The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal


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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Friday! 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; Thursday, 273,836; Friday, 276,383.

After months of haggling, a coronavirus relief bill picked up steam on Thursday and negotiators said they’re hopeful a bipartisan accord involving the House, Senate and White House may emerge before mid-December. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) met on Thursday for the first time since the November election, with discussions centered on a coronavirus stimulus package and a deal to keep the government funded after Dec. 11. According to a Pelosi spokesman, the two leaders spoke over the phone to discuss “their shared commitment” to reaching a deal on the two issues “as soon as possible” (The Hill). 

Earlier on Thursday, McConnell spoke of urgency and common purpose after months of foot-dragging and barbed comments flung from one side of the Capitol to the other.

“We know where we agree. We can do this. Let me say it again. We can do this. And we need to do this,” he said, assuring a reporter after the phone call that House and Senate leaders are “both interested in getting an outcome.” He added that it was a “good discussion” (ABC News). 

Shortly before the conversation with Pelosi, the Kentucky Republican — who steered the pandemic relief conversations after Election Day — met with a group of Senate Republican moderates who support a compromise package that received the backing of Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLouisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in McConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill MORE (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday. A compromise $908 billion bill now on the table would deploy $160 billion to state and local governments, a form of federal spending opposed for months by many conservatives, including McConnell.

The proposal also would provide $180 billion in additional unemployment insurance, $288 billion in new funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, and funding increases for vaccine development and distribution, testing, schools and sectors that have been hammered by COVID-19, among other things. 

Four GOP senators — Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (Utah), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Welcome to ground zero of climate chaos MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear Emboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - DC prepares for Saturday of festivals & Jan. 6 demonstration MORE (Alaska) and Bill CassidyBill CassidyHouse passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid Sunday shows - Boosters in the spotlight MORE (La.) — presented the proposal to McConnell in his Capitol office.  

“We described the nature of our proposal and what he had seen before, of course, was a number for state and local of $160 billion. And, and we described how it would be allocated, how it would be distributed, some portions based on population, some portion based on the revenue gap that might exist for a locality, and so forth,” Romney told reporters when asked about the meeting. 

The Associated Press: Optimism grows for a COVID-19 relief bill as legislative deadlines loom, the pandemic worsens and public pressure builds.

The Hill: Southwest Airlines warns 6,800 employees they could be furloughed in the spring.

The Associated Press: Jobs report will show how much pandemic is squeezing hiring.

Adding to the momentum, President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE indicated to reporters that he will support the bill if it reaches his desk. 

“I want it to happen, and I believe they're getting very close to a deal,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. Asked if he would sign legislation, Trump replied, “I will” (The Hill). 

Shortly before the election, Trump clamored for a nearly $2 trillion deal, but then vacillated, lobbing criticism at Democrats for their insistence that any deal include funds for state and local governments that bemoan budgets severely depleted by lost revenues and added costs after nearly a year of dealing with a pandemic, among other emergencies.

The Hill: President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE urged Congress to approve the proposed $900 billion relief bill. “That would be a good start. It’s not enough,” he said during a Thursday interview with CNN.

The New York Times: Lawmakers inch toward compromise as Biden confronts slowing recovery.

More Congress … House Democrats held elections for a number of notable committee chairmanships during a caucus-wide call on Thursday. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) narrowly defeated Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) to run the House Democratic campaign arm (The Hill). Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Hoyer tells Israel removal of Iron Dome funding is 'technical postponement' Democrats to nix B for Israel's Iron Dome from bill to avert shutdown MORE (D-Conn.), a close ally of Pelosi, will replace the retiring Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLobbying world Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs MORE (D-N.Y.) as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee (The Hill). Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksGroups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Meeks on being mistaken for a staffer: 'Glad I still blend in with the cool kids' Blinken grilled in first hearing since Afghanistan withdrawal MORE (D-N.Y.) will become the first African American to chair the House the Foreign Affairs Committee (The Hill). Finally, Rep. Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyWhite House faces increased cries from allies on Haitian migrants Harris, CBC put weight behind activist-led National Black Voter Day Activists gear up for voting rights march to mark King anniversary MORE (D-Ohio) will take over as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (The Hill). 



CORONAVIRUS: Biden on Thursday said that he will call on Americans to wear a mask throughout the duration of his first 100 days in office as the U.S. suffers through tough times due to the novel coronavirus and cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to mount. 

“Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we'll see a significant reduction” in COVID-19 infections, Biden told CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperYarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Fauci on FDA advisers' booster recommendations: 'I don't think they made a mistake' Mississippi governor: Biden vaccine mandates an 'attack' on 'hard-working Americans' MORE in an interview that aired Thursday night. 

Despite Biden’s encouragement to governors and mayors, he will not have the constitutional authority to directly order a nationwide mask mandate, as The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel notes

The president-elect’s mask advocacy comes as administration health officials are issuing increasingly dire warnings about the growing spread of coronavirus throughout the country. The president has largely remained silent about COVID-19 in recent weeks other than to bemoan the impact of what he calls “the China virus” on election results. On Thursday, the United States set another single-day mark with more than 212,000 new reported infections (The Washington Post).

The Hill: The United States officially recorded more than 14 million coronavirus cases as of Thursday, less than a week after the country topped 13 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, a sign that the virus is spreading at a staggering rate. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield and the White House task force have taken it upon themselves to issue warnings to the public to take precautions without the megaphone from the commander in chief himself. Redfield warned Americans on Wednesday that the winter months could be the “most difficult” in U.S. public health history, while the task force warned states of hospitals being overwhelmed and said new mitigation measures are needed, as The Hill’s Peter Sullivan writes. 

By contrast, Trump has remained laser-focused on baseless claims of voter fraud. In a 46-minute speech posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Trump hardly mentioned the pandemic outside of noting its effect on the election.  

> New restrictions: California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomFeehery: The confidence game Biden administration launches new national initiative to fight homelessness Equity is key to resilience — three ways make it a priority MORE (D) issued mandatory stay-at-home orders on Thursday for parts of the state with ICU hospital bed capacity below 15 percent, tied to the surge in COVID-19 patients in the state. 

Those communities will also be mandated to close playgrounds, and hair and nail salons, with restaurants only able to serve takeout orders. Retail stores will only be able to serve 20 percent capacity at a time (Los Angeles Times).

Bloomberg News: Facebook will remove false claims about COVID-19 vaccines from the platform.

NBC News: The top executives with vaccine developers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Jonson say that after federal vaccine approval, distribution will be the main challenge.





NEW ADMINISTRATION: Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSenate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam House passes bill to compensate 'Havana syndrome' victims Harris 'deeply troubled' by treatment of Haitian migrants MORE on Thursday announced additional White House staff appointments as Washington’s power brokers and stakeholders await another round of Cabinet picks. Many are interested to learn who Biden selects to lead the Health and Human Services Department and the key federal agencies dealing with the coronavirus and vaccine distribution, including the Food and Drug Administration and CDC.

Politico reports that Biden is poised, perhaps this weekend, to appoint former National Economic Council (NEC) director Jeff Zients and former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Facebook announces crackdown on 'coordinated social harm' campaigns Biden to speak at UN general assembly in person MORE, both veterans of the Obama administration, to steer the incoming administration’s response to COVID-19. Zients will be the White House COVID-19 response coordinator while Murthy will again become Surgeon General, tasked as the public face of medical expertise and federal guidance.

The effort will require coordination with multiple federal departments, governors and state public health officials, the U.S. health care industry, major pharmaceutical companies, the business community, Congress and the American public. Murthy was already tapped as one of the co-chairs of the transition team’s roster of medical experts on Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, which was announced on Nov. 9.

Reuters: Biden, during a CNN interview, said he asked Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Pfizer results offer hope amid worsening pandemic for children The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration MORE to continue his role at the National Institutes of Health as part of his administration and serve as chief medical officer and member of the incoming COVID-19 response team. 

The Associated Press: Biden and Harris are dialing back legislative plans tied to the Affordable Care Act and climate change and aiming for more executive action in deference to the realities of a narrowly divided Senate.

NPR: The president-elect, as expected, announced on Thursday that former Obama aide Brian Deese, who specialized in climate policy and budget issues, among other subjects important to the new administration, will be White House economic adviser and director of the NEC.

Harris unveiled more top advisers she will turn to at the White House, and they are mostly women of color (The New York Times).

Tina Flournoy, a top aide to former President Clinton with three decades of political, governmental and union experience, will serve as the vice president’s chief of staff next year. Nancy McEldowney, a former U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, will be Harris’s national security adviser. Rohini Kosoglu, Harris’s Senate chief of staff, will be her boss’s domestic policy adviser. Symone SandersSymone SandersHarris facilitates coin toss at Howard University football game Harris to campaign for Gavin Newsom ahead of recall election Harris drops plan to campaign with Newsom after Kabul attack MORE and Ashley Etienne, two Black women, were previously tapped to join Harris’s VP communications team. 

The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes that Harris is a barrier-breaking figure, being both the first woman elected as vice president and the first Black person to hold the position. She is also the first vice president since Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreTrump's election fraud claims pose risks for GOP in midterms Don't 'misunderestimate' George W. Bush Why the pro-choice movement must go on the offensive MORE to enter office as the obvious favorite to succeed the person in the top job. Gore, during his vice presidency, was particularly identified with specific issues, including the environment and government reform. So far, the signs are that Harris will seek a more wide-ranging role. A transition official noted that Biden had spoken of Harris as having the same status as he did with then-President Obama: the last person in the room for the big decisions. 



The Hill and The New York Times: The transition team’s discussions with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamDemocrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms Hochul makes New York the 31st state to have had a female governor New Mexico indoor mask mandate returns with new vaccine requirements MORE (D) about a Cabinet post, which leaked to the news media, so irritated some of her supporters in Congress that there was a set-to meeting on Thursday with transition leaders. Details from that meeting also leaked. Hispanic lawmakers think Lujan Grisham should be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is center stage during the pandemic. 

Politico: Biden nominee Heather Boushey, an economist selected to serve on the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is the target of complaints from a former colleague about her management style.

Correction: Former Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE, mentioned in the Morning Report on Thursday as a possible candidate for Agriculture secretary, represented North Dakota, not Iowa.


MORE POLITICS: One commentator this week said the 2020 election won’t be over until Jan. 5, when the Senate’s majority will become clear after two runoff contests in Georgia. In the meantime, however, the never-ending election is Trump’s central preoccupation as he refuses to concede to Biden and his legal team presses new challenges in multiple states. 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear Trump’s lawsuit attempting to overturn Biden’s victory, issuing a 4-3 ruling that the case must first wind its way through lower courts. It was the latest in a string of losses for the president and his lawyers in battleground states that have rejected unsubstantiated assertions of election fraud and claims of massive mail-in ballot irregularities (The Associated Press).

Reuters: Since the election, Trump and his team have hauled in $207 million in contributions from supporters, ostensibly to battle the ballot results.

The Hill: Trump advocates Lin Wood and Sydney Powell complicated the political terrain for Republicans in Georgia this week by urging voters in the state to boycott the upcoming Senate runoffs. They’ve been backing the president and waged a series of legal battles in recent weeks challenging the November election results. Their remarks on Wednesday set off a scramble among GOP officials, operatives and other prominent Republicans tasked with trying to return Sens. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerWarnock picks up major abortion rights group's endorsement in reelection bid Trump endorses Hershel Walker for Georgia Senate seat Herschel Walker's entrance shakes up Georgia Senate race MORE (R-Ga.) and David PerdueDavid PerdueGOP sees Biden crises as boon for midterm recruitment Trump campaign, RNC refund donors another .8 million in 2021: NYT Loeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run MORE (R-Ga.) to the Senate next year. Loeffler and Perdue are trying to drive up GOP turnout, not discourage Georgia conservatives from participating. The president will be in Georgia this weekend, ostensibly to help. More than 940,000 mail-in ballots have been requested in Georgia for the Jan. 5 contests. 

Bloomberg News, citing Federal Election Commission records, reports that since Nov. 12, seven named business tycoons contributed a combined $35 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned super PAC, which is one of the reasons Republicans are able to outspend Democrats in the Peach State.  

Arizona Gov. Doug DuceyDoug DuceyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE (R) certified that Biden won his state and mentioned to reporters a Trump phone call he received while signing the paperwork (the president has bashed Ducey on social media). “The president has got an inquisitive mind,” the governor said, declining to be more specific. “And when he calls he’s always got a lot of questions, and I give him honest answers, direct feedback and my opinion when it’s necessary. And that’s all I’m going to say about it” (The Associated Press).    

The Hill’s Jonathan Easley dives deeper into the pandemic politics that have cast a handful of Democratic mayors and California’s Democratic governor as elitist hypocrites for egregiously breaching COVID-19 restrictions and public health warnings they’ve preached to their constituents and failed to heed themselves. They have traveled to vacation resorts, dined indoors at posh restaurants with VIPs and hopped on holiday planes to congregate with relatives. They opened themselves up to attacks from the White House, Republican colleagues, fed-up constituents and the news media. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Juan Williams: Shame on the anti-mandate Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) is patiently working to firm up support to become Speaker if Republicans take back the majority in 2022. He spent the past election cycle bringing Freedom Caucus members — who see themselves as mavericks and were once relegated to the fringes of the GOP — into his inner circle to try to secure backing he might call upon in two years, The Hill’s Scott Wong reports after interviewing McCarthy about his plans.  

Departure: The Washington Post reports that White House communications director Alyssa Farah resigned effective today with plans to start her own consulting firm. She spent 3 1/2 years in different roles in the Trump administration and previously worked for White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsGraham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan MORE on Capitol Hill when he was a North Carolina congressman. In her Thursday resignation letter, Farah called her time in the administration “the honor of a lifetime.” 

Politico: Trump mulls preemptive pardons for up to 20 allies, even as Republicans balk.

The Hill: Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor charged in the United States with espionage in 2013 and living in asylum in Moscow, on Thursday took to Twitter to urge Trump to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeJulian Paul Assange Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 UK court allows US to expand Assange extradition appeal Mexico's domestic-minded foreign policy could alienate the US MORE, who has been in the United Kingdom fighting extradition since 2019. He is charged in the United States with conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information.

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Trump and the Georgia runoffs: The president will get the blame if the GOP loses the Senate, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. 

The sad, scary case of the National Counterterrorism Center, by David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post.





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The House meets at 9 a.m. Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference from the Capitol at 10:45 a.m. 

The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m., and will resume consideration of Stephen Schwartz to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The president has no public events scheduled. 

Vice President Pence travels to Atlanta to visit the CDC’s emergency operations center at 11:50 a.m. and hold a roundtable discussion at noon about COVID-19 vaccine distribution. While in Georgia, Pence will help Republicans stir voter interest ahead of two Senate runoffs on Jan. 5 during remarks in Savannah at 3 p.m. The vice president returns to Washington this evening.

Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief and later will speak in Wilmington, Del., in response to the government’s final jobs report of the year, released this morning. He and Harris will also meet virtually with the board of the National Association of Counties. 

Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. reports on U.S. employment in November. Analysts anticipate that more jobs were added last month, but at a slower pace. The data may offer clues about what’s ahead in the first quarter of 2021. 

INVITATION: Join The Hill’s Virtually Live discussion, “Aspiration & Resilience: Arab Youth in the COVID-19 Era,” on Monday at 1 p.m., featuring students and regional business leaders. Like much of the world, the economy of the Middle East region has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment has been a top issue among young Arabs, and they are looking beyond traditional government and private sector jobs, but COVID-19 has made that more difficult. What are the opportunities in the region that may lead to improving economic growth and why should Americans care about the economic outlook for young Arabs? RSVP HERE

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


INTERNATIONAL: Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai, jailed on a fraud charge related to his anti-government tabloid, Apple Daily, was denied bail by Hong Kong authorities on Thursday (Reuters). 

AVIATION: Budget airline Ryanair on Thursday ordered 75 additional Boeing 737 MAX jets with a catalog value of $9 billion, throwing a commercial lifeline to the embattled U.S. planemaker after regulators lifted a 20-month safety ban (Reuters). … United Airlines expects to be the first airline to receive a Boeing 737 MAX delivery following a 20-month grounding of the jet. The company anticipates eight new jets this month with the first arriving next week (Reuters). 

➔ ENTERTAINMENT: Turning to a pandemic-inspired hybrid movie distribution model while theater ticket sales continue to slump, Warner Bros. Pictures announced on Thursday that all of its 2021 film slate — including a new “Matrix” movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the Lin-Manuel Miranda adaptation “In the Heights” — will stream on HBO Max at the same time the films play in theaters. The announcement sent shock waves through Hollywood. “Given the unprecedented time that we’re in, we needed a creative solution to address our fans, our filmmakers and our exhibitors,” said Ann Sarnoff, chief executive of WarnerMedia Studios. “Big and bold is a necessity right now” (The Associated Press).


And finally … Applause for this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners, who put their best feet forward while playing along with our news puzzle. 

Here’s who stepped easily into the winner’s circle with four correct answers: Lori Benso, Todd Cyril, Mike Roberts, Donna Minter, Pam Manges, Terry Pflaumer, Norm Roberts, Susan Reyes, Luke Charpentier, Joe Erdmann, Patrick Kavanagh, Jim Dykstra, Diane Simbro, Seana Hasson, Ronald Paltrowitz, Tom Werkema, Donna Nackers, Kathy Petersen, Candi Cee, Naomi Freeman, Mary Frances Trucco, Paul Blumstein, Ki Harvey, J. Patrick White, Eric Chapman, Pedro Montenegro, Tim Burrack, David Anderson, Jack Barshay and Luther Berg.  

They knew that Joe Biden is on the mend after suffering hairline fractures in his right foot.

Residents of Cleveland, Ohio, had to dig out from 2 feet of pre-winter snow.  

Major online footwear retailer Zappos was founded by Tony Hsieh, who died Friday at age 46 following a house fire.

Shopping mall Santas (like the one below at Minnesota’s Mall of America, who is working via video hookup) are reported this week to be practicing their special skills — from at least 6 feet away.