The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality
Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 525,035; Tuesday, 525,816.
Millions of fully vaccinated people can gather among themselves indoors without masks, but should wear face coverings and heed familiar COVID-19 precautions when out in public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Monday as part of updated guidance.
The recommendations give seniors and many others who have been fully inoculated the scientific green light to socialize indoors among relatives and friends who have also received one-dose or two-dose shots as protection against severe cases of COVID-19. Some 9.4 percent of the U.S. population that has been fully vaccinated to date can socialize, worship, study and work indoors among other similarly vaccinated individuals, possibly for the first time in a year. It is, without a doubt, an inducement to sign up for Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson doses.
“Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned. “We know that people want to get vaccinated so they can get back to doing the things they enjoy with the people they love.” (The Wall Street Journal).
The CDC also advised vaccinated people to seek testing if they develop symptoms that could be related to COVID-19. Officials say a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. About 31 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with a federally authorized COVID-19 vaccine so far (The Associated Press).
Representatives of the U.S. airline industry on Monday pushed back against the government’s guidance that vaccinated people should still avoid travel (CNN). “Every time there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country,” Walensky said. Health experts remain concerned that spring break travel will lead to an uptick in coronavirus infection rates.
Meanwhile, Wyoming joined states that recently opted to lift mask mandates. Wyoming, which is the least-populous state and the 10th largest by area, ended restrictions on restaurant dining, bars, theaters and gyms effective March 16. Republican Gov. Mark Gordon urged residents to continue wearing face coverings when inside public spaces and to follow guidelines adopted by businesses (The Hill and The Denver Channel).
Bloomberg News: U.S. coronavirus cases post the slowest spread since the pandemic began.
Nearly a year after the months-long lockdowns started and as the U.S. suffers from COVID-19 fatigue, one question remains on the tips of the tongues of Americans: When will things get back to normal?
Unfortunately, no one has a precise date as experts have been unable to pin down that answer. However, there is some cause for optimism, with health officials agreeing that the summer will be vastly improved and will resemble something closer to normality. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said last week that even by next month, widespread vaccinations will have markedly improved the U.S.’s outlook.
“The pivot point will be after everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated,” said Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, told The Hill’s Peter Sullivan.
In a couple of months, once everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated, “at that point [unvaccinated people] are choosing to put themselves at risk,” he said. “I become a little bit less concerned about being super careful.”
The Washington Post: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine neutralizes Brazil variant in lab study as experts warn of rapid spread.
The Hill: Guiding Maine through the pandemic.
Globally, the effort to vaccinate individuals is rolling along in some parts of the world. However, the rollout of shots in low- and middle-income countries is leaving these nations even further behind than they were pre-pandemic, as The Hill’s Reid Wilson explains.
Jets carrying pallets of vaccines touched down last week in Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya, Gambia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the drop-off of shots was a welcome sight, the pace of vaccine distribution has been painfully slow in Africa and Southeast Asia as both regions are experiencing worrying increases in case numbers.
> Sports: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Monday that the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox will be allowed to host crowds at up to 20 percent capacity to open the season. Roughly 8,000 fans will be able to attend ball games at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field (h/t ChiSox superfan Brett Samuels).
As of Monday, at least 25 of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams have announced plans that will allow fans in the stands in time for opening day. Notably, one of the only teams that has not is the Washington Nationals (ESPN).
The Associated Press: Spring break partying falls victim to COVID-19 crisis.
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS & CONGRESS: Senate Republicans were dealt a blow on Monday when Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) announced that he will not run for reelection, bringing the total number of Senate GOP members to decide against seeking another term to five.
Blunt made the announcement in a video released Monday morning, saying that he will serve out his term but will depart Capitol Hill after 26 years, including two terms in the upper chamber.
“After 14 general election victories — three to county office, seven to the United States House of Representatives, and four statewide elections — I won’t be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate next year,” Blunt said (The Hill).
The departure of Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, sparked immediate questions about who could vie to replace him in a state that has turned more red in recent years, giving the GOP nominee for the seat a considerable edge in a general election. Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) had already floated a potential primary bid against Blunt, having argued that the longtime legislator was not loyal enough to former President Trump.
The Associated Press: Greitens is expected to announce his candidacy as soon as this morning.
As The Hill’s Max Greenwood notes, no Republican had officially announced a bid on Monday for Blunt’s seat, and there are no clear front-runners. If Greitens takes the campaign plunge, he will do so with tons of baggage. He resigned the governorship in 2018 after 17 months in office after being charged with a felony for invasion of privacy and staring down an impeachment.
Others who are expected to consider bids are Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who considered a primary bid against Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) in 2018, but decided to remain in the House, along with Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe (R), state Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R), son of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R).
On the Democratic side, two high-profile names immediately ruled themselves out as possible candidates. Former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted shortly after that she will never run for office again, while Jason Kander, who lost to Blunt by 3 points in 2016, indicated that he will not launch a campaign.
Blunt’s departure is yet another tough GOP loss for a Senate chamber that has seen a considerable amount of brain drain in recent cycles. After the likes of former Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) retired last year, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will follow suit next year, with more potentially following suit.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), 87, is expected to decide in the fall whether to run for an eighth term. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) conceded last week that leaving after 2022 is “probably my preference now” but has not yet made a final decision. The departures, which include multiple committee chairmen and influential members, will take a toll on the Senate GOP, insiders predict.
“It’s clear the crazies are taking over. There’s very little room for the getting-stuff-done caucus,” one GOP operative told the Morning Report.
Bottom line: The vacancies are making it more challenging for the GOP next year to win back the Senate, where they have more seats to defend than the majority party.
Axios: Senate retirements could attract GOP troublemakers.
The New York Times: The behavior of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and accusations he sexually harassed former subordinates will be investigated by former federal prosecutor Joon Kim and an employment lawyer, Anne Clark, according to New York Attorney General Letitia James. The investigators will have subpoena power. Cuomo previously said he would cooperate.
> Congress update: The House will take up the Senate-passed version of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill by Wednesday, said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (The Hill), teeing up the first major White House bill signing event of the new administration (The Washington Post). President Biden told reporters on Monday that he would sign the measure as soon as he receives it.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are looking ahead to what’s next on the to-do list, with infrastructure likely the next fight for a Democratic-controlled Congress. As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, Senate Democrats will have to work through some headaches as they look to avoid landmines while navigating a 50-50 Senate.
Democrats are expected to attempt to use reconciliation again to pass an infrastructure and jobs package. While a bipartisan group of senators — led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — has begun to discuss areas that could be bipartisan, the relief bill’s passage on Saturday shows Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others that as long as Democrats stick together on infrastructure, they do not need support from across the aisle.
The Washington Post: Airlines, public transit agencies say $1.9 trillion relief plan would prevent deep cuts, job losses.
The Hill: Questions and answers about the $1,400 relief payments.
The New York Times: Pandemic relief bill fulfills Biden’s promise to expand Affordable Care Act for two years.
The New York Times: The relief measure’s child tax benefit, crafted to last a year, has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed monthly income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries. More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.
NBC News: In Congress, the minimum wage fight is now divided into three camps, none of which neatly conform to expected ideological or business groupings: There are lawmakers who support a full $15 minimum wage, others opposed to raising the wage at all and a large group in the middle open to raising the minimum to, say, $10 an hour but not all the way to $15. The old political fault lines around to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour have been scrambled.
The Hill: Report urges sweeping changes to Capitol security after Jan. 6 attack.
> GOP infighting: Trump and Republicans are caught up in a new dispute as lawyers for the former president issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Senate and House campaign arms attempting to prevent them from using his name and likeness in fundraising solicitations.
Despite Trump’s attempted directive, the RNC dismissed the call, saying that the organization “has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals” (Politico).
The Hill: Trump vows “no more money for RINOs” while encouraging donations to his PAC.
As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports, GOP operatives are wondering how far Trump will go to enforce the cease-and-desist. Trump could allow for his name to be used in some instances, and it’s possible that the campaign arms will find loopholes that allow them to raise money off the former president.
“We’re gonna have the resources we need to win the majority. I’m not worried about that,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill on Monday.
The Hill: The Supreme Court rejects final Trump bid to nullify 2020 election results.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
ADMINISTRATION: Biden, who this week will herald what he sees as a major legislative victory after working with Democrats to nudge a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief measure through Congress (albeit with no Republican support), plans Thursday to deliver a prime-time address to mark a year since COVID-19 lockdowns began (The Hill).
Biden will hold a White House bill signing ceremony this week, and he has been urged by the White House press corps to hold a formal news conference. He also is expected to speak to a joint session of Congress later this month. The president’s coronavirus response agenda, designed to contrast with Trump’s actions and communications, was framed around accomplishments Biden promised in his first 100 days, roughly seven weeks away. Wednesday is his 50th day in office.
The president on Monday focused on speeding vaccinations to the broadest population possible and overcoming vaccine hesitancy during his visit to a veterans’ hospital accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough. The president observed people being inoculated and was told a nurse in the room was a liaison for Trump’s vaccine development program known as Operation Warp Speed (pictured below). “We are really warping the speed now,” Biden said on a day when 9 percent of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (Bloomberg News).
> Education & sex discrimination: Biden on Monday ordered his administration to review federal rules guiding colleges in their handling of campus sexual assaults, seeking to reverse a contentious Trump administration policy. The president directed the Education Department in an executive order to examine rules that his predecessor issued around Title IX, the federal law that forbids sex discrimination in education. Biden directed the agency to “consider suspending, revising or rescinding” any policies that fail to protect students. Biden also signed a second executive order formally establishing the White House Gender Policy Council, which his transition team unveiled before he took office (The Associated Press).
> Immigration policy: The number of unaccompanied migrant children detained along the southern border has tripled in the last two weeks to more than 3,250, filling facilities akin to jails as the Biden administration struggles to find room for them in shelters, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. More than 1,360 of the children have been detained beyond the 72 hours permitted by law before a child must be transferred to a shelter, according to one of the documents, dated March 8. The children are being held in facilities managed by the Customs and Border Protection agency that were built for adults. The figures highlight the growing pressure on Biden to address the increased number of people trying to cross the border in the belief that he will be more welcoming.
> Pentagon leaders: Biden on Monday announced the nominations of two female generals for promotion to four-star commands, hailing the nominees as “two outstanding and eminently qualified warriors and patriots.” The president nominated Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost of the Air Force to be commander of the United States Transportation Command and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson to be commander of the United States Southern Command (The Washington Post).
Van Ovost is already a four-star officer, leading the Air Force’s Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Of the 43 four-star generals and admirals in the United States military, she is the only woman. Richardson is the three-star commander of the Army component of the Pentagon’s Northern Command, based in San Antonio, which is playing a role in providing military assistance to the COVID-19 vaccination program organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
> Cyber: The Biden administration is grappling with at least two known major cyber incidents since taking office, potentially impacting thousands of victims and forcing the federal government to put a renewed focus on defending the nation against foreign cyberattacks (The Hill).
CNN: The Bidens’ German shepherds were moved from the White House to the Biden family home in Delaware home after a “biting incident” involving their dog Major and a member of the White House security team.
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!
The perpetual outrage machine churns on, by Gerald F. Seib, executive Washington editor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/2OerSUf
The CDC is missing a critical opportunity to get Americans vaccinated, by Leana S. Wen, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2OAD11D
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nominations of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Merrick Garland to lead the Department of Justice.
The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Biden will visit a small business that benefited from a CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program loan at 11:45 a.m.
The White House press briefing with Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Bharat Ramamurti is at 1:30 p.m.
First lady Jill Biden at 11:30 a.m. ET will visit Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash. At 2:45 p.m. ET, she will visit Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state.
➔ POLICING: The scope of a legal defense called qualified immunity is often used to shield police accused of excessive force. The Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped a chance to review that protection, turning away an appeal by a Cleveland man who sued after being roughed up by police while trying to enter his own home (Reuters). … Jury selection in the murder trial of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd in May, was paused on Monday until at least today because a district judge said he wants to hear from the state Court of Appeals about the prosecution’s desire to revive a third-degree murder charge to the counts of second-degree murder and manslaughter (Minneapolis Star Tribune). … The Hill’s Niall Stanage explores whether anything has changed in the United States in the nearly 10 months since Floyd’s killing. … Outside the Chauvin trial on Monday, marchers chanted for justice (The Associated Press).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: The United States and South Korea reached agreement in principle on a new arrangement for sharing the cost of the American troop presence, which is intended as a bulwark against the threat of North Korean aggression. Apparently, South Korea agreed to pay more, but the Biden administration was not specific about how much. The United States keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter Pyongyang aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. Cost-sharing was a thorny issue in bilateral relations under the Trump administration (The Associated Press).
➔ FEBRUARY ON ICE: Mercifully, the calendar says March and the weather is thawing after Americans endured the coldest February since 1989. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday that the average temperature across the United States was 30.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit below the average for the century, making it the 19th-coldest February in a 127-year span The Hill).
➔ ROILED ROYALS?: Buckingham Palace has been officially mum since the Sunday night CBS broadcast in the United States (Monday broadcast in the United Kingdom) of claims by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussexof experiencing racism and callousness during their previous life “trapped” with the British royal family and the courtiers who steer them. The U.K. press are filled with “palace in crisis” headlines (BBC). Markle’s description of suicidal thoughts and Harry’s assertion that his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his calls, attracted an audience of 17 million viewers in the United States (The Hill). The Associated Press describes the interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey near the couple’s home in California as “rocking an institution that is struggling to modernize.”
And finally … If you know people who reacted during the crises of the last year as jittery worriers and unrelenting optimists and wonder who seemed to come out ahead, a psychological school of thought says “tragic optimists” fare best. The BBC (headquartered in the keep-calm-carry-on nation) reports that proponents of tragic optimism, a concept first defined by Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl in 1985, maintain there is space to experience both the good and the bad and that humans can grow from each.
Experts suggest that this kind of philosophy may be what people need to cope as they experience the pandemic — and may help them once they’re on the other side.
“A lot of people are going to deny or ignore their suffering, and a lot of other people are going to be completely overwhelmed by it,” says author Esfahani Smith. To be tragically optimistic is a happy medium where, instead of crushing the human spirit, difficulties and challenges teach resilience. For example, people who accepted that life comes with difficulties and were prepared managed to cope with coronavirus lockdowns more effectively than those who did not, according to a research study conducted in the United Kingdom.