The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden, McConnell agree on vaccines, clash over infrastructure
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, 555,001; Tuesday, 555,615.
Bipartisanship has been hard to come by on major issues in the opening months of the Biden administration. However, there was a brief respite as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged Republican men to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a call that received plaudits from the White House.
McConnell, speaking to reporters in Kentucky on Monday, appealed to a bloc of Americans that have emerged as being more hesitant to receive the jab, complicating the U.S.’s push to reach herd immunity and help end the pandemic.
“I saw on some program last week that Republican men, curiously enough, might be reluctant to take the vaccine.” Speaking outside a health care clinic in his home state, McConnell added, “I’m a Republican man and I want to say to everyone, we need to take this vaccine” (Yahoo News).
McConnell’s message contrasted with former President Trump’s quiet decision to be vaccinated before leaving the White House — with no public encouragement to his supporters to trust the inoculations his administration worked with drugmakers to invent (The Hill).
“The virus is not gone. … Scripture tells us joy cometh in the morning. As we celebrate the renewal of this season we know that longed-for dawn is almost here. We will rebuild our nation. We will remake and reimagine what we can be,” President Biden said during an event at the White House’s Easter celebration.
The vaccine sales job will continue today for Biden, who will visit a COVID-19 vaccination site today in nearby Northern Virginia as the administration of shots continues to ramp up nationwide.
According to the Bloomberg News’s latest tracking figures, the U.S. vaccinated more than 3 million people on every day from Thursday through Sunday, the first time that had happened on four consecutive days. On average, 3.1 million Americans are receiving shots daily. Andy Slavitt, a White House COVID-19 senior adviser, told reporters on Monday that more than 40 percent of adults have received at least one vaccine dose and that nearly 1 in 4 adults are now fully vaccinated.
The uptick in vaccinations squares with the ongoing opening of eligibility for individuals to receive jabs. As of Monday, 33 states are currently offering COVID-19 vaccines to adults of all ages. That total will reach 38 states by the end of the week (The Hill).
Sunday also marked the lowest single-day COVID-19 death total in more than a year as 222 fatalities were recorded (The Hill). According to Johns Hopkins University’s statistics, the last time the figure was that low was March 23, 2020 when 192 deaths were reported.
Adding to the good news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered updated hygiene guidance for everyday safety amid the coronavirus on Monday.
“It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects…but the risk is generally considered to be low,” the agency advised, estimating that the chance of contracting the coronavirus through surface transmission is lower than 1 in 10,000 (Yahoo News).
The Washington Post: Will school be back to normal this fall? Kind of, sort of, maybe.
WTOP: Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announces relaxation of more COVID-19 safety rules in Washington D.C., effective May 1.
The Associated Press: Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) tests positive for COVID-19.
Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Monday that there probably will likely be no mandate from the federal government for individuals to have vaccine passports to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination (The Hill).
“I doubt that the federal government will be the main mover of a vaccine passport concept,” Fauci said. “They may be involved in making sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt if the federal government is gonna be the leading element of that.”
He added that “individual entities,” such as theaters and universities, might implement requirements on their own.
Politico: U.S. searches for new AstraZeneca vaccine producer after Emergent mix-up. Blood clot complications with the drug are rare and still being studied, but Europe is opting for caution (The Washington Post).
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Despite warnings, the flu season that wasn’t.
The Associated Press: Mexico’s president now says he won’t get COVID-19 vaccine due to his January coronavirus infection.
The Washington Post: The United States on Monday appointed Gayle Smith, a former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to be the U.S. global COVID-19 coordinator. “This pandemic won’t end at home until it ends worldwide,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while describing the new diplomatic post.
The Associated Press: New Zealand to open travel bubble with Australia on April 19.
> COVID-19 origin: Don’t miss a fascinating and detailed Q&A with scientists about the World Health Organization’s inconclusive report on the origins of COVID-19 and what happens next. One recommendation: New global attention to prevention. The focus of research into COVID-19’s origins should now be to mitigate future spillovers from animals to people of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses with pandemic potential, says David Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “We need to change the paradigm from rapid detection and response, to prevention at the source,” he adds (Scientific American).
LEADING THE DAY
INFRASTRUCTURE & CONGRESS: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday said he received the green light under budget rules to use reconciliation again for spending and tax provisions on a simple majority vote (The Hill).
The Senate parliamentarian ruled Democrats can avoid a GOP filibuster on two more pieces of legislation, setting the stage for Biden’s infrastructure agenda to pass in two packages with simple majority votes if Democrats can get on the same page or add Republican votes. Schumer said it means his party can try to pass Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan by revising the fiscal 2021 Budget Resolution.
Earlier on Monday, McConnell echoed other senators in his conference who have said they support a targeted, smaller and more traditional infrastructure bill than what Biden has proposed. It’s similar to Senate Republicans’ stance in favor of what they described as an alternative to Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan for COVID-19 relief. The Democratic plan became law with no GOP support in Congress.
“I can’t imagine [Biden’s $2.25 trillion jobs plan] is going to be very appealing to many [Republicans],” McConnell said. “Infrastructure, however, is appealing, and if we can figure a way to do a paid-for, arguably more modest approach, I’d be open to it,” he continued, according to Punchbowl News.
The American Working Families Action Fund, a Democrat-aligned advocacy group, is kicking off a six-figure campaign backing Biden’s infrastructure measure, beginning with ads targeting constituents of centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). It’s the first group to announce the launch of an independent digital and TV advertising effort aimed at selling the proposal to Congress and the public (Axios). Manchin’s term does not expire until January 2025 and Collins won reelection last year.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (pictured below) proposed a global minimum corporate tax rate in remarks on Monday as Washington begins months of wrangling over Biden’s proposed new spending plan, which would be partially paid for with higher corporate taxes spread out over 15 years.
Yellen called for global coordination on an international tax rate that would apply to multinational corporations regardless of where they locate their headquarters. Such a global tax could help prevent the type of “race to the bottom” that has been underway, she told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, referring to countries that try to outdo one another by lowering tax rates in order to attract business (The New York Times).
Yellen wants corporate tax rates to be harmonized to bolster fairer international competition. Republican lawmakers in 2017 took a different approach, arguing they bolstered U.S. competitiveness by lowering the country’s corporate tax rate through legislation signed into law by former President Trump.
In yet another example of Manchin’s willingness to buck Biden, the West Virginia Democrat and powerbroker in the 50-50 Senate said he opposes the president’s call to hike the corporate tax from the current 21 percent to 28 percent. He favors 25 percent (The Hill).
Lawmakers and the Capitol Police are struggling to balance security at the Capitol. Members of both parties have clamored for the removal of temporary fencing and razor wire, with some even introducing legislation to get rid of it. Another officer died on Friday when a driver rammed a vehicle into a roadway barrier and officers at the Capitol complex and was shot by officers after exiting his car carrying a knife (The Hill). The deceased officer does not appear to have been stabbed, slashed or shot, The Associated Press reported on Monday.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Protests in reaction to enactment of Georgia’s new voting rights law spread to Major League Baseball and major corporations, which, in turn, sparked criticism from Senate Republicans that sports franchises and private companies have gone too far while taking sides in political debates, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
McConnell warned on Monday that companies such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines based in Georgia should “stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex.” Corporate executives have sided with critics who assert the Georgia law makes absentee voting harder and creates new restrictions targeted at deterring the participation of voters of color (The Hill).
“There is no consistent or factual standard being applied here. It’s just a fake narrative gaining speed by its own momentum,” McConnell said in a statement.
“It’s jaw-dropping to see powerful American institutions not just permit themselves to be bullied but join in the bullying themselves. Wealthy corporations have no problem operating in New York, for example, which has fewer days of early voting than Georgia, requires excuses for absentee ballots, and restricts electioneering via refreshments,” he added.
According to ESPN, MLB is set to move its All-Star Game to Denver. On Friday, it announced a decision to yank the game from Atlanta’s Truist Park.
The Hill’s Brett Samuels reports on the rise in misleading claims about voting rights laws in Georgia and other states at a time when trust in U.S. elections is fragile.
The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes that he’s been struck by public tolerance for tales of past cocaine and other drug use and abuse, whether illegal or prescriptions, by public figures, including some in elective politics. What was once considered disqualifying is now seen as humanizing. His example: Hunter Biden.
The Philadelphia Inquirer: In Pennsylvania’s Senate race to succeed Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is retiring, Montgomery County Commission chair Val Arkoosh, a Democrat, launched her bid on Monday, becoming the fourth Democratic candidate in the primary. If elected, Arkoosh would be Pennsylvania’s first female senator.
Politico: Trumpworld has no lifelines it wants to throw Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
ADMINISTRATION: Biden is reshaping the court system with a sense of urgency, naming 11 people last week to serve on the federal bench. Nominations of judges have been announced sooner than occurred during previous administrations, report The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant.
The New York Times: Biden names diverse nominees for the federal bench, with attention to the Supreme Court in the future. Allies say Biden, a former longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a deep background in judicial nominations, is determined to install judges with different sets of experiences from the mainly white corporate law partners and prosecutors who have been tapped for decades by presidents of both parties. The president has also promised to appoint the first African American woman to the Supreme Court.
> White House ethics: Watchdog groups that previously advised the White House against hiring former lobbyists are looking the other way with the addition of two former lobbyists to the administration. The White House recently brought on Charanya Krishnaswami, who represented Amnesty International, and Alethea Predeoux, a former lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees. Biden signed an executive order in January placing restrictions on former registered lobbyists working in the administration. Groups including the Revolving Door Project and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee applauded Biden’s ethics stance (The Hill).
The Hill: Biden clean electricity standard faces high hurdles.
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Thursday at 3 p.m. for a pro forma session. No votes are expected until April 13.
The Senate will hold a pro forma session on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and return for legislative business on Monday.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:30 a.m.. Biden will visit a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., at 1:45 p.m. He will deliver remarks on vaccinations at 3:45 p.m.
Vice President Harris will travel to Chicago and tour a COVID-19 vaccination site that is a partnership between the city government and the Chicago Federation of Labor. She will return to Washington after the event.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will be in Yakima, Wash., for official events.
The Treasury secretary will meet virtually with House Democrats at 4 p.m. to talk about the American Rescue Plan.
A U.S. delegation meets today in Vienna for indirect talks with Tehran as the five world powers remaining in the Iran nuclear accord meet in the Austrian capital to try to revive discussions (The Associated Press).
The White House press briefing will take place at noon.
➔ COURTS: The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Google in the company’s intellectual property fight with Oracle, finding that the search giant’s copying of certain Java script lines to develop its Android platform constituted fair use. In a 6-2 ruling, the justices found that Google’s use of roughly 11,500 lines of code was lawful since the amount was relatively minuscule and because Google programmers used the language as virtual building blocks to develop new and transformative applications (The Hill). … In Minneapolis at the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified Monday that Chauvin “absolutely” violated the department’s policies and his sworn oath to serve and protect when he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine and a half minutes (The Washington Post). … An emergency room physician took the stand to say he theorized that before he pronounced Floyd dead last year, he most likely suffocated. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and manslaughter (The Associated Press).
➔ STATE WATCH: New York State is set to raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year. Some critics believe the tax hikes will backfire and hasten permanent departures of the wealthy to low-tax states (The New York Times). … In Florida, officials are still trying to stave off a feared catastrophic collapse of an enormous wastewater retention reservoir south of Tampa by pumping water into the nearby bay. Hundreds of residents were evacuated over the weekend (USA Today and The Associated Press). … Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Monday vetoed a bill that would have made his state the first in the nation to restrict gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers, for transgender minors. Calling the bill “a vast government overreach,” Hutchinson said the law would create “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people” (NBC News).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: In Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday allowing him to serve two more terms, potentially through 2036 (The Associated Press). … In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now at the center of a corruption trial, was handed yet another opportunity after yet another election to try to form a governing majority. Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin tapped Netanyahu for the task today (The Associated Press).
➔ SPORTS: College basketball fans will have to wait another year for perfection as Baylor University defeated the University of Gonzaga, 86-70, handing them their first NCAA men’s basketball championship. The win also dealt Gonzaga its first loss in 32 attempts this season. Baylor got off to a 9-0 start Monday night and never looked back, with Gonzaga never getting within 9 points in the second half (ESPN). … Finally, the Washington Nationals are set to open their season today after having their Opening Day and entire weekend series postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. In total, four players have tested positive for the virus while seven others are in quarantine after being considered close contacts to those who contracted COVID-19. First pitch at Nationals Park against the Atlanta Braves is set for 4:05 p.m. (The Washington Post).
And finally … Are you ready, mid-Atlantic gardeners, for those beady red eyes and the deafening sounds of ambition?
The region is weeks away from an impending, slightly icky, egg-laying insect invasion. In May and June, hordes of cicadas will rise up out of the earth in an exercise repeated every 17 years (The Washington Post).
If you’ve forgotten how these alien invaders can jangle your nerves and test your auditory tolerance, YouTube offers reminders HERE.
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