The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare front and center; transition standoff continues




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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 237,584; Tuesday, 238,251; Wednesday, 239,638.

President-elect Joe Biden assailed Republicans on Tuesday for seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the Supreme Court while promising Americans he will defend and improve the 10-year-old law in a nation’s capital that anticipates a narrowly divided government next year.


Speaking in Wilmington, Del., the former vice president offered a forceful defense of ObamaCare only hours after the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case seeking to put an end to the health care law eight years after justices upheld the landmark legislation. 


“It’s a law that saved lives and spared countless families from financial ruin,” Biden said, adding that plans to work with lawmakers to improve the health care law “as soon as humanly possible” (The Associated Press).


However, the Supreme Court showed signs that it could uphold the politically-charged law, and did so from a surprising source: Associate Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Gorsuch, Thomas join liberal justices in siding with criminal defendant Alyssa Milano says she could 'potentially run' for House in 2024 MORE. During oral arguments, Kavanaugh seemed to express the view that if the court were to strike down the provision of the law mandating the purchase of health insurance, the rest of the law should be allowed to survive, as The Hill’s John Kruzel details


“Looking at our severability precedents, it does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place, the provisions regarding preexisting conditions and the rest,” Kavanaugh said. 


Chief Justice John Roberts, who famously upheld the ACA in 2012, was somewhat more equivocal but pushed back forcefully against an argument by Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins. Eighteen Republican-led states are pushing the court to strike down the law entirely. 


Eight years ago, Roberts ruled the law was constitutional with a decision that its individual mandate was a tax. Republican lawmakers did away with the mandate’s penalty in 2017 and litigators for GOP lawsuits argue the law should collapse altogether. Roberts expressed skepticism, noting that Congress passed up the chance to amend the law to remove its requirement that Americans must have health insurance. A Supreme Court decision is expected in late June.


CNBC: Supreme Court appears willing to leave ObamaCare in place.


The Associated Press: ObamaCare likely to survive, high court arguments indicate.


The Hill: Biden seeks to use his own bully pulpit to combat COVID-19.


The president-elect argued again on Tuesday that Congress has rejected Republican attempts to repeal the landmark Affordable Care Act, and he assailed “numerous efforts by President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Ex-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' MORE to erase the law.” He said “these ideologues are once again trying to strip health coverage away from the American people” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  


Eager to project calm and resolve while answering reporters’ questions about Trump’s refusal to concede a loss, Biden said he had not yet spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMaher goes after Manchin: 'Most powerful Republican in the Senate' Supreme Court confounding its partisan critics Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin MORE (R-Ky.) but expects to do so, and has consulted with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNew Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing Sunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home It's not just Manchin: No electoral mandate stalls Democrats' leftist agenda MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIt's not just Manchin: No electoral mandate stalls Democrats' leftist agenda DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE (D-N.Y.) about Democrats’ legislative plans for the lame-duck period in December.


Fox News: “The Electoral College will determine the winner,” McConnell said, arguing that Trump can pursue legal challenges until then.


The Washington Post: Fear of losing Senate majority in Georgia runoffs drives GOP embrace of Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud.


McConnell’s decision to withhold acknowledgement of Biden’s victory until the Electoral College acts in December was not his or other Republicans’ position in 2016 when Trump defeated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump asks Biden to give Putin his 'warmest regards' Huma Abedin announces book deal Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records MORE by 77,000 ballots in three states after she won the popular vote.


When asked about House and Senate Republicans who have declined to publicly acknowledge he is the president-elect, Biden appeared unruffled. “They will,” he replied (The Hill).


Republican Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE, who is retiring in 2022 and represents battleground Pennsylvania, joined four other Senate Republicans who have acknowledged Biden’s victory. "We're on a path — it looks likely Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States. It's not 100 percent certain, but it is quite likely. So, I think a transition process ought to begin," he told Pittsburgh's Action News 4 during an interview on Monday.


The president’s insistence on contesting ballots in court is “an embarrassment,” Biden added, but he said he understood the disappointment of losing an election, noting that his own transition planning to govern beginning on Jan. 20 was proceeding well and would not be marred by administration foot-dragging inside agencies and departments (The Hill).


A delay in receiving national security briefings from the Trump team and access to the intelligence-laden President’s Daily Brief would “be nice,” Biden added, but was not a huge hurdle for the time being. He has received regular intelligence briefings since July. Hours after his transition team told reporters they were exploring legal action to try to compel cooperation from the administration, the president-elect dismissed the idea, suggesting confrontation would be unnecessary.


The Hill: Top Republicans throw their support behind CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community MORE, who met with McConnell on Tuesday and is reported to be on Trump’s might-fire list.


The former vice president noted heads of state and government who have congratulated him since last week. His reply to well-wishers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and France during their conversations: “America is back.”  


Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home Sunday shows preview: Infrastructure expected to dominate as talks continue to drag The triumph and tragedy of 1989: Why Tiananmen still matters MORE, a possible presidential contender in 2024, was asked by reporters on Tuesday whether the State Department will cooperate with the Biden transition. "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration," he said wryly (The Hill).


White House aides have largely kept their heads down, although some have privately acknowledged Biden and his team will take office in 10 short weeks (The Hill).


Biden said he aims to name key Cabinet nominees before Thanksgiving and designate White House senior advisers before that.


The Associated Press: Bidenomics: More stimulus, tougher regulation and gridlock.


Bloomberg News: Bidenomics: What the president-elect could mean for business and the economy. “One of the things Democrats have learned is that unless there is real change, that working people really do feel a difference, we would be setting the stage for another Trump. A different Trump, but another Trump,” says Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. “It is really important that economic growth is more broadly shared, so it doesn’t just go to the top 1 percent.”


The president-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe press has its own border problem Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration I visited the border and the vice president should too MORE on Tuesday named teams of advisers for plans to begin governing next year in specific agencies and departments.





CORONAVIRUS: On the heels of Pfizer’s vaccine announcement, the U.S.’s foremost infectious disease expert believes Americans will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by April as the country gears up for the holidays and deals with rising case numbers. 


Anthony FauciAnthony FauciDelta variant's UK dominance sparks concerns in US Overnight Health Care: FDA says millions of J&J doses from troubled plant must be thrown out | WHO warns Africa falling far behind in vaccinations | Top CDC official says US not ready for next pandemic Top CDC official warns US not ready for next pandemic MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that if people want to receive a vaccine they should be able to do so by April.


“Help is coming, and it’s coming soon,” Fauci said, noting that the U.S. will likely start distributing vaccines in December to healthcare workers. He added that for everyday Americans who are low on the priority list, a vaccine should be available within “the first four months” of 2021. 


“I would say by April you will be able to be vaccinated,” Fauci said. 


The Hill: Fauci says he trusts Pfizer and will take the vaccine himself, if FDA approves it.


The Associated Press: European Union expects to buy up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.


The Hill: Health officials are to begin distribution of a new Eli Lilly antibody drug this week. 


The comments come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out new guidance on Tuesday as the U.S. readies to celebrate Thanksgiving.


According to the CDC, virtual gatherings or enjoying the holiday with members of your own household are the safest options this year. For people attending in-person gatherings, the agency recommends gathering outdoors “as much as possible,” with guests practicing social distancing and wearing masks when they are not eating (The Hill). 


The CDC also released a new report saying that masks not only protect the general public from the novel coronavirus, but also give protection for the mask wearer. The agency wrote that “adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.” The comments service as the agency’s strongest endorsement to date about the effectiveness of masks (The Hill). 


The one-two punch of CDC guidance comes as the United States recorded at least 100,000 new infections for the seventh day in a row. On Tuesday, the U.S. totaled 134,000 new confirmed cases of the virus, with the country averaging 120,000 cases over the past week (Reuters).


The Hill: North Carolina reduces indoor gathering limit to 10 people to try to curb coronavirus spread.


NBC Chicago: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) hints at the possibility of another stay-at-home order.


The Hill: Florida passes 850,000 coronavirus cases.


Elsewhere, Congress’s inability to strike a COVID-19 relief deal and rising infections across the country have prompted more restaurants to close for the winter until warmer weather returns. According to The Hill’s Alex Gangitano, many restaurant owners are deciding to lay off employees until spring when customers can sit outside in settings where the risk of spreading the coronavirus is minimized, rather than stay open in the coming months and be saddled with daily financial losses. 


The job losses add economic pain to an industry already hard hit by the pandemic, raising concerns about whether many restaurants will be able to reopen next year without government assistance.


The Hill: McConnell pushes for “highly targeted” COVID-19 relief deal.


ESPN: Alabama Crimson Tide-LSU Tigers, Texas A&M-Tennessee Volunteers games postponed. 





CONGRESS & MORE POLITICS: Senate Republicans cheered news on Tuesday that Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Lara Trump lost her best opportunity — if she ever really wanted it 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (R-N.C.) will return to Congress in January following a contest that for months suggested he might lose. Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham conceded the Senate race to Tillis on Tuesday. The GOP conference now awaits the results of a pair of Georgia runoffs in January to gauge the fate of its majority. If the Senate eventually ends up tied 50-50 after all ballots are tallied in remaining states, Harris could wield the tie-breaking vote as vice president (The Associated Press).





Vice President Pence on Tuesday traveled to the Capitol to join the Senate caucus for lunch and to urge them to stick with the president as Trump wields lawsuits to contest election outcomes in key states. Pence had planned to go on vacation in Florida this week but scrapped the getaway to remain in the nation’s capital (The Washington Post). GOP lawmakers continue to feel the heat about their support for Trump’s election lawsuits and their reluctance to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect days after he was projected to defeat the president in both the popular vote and in the Electoral College (The Hill).


Republicans have been hesitant to publicly say Trump lost while he refuses to concede (The New York Times). Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsConcerns grow over China's Taiwan plans Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Overnight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US MORE (D-Del.), who is personally close to the former vice president and advised him during the campaign, said some of his GOP colleagues asked him to extend congratulations to Biden privately (The Hill).


California: Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCaitlyn Jenner wants to use funds for bullet train project to build rest of Trump border wall Feds agree to restore B to California for bullet train California appeals ruling overturning state's assault weapons ban MORE (D) will fill Harris’s Senate seat when it becomes vacant next year with Harris’s ascension to VP. The Hill’s Reid Wilson and Rafael Bernal report that leading the field is California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), a former state senator and president of the Los Angeles City Council. Influential Hispanic Democrats are beginning to coalesce around Padilla as a consensus pick.


An “orchestrated’ push to discredit Georgia’s elections sparked more GOP infighting on Tuesday. Trump reportedly pressured Georgia’s incumbent senators, now facing runoffs, to call for the resignation of the GOP secretary of state (Atlanta Journal-Constitution). The presidential winner in Georgia has not yet been determined and Biden leads Trump by at least 12,500 votes. The state has said a recount would take place, but the Trump campaign on Tuesday alleged unspecified irregularities and urged a rapid recount before the state certifies a final result (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).


A Senate GOP leadership team announced on Tuesday included Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Scott is widely considered to be on a lengthening list of possible 2024 GOP presidential aspirants (Fox News).


In the House, Republicans are cheering the feat of chipping away at the Democratic majority when Democrats had expected to pick up five or more seats this cycle. Instead, Democrats are on a glide path to lose at least nine seats as ballots continue to be counted. GOP fortunes in the House changed because of the recruitment of successful female candidates (The Washington Post).

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! 


Where Biden and McConnell can agree, by William A. Galston, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/32t0y8L 


The life-threatening costs of a delayed transition, by former White House chiefs of staff Andy Card and John Podesta, opinion contributors, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3prObDQ 


The House meets at 10 a.m. on Thursday and will not meet for votes until Monday.


The Senate will convene at 11 a.m. and resume consideration of Aileen Mercedes Cannon to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Florida.


The president, first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpJill Biden, Kate Middleton visit school together in first meeting Jill Biden wears 'LOVE' jacket 'to bring unity' to meeting with Boris Johnson White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality MORE and the vice president take part in a National Veterans Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery at 11 a.m.


President-elect BidenJoe BidenEx-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' News leaders deal with the post-Trump era MORE will meet with transition advisers.


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


➔ INCOMING FIRST LADY; HARRIS’S HUSBAND: Former second lady Jill Biden is expected to contribute to the historic nature of the Biden administration as incoming first lady. Known to her community college students as “Dr. B,” Biden, 69, is set to make history as a first lady who maintains a paid position elsewhere. Biden, who likes to use her Ph.D. as a title, is expected to focus her official work on education, military families and veterans, plus fighting cancer (The Hill). … Harris’s husband Doug Emhoff, 56, a lawyer who took a leave of absence from the DLA Piper law firm in August to campaign for the Democratic ticket, will sever ties with the firm to focus on an as-yet-to-be-determined role in the new Biden administration and to avoid any appearances of conflicts of interest (Bloomberg Law). 





FUTURE FOCUSED: The Biden Cabinet may include one or more Republicans. The Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis report that names floated this week include Arizona Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump MORE; Cindy McCain (who endorsed Biden and now serves on his transition board); Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has national ambitions and said he wrote in Ronald Reagan’s name rather than vote for Trump or Biden; former Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Influential Republicans threaten to form new party Loyalty trumps policy in Stefanik's rise, Cheney's fall MORE of Pennsylvania; and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who ran unsuccessfully for California governor as a Republican a decade ago and backed Biden for president this year. … The president-elect will confront a vastly changed tech landscape in 2021 compared with the rosy relations with Silicon Valley he remembers from the Obama years (The Hill). … Lawmakers from both parties are being urged to reinstate by law a White House cyber czar position to tackle cyber security concerns that are here to stay (The Hill).


➔ POLICING IN GOTHAM: New York City in February will begin responding to emergency mental health calls using health counselors and crisis workers rather than police after months of protests nationwide about police brutality. The pilot program will rely on new mental health teams from the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services unit and will target two “high-need” neighborhoods, which were not identified on Tuesday. The experiment, modeled on a program in Eugene, Ore., will deploy police officers with the mental health responders


And finally … Tropical Storm Eta last week dropped more than a foot of rain on parts of southern Florida and the Keys, causing flooding. Forecasters on Tuesday warned that Eta could make a second run at Florida’s panhandle and the Gulf Coast later this week. The American Red Cross urged residents along the Gulf Coast to get ready for wind, rain and possible flooding.


Last week, Hurricane Eta struck parts of Central America, including Honduras, as a ferocious Category 4 storm. Kudos to the U.S. Black Hawk helicopter rescue crew members who pulled dozens of Hondurans to safety when they were caught in dire  situations in San Pedro Sula (Military.com). Video clip of a young girl’s aerial rescue is HERE.


A salute on Veterans Day!