The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 266,875; Tuesday, 268,087; Wednesday, 270,691; Thursday, 273,836.

A bipartisan coronavirus relief proposal worth close to $1 trillion on Wednesday became the epicenter of legislative jawboning on Capitol Hill. Democratic negotiators threw their weight behind it in a last-ditch effort to secure an agreement before the end of the year. 


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiEverytown urges Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to resign over newly uncovered remarks Sen. Patrick Leahy returns home after being hospitalized Marjorie Taylor Greene expressed support on Facebook for violence against Democrats MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHumanist Report host criticizes 'conservative Democrats:' They 'hold more power' than progressives Bush-, Obama-era officials urge Senate to swiftly confirm Biden's DHS pick OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court upholds ruling invalidating Dakota Access, but doesn't shut down pipeline | Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency | Biden seeks to bolster consultation with Indian Country MORE (D-N.Y.) backed the $908 billion proposal rolled out by more than a dozen Senate and House members on Tuesday.


“While we made a new offer to Leader McConnell and Leader McCarthy on Monday, in the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHumanist Report host criticizes 'conservative Democrats:' They 'hold more power' than progressives Dobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyFormer lawmakers call on leadership to focus on unity Cheney spokesperson on Gaetz: 'In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up' Biden attends first church service as president in DC, stops at local bagel shop MORE (R-Calif.).


“Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement,” they added (The Hill).


The bill would be the fifth coronavirus relief package, which has been stalled for months between House Democrats, who are proponents of hefty spending and broad relief, and Senate Republicans, who voted twice for smaller measures that were never going to become law. 


The funding proposed this week, according to senators, would temporarily help the United States get through the first quarter of 2021 in the midst of a dire pandemic wave. 


The support offered by Pelosi and Schumer on Wednesday was a major concession because Democrats had been hesitant to trim the $2 trillion price tag on their proposed successor to the CARES Act. President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDobbs: Republicans lost in 2020 because they 'forgot who was the true leader' Should deficits matter any more? Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate MORE has been in lockstep with the two leaders in recent weeks. 


Attention now turns to the GOP side of the aisle and whether McConnell will jump on board as well. For months, McConnell has supported a “targeted” $500 billion package, with the Senate GOP conference backing that approach. In late summer, McConnell and rank-and-file Senate GOP members were hesitant to support any package north of $1 trillion. 


As The Hill’s Jordain Carney details, the bipartisan proposal includes $160 billion for state and local governments — a top Democratic priority — $180 billion for unemployment insurance and $288 billion for more small business assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program. The bill also calls for $300 a week for 18 weeks in renewed enhanced unemployment benefits, with those payments being retroactive to Dec. 1, $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution, and more funds for transportation-related industries, schools, child care and the Postal Service. 


Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday that it’s “very important” for Congress to provide more COVID-19 relief funds without delay. Asked what Congress should put in a relief bill that could pass in the lame-duck session this month, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis On The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary MORE, appearing at the same hearing, said his priority would be an authorization allowing the Treasury to use $140 billion in leftover funds to provide small businesses with a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans. Mnuchin said Congress should also consider extending some of the emergency unemployment benefit programs that are being used by around 11 million workers. Those programs will expire at the end of this month without congressional action (The Associated Press).


Any bill passed before the end of the 116th Congress is expected to be attached to the must-pass spending bill to fund the government. The deadline for a new funding deal is Dec. 11. According to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Defense: Trump impeached for second time | National Guard at Capitol now armed, swelling to 20K troops for inauguration | Alabama chosen for Space Command home Space Command to be located in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.), lawmakers will likely need to pass a stopgap measure as time runs low for members to pass an omnibus package. 


"I think it's where we're headed at the moment." Shelby told reporters, referring to a continuing resolution (The Hill). 


The Hill: Congress faces late-year logjam.


The eleventh-hour push on Capitol Hill for a new coronavirus relief bill emerged at a perilous time during the pandemic. Wednesday represented the deadliest day of the pandemic for the U.S. as more than 2,700 deaths were recorded. The U.S. also eclipsed 200,000 new COVID-19 infections a day for the first time, with total hospitalized patients climbing over the 100,000 mark. On Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director (CDC) Robert Redfield (seen below) predicted the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could eclipse 450,000 by February.


“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Redfield said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation” (The Washington Post).


Bloomberg News: White House press secretary says Americans will be taking “Trump vaccine.”


CNN: Former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton volunteer to be inoculated with coronavirus vaccines in public to help persuade Americans it is safe.


The Washington Post: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden (mostly) builds on Trump's foreign policy China: US military presence in South China Sea a threat to peace, stability White House installs new leadership at federally-funded international broadcasters MORE invites hundreds to indoor holiday parties after subordinates are warned against hosting “non-mission critical events.”


Fresh off the massive travel over Thanksgiving, the CDC also issued a preemptive call on Wednesday and urged Americans not to travel over the December holiday season.


“The best thing for Americans to do in the upcoming holiday season is to stay at home and not travel,” Henry Walke, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, said during a news briefing. “Cases are rising. Hospitalizations are increasing, Deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase” (USA Today).


Despite the guidance, millions of people are expected to travel in the coming weeks for Hanukkah and Christmas after airports experienced more traffic during Thanksgiving week than at any other point of the pandemic. The CDC is recommending that those who do travel get tested one to three days before departure and three to five days after they return.


The Associated Press: European Union stops short of advising against holiday travel because of the coronavirus.


Los Angeles Times: City of Los Angeles issues stay-at-home rules that mirror county order.


The Washington Post: New York’s first delivery of Pfizer vaccine will be enough for 170,000 residents, Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis Cuomo says New York can begin to loosen restrictions: 'Don't get cocky with COVID' Disjointed vaccine distribution poses early test for Biden MORE (D) says.


The New York Times: Moderna plans to begin testing its coronavirus vaccine in children.


Austin American-Statesman: Austin, Texas, mayor stressed residents “need to stay home.” He was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the time.


Reuters: U.S. employers are seen by health law experts as unlikely to mandate COVID-19 vaccination, although they have the legal right to do so.


The Washington Post: Britain’s decision on Tuesday to grant emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus was met with a skeptical reaction in much of Europe a day later. Some foreign officials complained about British flag-waving over a product developed by two non-British companies. European Union lawmakers cautioned against a “hasty” rollout.





NEW ADMINISTRATION: Biden plans to retain Christopher Wray as FBI director if Wray is still in the post on Jan. 20. Wray, a Republican, rankled Trump, who has long asserted that the FBI under former Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHawaii GOP official resigns over now-deleted tweet defending QAnon supporters Biden to keep Wray as FBI director Comey: 'Republican Party has to be burned to the ground' MORE sought to undermine his 2016 campaign and that Wray moved too slowly to investigate. David Cohen, a former deputy CIA director, is emerging as a leading choice for the top job at Langley, although Biden has not settled on a nominee (The New York Times). 


Biden continues to search for the right candidate to lead the Defense Department. Michèle Flournoy, seen by many as the leading contender for the role, is facing stiff competition from Jeh Johnson, former Homeland Security secretary during the Obama administration. Johnson has support from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and progressives that are urging Biden to assemble a diverse Cabinet. Also on a short list: retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. Flournoy, who is well known in Washington and in the defense industry, this week reportedly sat down with Biden for a formal interview (The Hill).





To steer the Interior Department, the Biden team is considering former Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, a member of the Taos Pueblo tribe from New Mexico who served during the Obama administration. Connor has largely flown under the radar, while Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandBiden seeks to bolster consultation with Indian Country OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Internal watchdog to probe Trump officials who cast doubt on climate science | Kerry on climate talks: 'I regret that my country has been absent' | Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Biden expands on Obama ethics pledge MORE (D-N.M.) gained prominent backing from her House colleagues. Haaland’s endorsement by progressives could complicate her reception by Senate Republicans if she’s nominated, while Connor could offer the same historic credentials as the first Native American Interior secretary (The Hill). New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico fines two megachurches K each over packed Christmas Eve services CHC urges Biden to choose Latinos to head Education Department, SBA: report Hispanic Caucus ramps up Cabinet pressure campaign MORE (D) turned down an offer to take charge at Interior (The Hill). As one of the nation’s governors dealing with the pandemic on the ground, she is a candidate to lead the Health and Human Services Department, CNN reports.


The next Agriculture Department secretary gets prominent attention from Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate sworn in as jurors for Trump impeachment trial GOP digs in on preserving Trump tax cuts 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 MORE, who is lobbying on Twitter for his favored Midwestern candidates, adding his own supposition that Republicans will hold the Senate in what he predicts will be a divided government next year. For USDA, Grassley promoted former Iowa Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampHarrison seen as front-runner to take over DNC at crucial moment Biden to tap Vilsack for Agriculture secretary: reports OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA guidance may exempt some water polluters from Supreme Court permit mandate | Vilsack's stock rises with Team Biden | Arctic wildfires linked to warming temperatures: NOAA MORE, a Democrat defeated for reelection in 2018, as well as Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Rep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel MORE (D-Minn.), defeated on Nov. 3 after 30 years in the House. 


Politico: Anticipating Senate confirmation bottlenecks and worried about vacant positions and leadership vacuums, the Biden team is racing to fill mid-tier positions in key departments and agencies that do not require confirmation in order to gain a faster start on governing, particularly in the national security arena.  







MORE CONGRESS: Once again, a must-pass defense bill is in trouble as the president tethers the annual National Defense Authorization Act to his continued displeasure with social media companies.


As The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel and Chris Mills Rodrigo write, the president threatened to veto the annual bill if it does not include a repeal of a legal shield for internet companies known as Section 230. The latest threat came as lawmakers believed they were on the verge of striking a deal on the bill, with the intention of ending negotiations this week. Now, the president’s insistence could mark the first time the bill does not make the president’s desk in 60 years.


This most recent round of concerns is by no means the first issue surrounding the bill, as the White House previously issued veto threats over language requiring the Pentagon to rename Confederate-named military bases. 


The Hill: Sweeping financial crimes bill to hitch a ride on defense measure.


> House jockeying: Reps. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksBiden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots MORE (D-N.Y) and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroHouse formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot Sunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers MORE (D-Texas) are squaring off to determine who will chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 117th Congress.


As Laura Kelly notes, the House Democratic Caucus will vote on who will lead the panel later today, with Meeks winning the endorsement of the House Democratic Steering Committee on Tuesday and serving as the overwhelming favorite to replace outgoing Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelState Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 2020: A year in photos MORE (D-N.Y.) atop the committee.


At the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the party, the race between a Latino member of Congress and a lawmaker in a Trump district is emblematic of the two groups where House Democrats fell short in the 2020 cycle. Today Democrats will choose between New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents a district Trump won in 2016, and California Rep. Tony Cárdenas, who has spent the past six years leading the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (The Wall Street Journal).


HuffPost: Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBush-, Obama-era officials urge Senate to swiftly confirm Biden's DHS pick Senate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback Hillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution MORE (D-Calif.) backs California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSen. Patrick Leahy returns home after being hospitalized What the shift in Senate control means for marijuana policy reform Vice President Harris receives second dose of COVID-19 vaccine MORE (D-Calif.) in the Senate.


MORE POLITICS: Trump will campaign in Georgia on Saturday for GOP Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerState-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era MORE and David PerdueDavid PerdueState-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss Suburbs pose challenge for GOP in post-Trump era Democrats swear in three senators to gain majority MORE (pictured below) ahead of their Jan. 5 runoff contests. He’s tasked with driving up turnout for the pair of incumbents whose political futures will decide which party controls the Senate next year.


The New York Times: Perdue had 2,596 stock trades in a six-year Senate term, surpassing his colleagues. On some days, he’s reported 20 or more transactions. His trades have included companies that fall under the scope of committees on which he serves.  


The president, however, further complicated the Georgia terrain for his party by asserting again on Wednesday without evidence that mythical election fraud in Georgia and other states using mail-in ballots tilted the presidential election results to Biden rather than to him. Georgia has certified its election results after recounts, disputing Trump’s claims of a rigged election in the state. Biden defeated Trump by more than 6.5 million popular votes nationwide, and Trump, with 232 electoral votes, fell short of the 270 he needed to win.


Georgia Republicans worry that Trump will drive down GOP voter participation in the runoffs based on his false commentary that their ballots are somehow invalidated or manipulated.


“It is important to know the problems with mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona and most other states,” Trump said during a 46-minute speech alleging the election was rigged. The president’s remarks, laden with misinformation and invented assertions, was posted by the White House to Facebook on Wednesday. As The Associated Press reported, Trump’s remarks raised questions about how far he can go to grind the gears before Jan. 20, including possibly encouraging Republicans in Congress to block certification of the election results.


A day after the Georgia runoff contests, Congress will meet to certify the presidential election outcome, and at least one of Trump’s House allies echoed the president’s false information about losing under fraudulent circumstances and said he will challenge the Electoral College tally. Alabama Republican Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksFreedom Caucus chairman blasts 'sensational lies' after Capitol riot Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz Trust between lawmakers reaches all-time low after Capitol riots MORE, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said in interviews on Wednesday that the presidential election “was stolen” and that he wants to speak to some conservative senators about options, even if they are symbolic.


Putting Brooks aside for the moment, more Republicans are slowly contradicting Trump as his damaging assertions about voter fraud continue into December. Trump’s allies do not expect him to retreat or concede. They expect Biden to be sworn in as the 46th president. Republican Govs. Brian KempBrian KempTrump establishes 'Office of the Former President' in Florida A better response to political violence in America Refreshing the tree of liberty MORE of Georgia and Doug DuceyDoug DuceyOregon Republican Party calls Capitol riot a 'false flag' operation to discredit GOP, silence Trump supporters The Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis State-level Republicans wracked by division after Trump's loss MORE of Arizona have each felt the sting of Trump attacks after certifying Biden as the winner in their respective states (The Hill).


Politico: Karl RoveKarl Christian RoveSarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Giuliani won't be part of Trump defense at Senate trial Officials brace for second Trump impeachment trial MORE, GOP building money machine for Georgia runoffs.


Another topic giving Republicans political heartburn: Trump’s pardons. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that some GOP senators are cautioning the president to use care with pardons he issues before the end of his term. 


Josh Kraushaar, National Journal: Trump’s suicide squeeze against Senate Republicans.


> Iowa Democratic congressional candidate Rita Hart lost by six votes to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the closest House race in decades. Hart said Wednesday she will forgo further legal challenges after a recount and instead appeal directly to the U.S. House for additional recount proceedings. Iowa certified the results on Monday (The Associated Press).


> Pandemic politics live large in some states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida makes bid for Olympics if Tokyo backs out Florida scientist who accused state of manipulating coronavirus data tests positive for COVID-19, turns herself in Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February MORE (R) and South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSD governor to challenge amendment legalizing recreational marijuana Eric Trump warns of primary challenges for Republicans who don't object to election results Trump again calls for Noem to primary Thune despite her refusal MORE (R) — both Trump allies who pay careful attention to the president’s supporters — approach masks, restrictions and federal guidance about mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in lockstep with Trump. Strategists suggest the governors are showcasing political ambitions for reelection or higher office (The Hill).




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! 


The conspiracy theory that could hand Joe Biden the Senate, by Rich Lowry, contributing editor, Politico Magazine. https://politi.co/2Jy64k1 


Yellen could be Biden's most important pick, by Albert Hunt, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/33C0Vyl 



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The House meets at 10 a.m.


The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of Christopher Waller to be a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.


The president presents the Medal of Freedom to former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, 83, a prominent Trump supporter, at 11:30 a.m. in the Oval Office (with no White House press invited to the presentation). At 2 p.m., Trump hosts an event to sign the Information Technology Modernization Centers of Excellence Program Act. He will also sign an executive order about “responsible use of artificial intelligence in government.”  


Vice President Pence will be in Memphis, Tenn., this afternoon to lead a roundtable discussion about COVID-19 vaccine distribution. He returns to Washington this evening. 


Biden and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with their 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


INTERNATIONAL: Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing died at home in central France early Thursday at age 94 following complications after contracting COVID-19 in September and being hospitalized again in November. He was France’s youngest postwar leader when he became president from 1974 to 1981 and is credited with modernizing France and championing European integration (Reuters).


SUPREME COURT: The addition of Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettRubio reintroduces amendment to block court packing Undoing Trump will take more than executive orders Political peace starts with everyday interactions MORE — who sided with four other conservatives on the high court last week in a New York religious freedom case — has analysts talking about whether the majority on the court may be poised to roll back additional pandemic-related restrictions imposed to safeguard public health (The Hill).


ECONOMY: Analysts await Friday's employment report from the Labor Department for signs of weakness in the job market amid heightened worries about a double-dip recession heading into the winter. New figures on Wednesday showed job growth in the private sector last month fell to its slowest pace since July. Congress is at loggerheads about legislating more federal relief while coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths hit record highs (The Hill).


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by a bevy of foot-focused headlines, we’re eager to hear from news addicts and savvy Googlers.


Email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and/or aweaver@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Send us four correct answers and gallop into the newsletter winner’s circle on Friday!


Here’s an easy one (a big clue is in this newsletter): Who is recovering from hairline fractures in his right foot?


  1. George Clooney
  2. Joe Biden
  3. Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr.
  4. Triple Crown winner Justify


Which U.S. city is digging out from a freakish two feet of pre-winter snow?


  1. Cleveland
  2. Detroit
  3. Little Rock, Ark.
  4. Chicago


Name the major footwear retailer founded by Tony Hsieh, who died Friday at age 46 following a house fire.


  1. Shoe Carnival Inc.
  2. Fleet Feet
  3. Designer Shoe Warehouse
  4. Zappos


Which workers are reported this week to be practicing their special skills — from at least six feet away?


  1. Shopping mall Santas
  2. Dentists
  3. Hair stylists
  4. Tattoo artists