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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Today 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, 525,035; Tuesday, 525,816; Wednesday, 527,699; Thursday, 529,203.



The House handed President BidenJoe BidenFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Saudis picked up drugs in Cairo used to kill Khashoggi: report Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting MORE a major legislative victory on Wednesday when it passed the $1.9 trillion relief package as the U.S. solemnly commemorates one year since coronavirus lockdowns took hold across the country.

 

Lawmakers passed the massive stimulus bill, 220-211, largely along partisan lines. Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) was the lone Democrat to oppose the measure, while no Republican supported the bill, which includes another round of $1,400 checks, aid for state and local governments, and more help for small businesses and schools.

 

Biden, who made the bill and his response to COVID-19 the centerpiece of his first two months in office, is set to sign the measure into law on Friday, according to the White House.

 

The Hill: Biden under pressure to get $1,400 payments out quickly.

 

The Wall Street Journal: Latest stimulus package could jolt U.S. growth, revive inflation in 2021.

 

Dallas Business Journal: American Airlines says no furloughs this spring after latest stimulus package passes. 

 

The Hill: Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US Bipartisan bill proposes to add billion in restaurant relief funds MORE (R-Miss.) voted against the $1.9 trillion relief bill. When it passed the House on Wednesday, however, he praised $28.6 billion in grant funding included for the restaurant and bar industry, which he backed in an amendment. 

 

The bill’s signing will take place a day after Biden addresses the nation tonight to mark a full year of the pandemic’s effect on everyday life as much of the nation has dealt with lockdowns and restrictions. On March 11 last year, former President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE restricted travel into the U.S., the NBA postponed its season and Tom Hanks announced he had contracted the virus. 

 

As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel and Brett Samuels write, Biden’s first prime-time speech will give him a chance to lean into his role as empathizer in chief, with more than 529,000 U.S. deaths since the start of the pandemic. However, the president will be able to offer up an optimistic message as the nation races to get vaccinated. Biden has pledged that every American will be able to receive a vaccine by the end of May. 

 

“I’m going to ... talk about what we’ve been through as a nation this past year, but more importantly I'm going to talk about what comes next,” Biden said at an event with executives from Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

 

The Associated Press: Biden’s speech goals tonight: Mourn loss, urge caution, offer hope.

 

The New York Times: A mammoth bill becomes a law this week, and Biden plans a messaging blitz to sell its economic provisions to the American people.

 

The Washington Post: Biden to offer hopes for a return to normalcy in first prime-time speech.

 

Niall Stanage: The Memo: How the COVID year upended politics.

 

To remember the past year that was, The Hill’s Reid Wilson looks back and examines how the world ended up where it is today. According to interviews over the last year with scientists, health experts, political leaders, and frontline health care and social workers across five continents, the story of the pandemic that emerges is one of action, or the lack thereof, with the nations that took the most proactive steps having suffered the least. Nations whose leaders pretended the virus did not pose a substantial threat, such as the U.S., or that the economy mattered more than the lives that would be lost, such as Brazil and Sweden, suffered the most.

 

“We refused to launch a federal response,” said Peter Hotez, who heads the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College. “We came up small every time.”

 

The Hill: Experts say the country needs to address loneliness, a massive public health concern, particularly as widespread vaccination is still months away. 

 

MSNBC: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAdams, Garcia lead in NYC mayor's race: poll Exclusive: Democrat exploring 'patriot tax' on multimillionaires' wealth McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats MORE (D-Mass.) lost her oldest brother, Donald Herring of Oklahoma, to COVID-19 almost a year ago. She spoke Tuesday with anchor Nicolle Wallace about his death at 86: “We got what we could through the nurses, and God bless them. But they were stretched to the edges. And so we would just get like these — it was like a telegram that would just come in. And they would say, `he's better.’ And then they would say, `he's worse. He's not going to make it through the night.’ Then they would say, `he's better.’ And then he took a turn for the worse. And they called us and told us he was gone. And nobody was with him, not — not any of us. And I don't know how he died. I don't know — I don't know if he was cold, or if he was thirsty. All I know is, I couldn't be there to tell him how much I loved him, and neither could the rest of our family. And that's hard.” 

 

The Hill: How the pandemic turbocharged inequality. 

 

The Associated Press: After the pandemic year, a weary world looks back — and forward.

 

At the one-year mark, many are looking at the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccines become more available and plentiful. According to Bloomberg News’s tracker, the U.S. is averaging 2.2 million new vaccinations per day, with nearly 19 percent of the population having received at least one dose of vaccine. 

 

As The Hill’s Alex Gangitano and Mike Lillis write, those looking ahead include members of Congress who are clamoring for the old days and to recapture parts of their former lives. 

 

“I’d just like to go out to a good dinner with my family, and a good cigar bar with my friends,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeNow that earmarks are back, it's time to ban 'poison pill' riders Parade of 2024 GOP hopefuls court House conservatives Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings dies at 84 MORE (R-Okla.) said.

 

 

Marlon II Gonzalez waits for his brother Akileze King Gonzalez to pose at a mural in downtown Houston, Texas

 





LEADING THE DAY

CORONAVIRUS: Amid giddy national exuberance about shedding restrictions tied to COVID-19, thanks to inoculations, face coverings and measuring tapes, Biden (pictured below at the White House) announced on Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson, maker of an effective one-dose vaccine, will deliver another 100 million doses later this year, thanks to a manufacturing partnership with Merck & Co.

 

That additional supply will backstop the administration’s push to offer all American adults a vaccine by the end of May, the president said. Nearly 32 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, close to 10 percent of the population. The nation is administering an average of 2.1 million doses per day, up from about 1.5 million a month ago (The Washington Post).

 

The Associated Press: European Union regulator meets today to evaluate Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 shot for potential authorization in Europe.

 

 

President Biden

 

 

For those wondering how many lawmakers have been fully vaccinated as of this week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Greene apologizes for comparing vaccine rules to Holocaust Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement MORE (R-Calif.) said Wednesday the answer is about three-quarters of the House. Vaccine doses have been available since December in the Capitol for representatives and senators (Roll Call).

 

States’ phased-in vaccination priorities for at-risk populations by age, health history and public-facing jobs are beginning to change as infection rates drop and vaccination rates improve. Texas on Wednesday said those in the state who are 50 and older will be eligible starting on March 15 to get vaccinated (The Texas Tribune).

 

The Lone Star State may have struggled last month to deliver electricity in cold weather, but powerful decision makers believe they have a prescription to warm up the population this spring: baseball! The Texas Rangers may allow 100 percent fan capacity for their home opener April 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Translation: 40,518 seats, although fans will be required to wear masks at all times (ESPN).

 

The New York Times: Indoor dining in New York City and New Jersey can go to 50 percent on March 19, the governors say.

 

> Visits with parents, grandparents: Federal officials relaxed guidance about in-person visits to nursing homes after nearly a year of lockdowns and debilitating isolation for seniors. The recommendations encourage nursing homes to permit indoor visits “at all times and for all residents,” even if outdoor visits are preferable (seen below in Washington state), regardless of whether people have been vaccinated, with some exceptions that may require some up-to-date research and data monitoring (The Washington Post).

 

 

A nursing home visit

 

 

> In the realm of COVID-19 treatments for high-risk patients soon after they contract the virus, drug maker Eli Lilly reports positive trial results with an antibody cocktail that it says reduces death and hospitalizations by 87 percent (Reuters).

 

The Atlantic: Unlocking the mysteries of “long COVID.”

 

> Surprise hospital bills: John Druschitz spent five days in a Texas hospital last April with fever and shortness of breath. Tests were inconclusive for COVID-19, and he was sent home on oxygen, later surprised to receive a bill for $22,368 that the hospital threatened to send to collections. Druschitz ultimately fell slightly short of qualifying for multiple federal health programs that would have paid for his care if the details had been slightly different. Health policy experts see his experience as a case study in how easily patients can fall through the cracks of America’s fragmented health insurance system (The New York Times).

 

> Death toll: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) on Wednesday apologized after he said officials discovered that the state’s COVID-19 death toll was incorrect because an estimated 168 fatalities were not reported in a timely manner to the state’s health department by 70 facilities, mostly hospitals and nursing homes. The state relied on incorrect data while deciding to lift some of its COVID-19 restrictions (PBS).   

 

*****

 

POLITICS: California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia reopening economy, lifting COVID-19 restrictions Caitlyn Jenner wants to use funds for bullet train project to build rest of Trump border wall Feds agree to restore B to California for bullet train MORE (D) in a speech this week acknowledged the anger and anxiety that has welled up across his state ahead of a recall election. 

 

Newsom sought in his Tuesday state of the state address to sway voters who will likely determine his future later this year, saying that California is set for a dramatic rebound after a brutal year of suffering through the pandemic, noting that he has made mistakes over the past year. 

 

“We won’t change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers,” he said. “So to the California critics, who are promoting partisan power grabs and outdated prejudices and rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again. This is a fight for California’s future.

 

“I know our progress hasn’t always felt fast enough. And look, we’ve made mistakes. I’ve made mistakes. But we own them, we learn from them, and we never stop trying,” Newsom continued. “The state of our state remains determined. I remain determined” (The Hill).

 

> Campaigns, etc.: The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) announced on Wednesday that it raised $6.4 million in February, with more than half of that total ($3.8 million) coming in online donations. 

 

As The Hill’s Max Greenwood notes, the NRSC said that it ended the month with more than $15 million in the bank, having paid off $3.6 million worth of the $9 million debt it carried over from the 2020 cycle. 

 

The New York Times: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Biden's European trip MORE (R-Ky.), amid Trump’s threats, tells GOP senators their political operation has out-raised the former president’s.

 

Politico: Rift between Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas America needs a stable Israeli government MORE (D-N.Y.), Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (R-Maine) shocks Senate.

 

The Hill: Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) declines run to replace Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler launches Missouri Senate bid Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bipartisan group prepping infrastructure plan as White House talks lag MORE (R-Mo.).

 

James Hohmann, The Washington Post: Roy Blunt wanted compromise and cordiality. He couldn’t survive the Trump GOP’s descent.

 

The Hill: Audio obtained by The Wall Street Journal indicates Trump, while serving as president last year, pressured a lead investigator to find ballot fraud as part of Georgia’s mail-in ballot audit. Trump repeatedly and incorrectly asserted during a six-minute phone call with chief investigator Frances Watson that he won Georgia. “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Trump told Watson.



IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

ADMINISTRATION: Biden says he is cheered to be on the verge of enacting a mammoth coronavirus relief measure, but what lies ahead for immigration policy is, if anything, an equally emotional and high-stakes challenge. The Hill’s Jonathan Easley and Rebecca Beitsch report the administration is racing to contain the situation at the U.S. southern border as a surge of migrant children threatens to become a new humanitarian crisis.

 

White House chief of staff Ron KlainRon KlainVermont governor lifts restrictions as state becomes first to reach 80 percent vaccinated Biden's no-drama White House chief The Democrats' proposed budget is a political and substantive disaster MORE dodged details on Tuesday when asked by Punchbowl News how long the administration will need to deal with the asylum-seeking children at the border. After repeating that the administration wants to work with Congress to pass immigration reform legislation, Klain denied the administration is separating children from relatives.

 

“It’s a hard problem. I’m not going to deny that this is one of the most vexing problems we face,” he said, adding that the White House is open to “suggestions.”

 

“We inherited a real mess. We inherited the facilities we have,” Klain continued. “I hope people will look at what we’re trying to do and judge us based on our actions.”   

 

Reuters analysis: Facing critics, Biden has no good choices to manage an influx of migrant children.

 

NPR: U.S. Customs and Border Protection released new data on Wednesday that agents encountered nearly 3,500 migrants a day during February, a 28 percent jump from January. The number of children and families seeking to enter the United States more than doubled in the span of that month. And, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America also rose 60 percent to more than 9,400 in February compared with January.

 

On Wednesday, Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s coordinator for the southern border, acknowledged that the administration struggles to communicate a welcoming message to migrants while also urging them to wait and not travel to the U.S. border until the immigration system can handle the load.

 

Biden’s struggles with border challenges have sparked criticism from Republicans, including Trump, as well as from some Democrats (Politico). More than 3,200 migrant children seeking protection are in U.S. detention and shelter facilities, a statistic that agitates immigrant advocacy groups and progressive lawmakers who want to see Trump-era policies and techniques banished for good (The New York Times). 

 

 

An L.E.D. truck displaying messages expressing concern over the continuing mass deportations of Black immigrants drives past the office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

 

 

> State Department: Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenGreene apologizes for comparing vaccine rules to Holocaust Detainee fates hang over Biden meeting with Putin ICC relations with US undergoing 'reset' with Biden, prosecutor says MORE told Congress on Wednesday that the United States will take action against those responsible for violations of human rights in Hong Kong. “We need to continue to follow through on sanctions, for example, against those responsible for committing repressive acts in Hong Kong,” he testified at a House hearing (The Hill and Reuters). … Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Biden participates in NATO summit | White House backs 2002 AUMF repeal | Top general says no plans for airstrikes to help Afghan forces after withdrawal Top general: US won't support Afghan forces with airstrikes after withdrawal Biden congratulates newly-formed Israeli government MORE announced they will travel to meet their counterparts in Tokyo on March 16-17 and Seoul on March 17-18. Blinken and national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanNATO members agree to new cyber defense policy NATO tackling climate change for first time Biden emphasizes 'critically important' NATO alliance upon arrival at summit MORE will meet with Chinese officials in Alaska on March 18, the State Department announced.

 

> HUD: Former Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeNew Mexico Democrat Stansbury sworn into Haaland's old seat On The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch Progressives relish return to in-person events MORE (D-Ohio), 68, was sworn in as secretary of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday after garnering bipartisan Senate support in a 66-34 vote. She is the first Black woman to lead the department in more than 40 years and has said she will work to end discriminatory housing practices and support Black homeownership, a critical component in narrowing the racial wealth gap (The Washington Post).

 

> Justice Department: After weeks of procedural delays sought by some Senate conservatives, Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandHouse Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists Senate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE, 68, on Wednesday was confirmed as attorney general by a bipartisan vote of 70-30 (The Hill). McConnell and Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyHouse unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants Iowa governor questions lack of notice on migrant children flights to Des Moines Senate crafts Pelosi alternative on drug prices MORE (R-Iowa), who opposed Garland in 1997 before he became an appeals court judge and then blocked his 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court, voted to confirm him as the nation’s top law enforcer. 

 

> Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The Senate on Wednesday voted 66-34 to confirm Michael ReganMichael ReganEPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot air quality standards GM asks for flexibility in meeting emissions target EPA to revise Trump rollback to water pollution protections MORE, 44, to be EPA administrator. He is the first Black man to lead the regulatory agency since its creation in 1970 (The Hill). 

 

> Budget: On Wednesday, two Senate panels approved the nomination of Shalanda Young to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB is without a director as it prepares an already overdue fiscal 2022 budget to be sent to Congress this spring (The Hill).

 

> Securities and Exchange Commission: Gary GenslerGary GenslerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats' agenda in limbo as Senate returns SEC removes Republican watchdog after progressive lobbying effort Regulators should bring the best of equity market regulation to crypto investment MORE, Biden’s nominee to lead the SEC as a tough financial regulator, cleared the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 14-10. Republican Sens. Mike RoundsMike RoundsTrump, midterms fuel GOP's effort to quash Jan. 6 commission Senate GOP blocks legislation on Jan. 6 commission Senate votes to advance China bill after Schumer strikes deal MORE of South Dakota and Cynthia LummisCynthia Marie LummisThe rule allowing predatory loans from fake lenders must go now Rick Scott introduces bill banning 'vaccine passports' for domestic flights Hillicon Valley: Amazon facing lawsuits alleging racial, gender bias | Senate Commerce panel advances Biden's top science nominee | Colonial Pipeline CEO to testify on Capitol Hill in June MORE of Wyoming joined all 12 Democrats in supporting the nomination (The Wall Street Journal).   

 

The Associated Press: Biden’s first 50 days: Where he stands on key promises.



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

Biden has a mandate to compete with China, by Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2N4NLVp

 

The unrest in the Derek Chauvin trial, by Jonathan Turley, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3rAjDAs





WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 9 a.m. Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.

 

The Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraNew Alzheimer's drug sparks backlash over FDA, pricing Obama joins Biden to tout record ObamaCare enrollment numbers Biden walks fine line with probe into coronavirus origins MORE to be Health and Human Services secretary.

 

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 11:30 a.m. They will get a weekly briefing about the economy from Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenTreasury, IRS announce tool to help non-filers register for child tax credit Republicans open new line of attack on IRS Why the Democrats need Joe Manchin MORE at 3:15 p.m. Biden will address the nation from the East Room at 8:02 p.m. about strides made while combating the coronavirus during the last year. Biden plans to highlight “the role that Americans will play” in getting the country “back to normal,” his spokeswoman says.

 

Harris will participate in a virtual meeting at 1:45 p.m. with Americans she met during the first 50 days in office. She will swear in Garland as attorney general in a ceremony at 5:15 p.m.

 

The White House press briefing takes place at 12:30 p.m.

 

Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. reports on filings for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 6. Analysts anticipate that applications for benefits continued to fall but are holding at a level that underscores significant labor market dislocation.

 

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

TECH: Facebook on Wednesday asked a federal court to dismiss antitrust lawsuits brought by federal and state regulators, saying the suits failed to prove the company was a monopoly and harmed competition. In a filing with the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, Facebook argued that it faced ample competition and that the Federal Trade Commission and 48 attorneys general from states and territories could not prove their case (The New York Times).

 

INTERNATIONAL: The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two children of Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military leader and six companies they control, increasing pressure on the military as it continues its crackdown against protesters following the army’s Feb. 1 coup (Reuters). … Also on Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to condemn violence against Myanmar protesters and call on the army to show restraint, but China and Russia helped block language denouncing the military takeover as a coup and threatening further action (Reuters). … A watching world sees smartphone images of violence and death in Myanmar flood small screens (The Associated Press).

 

UPWARD BOUND: China and Russia say they will build a lunar research station — a “comprehensive scientific experiment base with the capability of long-term autonomous operation” — possibly on the moon’s surface, marking the start of a new era in space cooperation between the two countries. The International Lunar Research Station would also be open to use by other countries, according to a statement posted on the website of the China National Space Administration on Wednesday. No timeline for construction was mentioned (The Associated Press). 



THE CLOSER

And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by a newsy week for news reporters and the media, we’re eager for some smart guesses about TV personalities and networks.

 

Email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and/or aweaver@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will take a bow with some newsletter heraldry on Friday.

 

 

Piers Morgan resigned as host of “Good Morning Britain,” a program seen on which TV network, following comments he made about Meghan MarkleMeghan MarkleKate Middleton says she has yet to meet Prince Harry and Meghan's daughter Harry and Meghan deny not discussing new daughter's name with the queen Duchess Meghan releases debut children's book MORE, the Duchess of Sussex? 

  1. BBC
  2. ITV
  3. Sky News
  4. None of the above

Roger Mudd, a longtime CBS anchor and reporter who died at age 93 on Wednesday, conducted an interview with ____ that effectively ended a bid for the presidency.

  1. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
  2. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) 
  3. Vice President Walter Mondale
  4. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.)

Which former TV host/personality announced on Wednesday that he is exploring a bid in Ohio for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanKerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' This week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight UK appeals to Congress in push for trade deal MORE (R-Ohio)? 

  1. Jerry Springer
  2. Geraldo Rivera
  3. Steve Wilkos
  4. None of the above

ESPN announced on Wednesday that it has reached a seven-year deal to broadcast what sports league?

  1. UFC
  2. NASCAR
  3. NHL
  4. XFL 



 

Piers Morgan