The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill?
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 419,215; Tuesday, 421,129; Wednesday, 425,216; Thursday, 429,159; Friday, 433,195.
The Biden administration signaled an increased openness on Thursday to passing a new stimulus package with the backing of only 50 senators amid GOP complaints that the process is not inclusive and concerns that COVID-19 variants could wreak havoc on the country in the near future.
Administration officials argued on Thursday that the process toward considering the administration’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal — or any other stimulus bill — should have no bearing on whether it gains bipartisan support. The current debate is whether Biden would back a bill that is passed via budget reconciliation, a process that requires a simple majority rather than 60 votes, including 10 Senate Republicans.
“The president wants this to be a bipartisan package regardless of the mechanisms. Republicans can still vote for a package even if it goes through reconciliation,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at Thursday’s briefing. “There’s no blood oath anybody signs. They’re able to support it regardless” (The Hill).
The Hill: Democrats ready to bypass Republicans on COVID-19 relief bill.
The New York Times: Democrats Prepare to move on economic aid, with or without the GOP.
President Biden on Thursday reiterated that the relief bill is his top priority during an event where he signed executive actions on health care to “undo the damage” by the Trump administration. As part of the orders, federal agencies are directed to open a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges from Feb. 15 to May 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic and to review existing policies put in place under former President Trump that limited access to health care (The Hill).
“We’ve got a lot to do and the first thing we’ve got to do is get this COVID package passed,” Biden said, tapping the table for emphasis during an Oval Office event.
The administration is also refusing to consider splitting the massive relief proposal into multiple bills. White House chief of staff Ron Klain disputed to CBS News that the bill is “dead in the water,” arguing it is “gaining a lot of momentum” with lawmakers.
The Wall Street Journal: White House not planning to split $1.9 trillion relief package in two.
The rhetoric out of the administration comes as the U.S. experiences an ebbing in daily coronavirus cases. According to the latest statistics, the seven-day average of cases sits at 158,000, a 90,000-case drop from more than two weeks ago at the height of the post-holiday travel surge.
However, as The Hill’s Reid Wilson notes, new and more transmissible strains of the coronavirus out of the United Kingdom and South Africa are circulating more widely across the world, including in the U.S. Public health experts are cautioning that the public must be more vigilant than ever in protecting themselves and reducing the spread even as vaccination efforts ramp up.
“This is the calm before the real storm. I think the darkest days of the pandemic are just ahead of us,” said Michael Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention at the University of Minnesota.
The Hill: First death recorded in the U.S. from U.K. COVID-19 mutation.
The Associated Press: Virus variant from South Africa has been detected in this country for the first time.
On the vaccine front, Novavax’s COVID-19 shot has been found to be almost 90 percent effective in a clinical trial in the U.K., the biotech company said on Thursday. Efficacy was strong in the U.K. trial, at 89.3 percent, the company said. However, in a smaller trial in South Africa, efficacy fell sharply to 49.4 percent, though it was somewhat higher, at 60 percent, among participants who did not have HIV.
The South Africa news is worrisome, prompting the company to reveal that it is already working on booster shots that protect against the emerging variant. The modified vaccine will start being tested in the second quarter (The Wall Street Journal).
Novavax is expected to release results from its late-stage study in late March and apply for authorization in the U.S. by April. As CNBC’s Meg Tirrell notes, all eyes are now on Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to release its vaccine trial results in the coming days, with some being run in South Africa, along with the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere.
The Associated Press: New York data show nursing home deaths undercounted by thousands.
The Washington Post: Time to double or upgrade masks as coronavirus variants emerge, experts say.
The Associated Press: Health workers stuck in snow give other impeded drivers doses of vaccine.
LEADING THE DAY
ADMINISTRATION: Biden on Thursday created a special sign-up window directing the HealthCare.gov insurance markets to take new applications for subsidized benefits during the pandemic from Feb. 15 to May 15, action his predecessor declined to take. Biden also instructed his administration to consider reversing other Trump health care policies, including curbs on abortion counseling and the imposition of work requirements for low-income people receiving federal-state Medicaid benefits.
“There’s nothing new that we’re doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president,” Biden said in the Oval Office. He said he was reversing “my predecessor’s attack on women’s health.” The president campaigned on a promise to expand the Affordable Care Act with a goal of health coverage for all (The Associated Press).
> Immigration: Biden has barreled into some roadblocks as he seeks to quickly undo the Trump administration’s immigration policies, The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports. Biden has decided to delay by a few days an expected announcement today of actions aimed at immigration, including the creation of a committee to reunify migrant families. The Senate is not expected to act on the president’s nominee, Alejandro Mayorkas, to lead the Department of Homeland Security until Monday. In addition, a federal judge in Texas this week placed a temporary freeze on the new administration’s 100-day moratorium on deportations, a ruling with nationwide impact.
NBC News: Biden, in campaign ads last year, promised to establish a task force to reunite separated migrant families “on his first day as president.” Announcement of that task force was expected this week, but appears to be a work in progress. … The White House expects Mayorkas to lead the task force (The Hill).
> Housing: Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and an outspoken former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was grilled by members of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday about her push to expand affordable housing as well as critical remarks she’s made about Republicans. She said the $25 billion in rental assistance provided during the coronavirus crisis and the extended eviction moratorium aren’t enough “at a time when tens of millions of Americans are behind on rent; almost 3 million homeowners are currently in forbearance; and another 800,000 borrowers are delinquent.” She said her first priority as HUD secretary “would be to alleviate that crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge” (Cleveland.com).
“Sometimes I am a little passionate about things,” Fudge said when asked about her past statement that Republicans “don’t care about people of color.”
“Is my tone pitch perfect all the time? It is not. But I do know this, that I have the ability and the capacity to work with Republicans and I intend to do just that and that is my commitment to you,” she added.
CONGRESS: New security recommendations from the U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday for the Capitol grounds paint a picture of a proposed fortress for the foreseeable future, a prospect that sparked howls of public disapproval on social media and a statement from District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) that “fencing and the presence of troops” around the city will be a temporary necessity, “but we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in DC.”
Commenters asserted that poor planning and failures by Capitol Police on Jan. 6 during the Capitol siege led to breaches by a mob and at least five deaths. Mistakes in planning and response are now responsible for a draconian, militarized overhaul of the U.S. seat of democracy, they complained on Twitter.
“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol,” said acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman in a statement (The Hill). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ultimately has authority to accept or reject security recommendations.
> Free speech, overreach, “beyond the pale”? First-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) made herself a target of criticism among some in her party this week following a string of controversies that threw the House GOP conference off-message and led to harsh criticism. She’s also become a headache for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is trying to strategize a midterm comeback next year for Republican candidates to gain majority control of the House.
Greene, a Trump loyalist and QAnon conspiracy enthusiast, filed impeachment articles against Biden on Jan. 21. Before her election, she embraced Facebook posts calling for the execution of Pelosi as well as FBI agents, and in a video that resurfaced this week, is seen taunting gun control activist David Hogg a year after he survived the 2018 mass shooting at his high school in Parkland, Fla. (The Hill).
Pelosi slammed Greene during a Thursday news conference and criticized McCarthy for remaining silent about the notorious new member of his conference. Greene has been given a committee assignment Pelosi described as particularly objectionable.
“Assigning her to the Education Committee when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when she has mocked the killing of teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — what could they be thinking? Or is thinking too generous a word for what they might be doing? It’s absolutely appalling,” Pelosi said. “It’s really beyond the pale” (CNN).
Voters sent Greene to represent Georgia’s 14th Congressional District with nearly 75 percent of the 307,625 ballots cast.
It’s time to update internet regulations
The internet has changed a lot in 25 years. But the last time comprehensive internet regulations were passed was in 1996.
We support updated internet regulations to set clear guidelines for addressing today’s toughest challenges.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is bypassing a bid to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in the upper chamber, likely setting off a scramble and a hotly-contested primary to replace the two-term senator.
A spokesperson for the congressman told Cleveland.com that Jordan “is solely focused on representing the great people of Ohio’s Fourth District, and will not be running to fill the seat of retiring Senator Rob Portman.”
Jordan had been considered the most formidable candidate given his popularity among the conservative base. However, Jordan, in the midst of his eighth term in Congress, has climbed up the rungs in the House and currently serves as ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. If Republicans retake the House in the midterms, Jordan would be in line to take over as chairman of the panel.
Among those expected to headline a potential field are former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, state Attorney General Dave Yost, and a cadre of House lawmakers, including Reps. Steve Stivers (Ohio), Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), David Joyce (Ohio) and Mike Turner (Ohio).
> Mar-a-Lago meet-up: After weeks of simmering tensions between Trump and McCarthy, the pair of GOP leaders had a “good and cordial meeting” in Palm Beach, Fla., with Trump agreeing to help the party’s push to retake the House majority.
“President Trump has agreed to work with Leader McCarthy on helping the Republican Party to become a majority in the House,” the president’s super PAC, “Save America,” said in a readout that included a photo of the two men. “They worked very well together in the last election and picked up at least 15 seats when most predicted it would be the opposite. They will do so again, and the work has already started” (The Hill).
The meeting between the two came more than two weeks after the House, including 10 GOP members, voted to impeach the 45th president, with Trump and his allies now eager to oust those members as retribution, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
As Trump and McCarthy met, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) headlined a rally against Cheney attended by hundreds of people at the Capitol in Cheyenne, Wyo., as part of a move by right-wingers to oust her as House GOP conference chair. The rally took place one day after McCarthy called on GOP lawmakers to stop attacking one another as party divisions widen in the post-Trump era.
The Hill: GOP lawmakers voice frustrations with McCarthy.
Politico: Trump may poison the party, but Republicans have decided they need him.
The Associated Press: Republicans have condemned Trump. Now they’re seeking his help.
The Hill’s The Memo: Center-right Republicans fear party headed for disaster.
The Hill: Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) to head Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2022 cycle.
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Rob Portman’s exit interview, by Peggy Noonan, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3iYAA48
The GOP struck a bad bargain. That’s how it got stuck with Marjorie Taylor Greene, by Karen Tumulty, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/36j6tPp
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet at 3 p.m. on Monday.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. on Monday and resume consideration of nominee Alejandro Mayorkas to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
The president and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. in the Oval Office. At 11 a.m., Biden and Harris will receive an economic briefing from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in the Oval Office. The president and vice president will have lunch together at 12:30 a.m. in the private dining room. Biden will depart the White House at 1:45 to visit wounded soldiers and their families at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Biden will return to the White House about two hours later.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 10 a.m.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will speak at 11 a.m. ET during the U.S. Institute of Peace event, “Passing the Baton 2021: Securing America’s Future Together.” He will join Trump’s former national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, in a conversation moderated by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The event is live streamed. Registration is HERE.
Economic indicator: U.S. consumer spending in December will be reported at 8:30 a.m. by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. A decline is expected.
INVITATIONS: The Hill Virtually Live hosts events as the new administration gets underway: TODAY 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 DeFazio (D-Ore.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Del. Stacey Plaskett (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.
Internet regulations need an update
It’s been 25 years since passed comprehensive internet regulations.
But a lot has changed since 1996. We support updated regulations to set clear guidelines for protecting people’s privacy, enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms and more.
➔ AUTOS: General Motors said Thursday it would phase out petroleum-powered cars and trucks and sell only vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions by 2035, a seismic shift by one of the world’s largest automakers that hauls in billions of dollars today from gas-powered trucks and sport-utility vehicles. The announcement by company president Mark Reuss (pictured below) could put pressure on automakers around the world to make similar commitments. It could also embolden Biden and other elected officials to push for even more aggressive policies to fight climate change (The New York Times).
➔ MARKETS: The Senate Banking Committee joined bipartisan congressional calls to probe the events in financial markets impacting share values of GameStop, theater chain AMC and other companies this week. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the incoming committee chairman, said the powerful panel will hold a hearing to explore why the Robinhood app and other popular online trading applications stopped or limited sales of several stocks on Thursday that exploded in value. Those decisions blocked individual users from making trades that larger firms were able to execute (The Hill). Brown and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are among prominent progressives who have called for investigations by Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Republicans who say they favor congressional hearings include Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.).
The Hill: Lawmakers rip the Robinhood’s decision on GameStop.
The New York Times: Robinhood, in need of cash, raises $1 billion from its investors.
➔ STATE WATCH: Kansas voters will decide next year whether the state’s constitution protects abortion rights under a ballot measure approved by the state Senate on Thursday. It would amend the state’s constitution to say there is no right to abortion and leave the regulatory power to the currently Republican-leaning legislature (The Washington Post). … In South Carolina on Thursday, the state Senate passed a bill prohibiting abortion if a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, unless the mother’s life is in danger. The legislation is expected to pass the state House and be signed by the governor (The Hill). … Iowa’s House on Wednesday passed a constitutional amendment saying the state constitution does not protect abortion rights (Des Moines Register).
➔ U.S. ECONOMY: The government reported on Thursday that last year’s recession, triggered by COVID-19, resulted in a contraction in gross domestic product of 3.5 percent in 2020. The rollercoaster year saw an anemic 4 percent expansion in the final quarter as voters cast their ballots. The economic outlook for 2021 remains hazy. Economists warn that a sustained recovery won’t likely take hold until vaccines are distributed and administered nationwide and government-enacted rescue aid spreads through the economy — a process likely to take months. In the meantime, 9 million Americans remain unemployed and millions more are struggling to afford rent, mortgage payments, medical coverage and food (The Associated Press).
And finally … Bravo to the winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Relying on savvy guesses, readers knew their trivia about current events of the past week.
Here are the quiz masters who went 4/4 with this week’s puzzle: John Donato, Phil Kirstein, Stewart Baker, David Bond, Donna Minter, Larry Hart, Sue Kahil, Terry Pflaumer, Caitlin Musselman, Pam Manges, Robert Zerrillo, Robert Craig, Art Shelton, Janet Selway, Candi Cee, Tom Chabot, Dan Mattoon, Allen Reishtein, Don Wiggins, Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Anne McEnery, Rick Bulow, Susan Wilson, Ki Harvey, Martha Joynt Kumar, Gary Kalian, Dylan Dombroski, Michael Careccia, Lori Benso, Jack Barshay, Lou Tisler, Leon Burzynski, Mary Frances Trucco, Joan Domingues, Jim Hay and Luther Berg.
They knew that zero women served as either Treasury secretary or chair of the Federal Reserve before Janet Yellen.
As part of his cavalcade of calls with foreign leaders and heads of state, Biden did not speak (as of this morning) with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Fox News hired Larry Kudlow, former director of the National Economic Council, to host a show on Fox Business Network and provide economic analysis.
Finally, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced that no players will be inducted as part of the 2021 class as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
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