The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy

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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, 266,875; Tuesday, 268,087; Wednesday, 270,691.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Senators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he would start circulating a new coronavirus relief proposal that could garner support from the White House and among Senate Republicans (The Hill).


McConnell, during a weekly press conference, said he had been speaking with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden can hold China accountable for human rights abuses by divesting now Pence delivers coronavirus task force report to Biden Treasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Inauguration Day Trump leaves White House, promises to be back in 'some form' LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE about what President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE could sign.


“I think we have a sense of what that is,” he said. “We’re going to send that out to all the offices and get some feedback to see how our members react.” 


“We don’t have time for messaging games. We don’t have time for lengthy negotiations,” the Kentucky senator added.


McConnell previously twice offered a roughly $500 billion coronavirus relief bill that was rejected by Democrats. He did not provide details during his press conference on whether there are any substantive differences between those bills and the new proposal.


Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTrump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda MORE (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said he expected the forthcoming bill will look largely the same.


McConnell said that any deal reached on a coronavirus relief package will be added to a year-end omnibus spending bill, which means that Senate Republicans will insist on limiting the size of a new coronavirus relief initiative (The Hill).


“It will all likely come in one package,” McConnell said after a call with the Senate GOP conference. 


McConnell, who initially balked months ago about the need for any additional relief legislation and opposed legislation passed by the House, which was subsequently trimmed during negotiations steered by House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop More hands needed on the nuclear football Sunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus MORE (D-Calif.), said time was suddenly short. Lawmakers plan to leave Washington in a few weeks for the Christmas and New Year’s recess before a new Congress is sworn in next month. 


McConnell, sensing a grim public mood about the worsening pandemic and a sagging economy for many workers and tapped-out families, on Tuesday suddenly declared it’s unacceptable to wait until 2021 to pass more federal relief to respond to surging COVID-19 infections around the country.


We just don’t have time to waste. We have a couple weeks left here,” he said. “Obviously it does require bipartisan support to get out of Congress but it requires a presidential signature."


“I think the place to start is, ‘are we actually making a law, or are we just making a point?’ And I think the way to make a law for sure is you know you have a presidential signature,” he said.





Hours earlier, a bipartisan group of more than a dozen lawmakers who collaborated at their own initiative and circumnavigated House and Senate leaders unveiled an outline for a coronavirus relief bill worth $908 billion (pictured below) (The Hill).


Reuters: The bipartisan relief measure would include $17 billion in payroll support over four months for struggling airlines.


CNBC and The Associated Press: McConnell shoots down a bipartisan $908 billion relief bill and says he’s revising a GOP proposal.


NBC News: The “bridge” approach to more federal relief during the pandemic would include more unemployment benefits but no direct federal checks to qualifying families. Without backing from House and Senate leaders, the bipartisan effort faces a steep uphill climb.


Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Durbin: Senate should consider changes to filibuster MORE of West Virginia, a Democrat from a pro-Trump state, said it would be "inexcusable" for Congress to leave town for the year without providing more coronavirus relief with a slew of assistance programs set to expire within weeks.


"This is a COVID emergency relief framework," Manchin said. "It's not the time for political brinkmanship. ... This is going to get us through the most difficult times."


Separately, Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell clashed on Tuesday in their diagnoses of what ails the economy — the secretary said state and local lockdowns, and Powell said the impact of COVID-19 and the inequities of lost jobs — but they appeared to agree that more federal help is needed, although Mnuchin said it should be “targeted.” 


The two men testified about provisions of the CARES Act signed into law at the outset of the pandemic but now expiring. “We do have a long way to go,” Powell said, noting that 10 million people remain out of work. “We’ll use our tools until the danger is well and truly past, and it may require help from other parts of government as well, including Congress” (The Hill and The New York Times).


Reuters: Mnuchin, Powell focus on economic help for U.S. small businesses.


The Washington Post: Bipartisan group of lawmakers announces $908 billion stimulus plan, aiming to break logjam.





> Congressional earmarks were banned by House Republicans years ago as well as by Senate Republicans last year, but House Democrats plan to revive them in 2021, putting McConnell in a tough spot in the upper chamber. Some scholars believe earmarks got a bad name but can advance the cause of compromise legislation. However, special and sometimes shadowy spending provisions inserted into law are opposed by Tea Party conservatives and could complicate life for Republicans thinking about running for president in 2024, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.


The Hill: Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroDemocrats eye bill providing permanent benefits of at least K per child Jill Biden visits Capitol to thank National Guard Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE (D-Conn.) is on track to become the next House Appropriations Committee chairwoman.


Barr breaks with Trump: Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump pressed DOJ to go to Supreme Court in bid to overturn election: report Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Two-thirds say the election was fair: poll MORE told The Associated Press that U.S. attorneys and the FBI found no evidence of fraud that would change the outcome of the presidential election. Barr was seen at the White House on Tuesday shortly after the interview was published. Trump has maintained without evidence that election fraud explains why he lost to Biden by 6 million votes and will come up short in the Electoral College. … Barr also revealed that in October, he gave the U.S. attorney he assigned to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe the authority of a special counsel under law, meaning he cannot easily be fired by the new administration. The investigation by John DurhamJohn DurhamTrump says he is declassifying more documents in Russia probe Kevin Clinesmith did wrong, but why is he the FBI's fall guy? Not the FBI I remember: William Barnett's troubling interview MORE is now largely focused on the actions of the FBI (The Associated Press).


NEW ADMINISTRATION: President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFive examples of media's sycophancy for Biden on inauguration week Drastic measures for drastic times — caregiver need mobile health apps Boycott sham impeachment MORE on Tuesday called on Congress to pass a “robust package” of coronavirus relief during the lame-duck session. While introducing former Federal Reserve Chair Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenSecretary Yellen's first action on bitcoin will set the tone for the next four years On The Money: Treasury announces efforts to help people get stimulus payments | Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury | Judge sets ground rules for release of Trump taxes Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 MORE as his nominee to lead the Treasury Department, Biden repeatedly emphasized his agenda for job creation and an equitable economy for all Americans rather than those at the top. “They deserve and expect nothing less,” he said, offering a nod to unions, adding that they “built the middle class.”


The Hill: Biden’s picks for his economic team inherit serious policy, political and public health challenges.


Yellen, widely praised for her experience, patience and influence on central bank thinking about wage and income gaps in the United States, cited “an American tragedy” impacting workers who are jobless during the pandemic, families who have lost their businesses and an economy that exposes “a convergence of tragedies.”


Speaking in Delaware alongside Biden (pictured below), Yellen, who is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate, directed remarks to rank and file employees at the Treasury Department, noting her enthusiasm about joining them early next year “to rebuild the public trust.”  


The Hill: Senate Republicans warn of confirmation trouble ahead for some Biden Cabinet nominees.


The Associated Press: GOP objections to early Biden nominees is a sign of what’s to come.


The Hill’s Niall Stanage notes in The Memo that the peculiarities of high unemployment, the worsening coronavirus crisis, optimism about vaccines and a booming stock market in 2020 offer mixed signals about the economy ahead. Congress is at loggerheads about who and how to help Americans who are struggling, while Mnuchin and Powell have divergent views about the best path forward. The whole picture is filled with uncertainty for the incoming administration, Stanage writes.


Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday praised Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to be secretary of State, and Avril Haines, the president-elect’s choice to be director of national intelligence, following a video meeting with both nominees (The Hill).  





CORONAVIRUS: Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFive examples of media's sycophancy for Biden on inauguration week Las Vegas-area district moves to partially reopen schools amid surge in student suicides Fauci: Receiving powder-filled envelope was 'very, very disturbing' MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted Tuesday that the U.S. will likely achieve herd immunity from COVID-19 by the end of summer 2021 if Americans move en masse to get vaccinated in the coming months.


In a news conference with Colorado Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Direct cash payments have been critical for Colorado families — Congress must pass more Colorado investigating possible second case of coronavirus variant in National Guard members MORE (D), Fauci said that vaccinations for health care workers and high-risk Americans will begin this month and carry on through March, with the general population receiving vaccines in April.


“Once we get there, we can crush this outbreak, just the way we did with smallpox, with polio and with measles. So we can do it. We just need to hang together a bit longer,” Fauci said. The infectious disease expert added that if the U.S. has a “good uptake” for the vaccine, the country could have the “overwhelming majority of people” vaccinated by the end of the second quarter.


Fauci’s projection also came as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintained that it will take the necessary time to approve vaccines despite ongoing political pressure from Trump. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn made the remarks during an interview after being called to the White House for a meeting with Meadows. 


“No one at FDA is sitting on his or her hands. Everyone is working really hard to look at these applications and get this done,” Hahn told ABC News as the FDA readies to approve vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna in the coming weeks. “But we absolutely have to do this the right way” (The Associated Press).


The Associated Press: U.S. panel: First vaccines to health care workers, nursing homes.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to roll out new guidelines saying that individuals who are exposed to the novel coronavirus should quarantine for 10 days or for seven days with a negative COVID-19 test result. 


CDC Director Robert Redfield told members of the White House coronavirus task force on Tuesday that the agency is readying new guidelines to reduce the quarantine period for exposed individuals, saying the move is “data-driven” (The Wall Street Journal).


The Hill: Rep. Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Here are the Republicans planning to challenge the Electoral College results Growing number of GOP lawmakers back Electoral College challenge MORE (R-N.C.) tests positive for COVID-19.


The Hill: Scott Atlas’s departure from White House cheered by public health officials.


The United Kingdom early on Wednesday became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Under the British protocols, the first batch of 800,000 inoculations will be rolled out next week to health care workers and the elderly (NBC News).


With U.K. approval for the Pfizer vaccine in the books and the U.S. and expected to do so on Dec. 10, the European Union is hopeful to green-light the company’s COVID-19 remedy on Dec. 29.


The European Medicines Agency is expected to meet by then to determine if it should be approved, with another meeting set for two weeks later to potentially do the same with Moderna’s shot. Moderna submitted its request to U.S. and European regulators this week (The Associated Press).


The Associated Press: Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope to miss three upcoming events due to sciatic leg pain Pope says he prays God guides Biden's reconciliation efforts Pope Francis gets COVID-19 vaccine MORE blasts virus skeptics in new book. 







MORE POLITICS: Trump, never content to cede a national spotlight, is considering using Inauguration Day as his kickoff for a 2024 bid to try to return as president. He has no plans to attend Biden’s swearing-in and may instead hold a political rally (NBC News).


In addition, the president’s legal team filed a new challenge in Wisconsin on Tuesday in an attempt to throw out more than 211,000 ballots in the state’s two most Democratic counties and reverse the president-elect’s victory (The Associated Press).


The Hill: Trump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks. 


> California Dreamin’: Republican efforts to claw back seats in the House received a crucial boost in California, as the GOP won back a majority of the seats they lost in the 2018 midterms only two years ago.


As The Hill’s Scott Wong writes, Democrat Christy Smith’s concession in California’s 25th Congressional District to Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) on Monday means that Republicans will control four of the seven seats they lost only two years ago. Garcia, former Rep. David ValadaoDavid Goncalves ValadaoScars of Capitol attack permeate high-security inauguration Upton becomes first member of Congress to vote to impeach two presidents The Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? MORE (R-Calif.), Young Kim and Michelle Steel all won this cycle, with the latter two retaking seats lost in Orange County — a longtime GOP stronghold until recent years.


The Hill: Iowa losses underscore Democrats' struggles with attracting rural voters.


Reid Wilson, The Hill: Virginia to mark first test of post-Trump GOP.


The Hill: Former Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBrad ParscaleAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE said the president’s biggest mistake during the 2020 contest was with COVID-19. “People were scared,” he said in an interview with Fox News that aired Tuesday evening. “I think if he would have been publicly empathetic, he would have won. By a landslide. I think he could have leaned into it instead of run away from it.”

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! 


Let the littlest state (Rhode Island) lead us on COVID-19, by Tressa Pankovits, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2VpHh4g


The ridiculous economic stimulus, by Stephen MooreStephen MooreEconomist Moore says he's not sure US needs 'massive stimulus bill' Sunday shows - Trump's COVID-19 relief bill opposition dominates Moore calls for tax cuts in latest COVID-19 relief bill MORE, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3ohqM6m



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The House meets at 2 p.m.


The Senate convenes at 10 a.m.


The president has lunch with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House installs new leadership at federally-funded international broadcasters US carrier group enters South China Sea amid tensions between China, Taiwan Biden can hold China accountable for human rights abuses by divesting now MORE at 12:30 p.m.


Vice President Pence and second lady Karen PenceKaren Sue PenceHarris move into vice president's residence delayed Trump extended Secret Service protection for family members in final days in office: report Harris, Emhoff bid Pences farewell from Capitol steps MORE deliver remarks at the Virtual Military Spouse Employment Business Summit at 12:30 p.m. He will also take part in Sen.-elect Mark KellyMark KellyArizona Gov. Ducey says he won't run against Mark Kelly for Senate Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE’s (D-Ariz.) swearing-in ceremony at 2 p.m.


Biden and Harris will receive the Presidential Daily Brief. In Wilmington, Del., Biden will also take part in a virtual roundtable with workers and small business owners impacted by COVID-19.


World Food Program USA hosts “Behind the Frontlines: Hunger and the Confluence of Conflict and COVID-19” at noon ET with a virtual panel discussion that includes Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and Valerie Guarnieri United Nations World Food Programme assistant executive director, among others. Registration and information HERE.


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


INTERNATIONAL: Joshua Wong, among the most well-known pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, was sentenced to 13-½ months in jail on Wednesday as part of Beijing’s crackdown on opposition in the Chinese territory. Wong was jailed due to his role in an anti-government rally in 2019. “I know the coming days will be tougher. We will hang in there,” Wong said after the sentence was announced. He added through a lawyer, “It’s not the end of the fight” (Reuters).


TRUMP & PARDONS: The Justice Department is investigating a potential bribery and lobbying plot involving presidential pardons. Individuals are not named in heavily redacted court documents unsealed on Tuesday (NBC News and CNN). ... No government official was or is a subject or target of the investigation, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. … Some of the president’s prominent allies are encouraging him to preemptively pardon himself in anticipation of an expected explosion of investigations into his business empire and presidential administration, potentially paving the way for an unprecedented legal battle over executive powers. The Constitution doesn’t bar presidents from pardoning themselves, but no one really knows if a blanket self-pardon for past infractions or alleged crimes would hold up in court (The Hill). … Trump has discussed pardoning his three oldest children, his son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerJilani: China 'sending clear message' to Biden officials with sanctions that opposition could lead to 'future pay cut' Would Trump have gotten away with a self-pardon? History will never know Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon MORE and his lawyer, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe next hustle: What we should expect from Trump Lawyers group calls for Giuliani's suspension from law practice, ethics probe Would Trump have gotten away with a self-pardon? History will never know MORE. The former New York City mayor’s criminal exposure is unclear. Giuliani denies the report (The New York Times)


BOOK CONTROVERSY: E-book demand boomed amid this year’s coronavirus pandemic, but Amazon refuses to sell digital books it publishes to public libraries. Librarians and advocates argue the tech giant’s decision significantly decreases accessibility to information the general public of all income levels seeks from libraries (The Hill).


JUSTICE: A federal appeals court this week reinstated the conviction of Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier for child endangerment for his decisions after receiving information that Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach at the school, had sexually abused a boy in a team shower. Spanier’s sentence carries a two-month term in prison and two months of house arrest (The Associated Press).


And finally … China, which has ambitions to build a moon base as part of its space program, on Tuesday put an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface and plans to bring back rocks and dirt to Earth by mid-December. 


China’s spacecraft, Chang’e-5 (seen below during its rocket launch), was the third successful uncrewed moon landing by China since 2013. In 2019, Chang’e-4 landed on the moon’s far side, the first spacecraft from Earth to do that. At least three more Chang’e moon landers are planned for the coming decade, ahead of China’s moon base for astronauts envisioned in the 2030s (The New York Times).