that brought the lawsuit promised to immediately appeal. St. Croix County Circuit Judge R. Michael Waterman ruled the governor has the power to issue multiple health emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). 


News media & work: The New York Times said in an email to staff that employees are not expected to return to offices until July (The New York Times). … The Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are among news outlets that are not assigning journalists to be in close proximity with Trump, including travel to cover his rallies this week as part of pool assignments, because they say they do not have assurances of basic precautions to safeguard their employees’ health. At least three White House correspondents tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks while or soon after covering the president and White House events (The New York Times).

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! 


Don’t be so sure a Justice Barrett would overturn Roe, by Keith E. Whittington, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3lxbut4 


Biden’s change beats Trump’s disruption, by Rahm Emanuel, opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/33PqyMG 


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The House meets at 11:30 a.m.


The Senate holds a pro forma session at 8:45 a.m. The full chamber will not take up legislative business until Monday.


The president will fly to Johnstown, Pa., for a campaign rally at 7 p.m.


Vice President Pence will campaign at noon at a rally in Waukesha, Wis.


Biden-Harris campaign events: Biden will deliver remarks focused on seniors while in Pembroke Pines, Fla., before appearing in Miramar, Fla., both in Broward County. Harris today is working remotely on the Senate Judiciary Committee during a second day of hearings for Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court hears oral arguments and issues orders (calendar is 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


Tech & media: Apple is set to announce new iPhones today at 1 p.m. ET, and there are leaks and conjecture ahead of the big reveal focused on iPhone 12 and 5G (The Verge). … Disney on Monday announced a reorganization to accelerate its direct-to-consumer strategy by centralizing its media businesses into a single organization that will be responsible for content distribution, ad sales and Disney+ (CNBC).


RIP: Roberta McCain, the mother of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake MORE (R-Ariz.), died on Monday at age 108. Cindy McCain announced her death, saying in a tweet, “It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my wonderful Mother In-law, Roberta McCain. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model or a better friend.” In 2008, Roberta McCain, then 96, appeared throughout her son’s presidential campaign amid concerns about the Arizona senator’s age and health (The Associated Press).



➔ Upbeat news: The Atlanta Braves took a 1-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) on Tuesday night behind a 9th inning home run by Austin Riley, which broke the deadlock, fueling them to a 5-1 win (ESPN). In the American League Championship Series, the Tampa Bay Rays took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Houston Astros on Monday, defeating them 4-2 (ESPN). … Travis Gienger, of Anoka, Minn., a horticulture teacher, spent a lot of his free time in the pumpkin patch in his backyard this summer, watering his plants up to 10 times a day and feeding and fertilizing them at least twice each day. His reward? A prize-winning 2,350-pound pumpkin (The Associated Press). … Violinists with the New York Philharmonic orchestra, locked out of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center because of COVID-19, took to the streets this month for a Friday pop-up sidewalk performance in the Bronx. The Philharmonic plans to hold its final “NY Phil Bandwagon” concert this weekend and then resume the curbside performances in the spring. (The Associated Press).


And finally … Back in September 1966 — when The Supremes had a No. 1 hit with “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Star Trek” premiered on NBC — a Centaur rocket successfully propelled NASA’s Surveyor 2 to the moon before the unmanned lander crashed on the surface and the discarded upper rocket stage swept past the moon and into orbit around the sun, never to be seen again — until perhaps 2020.


A smallish object thought to be an asteroid and now headed toward Earth at 1,500 mph (and expected to be snagged by the planet’s gravity) may, in fact, be a 54-year-old piece of Centaur space junk, boomeranging its way home, according to Paul Chodas, NASA’s leading asteroid expert.


I’m pretty jazzed about this,” Chodas told The Associated Press. “It’s been a hobby of mine to find one of these and draw such a link, and I’ve been doing it for decades now.


As the object nears Earth, astronomers should be able to better chart its orbit and determine how much it’s pushed around by the radiation and thermal effects of sunlight. If it’s an old Centaur — essentially a light empty can — it will move differently than a heavy space rock. 


Chodas, who followed the NASA 1966 mission as a teenager in Canada, predicts the object will spend about four months circling Earth once it’s captured by gravity in mid-November before shooting back out into its own orbit around the sun next March. He doubts the object will slam into Earth — “at least not this time around.”