The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Barrett touts independence to sidestep confirmation questions

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! 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; Wednesday, 215,910.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett gave little ground on Tuesday as senators tried to gauge how she might decide cases before the Supreme Court. Measured in her answers and unflappable in her demeanor, Barrett said she would be bound by the text of statutes and would approach the Constitution as law rather than seek outcomes she would prefer if she were “queen of the world.”


The Hill: Barrett sidesteps Democratic questions amid high-stakes grilling.


The Hill: Five takeaways from Barrett’s 11 hours of testimony. She is back on Capitol Hill today for a final round of questions (The Associated Press).


She said Roe v. Wade is not a “super-precedent” but added, “That does not mean it should be overruled.” She said she would not be used as “a pawn” to decide the presidential election, but she declined to say if she would recuse herself from 2020 election challenges if she is confirmed. Probed about her criticisms written as a law professor about the Supreme Court’s rulings upholding the landmark health reform law of the Obama presidency, Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I’m not on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act” (The Washington Post).


“No one has elicited from me any commitment in a case,” she told senators, declining to discuss anything President TrumpDonald TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments MORE tweeted about his ambition to see a conservative court overturn ObamaCare and firmly insisting that she would limit her testimony to cases she had either ruled on or previously publicly discussed.


Senate Republicans are downplaying the chances that the Supreme Court will overturn the landmark 2010 health law, despite their support for a challenge to be heard by justices a week after the elections. "No one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' McConnell alma mater criticizes him for 1619 comments McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward' MORE (R-Ky.) said Monday night. Democrats describe the law as under grave threat (The Hill).


“I certainly hope that all members of the committee have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide the election for the American people,” Barrett told the committee. Trump has urged the Senate to quickly confirm his nominee, saying a ninth justice may be necessary if a case involving his reelection goes to the high court (The Washington Post).


Barrett's nomination has elevated the debate over abortion rights to a level not seen in years. She was evasive on the issue during Tuesday’s questioning when she declined to say whether Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. There are 17 abortion-related cases moving through the courts, increasing the odds that one could come before the Supreme Court if Barrett, 48, is confirmed this month to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCourt watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Five hot-button issues Biden didn't mention in his address to Congress Schumer waiting for recommendation on Supreme Court expansion MORE, as seems all but certain.


The New York Times: Amid the Barrett hearing choreography, a near-certain outcome: confirmation. Democrats pressed Barrett more with the election in mind than out of any hope of derailing her rise to the Supreme Court.


Reuters: Barrett avoids questions about abortion, gay marriage.


The Washington Post: Four early takeaways from day two of the Barrett hearings.





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2020 POLITICS: Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE’s campaign knows it is in the driver’s seat as national polls have him above 50 percent and as key battleground state polls continue to show him in the ascendency over Trump 20 days out from Election Day.


As The Hill’s Amie Parnes writes, Team Biden believes it is doing just enough as the hourglass winds down toward Nov. 3, with the former vice president ramping up events despite rising coronavirus cases across the country, especially compared to his pre-convention schedule. However, he remains at arm’s length in some senses as his team continues to avoid wide-ranging sit-down interviews where Biden could get into trouble. 


However, as Amie notes, Biden’s lead has given him the upper hand in certain situations, with last week’s battle over the second presidential debate serving as a prime example. It was the former VP’s team that had the take-it-or-leave it stance. 


“While Team Biden is indeed milking the clock, importantly they are not sitting on the ball but looking to score when there is an open shot,” said Chris Lehane, a presidential campaign veteran. “And given the other team does not really seem to have an especially fulsome defense, there are a lot of open layups."


Biden made his latest campaign stop in Florida, where he made a pair of appearances in an effort to woo senior citizens to his side. The former vice president zeroed in on Medicare, Social Security and the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has an outsize effect on older voters. 


“You deserve respect and peace of mind, but you’re not getting it because to Donald Trump, you’re expendable. You’re forgettable. You’re virtually nobody. That’s how he sees seniors. That’s how he sees you,” Biden said.


The Hill: Biden woos senior voters amid signs they're turning on Trump.


Joshua Green, Bloomberg Businessweek: Florida could seal Trump’s fate on Election Night.


Politico: Tightening Michigan race gives GOP hope of hanging on to the Senate.


The Hill: Supreme Court battle acts as lifeline for Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Memo: The GOP's war is already over — Trump won MORE.





Meanwhile, Trump made his second campaign stop in as many days in Johnstown, Pa., distracted by worries that he could lose to an opponent he suggested is elderly and feeble. 


“How the hell do you lose to a guy like this, is this possible? Oh, I’ll never come to Pennsylvania again.” ...“Suburban women: Will you please like me?” he asked. “Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?” (The Hill).


The New York Times: Trump, trailing in Pennsylvania, launches familiar attacks on Biden.


The Associated Press: Fighting in swing states, Trump also forced to play defense.


As The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest Memo, the president’s tour de force of campaign events this week is all in an effort to show that he is back to full strength following 10 days off the campaign trail while he dealt with his case of COVID-19. 


In the coming days, Trump will appear in a couple of GOP strongholds, including Iowa, which he won in 2016 by 10 points, and Georgia, which has not supported a Democrat since then-Arkansas Gov. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonNever underestimate Joe Biden Joe Biden demonstrates public health approach will solve America's ills McAuliffe rising again in Virginia MORE in 1992. 


The Associated Press: Trump, Biden trips illustrate Electoral College calculations.


Reid Wilson, The Hill: On The Trail: How Trump lost the law and order debate.


The Hill: Biden hints at opposition to court packing as pressure builds.


Politico: Democrats dominate early voting in Florida.


The Associated Press: California orders GOP to remove unofficial ballot boxes. 


MORE CONGRESS: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (D-Calif.) maintained that she will not settle for the Trump administration’s latest coronavirus relief offer as the president urged lawmakers to “go big” once again in an effort to strike an elusive agreement before Election Day. 


As The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports, Pelosi batted down calls from some members of the House Democratic Caucus who are clamoring for her to take the White House’s recent $1.8 trillion offer, citing the “leverage” she holds at the moment as Republicans inch closer to her $2.2 trillion price tag.


“I appreciate the, shall we say, a couple people saying, ‘Take it, take it, take it,’” Pelosi said in a phone conference with Democrats, a source on the call told The Hill. “Take it? Take it? Even the president is saying, ‘Go big or go home.’”


The vast majority of those calling for Pelosi to make a deal are on the moderate wing of the party. However, some rumblings have emerged from progressives.


“Dems can’t wait for the perfect deal,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaMedical supplies arriving in India amid surge in COVID-19 infections Overnight Health Care: US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries | Biden speaks with Prime Minister Modi as COVID-19 surges in India US to share millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries MORE (D-Calif.), a prominent member of the House Progressive Caucus, tweeted on Tuesday. “We have a moral obligation to get folks relief, now.”


Later on Tuesday, Pelosi fired back at Khanna, calling him an “apologist for the Republican position.”


"I don’t know why you’re always an apologist and many of your colleagues are apologists for the Republican position — Ro Khanna, that’s nice,” Pelosi told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “That isn’t what we’re going to do” (The Washington Post).





The chatter among House Democrats came as Trump made his latest plea for a deal ahead of Nov. 3, tweeting, “STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!” (The Hill).


That call has not gone over well with Senate Republicans, who continue to move in the opposite direction and show minimal appetite for such an agreement. On Tuesday, McConnell announced plans for the Senate to take up a $500 billion relief bill next week that will include additional aid for small businesses hit hard by the fallout from the pandemic.


“When the full Senate returns on October 19th, our first order of business will be voting again on targeted relief for American workers, including new funding for the [Paycheck Protection Program]," McConnell said in a statement. The Senate is out for the remainder of the week.  


The GOP leader explained during a stop in Kentucky on Tuesday that the measure he has in mind would direct funding toward schools, hospitals and protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits. 


“I made some news today. We're going to go back to the floor next week again with a proposal more narrowly targeted with a significant amount of money. I can remember when a half a trillion dollars ... was real money,” McConnell said (The Hill).


In September, Senate Democrats blocked a “skinny” $650 billion proposal that garnered 52 votes from Senate Republicans (The Washington Post). 


The Washington Post: White House willing to cut a stimulus deal without “liability shield,” breaking with McConnell.


Reuters: Desperate Americans hit by pandemic beg Congress, Trump to pass economic relief bill.


The Hill: Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanProgressives divided over efforts to repeal SALT cap Left feels empowered after Biden backtracks on refugees NIH reverses Trump administration's ban on fetal tissue research MORE (D-Wis.) won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair.

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! 


What if a vaccine does not work? by Kenneth Gorelick, opinion contributor, The Hill.



How to incentivize state and local governments to reduce disaster costs, by Jason Thomas Barnosky, Noreen Clancy and Lloyd Dixon, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3dql2mI 


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The House meets at 9 a.m. on Friday.


The Senate holds a pro forma session on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The full chamber will not take up legislative business until Monday.


The president delivers virtual remarks at 11 a.m. about the economy to the economic clubs of New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Pittsburgh and Sheboygan, Wis. He will fly to Des Moines, Iowa, for a campaign rally at 7 p.m.


Vice President Pence holds a campaign event at 12:30 p.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich.


Biden-Harris campaign events: Biden will hold a virtual fundraiser. Harris will work remotely today as a Senate Judiciary Committee member during consideration of Barrett to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.


Stanford University and the Hoover Institution host a webinar event at noon ET with former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, in collaboration with the U.S. Civilian Corps, to discuss recommendations to improve the coordination of government and private sector efforts in response to pandemics. Information 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


CORONAVIRUS: Eli Lilly paused its COVID-19 antibody clinical trial on Tuesday because of potential safety concerns, just a day after Johnson & Johnson announced the pause of its coronavirus vaccine trial because of a sick volunteer (The New York Times). … The Food and Drug Administration faulted quality control at an Eli Lilly plant in New Jersey in November (Reuters).


Con$equences: Surprise medical bills are an injurious result for many Americans who are treated for COVID-19 and other ailments. One recent example: a $52,112 bill for a helicopter ride to airlift a coronavirus patient 20 miles from one hospital to another in Philadelphia. COVID-19 patients are faced with the aftermath of congressional inaction last year and gaps in coronavirus response law enacted this year, following heavy lobbying and opposition advertising from private-equity firms that have vested interests in the out-of-network billing (The New York Times).


Outbreaks: In the United States, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on Tuesday reported a single-day record of 3,279 new COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths (Fox6). ...The Portuguese football federation announced on Tuesday that Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner as footballer of the year, tested positive for COVID-19 (The Associated Press). … Dustin JohnsonDustin (Dusty) JohnsonTiger's crash trumps the news cycle, but is his career over? PGA star Phil Mickelson donates 0K to HBCU ahead of The Match Masters ratings plunge to lowest in decades MORE, the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, tested positive for the novel coronavirus this week, forcing him to withdraw from the CJ Cup on Tuesday (CBS Sports). … The Philadelphia Eagles announced on Tuesday that the team, after heeding coronavirus restrictions, will allow a limited number of fans to attend home games, starting with Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. About 5,500 to 6,000 fans will be allowed entry (ESPN).  


JUSTICE: An internal “unmasking” probe commissioned by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Judge's decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office Trump allies launching nonprofit focused on voter fraud MORE to review whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents ended without charges or any public report. It is an outcome expected to displease the president (The Washington Post).


CENSUS: The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively allowed the government to stop the census count immediately, blocking a lower court order that would have required the Trump administration to continue gathering census information in the field until the end of October. Field operations for the once-in-a-decade count were truncated this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Civil rights advocates have raised concerns that the shortened timeline could lead to an inaccurate count. The Census Bureau said it wanted to stop the count so that it could start processing the data in order to meet a Dec. 31 deadline, set in federal law, for reporting the results to the president (NBC News).


TECH: Apple on Tuesday unveiled its next-generation iPhone 12, with faster 5G connectivity, hoping to lure consumers to line up for the latest devices and keep sales booming through the end of the year. 5G wireless data networks can outstrip their predecessors’ data rates multiple times over (Reuters). 


ECONOMY: The number of U.S. women who fell out of the labor force or left their jobs has spiked dramatically, likely tied to home life with children who are learning through virtual instruction during the pandemic rather than learning in classrooms during an upended school year. The trend highlights how domestic responsibilities affect working women more than men. Economists predict the impact may widen the workplace gender gap in the United States for many years (The Hill). … Thursday is the IRS deadline for people who requested extensions to file their 2019 tax returns. This year’s tax-filing season has been uniquely challenging, with the IRS extending the non-extension filing deadline and facing a backlog of refunds because it had to temporarily close many of its worksites (The Hill). … Social Security beneficiaries in 2021 will receive a 1.3 percent cost-of-living hike. The average retiree will see a $20 monthly increase in benefits (CNBC).


STATE WATCH: The FBI testified on Tuesday that anti-government paramilitary suspects implicated in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerMichigan Senate votes to exempt high school graduations from crowd restrictions White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states For Michigan, Biden's first 100 days brought much-needed relief MORE (D) — because they opposed lockdown orders during the pandemic — also discussed abducting Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The suspects are awaiting trial (The Associated Press).


And finally …  Jesse Katayama, a 26-year-old Japanese tourist who favors garb emblazoned with the names of American sports teams, ventured to Peru seven months ago envisioning his final stop on an adventure around the world. On his bucket list was a planned visit to a 15th-century Inca citadel located 8,000 feet above sea level at Machu Picchu. Then the coronavirus pandemic shuttered tourist sites and locked down the country, stranding Katayama until this week (The New York Times).


For his patience, the government of Peru granted him a special tour by himself, accompanied only by park representatives.


“After the lockdown, the first man to visit Machu Picchu is meeeeeee,” Katayama wrote in an Instagram post with an image in which he and his guide are seen wearing masks.


Alejandro Neyra, Peru’s culture minister, said during a virtual news conference on Monday that Katayama traveled to Peru “with the dream of being able to enter” and would get his wish “with our head of the park so that he can do this before returning to his country.”