The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Virus relief bill headed for weekend vote
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 513,091; Tuesday, 514,657; Wednesday, 516,608; Thursday, 518,453; Friday, 520,356.
Senate Democrats voted by the narrowest margin on Thursday to take up a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill, teeing off what’s expected to be a sprint through the weekend to help millions of struggling Americans. President Biden could sign a measure into law by early next week.
Momentum slowed on Thursday as senators awaited a required assessment from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to ensure rules are being followed to permit the majority to bypass a 60-vote filibuster.
The Senate’s version of the coronavirus bill strips out House-passed language that would have increased the minimum wage to $15 per hour. It also provides less generous income allowances for those who would receive $1,400 direct payments from the government.
A Senate Democratic aide said on Thursday that the bill also includes $510 million for Federal Emergency Management Agency homeless shelter providers, increases the total amount of Amtrak relief funding by $200 million and places “new guardrails” on $350 billion included in the bill to help state and local governments.
No Republicans voted to take up the bill, which is the third major relief measure to move through Congress since COVID-19 infections spread across the United States last year.
When the Senate version makes its way back to the House next week for a final vote, progressives say they will not oppose the whittled eligibility limits for checks to individuals and families. Biden, who is focused on delivering all 50 Senate Democratic votes, says he supports the compromise (The Hill)
Centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (pictured below) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are among those who control the fate of what would be the president’s first major legislative achievement.
The New York Times: Senate action halted on Thursday into the wee hours of this morning as clerks spent 11 hours reading aloud the 628-page relief bill at the request of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who opposes the measure. (One veteran former CBS journalist quipped on Twitter, “Next time Senate reads a 628-bill aloud, they should try to get Morgan Freeman for the job. Or maybe Helen Mirren.”)
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) faces recommendations from a handful of centrists in his caucus to cut the House-passed weekly unemployment benefits from $400 a week to $300 a week, a change also supported by Republicans (The Hill).
More in Congress: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who represents oil-rich Alaska, was the only Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to vote Thursday to send the nomination to the full Senate of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to be secretary of the Interior. “I … really struggled through this one,” Murkowski said (The Washington Post). Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican in Congress, spoke on Haaland’s behalf. They’d formed a friendship, he said, while working on bipartisan issues in the House, even when they disagreed. “She’ll work for us and she’ll reach across the aisle,” Young said. “If we have people at the Department of Interior such as Deb, maybe we’d have a balance” (NPR).
… Johnson (pictured below) covets his role as a conservative Senate firebrand. Democrats view him as a top target for defeat in 2022 (The Hill). … Organized labor’s top legislative priority this year, a pro-union bill that targets state right-to-work laws, has been introduced before, only to hit a wall in the Senate and among business groups (The Hill). … By 2031, the nation’s accumulated debt will break the World War II record, according to the nonpartisan CBO (The Hill).
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LEADING THE DAY
SECURITY: The Capitol Police and National Guard protected the U.S. Capitol on Thursday against potential attacks by militia and extremist groups, particularly QAnon adherents who believed that former President Trump might somehow be inaugurated in place of Biden on March 4.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said her chamber adjusted its schedule on Wednesday to avoid voting on Thursday as a courtesy to Republicans rather than as a security precaution. The House conducted no legislative business while senators continued to work in the Capitol (USA Today).
Capitol Police have asked the National Guard to remain for another two months at the Capitol because of continued concerns about security (The Associated Press).
Documents that include emails, texts and photos drawn from the Capitol siege on Jan. 6 and reported today by The Associated Press underscore the extent of injuries sustained by officers during the mob riots. Law enforcement officers were “being pulled into the crowd and trampled, assaulted with scaffolding materials, and/or bear maced by protesters,” wrote Arlington County, Va., firefighter Taylor Blunt in an after-action memo. Some couldn’t walk, and had to be dragged to safety. Some rioters sought medical attention and “feigned illness to remain behind police lines,” Blunt added. Two firefighters were the only medics available on the Capitol steps that day.
Five people died in the attack, including a police officer. Two other officers killed themselves later. There were hundreds of injuries and more than 300 people, including members of extremist groups Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, have been charged with federal crimes. Federal agents are still investigating and hundreds more suspects are at large. Justice Department officials have said they may charge some rioters with sedition.
POLITICS: Trump continues to share grievances about detractors, including in a statement on Thursday lashing out at a Wall Street Journal opinion piece for urging Republicans to abandon him. Trump accused the paper’s opinion section, which has a traditionally conservative bent, of supporting “globalist policies such as bad trade deals, open borders, and endless wars.” The former president, whose social media megaphone is blocked, added, “They fight for RINOS that have so badly hurt the Republican Party” (The Hill).
On Thursday, Trump endorsed Sen John Kennedy (R-La.) for reelection in 2022. It was the third Trump endorsement of a GOP incumbent following his thumbs-up for Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) (Fox News).
> In New York, voters are not giving the bum’s rush to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) but they want this to be his final term, according to a new Quinnipiac poll (The Hill). Cuomo says he’s cooperating with an independent investigation of allegations he sexually harassed two former subordinates. He apologized for behavior that he acknowledged made “people” uncomfortable but said he will not resign.
But Cuomo’s troubles continue. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported late Thursday that top aides to the governor, including Melissa DeRosa, his secretary, altered a state Health Department report to obscure the COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes after elderly patients were ordered out of hospitals into those settings. New York Attorney General Letitia James released a scathing report on Jan. 28. An investigation of the deaths and state’s reporting irregularities continues.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: During a week in which two Republican governors lifted all COVID-19 restrictions, including requirements to wear masks, without consulting their own independent expert health advisers, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) took a different tack on Thursday.
She extended Alabama’s mask mandate for several more weeks after Texas and Mississippi lifted all coronavirus restrictions this week.
“A new modified order will include several changes that will ease up some of our current restrictions while keeping our mask order in place for another five weeks through April 9,” Ivey said during a news conference (The Hill).
Connecticut decided to keep its mask mandate in place while lifting capacity limits in restaurants, offices and several other businesses beginning this month (The New York Times).
> Teachers: Eager to see schools safely reopen this spring, the administration is launching a drive to vaccinate teachers through the federal pharmacy program that can move them to the front of the line for eligibility. The special treatment is not without controversy (The Hill).
> Jabs: How is it possible to get vaccines to all Americans by the end of May, as Biden has projected? Two million inoculations a day will help. That’s the average daily pace of vaccinations in the United States at the moment (The New York Times).
> “Bespoke” vaccines: Wondering about receiving the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine if you’ve heard that Pfizer and Moderna versions (two doses) are slightly more effective at keeping you out of a hospital with COVID-19? The New York Times’s The Daily podcast on Thursday answered that question. (Spoiler alert: Times reporter Carl Zimmer explains why your conclusion should be: “I’ll take it.”)
> Smart read: Bloomberg Businessweek’s financial investigative team unpacks Pfizer Inc.’s process of deciding how its COVID-19 vaccine was sold and to whom at a time when world governments clamored for a breakthrough drug. “The vaccine allocation was the product of a company struggling to apportion doses while demand far exceeded supply, using an opaque process that appears to have involved a mix of order size, position in the queue, production forecasts, calls from world leaders, the potential to advance the science, and of course the desire to make a profit,” the magazine reports. Pfizer, as the first company to develop an authorized COVID-19 vaccine (in partnership with Germany’s BioNTech), wields enormous power. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose countrymen have benefited mightily from Pfizer doses, said in January that he’d spoken with the company’s CEO 17 times. Pfizer’s chief executive says he’s talked with Netanyahu “even more” since then.
> Tough read: The Associated Press: “Falling through the cracks”: COVID-19 vaccines are bypassing some elderly Americans. Hundreds of thousands of age-eligible older adults are spending hours online each week, enlisting their children’s help and traveling hours to far-flung pharmacies in a desperate bid to secure a COVID-19 vaccine. But an untold number are getting left behind, unseen, because they are too overwhelmed, too frail or too poor to fend for themselves in the confusing systems set up in counties, cities, states and private pharmacies.
ADMINISTRATION: Trade: The United States on Thursday said it will suspend retaliatory tariffs on products made in the United Kingdom and caught in a longstanding dispute over illegal aid to Boeing Co. and Airbus.
The tariff suspension will last four months to “focus on negotiating a balanced settlement to the disputes,” the British government said in a statement. The decision means goods such as Scotch whiskey can be imported to the United States from Britain without being subject to an additional 25 percent duty (Bloomberg News).
> Sanctuary cities: The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss three lawsuits over so-called “sanctuary cities.” In a policy that ratcheted up under Trump, the Justice Department wanted to withhold federal grants from local governments that refused to tell immigration agents when people in their custody were about to be released. The government also wanted access to local jails so immigration agents could question noncitizens in custody. The Biden administration in Thursday’s letters to the Supreme Court argued such cases should be dismissed, indicating that the government will no longer seek to enforce the policy (NBC News).
> Infrastructure: Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday in the Oval Office to discuss Washington’s next big push to invest in roads, bridges, ports, broadband and other forms of infrastructure. It’s part of Biden’s campaign pledge to “build back better,” which he described as a $2 trillion investment that also includes climate change initiatives.
The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports that Biden will need to decide whether he can work with Republicans on his next major legislative endeavor, which could expand beyond traditionally recognized infrastructure to encompass other Democratic goals that conservatives oppose. Republicans support infrastructure investments but the two parties over the years have divided over how to cover the price tag.
On Thursday, the president said he is talking to congressional Republicans as well as Democratic lawmakers, despite howls from Republicans that they’ve been cut out of his fast-moving legislative agenda. Joining him on Thursday in the Oval Office to explore “American competitiveness” and proposed infrastructure investments were Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Harris.
“What we’re going to do is to make sure we once again lead the world across the board on infrastructure,” Biden told reporters.
The American Society of Civil Engineers published a detailed 2021 report card about America’s infrastructure, giving the nation’s overall condition a C-. Roads got a D, airports and hazardous waste each earned a D+ and U.S. transit was given a D-, for example.
> Drones: The Biden administration on Jan. 20 imposed temporary limits on drone strikes targeting suspected terrorists outside the battlefields of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, tightening a Trump-era policy while officials review how much leeway to give the military and the CIA in counterterrorism operations. The restriction was implemented without fanfare by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to administration officials (The Washington Post).
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How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster, by David E. RePass, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2MMn2Nd
What’s worse, violence on the left or the right? It’s a dangerous question, by Andrew C. McCarthy, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3ec8kdU
Internet regulations need an update
It’s been 25 years since comprehensive internet regulations were passed.
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.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets Monday at noon.
The Senate convenes at noon.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. with Harris. Biden and Harris will have lunch at the White House at 12:15 p.m. Both will receive an economic briefing at 2:15 p.m with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in the Roosevelt Room. At 3:15 p.m., the president participates in a roundtable discussion from the State Dining Room about the American Rescue Plan making its way through Congress. Biden and the vice president will get a COVID-19 response briefing from administration advisers at 5:30 p.m. in the Oval Office to get an update on U.S. vaccinations.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. The White House COVID-19 response team will brief the news media at 11 a.m.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. will report on unemployment in February. Analysts expect the numbers to remain largely unchanged as the pandemic continues to impact the pace of recovery (The Hill). (The unemployment rate in January was 6.3 percent.) The Labor Department on Thursday reported that first-time filings for unemployment insurance in the week that ended Feb. 27 totaled a seasonally adjusted 745,000, an uptick from the previous week’s revised data (CNBC).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Pope Francis arrived in Iraq today after a four-and-a-half-hour flight from Rome for a risky, historic tour that begins in Baghdad (Reuters).
➔ STATE WATCH: Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said on Thursday that he will sign a bill once it reaches his desk to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls’ or women’s sports at state schools and universities. “Adults? That’s on them. But the push for kids to adopt transgenderism is just wrong,” he said (The Hill). … GOP state lawmakers want to get ahead of what they fear will be federal restrictions on gun rights imposed by Democrats who control the White House and both chambers of Congress. Legislation in at least a dozen states seeks to nullify any new restrictions, such as ammunition limits or a ban on certain types of weapons. Some bills would make it a crime for local police officers to enforce federal gun laws. Any new gun legislation in Washington faces an uphill climb, especially ahead of midterm elections (The Associated Press).
➔ TECH: In January, Twitter announced it would invite its users to fact-check tweets using a new Birdwatch tool. Bloomberg News reports why the company, under pressure from lawmakers and regulators to police speech on social media, is turning to users to do some of the work. “Trust in the process and the way this is done is the biggest motivator behind Birdwatch,” said Keith Coleman, the Twitter executive in charge of the project. “We very consistently heard across the political spectrum people saying that they felt like they would value a community-driven approach, in many cases more than what Twitter does today.”
➔ BRICKS & MORTAR: Disney on Thursday announced it will close at least 60 stores across the United States because shoppers have moved to e-commerce during the pandemic (The Washington Post). … Apple on Monday announced it would reopen all of its 270 stores across the country (USA Today).
And finally … Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners!
Here’s who went 4/4 when we asked about U.S. extremism in the news: Ki Harvey, Patrick Kavanagh, Richard Baznik, John van Santen, Tom Chabot, Jacob Miller, Candi Cee, Heather Almond, Judy Kulczycki, Sandra Tolbert, Daniel Bachhuber, Pam Manges, Hillel Cohn, John Donato, Mary Wright, Lori Cowdrey Benso, Gerry Conover, Ricca C. Slone, “Trystan,” Jim Egan, Lindley Lopez, Carol Gwinn Brill, Patricia Campbell, Susan Reeves, Jeff Gelski, Louise Carter, Lou Tisler, Camille Di Bella, Tom Miller, Craig Harding, Jack Barshay, Michel Romage, Shaun Donnelly, Richard Kolber, Lesa Davis, Ted Kontek, Joel M. Shaw, Leone Wilson, Sandy Walters, Robert Gerstle, Victoria Gasaway, Norm Roberts, Allen Reishtein, Joe Erdmann, Ken Stevens, Luke Charpentier, Mari Rusch, David Anderson, Luther Berg and Richard O. Fannin.
They knew that QAnon conspiracy enthusiasts embraced a convoluted, false tale that March 4 would result in Trump’s return to office.
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned senators on Tuesday that domestic terrorism is “metastasizing across the country.”
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials refute conservative conspiracists who believe antifa, or left-wing anti-fascists, were responsible for attacks on the Capitol on Jan. 6. There is no such evidence.
Homegrown hate groups that espouse the racial superiority of whites and have resorted to violence include National Socialist Order (pictured below in Georgia), American Identity Movement and Hammerskin Nation. The correct answer: “all of the above.”