The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Today is Tuesday! 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, 549,335; Tuesday, 550,036.
The Biden administration painted a grim picture of the U.S.’s ongoing bout with COVID-19 on Monday as officials grow increasingly concerned with the nation’s current trajectory despite key silver linings in the push to vaccinate Americans.
Over the last week, the U.S.’s daily case count has jumped to around 60,000, representing a 10 percent rise in the seven-day average. Coupled with rising hot spots in states such as New Jersey and Michigan, it prompted a new warning from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky that a fourth surge and “impending doom” could be in the offing without renewed vigilance even despite the current pace of vaccinations.
“I’m going to lose the script, and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now I’m scared,” Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday. “We do not have the luxury of inaction” (The Hill).
The comments represented some of the starkest out of the administration over its first 10 months in office. For weeks, administration health officials have warned that the plateau in case totals combined with the warning signs in Europe where countries have experienced spikes in cases previewed trouble for the U.S.
Hours later, President Biden echoed Walensky’s sentiment and urged states and cities not to roll back mask mandates, adding that they should pause reopening plans.
“Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down,” Biden said (The Hill).
Despite the dour outlook, there was good news, particularly on vaccine distribution, effectiveness and administration. In his Monday speech, Biden announced that 90 percent of U.S. adults will be eligible for shots and will have a vaccination site within five miles of where they live by April 19. The president added that the number of pharmacies in the federal vaccination program will more than double, from 17,000 to 40,000, by the same date (The Hill).
Biden’s previous goal for U.S. adults to become eligible for the vaccine was May 1.
The New York Times: All adults in New York will be eligible for vaccination next week.
The Wall Street Journal: As COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up, hesitancy wanes.
U.S. health officials also revealed that shots by Pfizer and Moderna prevent 90 percent of infections two weeks after individuals receive the second of two doses, according to a new real-world study by the CDC.
As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel writes, the shot also prevents 80 percent of infections two weeks after the first dose. The study was conducted on 3,950 health care personnel, first responders and other essential workers for 13 straight weeks. Walensky told reporters that the shots “provided early, substantiated real-world protection” against infections.
The Associated Press: COVID-19 vaccines found highly effective in real-world U.S. study.
Reuters: The United Kingdom wants to vaccinate all adults before sharing shots with other countries.
Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: How mRNA technology could change the world.
Adding to the good news, the U.S. reported at least 3.3 million vaccinations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The seven-day rolling average of vaccinations sits at 2.7 million, according to Bloomberg News’s vaccine tracker.
The Hill: CDC extends coronavirus eviction ban through June 30.
CBS News: White House leaves vaccine “passports” to the private sector.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vows to ban “vaccination passports” as he signs law shielding businesses from COVID-19 liability.
The Hill: Former President Trump targets Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx in lengthy diatribe.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to self-quarantine after exposure to coronavirus.
USA Today: Major League Baseball relaxing COVID-19 protocols for fully vaccinated players, staff.
LEADING THE DAY
JUSTICE: The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is facing three criminal counts for the death of George Floyd, kicked off on Monday with the prosecution wasting no time in showing the video of Floyd’s death.
The nine-minute, 29-second video showing Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck was shown to jurors during the prosecution’s opening statement, with Jerry Blackwell, a Minneapolis-based lawyer, telling the group that the length of time was the “three most important numbers in the case.”
“You will learn that on May 25, 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” Blackwell told the jury. “He put his knee upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath … until the very life was squeezed out of him.”
“I will tell you that you can believe your eyes, that it’s a homicide,” Blackwell continued.
Eric Nelson, a lawyer for the defense, retorted that the trial is “clearly more than about nine minutes and 29 seconds.” Nelson added that Chauvin followed the Minnesota Police Department use of force policy.
“You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do for the course of his 19-year career,” Nelson said.
As The Hill’s Marty Johnson writes in his recap of the trial’s first day, other big moments centered around the cause of death, which is a key point of contention. The prosecution pointed to the cause of death in the Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy report: “cardiopulmonary arrest [the stopping of both the heart and lungs] complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
It also argued that the trace amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system were not listed in the cause of death, which the defense pushed back against. Nelson told the jury in his opening argument that Floyd died from “a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, coronary disease ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline throwing flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.”
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Nation relives Floyd death as Chauvin trial begins.
The Associated Press: Witness describes seeing Floyd “slowly fade away.”
CONGRESS: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Monday that he is in discussions with the White House over whether to combine a $3 trillion infrastructure proposal with tax reform legislation.
The move comes after an initial White House plan to offset a $3 trillion infrastructure bill with $1 trillion in tax increases is starting to look more like $4 trillion in new spending and $3.5 trillion in taxes. According to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, Schumer’s office said on Monday it is trying to give Biden as much flexibility as possible.
Schumer’s office also said that he is looking at moving two more bills under reconciliation this year, which would require only 51 votes and allow tax legislation to move on its own — depending on how the Senate parliamentarian comes down on arcane budget rules.
However, a number of Senate Democrats want to pay for at least part of the infrastructure package with tax increases. Despite the appetite among many members, there could be a political cost as it would open candidates up to charges that they are attempting to raise taxes during a pandemic. Adding to the potential issues, tying to tax reform will slow down the entire process.
The Associated Press: Biden wants massive infrastructure package approved over summer.
The Washington Post: White House dramatically increased tax proposal as it sought to address tensions over the next big spending plan.
Dan Balz: Biden is betting on bigger government. The pandemic may be helping him.
The Hill: Democrats look to impose capital gains tax passed on at death.
The Hill: Congress looks to rein in Biden’s war powers.
> Health: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) announced on Monday that he will have surgery next week to treat prostate cancer.
The 60-year-old GOP senator, who won his second term last year, said in a statement that he had no previous symptoms and that it was detected during an annual physical. The surgery will take place in his home state.
“My prognosis is good because I went to my annual physical and received a PSA test, which led to a biopsy and eventually my diagnosis. Early detection can truly save lives,” Tillis said (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Democrats are sensing opportunity as they gear up for the 2022 midterms and hope that voting rights is an issue that will buoy them to victory next year.
After Republicans successfully steered the political conversation toward the emerging situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, Democrats are seizing on Georgia’s passage of a voting measure to shift talk back to topics they believe will energize their base and put Republicans on their heels. While Democrats are concerned that the Georgia bill could make it more difficult for their voters to get to cast ballots, they believe the energy among the liberal base will give them the boost they need to propel them next year.
“The most reliable issue set for turnout, particularly among minority voters, is voter suppression,” Howard Franklin, an Atlanta-based Democratic operative, told The Hill. “We have a political and campaigns apparatus here that will make sure Black and white and Democratic and Republican and independent voters know who made it more difficult to vote during a pandemic. We intend to weaponize the issue, and the progressive firmament here has shown it can be creative in finding ways to work around the obstacles thrown in our way.”
The Associated Press: Trump’s heir? Pence reemerges, lays groundwork for 2024 run.
The New York Times: With an Eye on 2024, a rarely bashful former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo grows more combative.
> Senate fight: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a highly prioritized target of Trump allies in the 2022 midterms, received a GOP challenger on Monday as Alaska’s commissioner of administration, Kelly Tshibaka, launched her bid to unseat the three-term moderate Republican.
“I am running for the Senate to represent our conservative Alaska values,” Tshibaka tweeted. “We’re going to defeat Lisa Murkowski and show the DC insiders what happens when Alaska has strong conservative leadership!”
Murkowski is a prime target for former President Trump and his supporters after she voted to remove him from office in his second impeachment trial, joining six other Senate Republicans. She is the only one among that group who is standing for reelection in 2022.
This is not the first time Murkowski will face a fight from the right for her seat. After losing the GOP primary in 2010 to Joe Miller, a Tea Party candidate, Murkowski won a write-in campaign as an independent.
Unlike 12 years ago, the incumbent Republican will not have to face a contested primary. A voter initiative passed in November replaced the old party system with one in which the top four vote-getters in an open primary advance to the general election (The Hill).
Politico: Trump alums sign up with new Murkowski opponent.
The Hill: 64 percent view “cancel culture” as threat to freedom: poll.
> State Watch: A 10th woman accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) of sexual misconduct on Monday following an incident that allegedly took place in 2017.
Sherry Vill accused Cuomo of kissing her on both cheeks after meeting her while the governor was touring homes, including hers, that were damaged by floodwaters from Lake Ontario. She made her accusation during a press conference on Monday, which was hosted by attorney Gloria Allred. The incident was allegedly witnessed by local officials and others accompanying Cuomo for a tour of the area, Vill says (The Hill).
Vill said that Cuomo explained the move at the time as how Italian Americans greet each other, though she added that other comments he made during the tour led her to believe his action was sexually based. Cuomo’s attorney disputed the account (Albany Times Union).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Progressives would miss the filibuster, by former Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Richard A. Arenberg, opinion contributors, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/2PK77jS
Joe Biden hasn’t lifted Trump’s tariffs on China. Good, by Henry Olsen, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3czJXFS
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Thursday at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session. No votes are expected until April 13.
The Senate will hold a pro forma session on Thursday at 10 a.m. and return for legislative business on April 12.
The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. At the White House, Biden will sign into law the Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act at 2 p.m. Harris and Isabel Gusman, head of the Small Business Administration, will also attend.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will visit a COVID-19 vaccination site in Silver Spring, Md., with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: The U.S. suspended trade engagement with Myanmar on Monday in the aftermath of the country’s deadliest crackdown of protests since the military seized control of the government last month. Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, announced, effective immediately, the suspension of U.S. collaboration with Myanmar through the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. Tai’s office said in a statement that the suspension will stay in place “until the return of a democratically elected government” (The Hill). … World leaders are feeling a major sense of relief after the Ever Given was freed in the Suez Canal, ending the blockage that threatened the global supply chain. As The Hill’s Laura Kelly and Rebecca Beitsch note, nearly 300 ships containing more than $9.6 billion worth of goods were stalled in the canal, laying bare the fragility of global delivery at a time when the world is enormously dependent on shipments of cheap goods from the far reaches of the planet.
➔ TECH/LABOR: Ballot counting starts today in the unionization vote at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., marking a critical step in one of the most significant union elections of the last decade. The National Labor Relations Board will start tabulating ballots cast by more than 5,800 workers, with the count expected to take longer than a week, excluding time spent on challenges by either party. Those challenges may be filed within five days of the vote count (The Hill).
➔ COURTS: Federal prosecutors expanded their case against Ghislaine Maxwell on Monday, indicting her on new sex-trafficking charges alleging that she brought a fourth girl to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein. According to the indictment, the unidentified victim was 14 when Maxwell introduced her to Epstein in 2001. The crimes against the new victim lasted until 2004, bringing the full scope of the crimes over a decade starting in 1994 in New York and Florida (Reuters).
And finally … Indianapolis was home to the ultimate Texas two-step on Monday as the University of Houston and Baylor University became the first two teams to punch their tickets to the Final Four in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Houston survived a scare from 12-seeded Oregon State, 67-61, en route to its first Final Four appearance since the days of Phi Slama Jama (1984). As for Baylor, they defeated 3-seeded Arkansas, 81-72. This will be Baylor’s first Final Four date in 71 years.
The two Texas schools will square off on Saturday with a spot in the national title game on the line.
Tonight, the other two Final Four spots will be filled. Southern California-Gonzaga tips off at 7:15 p.m. EST, with UCLA-Michigan getting underway at 9:57 p.m.