The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 419,215.
The United States surpassed 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The Biden administration is ramping up its early efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic by introducing a travel ban to slow a new variant of the virus and putting more weight behind the government’s vaccine distribution efforts.
President Biden is set to roll out a new ban on non-U.S. citizens entering the country who have recently been in South Africa, the home to a new coronavirus strain that public health officials have warned about in recent days. The administration also reimposed a blockade on travelers entering the United States from Brazil, Great Britain and more than two dozen European nations that allow free flow of travel across borders.
“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Reuters on Sunday.
Last week, Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters that he was “a little bit more” concerned about the South Africa variant than the one out of the United Kingdom — a statement he started to walk back on Sunday (The Hill). British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that the virus might be more deadly than initially thought, in addition to being more transmissible (The Washington Post).
The Wall Street Journal: New coronavirus variants complicate the battle against the pandemic.
The new travel developments came as the United States hit a new grim milestone: more than 25 million confirmed COVID-19 infections. However, daily-case totals are on the downswing following the holiday travel season (Bloomberg News).
For eight straight days, the nation’s disease trackers reported fewer than 200,000 cases per day, including 145,000 on Sunday. Thirteen of the first 16 days this month saw case figures eclipse that mark, indicating that the nation is experiencing a slowdown following the holiday-induced surge, even though hospitalizations and deaths remain high (The Washington Post).
But there is general agreement that cases of COVID-19 confirmed through testing lag well behind the suspected spread of the coronavirus in this country. Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, estimates that more than 105 million people have already been infected across the United States, well above the number of cases that have been reported. And his projections show millions more infections are yet to come as the vaccine rolls out.
“The plane in a nosedive. And we’ve got to pull it up,” Xavier Becerra, the administration’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And you’re not going to do that overnight. But we’re going to pull it up. We have to pull it up. Failure is not an option” (The Hill).
As part of the effort to administer 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the first 100 days, the administration is set to increase the government’s involvement and have the Federal Emergency Management Agency operate 100 federal vaccination sites (The Washington Post).
The Associated Press: 2 in 5 Americans live where COVID-19 infections are placing great strains on hospitals’ intensive care.
The Washington Post: Virus-related disruptions in shipping hit farm exports, manufacturing and spell trouble for consumers.
As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel writes, the administration has pledged to work with states to improve communications about the available vaccines, but it’s still a scramble to determine how much vaccine is available. States, counties and cities say they are running out of vaccine doses, leading to canceled or rescheduled appointments for thousands of people even as they try to ramp up the pace of inoculations, leaving health officials desperate to get accurate information in order to make plans weeks ahead of time.
Fauci clarified on Sunday that Biden’s goal within his first 100 days in office is not 100 million people vaccinated, but 100 million shots of vaccine administered (each person needs two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for maximum effectiveness, and some people will have received their first doses and others will have received two doses by the end of April).
The Hill: Biden under pressure to deliver more COVID-19 shots.
The New York Times: Why vaccines alone will not end the pandemic.
STAT News: CDC reports rare allergic reactions to Moderna’s vaccine.
The New York Times Magazine: What if you never get better from a COVID-19 infection?
> Relief bill: A bipartisan group of senators on Sunday pushed the Biden White House for a more targeted coronavirus relief package amid questions from Republicans about the administration’s $1.9 trillion proposal.
A group of 16 centrist members — including eight Republicans and eight Democrats — convened with top Biden officials, including National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, and questioned whether the proposed $1,400 stimulus checks could be aimed more directly at lower-income households and those hit hard by the pandemic. They also pressed the officials about the need for the inclusion of billions of dollars in the blueprint, noting that there remains nearly $2 trillion unspent from previously-enacted bills.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions, most notably, how did the administration come up with $1.9 trillion dollars required, given that our figures show that there’s still about $1.8 trillion left to be spent,” said Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) a centrist who was on the call. “We hope to get more data documenting the need from them” (The Washington Post).
Politico: Bipartisan group of senators pushes back on Biden COVID-19 plan.
Democratic lawmakers are also drawing up legislation that would increase the child tax credit and give recurring payments throughout the pandemic to families. The nascent proposal would give families monthly payments of $300 for children aged 6 to 17, and $360 for children younger than 6 (CNN). There is bipartisan support to expand the federal child tax credit, but the question among lawmakers remains by how much.
> International: Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday that he has tested positive for COVID-19. López Obrador, 67, tweeted that he has mild symptoms and that he is receiving medical treatment, adding that he is “optimistic.” López Obrador’s announcement came shortly after a report that he will speak today with Russian President Vladimir Putin about procuring doses of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine (The Associated Press). … Israel announced on Sunday that it will be shuttering Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the nation’s lone international airport, in an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19 amid yet another outbreak in the country. The closure on flights in and out of the country is limited to funerals and medical patients and cargo flights (The Associated Press). … The coronavirus crisis and the impact of new coronavirus variants are bad enough in France that predictions are rising for a third lockdown in February (Reuters). … According to research out of Great Britain, Japan is unlikely to reach herd immunity status from vaccinations until October — two months after the Summer Olympics are scheduled in Tokyo (Reuters).
LEADING THE DAY
BIDEN POLICIES: The president will use his executive pen this week to showcase issues he’s talked about since his campaign, announcing actions about U.S.-made goods on Monday; racial, ethnic and other forms of equity on Tuesday; climate and science on Wednesday; health and reproductive rights on Thursday; and more initiatives to rescind Trump-era immigration policies on Friday.
The Hill: Here are executive actions Biden will take this week.
CBS News: Biden is expected to repeal Trump’s transgender military ban as early as today.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted some videotaped answers on Sunday to a few questions received from everyday Americans, from immigration to unemployment assistance and from ice cream to a presidential cat — in other words, from the serious to four-legged fluff.
Niall Stanage writes in his latest Memo that Biden faces an uphill battle while juggling crises and political and congressional divisions weighed against signature campaign promises. If there’s a model in Biden’s past in which betting on big policy resulted in new law, the Affordable Care Act in 2010 may be one.
Meanwhile, the Senate will continue to hold confirmation hearings this week for some of Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Senators confirmed two nominees thus far: Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Tonight, the Senate will vote on Janet Yellen to be the first female Treasury secretary. She sailed through the Senate Finance Committee last week with unanimous support. Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, and secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken have yet to get through the upper chamber (The Hill).
The Associated Press reports that in his first directive since taking office, Austin, who is the first Black Pentagon chief, gave his senior leaders two weeks to send him reports on sexual assault prevention programs in the military and an assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t.
With environmental and energy policies set as priorities for the new administration, Biden is recruiting former Obama-era appointees, nonprofit leaders and longtime congressional aides to help him enact policies to combat climate change as an existential global threat (The Hill). “It’s a very knowledgeable and experienced crew, and I think this will be a great reassurance to the career staff at the agency as well,” said Stan Meiberg, a former acting deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama years who now teaches at Wake Forest University.
On policies dealing with trade, Biden faces tough choices after four years of rising tensions, steep tariffs and isolationist rhetoric from his predecessor. U.S.-China relations have hit a nadir on nearly every front, complicating Biden’s ability to crack down on Beijing’s unfair economic practices (The Hill). … Biden spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday about a range of subjects, including global economic recovery, the White House said.
Biden’s big agenda puts a spotlight on congressional centrists, reports The Hill’s Jordain Carney. The small band of moderates remaining in Congress hopes the president’s penchant for legislative bargaining and slim margins in both chambers will increase its clout over legislation.
TRUMP and IMPEACHMENT: The House will send an article of impeachment to the Senate today that indicts former President Trump for inciting an insurrection against the United States on Jan. 6. A Senate trial, which is expected to be brief, will begin in two weeks (The Hill).
The Washington Post: The Senate is unable to agree on basic rules for how the evenly divided body should operate, grinding some basic operations to a halt.
The Hill: GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial.
The New York Times: Divisions harden in Senate as it prepares to receive impeachment article.
Democrats are focused on a case that turns on Trump’s rhetoric and actions, while Senate Republicans are focused on a defense that turns on constitutional process and precedent.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on Sunday that a Trump trial after he has left the presidency is constitutional (CNN).
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said on Sunday that impeachment is a procedure outlined in the Constitution for sitting presidents, not ex-presidents (The Hill).
The Hill: Senators on Sunday sparred over the validity of a Trump impeachment trial.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who would like to run again for president in 2024, assailed a Trump impeachment trial as “stupid” during an interview on Sunday (NBC News). “I think it’s counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country, and [impeachment is] taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.”
Democrats argue that evidence is cut and dried that Trump on Jan. 6 publicly incited supporters to “fight” and storm the Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of the electoral votes supporting Biden’s victory. By the week of Feb. 8, will there be additional information to consider about Trump’s efforts to stop the Electoral College tally by Congress?
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump told the crowd at the Ellipse. “Demand that Congress do the right thing. … Fight like hell.” Rioters subsequently told reporters and law enforcement officials they felt emboldened by Trump’s remarks and interpreted his words as instructions. Here’s a timeline and transcript of Trump’s remarks on Jan. 6 (WUSA9).
Bloomberg News: Organizers of Trump’s rally on Jan. 6 were on his campaign’s payroll, paid more than $2.7 million over two years.
The New York Times: Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) played a significant role with Trump as the president considered firing acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen after Perry introduced him to Jeffrey Clark, the acting chief of the civil division at the Justice Department, who was sympathetic to the president’s false conviction that the election had been stolen. Trump and Clark spoke directly on multiple occasions and the two met in person without alerting Rosen, facts that startled department officials. Trump considered firing Rosen, who repeatedly resisted Trump’s efforts to undo the election results, but did not follow through after top Justice Department officials threatened to resign en masse.
The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports that Democrats are mulling if they can use the 14th Amendment to bar Trump from holding future federal office, regardless of the outcome of the February trial. Such discussions are in the early stages and top members of the Senate caucus are not convinced it’s a viable remedy.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
SECURITY: Capitol Hill is set for a second impeachment trial next month, and with that will come a continuation of National Guard presence on Capitol Hill amid ongoing security concerns.
Roughly 5,000 National Guard members are expected to remain on duty in and around the Capitol complex through mid-March, with the impeachment trial slated to start on Feb. 8. The total is far short of the 25,000 who were on hand last week to ensure inauguration proceedings went smoothly.
“As we continue to work to meet the final post-inauguration requirements, the National Guard has been requested to continue supporting federal law enforcement agencies with 7,000 members and will draw down to 5,000 through mid-March,” the Guard told CBS News in a statement. “We are providing assistance such as security, communications, medical evacuation, logistics and safety support to state district and federal agencies.”
However, concerns remain regarding the presence of guardsmen for the coming months, including that it could spark a coronavirus superspreader situation. Guardsmen have been packed into parts of the U.S. Capitol complex for at least a week, where they are congregating en masse during breaks from their duty shifts. According to reports, between 150 and 200 members on site to protect the Capitol have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Ideally, these guys should all be in hotels. When they’re taking rest time, they should be taking it outside the campus with an ability to be separated and socially distanced,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “Ultimately we’ve got to make sure that they’re not taking their extended rest time on campus, that they’re in hotel rooms.”
The Hill: Calls grow for a 9/11-style panel to probe the Capitol attack.
Newsweek: Police arrest man illegally carrying a gun and ammunition near the White House. He was asking questions about the Oval Office.
> Guns: Tensions are running high among lawmakers after Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) nearly brought a gun onto the House floor, further stoking concerns about Capitol security and whether members of Congress need protection from one another, The Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports.
The renewed anxiety just two weeks after the deadly Jan. 6 attack when Harris set off a newly installed metal detector off the House floor with a concealed gun, despite a longtime ban on firearms in the chamber. The incident took place as GOP members oppose the use of detectors outside the chamber, with some Republicans going so far as to avoiding them en route to votes.
The Hill: Lawmakers move to oust extremists from the military.
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America needs pro-democracy conservatives to save the republic, by Jamal Simmons, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3c7BFFl
Send out the search party for new COVID strains, by Scott Gottlieb and Caitlin Rivers, opinion contributors, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3c8QM1i
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet at 1:30 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. The Senate will vote at 5:30 p.m. on the nomination of Yellen to be Treasury secretary. The upper chamber will receive from the House at 7 p.m. an article of impeachment against Trump, setting in motion a trial to begin the week of Feb. 8.
The president and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. in the Oval Office. Biden and Harris will meet at 11:30 a.m. with Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. At 12:30 p.m., Harris will administer a ceremonial oath to Austin in the Roosevelt Room. The president will speak at 3:45 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building about an executive order intended to bolster U.S. manufacturing and purchases of U.S.-made goods. Harris will also attend.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m.
INVITATIONS: The Hill Virtually Live hosts events as the new administration gets underway:
TODAY at 1:30 p.m.: “Rebuilding the Federal Workforce.” What immediate steps are needed to shore up the morale of federal workers? Featured speakers: Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.); former White House chief of staff Andy Card and former Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta. RSVP HERE.
Tuesday at 1 p.m.: “Modern Credit Systems, Alternative Data & the American Dream.” Headlining a conversation about modernizing the credit system are Suze Orman, John Hope Bryant, and Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). RSVP HERE.
Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.: “Listening to America.” What are the concerns of citizens in communities small and large, rural and urban? Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) and voices from diverse communities discuss. RSVP HERE.
Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.: “Relief to Recovery: What’s Next for Small Business?” The discussion features Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), with the House Financial Services Committee and Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institution. Register HERE.
Also on Wednesday, Fauci joins The Hill’s “Challenge of Our Time: The COVID-19 Vaccine” at 1:15 p.m. to discuss vaccine manufacturing. A second expert panel at 2:30 p.m. will discuss distribution. The first panel in addition to Fauci features Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health; Mikael Dolsten, chief scientific officer and president, Worldwide Research, Development and Medical, Pfizer; Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist, World Health Organization; and Leana Wen, emergency physician and visiting professor, George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Here’s the second panel on Wednesday: Susan Bailey, president, American Medical Association; John Banovetz, chief technology officer, 3M; Mayor Sharon Weston Broome (D), Baton Rouge, La.; John Brownstein, chief innovation officer, Boston Children’s Hospital; Sree Chaguturu, chief medical officer, CVS; Daniel Dawes, director, Satcher Health Leadership Institute; Peter Hotez, co-director, Center for Vaccine Development, Texas Children’s Hospital; Margaret Moss, associate professor in nursing, University of British Columbia; Jay Timmons, president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers; Wes Wheeler, president, UPS Healthcare; and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), member, House Ways and Means Committee. Register HERE.
The Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress hosts a virtual event today, “The Biden Administration, New START and the Future of Arms Control,” from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Information and registration HERE. Thomas Pickering, Center for
the Study of the Presidency and Congress board chairman and a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and the United Nations, will moderate with Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group; and Pavel Podvig, senior researcher for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Program at the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research and the director and principal investigator for the Russian Nuclear Forces Project.
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.
➔ LOBBYING & ETHICS: One of Biden’s first moves in office was to issue an ethics pledge for administration officials that built on Obama-era policy by addressing issues raised by government watchdog groups. The executive order imposed a two-year lobbying ban, similar to the Obama White House pledge, but went further with its restrictions on golden parachutes and shadow lobbying, drawing praise from progressives (The Hill). … One of Trump’s final acts as he left office will allow former aides to profit from foreign ties (Politico).
➔ STATE WATCH: Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today will announce in a video that she’s entering a competitive Arkansas race for governor, a job her Republican father, Mike Huckabee, previously held. She has been laying the groundwork for a contest since her departure from the White House in 2019 (The Hill and The Associated Press). … Republicans are pushing new voting restrictions following Trump’s November loss (Politico). … The next big political war: redistricting (Axios). … Las Vegas schools reopened after a surge in student suicides (The New York Times).
➔ SPORTS: Super Bowl LV is set, and some familiar faces are returning to the big game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs will lock horns after defeating the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills, respectively, setting up yet another battle between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Brady will compete in his 10th Super Bowl in 20 seasons. The Buccaneers will be the first team to play in a Super Bowl at their home stadium as the game will take place at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 (Tampa Bay Times).
And finally … A lucky person in Michigan won the $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot on Saturday, the second-largest payout ever. The winning ticket was sold at a Kroger store in a northern suburb of Detroit, according to the state lottery website. The winning numbers were 4-26-42-50-60 with a Mega Ball number of 24. The winner’s identity had not been revealed as of Sunday, but, per state lottery rules, they must come forward to claim their winnings (ABC News).
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