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The Hill's Morning Report - Dems question trial; January becomes deadliest pandemic month

 

 

 

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday! 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. 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, 419,215; Tuesday, 421,129; Wednesday, 425,216; Thursday, 429,159.



Democrats in Congress are eager for a fast start with President Biden this month, going so far as arguing to shelve an impeachment trial for former President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE because there are not enough Republican votes to convict.

 

Staving off a potentially sizable exodus within his ranks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-Ky.) managed to keep his caucus together and scuttle a push in the Senate to convict the 45th president a couple of weeks after 10 House Republicans voted for impeachment. 

 

The GOP leader, who has maintained his distance from Trump for more than a month, has maneuvered with care as he has kept the intra party split to a minimum. McConnell helped delay the trial until Feb. 8, but in the process, he also gave his party additional time to consider positions and to bring members around a defense that the upcoming proceedings are unconstitutional. In all, he has quietly sought to minimize the impact of the trial as much as possible despite his personal feelings for the former president.

 

The New York Times: McConnell was done with Trump. His party said not so fast. 

 

The maneuvering by McConnell has also forced the hand of Democrats to a point. Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democrats in standoff over minimum wage Democrats plan crackdown on rising drug costs MORE (D-Va.) has become the foremost voice behind a censure of the ex-president, an effort that was jump-started after 45 Senate Republicans rallied behind the unconstitutional argument in a procedural vote raised by Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday, effectively closing the door on any GOP chance to convict Trump. 

 

“It could be an alternative,” Kaine said. 

 

“To do a trial knowing you’ll get 55 votes at the max seems to me to be not the right prioritization of our time,” he added, pointing to the need to confirm Biden’s Cabinet and the COVID-19 pandemic as higher priorities  (The Washington Post). 

 

As The Hill’s Jordain Carney notes, censuring Trump would require 60 votes — as opposed to the 67 needed to convict — but would still amount to a historic rebuke. However, Republicans are expected to overwhelmingly oppose the option in favor of a trial and acquittal. 

 

Meanwhile, all eyes remain on the response to the coronavirus pandemic — one of the priorities Kaine mentioned — as the Biden administration takes a cautious approach to reopening schools across the country. 

 

The White House is arguing that Congress needs to approve more funding to get students back in classrooms with proper safety protocols. However, the effort was rebuked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said in a report this week that schools that have observed social distancing and mask guidelines have shown “little evidence” of major outbreaks. The report has also prompted a new round of criticism from Republicans as teachers unions resist a return to in-person instruction (The Hill).  

 

“If schools are willing to strongly adhere to mitigation strategies they can open safely,” said Dr. Daniel Benjamin, a researcher at Duke University studying school reopening. “If you don’t have the mitigation strategies it’s going to be a dumpster fire.”

 

The Associated Press: In CDC’s backyard, school reopening debate divides experts.

 

The Hill: Moderate Democrats press for auto-stabilizers in COVID-19 aid package.

 

The Associated Press: Virus aid package tests whether Biden, Congress can deliver.

 

> Filibuster alternatives: Democrats who bank on chances of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by using a budgetary process that sidesteps the filibuster could be sorely disappointed, according to budget experts. 

 

On Tuesday, Dick DurbinDick DurbinMurkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack Progressive support builds for expanding lower courts MORE (Ill.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Sanders slams parliamentarian decision on minimum wage Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill MORE (I-Vt.) said they were pushing Biden's $15 minimum wage plan through the budget reconciliation process, which needs only a simple majority to pass the Senate. However, as The Hill’s Niv Elis reports, the myriad rules surrounding the reconciliation and recent precedent present an arduous road for Democrats to make this dream a reality. 

 

The Hill: A bipartisan group of senators is discussing rules changes in an effort to break the chamber’s growing legislative gridlock.

 

 

 



LEADING THE DAY

CORONAVIRUS: One year into the pandemic, January proved to be the deadliest month for COVID-19 in the United States. Nevertheless, new cases each day and the number of patients hospitalized with the virus are declining, signaling some slender progress, even as new strains of COVID-19 raise concerns in the scientific community (CNBC).

 

Niall Stanage writes in his Memo that public concerns about COVID-19 variants and a slow vaccine rollout could hamper the nation's emergence from the once-in-a-lifetime crisis. The effects are rippling through the economy and American politics, raising the stakes for Biden and his party.

 

Even as the daily statistics about new cases show improvement, total deaths remain painfully high, and the Biden administration predicts fatalities could top half a million by next month. The disconnect between waning infections and the rising death toll is likely a result of lags between onset of infections and progression of disease in some patients (The New York Times).

 

The Hill: The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is estimated to rise to 514,000 by Feb. 20.

 

The Biden administration on Wednesday held its first coronavirus response briefing for the public, a virtual effort to encourage public confidence and explain federal efforts (The Associated Press). The briefings will be repeated three times a week going forward, resuming again on Friday.

 

Things are getting better,” White House pandemic adviser Andy Slavitt said while he and his colleagues offered some vaguely worded answers after just a week on the job.  

 

In addition to their attention to vaccine supplies and the national rate of inoculations, administration officials promoted Biden’s $1.9 trillion legislative proposal as key to conquering COVID-19, including with a more coordinated national effort to sequence the genomes of strains of COVID-19 to pick up early clues about how the coronavirus changes while replicating in humans. The United States has been criticized for a patchwork of state-based and academic labs that lag behind the genomic sequencing efforts demonstrated in other countries.

 

Yes, we are actively working on this,” said CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyNew COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents fell 80 percent in a month Poll: Majority say teachers should be vaccinated before reopening schools New Yorkers should double mask until at least June, de Blasio says MORE.

 

The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine works against mutations found in U.K, South Africa variants, lab study finds.

  

There is no shortage of public misinformation, suspicion and resistance when it comes to the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including among nursing home workers and hospital employees who balk at getting inoculated. Making matters worse, the World Health Organization now advises most pregnant women not to take the Moderna vaccine because of a lack of clinical trial data (ABC13).

 

The New York Times opinion contributors Alice Lu-Culligan and Akiko Iwasaki, Yale School of Medicine, “The false rumors about vaccines that are scaring women.”  

 

 

 



IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

SECURITY: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  issued a rare warning on Wednesday about the threat posed by domestic extremists, saying that the “heightened threat environment” across the United States “is likely to persist over the coming weeks” in the aftermath of Biden’s inauguration and as Trump’s impeachment trial starts. 

 

“DHS does not have any information to indicate a specific, credible plot; however, violent riots have continued in recent days and we remain concerned that individuals frustrated with the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances and ideological causes fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors to incite or commit violence,” the statement read.

 

The DHS bulletin released represents the first warning in recent years about domestic terrorism. The most recent ones released discussed threats emanating from Iran. The latest bulletin will remain in place until April 30 (The Washington Post).

 

Reuters: U.S. secures indictment against Oath Keeper members over plot to storm U.S. Capitol. 

 

> Police: Gus Papathanasiou, head of the union representing Capitol Police officers, said on Wednesday that nearly 140 Capitol Police officers suffered injuries in the Jan. 6 mob attack at the Capitol, including brain, spinal and facial injuries, with one officer likely to lose an eye. 

 

Papathanasiou made the revelation a day after Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of the Capitol Police, admitted that the department’s leadership knew there was a “strong potential for violence,” opening the door to questions surrounding why officers were not better protected during the riot. 

 

“We have one officer who lost his life as a direct result of the insurrection,” Papathanasiou said. “Another officer has tragically taken his own life. Between [Capitol Police] and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), we have almost 140 officers injured. I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake” (The New York Times).

 

Roll Call: Pushback on Capitol Police chief testimony continues. 

 

Adding to the tragedy, Acting MPD Chief Robert Contee said on Wednesday that Jeffrey Smith, an officer who was injured while trying to help contain the mob, committed suicide. The revelation comes nearly three weeks after Howard Liebengood, a Capitol Police officer, also committed suicide the weekend following the riot (The Hill). 

 

 

 

 

*****

 

POLITICS: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthySchiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director Conservatives go after Cheney for Trump CPAC remarks MORE (R-Calif.) plans to meet with Trump in Florida on Thursday amid the Republican Party’s winter of discontent, Punchbowl News first reported (The Washington Post and The Hill). McCarthy spent the last four years projecting unflinching loyalty to the former president, positioning himself to take the Speaker's gavel if Republicans had won the House majority in November. But the relationship between Trump and McCarthy showed strains following the Capitol siege on Jan. 6.

 

> The Republican National Committee plans to remain “neutral” among all White House aspirants, should Trump seek the nomination again in the 2024 presidential primary, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielTrump to attend private RNC donor retreat Juan Williams: The GOP is a party without ideas RNC launches 'Committee on Election Integrity' MORE told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. She also described the pro-Trump group known as QAnon as “dangerous.”

 

The Washington Post: Republicans back away from confronting Trump and his loyalists after the Capitol insurrection, embracing them instead.  

 

> More than 25,000 Republican voters have left the Grand Old Party in just the last three weeks, after Trump incited an insurrection that attacked the U.S. Capitol, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson. Figures compiled by The Hill show an exodus in six states, including the key battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida (The Hill).

 

Politico: “What Democrat beats that guy?”: Top Dems flinch from challenging Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Mehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Fla.) in 2022.



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! 



OPINION

The knowns and unknowns of COVID-19 vaccines, by Felicia Goodrum Sterling and James Alwine, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3oq8T5g

 

On Iran, Biden should start by freeing the hostages, by Elliott Abrams, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2YnlgEo 



WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 9 a.m.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m.

 

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:45 a.m. Biden will sign executive actions at 1:30 p.m. in the Oval Office dealing with health care. Harris will join the president for his remarks. 

 

The White House press briefing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m.

 

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. will report U.S. gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2020. Analysts are expecting 4.3 percent.

 

INVITATIONS: The Hill Virtually Live hosts events as the new administration gets underway: TODAY at 1 p.m., “Responsible Innovation: Protecting our Planet with Technology.” How can policymaking keep pace to ensure technology is leading the way in conservation? Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and John Curtis (R-Utah), Apple's Arvin Ganesan and more. RSVP HERE.

 

Friday at 12:30 p.m., “Reset 2020: A New American Start.” Looking ahead to the first 100 days, what steps will be used to drive economic recovery and environmental sustainability and to address immigration? Reps. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioDemocrats offer bills to boost IRS audits of rich, corporations House Democrats call on Biden to fill Postal Service Board vacancies to pave way for ousting DeJoy House Democrats' draft coronavirus relief legislation includes B for U.S. airlines MORE (D-Ore.), David SchweikertDavid SchweikertBiden meets with bipartisan senators to discuss potential infrastructure bill Lawmakers offer competing priorities for infrastructure plans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? MORE (R-Ariz.) and Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchThree years later, father of Parkland shooting victim calls for meaningful school safety reform LIVE COVERAGE: House debates removing Greene from committees Top House Republican suggests Ethics panel should review Greene committee assignments MORE (D-Fla.), Del. Stacey PlaskettStacey PlaskettThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Plaskett makes history for Virgin Islands after role in impeachment Stacey Plaskett jabs Cruz over Cancun getaway MORE (D-USVI), Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, economist Kevin Hassett, UnidosUS's Janet Murguía, and more. RSVP 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



ELSEWHERE

FEDERAL RESERVE: The nation’s central bank on Wednesday left its key overnight interest rate near zero and made no change to its monthly bond purchases, pledging again to keep those economic pillars in place until there is a full rebound from the pandemic-triggered recession (Reuters). Fed Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated that the economic outlook remains “uncertain” because of COVID-19. “We have not won this yet,” he told reporters on Wednesday. Powell said 9 million people remain unemployed, more than were jobless after the financial crisis of 2008-2009. The Biden administration’s proposed fiscal response of nearly $2 trillion is “up to Congress” and not the central bank, he added. 

 

The Hill: Powell: Inflation fears should not impede more coronavirus aid.

 

 

 

 

DAY TRADE GAMES: An online forum of amateur traders and Wall Street hedge funds are battling over the future of the stock market, sending shares of a struggling video game retailer flying at a mind-bending pace. The chain of brick-and-mortar video game stores isn’t the only target of the day traders (The Hill).

 

Shares in the video game chain GameStop dipped 16 percent. That move, roughly in line with an overnight fall in New York and derivatives market changes, suggested at least a pause in a dramatic rally that has seen GameStop jump as much as 1,700 percent in two weeks and fund investors lose billions. Driven by an army of small, individual investors who work through online brokerage apps like Robinhood.com and discuss stocks on anonymous social media messaging boards, the stock surges drew more calls for regulatory investigation from analysts and commentators on Thursday (Reuters).

 

The GameStop stock surge prompted journalists on Wednesday to ask the White House and the Fed’s Powell for reactions. Powell declined to address specific company stocks, and the White House said Biden’s team is “monitoring the situation.” Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Becerra says he wants to 'build on' ObamaCare when pressed on Medicare for All MORE (D-Mass.) took to Twitter to urge the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to act. “It's long past time for the SEC and other financial regulators to wake up and do their jobs,” she wrote. “With a new administration and Democrats running Congress, I intend to make sure they do” (The Hill).

           

STATE WATCH: Attorneys general from West Virginia, Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana and Texas wrote to Biden on Wednesday vowing court challenges and urging the federal government to avoid “overreach” into states’ rights under the Constitution when it comes to industry, environmental and lands issues, gun laws, and religious freedom, among examples (WBOY12). … As part of Biden’s agenda to combat man-made climate change, the president on Wednesday signed a series of executive actions to preserve federal lands and water and to “pause” oil and gas leases, which impact some Republican-leaning states (The New York Times). 

 

INTERNATIONAL: As Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinHow to rethink Russia sanctions Tucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon Biden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' MORE continues to try to punish domestic critics, police conducted raids in Moscow and detained allies of Alexey Navalny ahead of expected Sunday protests. Demonstrations calling for Navalny’s release from jail took place in more than 100 cities across the nation on Saturday, a strong show of rising anger toward the Kremlin. Nearly 4,000 people were reported arrested at those protests (The Associated Press). … In France, President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronMacron urges US, EU to share vaccine doses Biden to champion alliances, democracy as he meets with foreign partners Overnight Defense: NATO expanding troops in Iraq MORE, worried about civil unrest, has delayed a decision about imposing more COVID-19 restrictions on countrymen weary of lockdowns and curfews (Bloomberg News). Macron was expected to hold a press conference today (RFI).  



THE CLOSER

And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the latest and greatest in the final full week of January, we’re eager to gather smart guesses about current events and the week that was.

 

Email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and/or aweaver@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers earn newsletter prominence on Friday.

 

Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenPoll: Biden approval holds steady as Democrats eye .9 T COVID-19 relief bill Senate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary Stocks fall sharply as rising Treasury yields raise inflation fears MORE (seen below) was confirmed as Treasury secretary this week. Before Yellen, how many women served as either Treasury secretary or chair of the Federal Reserve (her role from 2014 to 2018)?

  1. Zero
  2. One
  3. Two
  4. Three  

During Biden’s first week-plus in office, he has not spoken by phone with which head of state or leader? 

  1. German Chancellor Angela Merkel
  2. Russian President Vladimir Putin
  3. Chinese President Xi Jinping
  4. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg  

Which former Trump administration official did Fox News hire this week? 

  1. Kayleigh McEnany
  2. Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersWe knew media would coddle Biden — here's why it's much worse House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing Sarah Sanders on Trump's reported war dead criticism: 'Those comments didn't happen' MORE Sanders
  3. Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE
  4. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE  

Which player did the National Baseball Hall of Fame announce will be a Class of 2021 inductee?

  1. Derek Jeter
  2. Curt Schilling
  3. Alex Rodriguez
  4. None of the above