The Hill's Morning Report - Biden bumps up vaccine eligibility amid 'life or death' race




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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 555,001; Tuesday, 555,615; Wednesday, 556,528.


The global COVID-19 death toll has surpassed 3 million people amid a resurgence of infections (Reuters)

President Biden on Tuesday bumped up the timeline by two weeks to April 19 for all adults to be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The White House celebrated 150 million doses of vaccine administered since Jan. 20 in a “life-or-death race” to protect Americans.


The president’s latest declaration, which he made during a visit to a vaccine site in Alexandria, Va., accompanies an ambitious national mass vaccination program. The latest totals put Biden on course to reach his goal of 200 million doses administered in his first 100 days.


At least a dozen states opened eligibility to anyone 16 and older on Monday alone, while New Jersey and Oregon announced this week that all residents 16 and older will become eligible on April 19.


The Associated Press: Biden wants all adults to be eligible to make a vaccine appointment beginning on April 19. “Get the vaccination when you can,” he urged.


“We're making incredible progress,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “There's a lot of good news. But there's also some bad news. New variants of the virus are spreading, and they're moving quickly. Cases are going back up. Hospitalizations are no longer declining.” 


“The virus is spreading because we have too many people who, seeing the end in sight, think we're at the finish line already,” the president added (The Hill). 


Biden had previously said 90 percent of adults would be eligible by April 19, with all becoming able to set up a vaccine appointment by May 1. 


The latest developments emerge as the rate of vaccinations picks up across the country, The Hill’s Peter Sullivan writes. According to Bloomberg News’s latest tracker, the U.S. is averaging more than 3 million jabs per day, while more than 75 percent of people 65 or older have received at least one shot. Forty percent of all adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.


“We just need a handful more weeks,” said Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health.


Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, added that  a “vaccine inflection point” is likely coming in “two, three weeks,” giving the United States another boost in the process. 


Complicating the picture is the continuing plateau of cases as the U.S. averages 64,000 new infections per day, meaning that Americans are by no means out of the woods. However, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: US health officials call for J&J vaccine pause over rare blood clots | White House seeks to reassure Five questions raised by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause Biden says vaccine supply not impacted by J&J pause MORE, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, downplayed the chances of an exploding fourth wave and argued that the rate of vaccinations will likely allow this country to avoid additional restrictions as infections and hospitalizations surge in some states. 


“As long as we keep vaccinating people efficiently and effectively, I don't think that's gonna happen,” Fauci told MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” “That doesn't mean that we're not going to still see an increase in cases” (The Hill).


Reuters: A third of COVID-19 survivors suffer neurological or mental disorders: study. 


The Associated Press: Nearly half of new U.S. virus infections are in just five states.


The Hill: Fears of contracting COVID-19 are at the lowest point in the past year: Gallup.


While the administration keeps its focus on the pandemic, the business community is confronting the politically fraught issue of “vaccine passports” and whether to require customers to prove they are vaccinated to gain entry to entertainment venues or access services.


As The Hill’s Alex Gangitano writes, the Biden administration has maintained in recent days that it will not be mandating individuals receive them or various industries use them. However, it has left the door open for businesses to create their own policies, even though they would almost certainly be opposed in certain corners of the country. 


The latest pushback came from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who issued an executive order prohibiting their use in the Lone Star State. He argued that a system being used to track those who have been inoculated against COVID-19 infringes on citizens' rights. 


“Every day, Texans are returning to normal life as more people get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. But, as I've said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said in announcing the order. “Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives” (The Hill).



Texas Governor Greg Abbott



CNBC: California plans to lift most COVID-19 restrictions on June 15, while retaining its mask mandate. 


The Hill: Majority of front-line health workers say COVID-19 stress affected their mental health: poll.


> International: The United Kingdom began administering doses of Moderna’s vaccine on Wednesday, becoming the third shot approved for use in the country amid continued questions about the AstraZeneca jab. 


Patients at the West Wales General Hospital were the first in the U.K. to receive the shot. In total, Great Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the Moderna shot, enough for 8.5 million people. U.K. medical regulators are investigating AstraZeneca’s vaccine and whether it has caused a small number of blood clots in recipients. Britain has not restricted its use, unlike other European nations (The Associated Press). Oxford University, which created the shot with AstraZeneca, said on Tuesday that it was halting a U.K. study of children and teenagers until the blood clot investigation is complete (The Wall Street Journal). 


Reuters: France's COVID-19 hospitalizations are at a near five-month high. 


Bloomberg News: European Union sees near virus immunity by late June amid AstraZeneca vaccine doubts.


Axios: Brazil's daily COVID death toll tops 4,000 for first time.


Reuters: It's a “travesty” that some nations are unable to start COVID-19 vaccinations, says the World Health Organization.


> COVID-19 love (or lack thereof): The increasing rate of vaccinations is already having an outsize impact on the dating scene, which was hit hard for the better part of the last year due to social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders. 


However, The Hill’s Rebecca Klar writes that features created by various companies in order to survive during that time are expected to remain in place. Among them is the ability for individuals to connect virtually out of an abundance of caution and that allow individuals to date people with more physical distance between them.


“We’ve seen dating across borders really spike during the pandemic,” Michael Kaye, a spokesman for OkCupid, told The Hill. “[S]ince the pandemic and everyone’s been moving all around their state, around the country, people are changing what’s really important to them, and they’ve been more open to connecting with someone on the other side of the country, or even the other side of the world.”


Fortune (from February): Activity on dating apps has surged during the pandemic.



A person looking at the OkCupid dating app on a smartphone



CONGRESS: Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHolder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda Rep. Andy Kim on Asian hate: 'I've never felt this level of fear' MORE (D-N.Y.) will proceed with Biden’s sweeping infrastructure plan in two separate packages this year, thanks to a decision on Monday by the Senate parliamentarian that permits Democrats to advance their agenda once again using a budget tool known as reconciliation, which means bills can be passed with simple majorities rather than 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton describes the strategy.


The Hill’s Niv Elis explains why the parliamentarian’s decision represents a tactical game changer for Biden and his allies, who want to work around a Republican blockade, as long as they come up with at least 50 votes, assisted by Vice President Harris as a tie-breaker.


Schumer will also seek to raise the nation’s limit on borrowing, easing a cliffhanger political vote that has proved difficult year after year. Tax reform and more ambitious legislation to address climate change are also in the mix.


The Associated Press: Biden is boosted by Senate rules as Republican lawmakers buck infrastructure.


The Biden plan, which the president will talk about at an event today, includes a collection of progressive environmental priorities that some Democrats and advocacy groups fear could be vulnerable as negotiators hunt for at least 50 Senate votes for passage, The Hill’s Zack Budryk writes.



A "Men Working" sign



Reaching consensus among progressive and centrist Democrats on tax policy as part of the Biden plan will be tough. Republicans and large corporations already are mobilized to fight the president’s call to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinFive hurdles Democrats face to pass an infrastructure bill Nixed Interior nominee appointed to different department role  Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan MORE (D-W.Va.), a red-state power broker in Schumer’s conference, has already said he won’t go higher than 25 percent. The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda reports how a $2.3 trillion plan needs major revenue offsets, and the Democratic ideas now in the mix.


Meanwhile, the fate of the Senate filibuster remains a sticking point among Democratic lawmakers and inside the White House. Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaMSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' Manchin throws cold water on using budget reconciliation The strategy Biden needs to pass his infrastructure plan MORE (D-Ariz.) told The Wall Street Journal, “When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules. … I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.”


Biden has said he believes it’s important for senators to try to curtail filibuster excesses before deciding whether they want to jettison the 60-vote threshold entirely.


Florida Rep. Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsBlack lawmakers press Biden on agenda at White House meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Congress returns; infrastructure takes center stage Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority MORE, who as a young judge was impeached for bribery and perjury but gained a second chance in politics in 1992 when he was elected to the House, died on Tuesday after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 84 and the longest serving member of the Florida congressional delegation (The Hill).


Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says she would have put up a fight against Capitol mob: 'I'm a street fighter' Biden to address Congress on April 28 NY House Democrats demand repeal of SALT cap MORE’s (D-Calif.) razor-thin majority will shrink to 218-212 once Rep.-elect Julia Letlow (R-La.) is sworn in next week. That will mean Democrats can afford only two defections on any vote. A special election will be held to fill Florida’s 20th Congressional District vacancy, but Republican Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida wastewater reservoir to close after leak, DeSantis says Republicans need to stop Joe Biden's progressive assault on America DeSantis once had mail-in ballot tossed when signature couldn't be verified: report MORE will decide when to schedule it.



Rep. Alcee Hastings



More in Congress: Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzAssociate indicted in Gaetz scandal cooperating with DOJ: report Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Congress returns; infrastructure takes center stage MORE (R-Fla.), who denies alleged sex trafficking with a minor, which is part of an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department, is said to have sought a blanket preemptive pardon from Trump for himself and unidentified friends (The New York Times).The House will vote later this month on statehood for Washington, D.C., and legislation to narrow the gender pay gap (The Hill). … The Jan. 6 riot was the result of “propaganda” that gave people “a little B.S. about what they want to hear,” said retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led a review of the security failures at the Capitol at the request of Pelosi (The Hill). Honoré spoke on Tuesday during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council. … A knife wielded by a suspect killed by police after he rammed his car into a Capitol barrier, killing one Capitol Police officer, was purchased at a local market before the attack (The Hill).


POLITICS: DeSantis is going back to the GOP textbook to give himself a boost in the world of potential 2024 candidates: going after the news media. 


A public back-and-forth with “60 Minutes” has trained the spotlight square in his direction after the news magazine received bipartisan backlash for a piece that aired Sunday alleging that he pushed COVID-19 vaccines into affluent communities and distributed shots through Publix stores due to a campaign donation he received from the company. 


As The Hill’s Julia Manchester writes, DeSantis supporters argue the fallout will give his profile a boost. On Tuesday, DeSantis fired back at the report, calling the popular Sunday evening program “smear merchants.” As for “60 Minutes,” it stood by the report (Mediaite). 


Axios: Caitlyn Jenner explores run for California governor.


Cleveland.com: Amy Acton announces she won’t run for Senate.


> Voting: The ongoing brouhaha to overhaul elections in state legislatures has Democrats up in arms as they look to combat what they believe will be a catastrophic hit to voter turnout in the wake of the Georgia voting bill that passed recently. 


As The Hill’s Max Greenwood writes, Democrats have escalated the rhetoric on the issue in recent weeks. Top party officials, headlined by the president, and progressive activists have labeled the new and proposed rules as a 21st century iteration of the Jim Crow laws. 


After the situation that has engulfed the Peach State, Democrats currently have their eyes trained on Texas, which is moving closer toward passing an election reform package that would alter key parts of the current state election system. According to The Hill’s Reid Wilson, who details what’s in the current bill moving through the state house in Austin, key changes are expected to curtail early voting, eliminate straight-ticket voting and empower poll watchers. 


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Politics upended as top Republicans slam corporate America.


Bloomberg Law: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre accused of using bankruptcy to duck probe.




ADMINISTRATION: Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, thinker and author who steered a key regulatory review operation in the Office of Management and Budget under former President Obama, is not entirely beloved by progressive Democrats. Back in 2010, however, The New York Times Magazine described him as “certainly the most productive and probably the most influential liberal legal scholar of his generation.” 


He’s now back in government at the Homeland Security Department as a senior counselor, toiling with others in the Biden administration to untangle the regulatory web on immigration that the Trump administration handed Biden’s team (The Hill).


The new administration’s goal is to use the rulemaking process and executive action to roll back or modify some 1,000 immigration-related rules and restrictions put into place during former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to move ahead with billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump Fox News hires high-profile defense team in Dominion defamation lawsuit Associate indicted in Gaetz scandal cooperating with DOJ: report MORE’s term, according to figures compiled by the Immigration Policy Tracking Project. And Biden’s immigration advisers want changes under existing law to stand up in court.


"Conservatives and other critics of regulation are loath to admit that they actually support more regulation when it comes to restricting immigration,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizen, a left-leaning group. “Cass Sunstein might force them to grapple with this blind spot."  


Sunstein is known as half of a policy-steeped power couple. His wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha PowerSamantha PowerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden bumps up vaccine eligibility amid 'life or death' race Biden relies on progressive foe to lead immigration rollbacks The Hill's Morning Report - Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today MORE, served as a National Security Council adviser and then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Obama. Biden nominated her to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee expects to vote on Power’s nomination later this month (Reuters).


> Immigration: USAID on Tuesday said it is deploying a team to handle humanitarian assistance in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, countries from which a surge of migrants are fleeing to the U.S. southern border. The team includes “disaster experts … focused on rapidly scaling up emergency food assistance, programs to help people earn an income, protection for the most vulnerable, and other critical humanitarian programs,” USAID said in a statement. 



Samantha Power and Cass Sunstein


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! 


On the road to budget ruin, by Desmond Lachman, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2PJOBIt


Professional diversity is needed on the bench, by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3a66Y1x


The House meets 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 and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden will speak about the American Jobs Plan with Harris in attendance at 1:45 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.


First lady Jill BidenJill BidenBiden to accompany first lady to appointment for 'common medical procedure' Biden, first lady send 'warmest greetings' to Muslims for Ramadan Biden dog Major to get 'off-site' training after incidents MORE at 11:30 a.m. will virtually join U.S. military families, advocates and stakeholders as she describes the next phase of Joining Forces, a White House initiative to support military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors. At 1:30 p.m., she will tour the Defense Department’s 24/7 support call service, Military OneSource, located in Arlington, Va.


The White House press briefing will take place at 12:15 p.m., including Commerce Secretary Gina RaimondoGina RaimondoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Congress returns; infrastructure takes center stage Hillicon Valley: Facebook and Instagram both offline | Commerce adds to blacklist | Major DC insurance provider hacked | Over half turn out for Amazon union vote in Alabama MORE. The administration’s coronavirus briefing is scheduled at 10:30 a.m.


Economic indicator: The Commerce Department will report at 8:30 a.m. on the U.S. trade deficit in February, which advance data suggests widened as a result of consumer demand. 


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube


COURTS: A Minneapolis police use-of-force instructor testified on Tuesday at the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin that the knee restraint used by Chauvin on George Floyd’s neck last year was not part of police training. Chauvin, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and manslaughter, maintains that he heeded his police training while detaining Floyd on the ground with his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes (NBC News). Expert testimony about Minneapolis police training continues today (USA Today).


INTERNATIONAL: Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and two other pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, pleaded guilty to charges that they took part in an illegal, anti-government march two years ago. However, they maintained that they did nothing wrong as a potential five-year prison sentence awaits after the three individuals. Lai and six other activists pleaded guilty to unauthorized assembly last week. “I plead guilty, but I’ve done no wrong in affirming the rights of people to peaceful procession and I believe history will absolve me,” Lee said (Reuters). … The leaders of China and Russia tighten their grips on power and grow closer (The Associated Press).


COCKTAILS TO GO, forever! Temporarily easing state and local business rules and restrictions during the pandemic paved the way for a push to keep those changes in place. Lawmakers in Texas and at least 19 other states that let bars and restaurants sell to-go cocktails during the pandemic are moving to make those allowances permanent. Many states that made it easier for healthcare providers to work across state lines are considering bills to indefinitely ease interstate licensing rules. Lawmakers in Washington are pushing for Medicare to extend its policy of reimbursing for certain telehealth visits. States also are trying to lock in pandemic rules that spawned new online services, from document notarization to marijuana sales. Deregulation has long been a central tenet among Republican politicians, but many of the coronavirus-inspired changes have gained bipartisan support (The Wall Street Journal). 



Cocktails to go sit on ice at the bar Please Don't Tell in Manhattan



And finally … We hummed a familiar tune when we saw NASA’s image taken Sunday from Mars.


Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high

And the dreams that you dream of

Once in a lullaby.


The Perseverance rover over the weekend captured a view of what Earthlings think of as a rainbow, and it sparked vigorous scientific debate about how a dry planet produced such splendid arcs of color (The Hill). Some know-it-alls on social media labeled the phenomenon a dustbow. Some opined that it was an oddity of the rover’s camera lens. Science explains a rainbow as a spectrum of light appearing in the sky caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets.


Saturday was National Find A Rainbow Day. We think NASA delivered.



A NASA image of a rainbow on Mars