The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by The AIDS Institute – COVID-19 rescue bill a unity test for Dems
Presented by The AIDS Institute
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning 498,901. The president will hold a moment of silence this evening for those who have died.
As of this morning, 13.1 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 5.7 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker.
House Democrats are on the verge this week of passing President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan at the same time the country surpasses half a million coronavirus deaths, a body count many dismissed just a year ago as the stuff of science fiction.
Lawmakers today return to work, diving into a 591-page relief bill in the Democratic-controlled House Budget Committee while both chambers also plan oversight hearings and senators weigh remaining Cabinet nominees, including several facing turbulence in a 50-50 Senate.
House Democrats face their biggest unity test as they work to send a virus relief bill to the Senate, where it will undergo major alterations in search of at least 50 supporters. The Hill’s Cristina Marcos writes that the majority party has little room for error among fractious centrists and progressives. A proposed federal increase in the minimum wage, favored by liberals, is unlikely to survive in the Senate, for example.
Conservative lawmakers dismiss suggestions that voters — who favor Biden’s plan, according to recent polls — would punish Republicans for bucking the new president during a pandemic. The House relief measure is expected to attract few, if any, GOP votes (The Hill).
“The Senate is on track to send a robust $1.9 trillion package to the president’s desk before the March 14 expiration of unemployment insurance benefits” from the last round of stimulus, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told colleagues last week. “We will meet this deadline.”
Bloomberg News: Biden’s plan enters three-week Congress dash.
Politico: Dems prepare for party-line House vote on president’s pandemic aid bill.
CNN: How the COVID-19 relief bill was put on a glide path to passage.
The Hill: House progressives and Senate centrists are not on the same page with direct federal payments proposed in a rescue plan.
The Wall Street Journal: Paycheck Protection Program to offer an exclusive loan application window for smallest businesses.
On March 30, 2020, Anthony Fauci (pictured below that day) helped unveil a COVID-19 chart at the White House forecasting what at the time seemed to be a mind-boggling number of possible fatalities in the United States — 200,000, a total that is very much in the rearview.
Even as Democrats speed toward more than $1 trillion in new spending to alleviate the pandemic’s hardships, the worst of the public health crisis may be abating. Even faced with 500,000 deaths, the rates of new infections and hospitalizations nationwide are falling and the rate of vaccinations each day is climbing, with good news on the way, according to experts.
The Washington Post graphic: 500,000 coronavirus deaths, a number almost too large to grasp.
The Hill summary of the Sunday shows: COVID-19 dominates as a grim milestone approaches.
The Hill: Fauci: 500,000 coronavirus deaths are “devastating.”
Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on Sunday that the continued downward trend of cases is likely to continue, especially as seasons change from winter to spring and warmer temperatures take hold. The former FDA chief added that emerging variants originating in Great Britain, South Africa and Brazil are unlikely to do much to reverse the daily case totals.
“This has taken a tragic toll on the United States, but we should be optimistic, in my view,” Gottlieb told “Face the Nation.” “I think we’re going to continue to see infection rates decline into the spring and the summer. Right now, they’re falling quite dramatically. I think these trends are likely to continue.”
“I think it’s too little, too late in most parts of the country,” Gottlieb said. “With rising vaccination rates and also the fact that we’ve infected about a third of the public, that’s enough protective immunity that we’re likely to see these trends continue” (CBS News).
CBS New York: COVID-19 positivity rates In New York drop, new vaccination sites continue to open.
The Hill: Israel: Pfizer vaccine prevents 98.9 percent of COVID-19 deaths.
The Associated Press: United Kingdom speeds up vaccinations: All adults get 1st jab by July 31.
Reuters: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to plot path out of lockdown on Monday.
According to The Washington Post’s latest tracking totals, the U.S. reported 58,000 new infections on Sunday and the seven-day average sits at 65,000 — the lowest total since late October.
There is, however, more work to do in the U.S. Fauci said on Sunday that it’s “possible” that mask-wearing could be necessary into 2022 (CNN). The Biden administration is also looking beyond its goal of administering 100 million shots of COVID-19 vaccine, with the U.S. averaging 1.3 vaccinations per day (Bloomberg News).
The Associated Press: Washington taps pastors to overcome racial divide on vaccine.
The Hill: Teachers union president: “No perfect solution” to reopening schools.
The Hill: COVID-19 vaccine FAQ: Here’s everything you need to know.
LEADING THE DAY
ADMINISTRATION: Nearly five years after Senate Republicans refused to grant Merrick Garland a hearing when he was a nominee to join the Supreme Court, the appeals court judge will appear today before the Senate Judiciary Committee as the president’s choice to be attorney general. He is one of Biden’s top Cabinet nominees and is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support (The Hill).
Former President Obama nominated Garland in 2016 to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked Garland’s nomination for eight months in a presidential election year.
Biden’s choice of Garland reflects a goal of restoring the department’s reputation as an independent body following the tenures of former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William Barr under former President Trump (The Associated Press).
Garland says the role of attorney general is meant to “serve the Rule of Law and to ensure equal justice under the law,” according to an advance copy of his testimony (CNN).
“The mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice,” he wrote. “Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system.”
In his statement, Garland said, “If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”
McConnell and Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) voted against Garland’s nomination in 1997 when he joined the D.C. Circuit, while Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, among those still serving in the Senate, voted for him.
The Hill: The Senate has to date taken up fewer than half Biden’s Cabinet picks.
> Office of Management and Budget: Biden nominee Neera Tanden faces severe headwinds for confirmation as budget director following this morning’s announcement from Collins that she opposes Tanden to lead OMB, plus the surprise announcement by fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) that the president’s nominee is an “overly partisan” pick for the job (The Hill and The Washington Post). Tanden, who heads the left-leaning Center for American Progress, is unlikely to win confirmation, potentially becoming the first miscue for Biden among his Cabinet selections.
The Hill: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said over the weekend that he was working to find votes to confirm Tanden.
The Hill’s Alex Gangitano reports how Manchin became the most sought-after swing vote in the Senate.
> Health and Agriculture departments: Also facing potential confirmation hurdles: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department, who goes before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday (CNN). … Expected to win Senate confirmation on Tuesday: Tom Vilsack to be Agriculture secretary (for the second time).
> Ambassador? Rahm Emanuel has a reputation over a long political career for aggressive Democratic advocacy and a short fuse. Some observers are surprised that Biden appears ready to name the 61-year-old former Chicago mayor, former congressman, former White House chief of staff and former West Wing adviser as his nominee to join the diplomatic corps (as ambassador to Japan, no less) (The Hill).
More White House news: Biden would like to visit weather-ravaged Texas, perhaps midweek if a visit is not disruptive to recovery from blackouts and contaminated water supplies (The Hill). … First lady Jill Biden is picking up where she left off (The Hill). … Biden is pursuing new talks with Iran, a test for his diplomacy-first agenda (The Hill and The Hill). … The president and congressional Democrats have a new approach to lowering prescription drug prices (The Hill). … Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet virtually on Tuesday (Toronto Star). … Vivek Murthy, an internist and Biden’s nominee to be U.S. surgeon general (a job he held once before), earned $2 million in speaking and consultant fees last year as a pandemic adviser. His confirmation hearing is scheduled on Thursday (The Washington Post).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Trump, fresh off his first round of interviews since leaving the White House, has lined up his first post-presidency public appearance — what is expected to be a long speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which meets on Sunday in Florida.
Trump aides and event organizers confirmed that the 45th president is expected to speak. His address is expected to be focused on the future of the GOP and to lob criticisms at the Biden White House, including over his immigration position.
The annual right-wing confab will be held in Orlando, Fla., this year instead of Oxon Hill, Md., where it usually takes place. Trump has spoken consistently at CPAC over the past decade, including his 2011 appearance that helped kick-start his career in the GOP and throughout his presidency.
Fox News: Former Vice President Mike Pence declined CPAC invitation.
Politico: Trump gears up for war with his own party.
With Trump reemerging vocally, The Hill’s Jonathan Easley writes that many within the GOP worry that infighting could imperil the party’s chances of retaking the Senate and House next year as a divide between the two sides escalates.
The Democrats have the smallest majority in the lower chamber in modern times, along with a 50-50 split in the Senate, putting both chambers well within reach for Republicans, as the party out of power usually gains seats during a president’s first term. However, the nasty feud between Trump and McConnell has Republicans concerned that fundraising and turnout could both be affected. It also could bring more competitive primary contests to the forefront as they look to win back swing voters who bolted on the party in recent years.
Amie Parnes, The Hill: Biden seeks to escape Trump’s ghost.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: GOP targets ballot initiatives after progressive wins.
New Hampshire Union Leader: Gov. Chris Sununu (R) says “definitely open” to 2022 Senate bid versus Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
WHO said what about Wuhan? by Scott Gottlieb, opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3umflOU
What this wave of anti-Asian violence reveals about America, by Anne Anlin Cheng, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3qJxaVL
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 11:30 a.m. for a pro forma session and returns to legislative work on Tuesday. The House Budget Committee at 1 p.m. will mark up a COVID-19 relief bill that embodies the Biden plan.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold two days of hearings beginning today at 9:30 a.m. and Tuesday at 10 a.m. to consider Garland’s nomination to lead the Justice Department.
The president receives the President’s Daily Brief at 9:45 a.m. Biden will make an announcement related to small businesses at 12:05 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Biden at 6 p.m. will speak about the lives lost to COVID-19, joined by the first lady, Vice President Harris and Doug Emhoff. They will hold a moment of silence and candle lighting in the White House.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. The COVID-19 response team will brief reporters at 3 p.m.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will speak with New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin during a virtual event at 9 a.m. ET. Information is HERE. [Sorkin will interview Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. ET. Information HERE.]
INVITATION to The Hill’s Virtually Live “Race and Justice Imperative” event on Thursday, Feb. 25, for two blocks of conversation beginning at 11:30 a.m. Participants from government, civil rights and social justice organizations who work to end systemic racism will include Montgomery, Ala., Mayor Steven Reed; St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Melvin Carter; Ferguson, Mo., Mayor Ella Jones; Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial; Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie Bunch; CNN commentator and Dream Corps founder Van Jones, and many others. Information and registration HERE.
The Hill’s senior correspondent Amie Parnes and co-author Jonathan Allen of NBC News have written a political book to follow their 2017 best-seller, “Shattered.” Biden’s roller-coaster 2020 campaign and nail-biting victory against a crowded primary field and then former President Trump are revealed with deep reporting, analysis and new anecdotes in “Lucky,” which is in bookstores March 2 and available for pre-order with Penguin Random House HERE and on Amazon 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.
➔ TECH: Clubhouse, an emerging social media platform born during the coronavirus-driven lockdowns, has given users a chance to connect through intimate conversations with virtual strangers even while isolated at home. Clubhouse’s chat room conversations are not recorded by the app, making it more difficult to discern the spread of false information or harassment (The Hill).
➔ ECONOMY: Women, a key voting bloc for candidates in both parties, have been among the hardest-hit employment groups in a recession that has devastated hospitality and service industries, where women make up a large part of the workforce, and shuttered schools, adding to family responsibilities (The Hill). … The Washington Post reports that the U.S. economy could have its best chance in years to break from an era of subpar growth, while skeptics debate the risks of inflation. … Lawmakers this week will question Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell about COVID-19 relief spending making its way through Congress, the U.S. employment picture and inflation fears when he testifies at 10 a.m. on Tuesday to the Senate Banking Committee and again on Wednesday at 10 a.m. to the House Financial Services Committee (PBS). … Economists see a potential post-COVID boom (The New York Times).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Protests against the military takeover in Myanmar swelled today as roughly 1,000 protesters come together in Yangon despite threats of lethal force by the military three weeks after a coup. The demonstrators reportedly dispersed as they sought to avoid a showdown when 20 military trucks featuring riot police arrived to clamp down in response to a nationwide worker strike. The protesters’ goal is to return to power longtime leader Aung San Suu Kyi after she was detained with others early this month (The Associated Press).
And finally … Rock stars and bands, including Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Blondie and the Beach Boys, are making fortunes selling stakes in their songs and their music catalogs, cashing in on decades of artistry to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Industry executives cite the emergence of aggressive buyers, low interest rates and COVID-19, which prevents musicians from touring, which has been their primary source of income. Songwriters have more ways than ever to make money. In addition to radio, commercials, and TV, they collect royalties from streaming services, social media companies, video games and fitness apps. As streaming services reinvigorated the industry, investors tiptoed back in.
Another factor behind the catalog cash-ins: Biden campaigned to increase capital gains taxes and wealthy talents in music want to reach agreements before taxes go up (Bloomberg News).
“These artists are all in their early 70s, mid-70s, and at that age you should be thinking about estate planning,” says Josh Gruss, chief executive officer of Round Hill Music, a fund that owns rights to songs by artists including the Beatles.
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