The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Tax March – US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause
Presented by Tax March
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 562,066; Tuesday, 562,533; Wednesday, 563,446.
The U.S. vaccination effort against COVID-19 was dealt a major blow on Tuesday as regulators paused the administration of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) shot to investigate rare blood clots reported in individuals who have received the company’s vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended a temporary halt in use of J&J’s jab after six women were reported to have developed extremely rare blood clots. One woman is known to have died out of the 6.8 million Americans who have received the pharmaceutical company’s one-shot vaccine.
After months of promoting the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, news surrounding the J&J drug posed a setback in the 50-state drive to quickly inoculate the masses. It resulted in canceled vaccination appointments for J&J doses and forced U.S. health officials to again try to reassure the public that Pfizer, Moderna and even J&J vaccines are safe. Vaccine hesitancy in the United States continues to be a barrier to the goal of herd immunity and is considered life-threatening in some age groups and underlying health categories.
“Let me start by saying this announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination program,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told reporters on Tuesday, noting that J&J’s vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the more 190 million reported shots that have been administered (The Hill).
The Hill: Vaccine rollout hits a snag.
The Washington Post: Why Biden health officials decided to pause the J&J vaccine.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Specter of vaccine hesitancy rises after J&J blow.
The Wall Street Journal: COVID-19 vaccine issues present new challenge for J&J.
As The Hill’s Peter Sullivan notes, the type of blood clot in question, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, requires different treatment than blood clots usually do. The pause is intended in part so health providers are able to plan for them and investigate other potential cases. The six cases developed in women between the ages of 18 and 48 between six and 13 days after they received the shot.
Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock predicted that the pause would last “a matter of days,” adding that the length of time depends on “what we learn in the next few days” (The New York Times). Officials acknowledged that the latest development presents problems on the vaccine hesitancy front but argued that the move should instill confidence in the process.
“The fact that a pause was done, I think is just a testimony to how seriously we take safety and why we have an FDA and a CDC that looks at this very carefully and hopefully will resolve it within days to weeks,” added Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I think it’s a very strong argument for safety, actually.”
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Pause in J&J shots raises fears of new vaccine hesitancy.
Politico: Biden officials bracing for possibility of weeks-long disruption to J&J vaccine supply.
The New York Times: Did spotlighting a rare potential vaccine side effect (as yet unproven) put more people at risk?
Yahoo Finance: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 68 points on Tuesday, or 0.2 percent, as a decline in Johnson & Johnson shares weighed on U.S. equity markets.
Along with Tuesday’s anxieties, officials maintained that individuals who were lined up to receive shots in the coming days should still be able to do so. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) tweeted Tuesday morning that New Yorkers getting vaccinated at state-run sites should not cancel their appointments and that they would be able to receive the Pfizer vaccine instead.
Zients told reporters that the current pace of roughly 3 million shots per day should not be interrupted because the country has “more than enough supply” with Pfizer and Moderna doses. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla added on Tuesday that his company will increase its production of the shots for the United States by 10 percent, bringing the national supply of the vaccine to 220 million by the end of May.
“In the fight against COVID-19, we’re in this together,” Bourla tweeted.
Public health experts also sought to dispel public confusion. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA chief, noted the agency chose to pause use of the J&J vaccine but did not revoke its authorization for emergency use (The Hill).
“They didn’t order this off the market. This was a requested pause, which is an awkward regulatory step, but it reflects a level of caution not to appear too forcefully here,” Gottlieb told CNBC. “Their concern would be they’re only seeing the severe cases and they’re missing some of the more mild cases. By taking this action, it’s going to elicit more reporting. That’s really what they’re after: They want to understand what the numerator is.”
Justine Coleman, The Hill: Five questions raised by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause.
The New York Times: What to know about J&J vaccine and blood clot risks.
In positive vaccine news, Moderna released new data on Tuesday showing that its shot is more than 90 percent effective against COVID-19 and more than 95 percent effective against severe disease six months after individuals receive a second shot. The development brings the company one step closer to applying for full FDA approval of the jab (CNBC).
CBS News: Can businesses require proof of vaccination? Experts say yes.
Morning Consult: 63 percent of Americans support a form of vaccine identification.
South Florida Sun Sentinel: Another cruise line will require vaccines; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says no.
The Associated Press: France suspends all Brazil flights due to variant concerns.
Opportune timing? On Sunday, Biden will appear with former President Obama during an NBC “awareness campaign” special, “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” at 7 p.m. ET to try to educate viewers and dispel COVID-19 vaccine concerns. Among many other notables to appear: Fauci, former first lady Michelle Obama, sports stars Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Faith Hill, Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Billy Crystal and Wanda Sykes (The Hill).
LEADING THE DAY
ADMINISTRATION: Regarding Afghanistan, the president will announce today that U.S. troops will conduct a phased withdrawal by Sept. 11, the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, skipping a May 1 deadline previously reached with the Taliban for a complete U.S. exit (The Washington Post). Officially, there are 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, although the number fluctuates and is currently about 1,000 more than that. There are also up to an additional 7,000 foreign forces in the coalition there, the majority of them NATO troops, the Post reports. The Taliban has vowed to renew attacks on U.S. and NATO personnel if foreign troops are not out by May, but it’s unclear if those threats will be carried out.
Biden’s goal to be the fourth and final U.S. president since 2001 to wrestle with U.S. involvement in what became a “forever war” in Afghanistan did not sit well with some observers in both parties.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Biden in a statement she was “very disappointed” to see the administration pull U.S. forces out without “verifiable assurances of a secure future.” She said the president’s September deadline to “walk away … undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly to Afghan women.”
On the right, former White House national security adviser John Bolton assailed Biden’s decision as “reckless” and a “full unconditional retreat.” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Tuesday, “You don’t want to announce to everyone when you’re going to do these things.” He called Biden’s troop pullout timetable to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks “politically driven” and “really a bad, bad program.”
The New York Times: Lawmakers divided over Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan.
The Washington Post: With Afghanistan pullout, Biden aims to reset America’s global agenda.
The New York Times: With Afghan decision, Biden seeks to focus the United States on new challenges.
> The United States on Tuesday called on Russia to halt a military build-up on Ukraine’s border on Tuesday as Moscow, in words recalling the Cold War, said its “adversary” should keep U.S. warships well away from annexed Crimea. Biden, in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, emphasized Washington’s “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and expressed concern over the Russian military build-up, the White House said. Biden also proposed a summit between the two leaders in a third country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Brussels for talks on Tuesday with NATO leaders and Ukraine’s foreign minister, echoed Biden, saying the United States stood firmly behind Ukraine (Reuters).
> In a reversal of former President Trump’s vow to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, the United States will increase its military presence in Germany by 500 soldiers. The announcement was made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday in Berlin (Politico).
> In a first visit to China among top Biden administration officials, former Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Shanghai today. Kerry, who is the president’s special envoy for climate, will travel to China and South Korea through April 17 ahead of Biden’s scheduled climate summit to coincide with Earth Day on April 22 and 23 (The Washington Post). To bolster carbon emission reduction targets, the administration is nearing agreements ahead of the summit with Japan, Korea and Canada but is finding it tougher going with China, India and Brazil (The New York Times).
> Nominations: Biden selected a criminal justice reformer, Anne Milgram, a former New Jersey attorney general and prosecutor, to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration (The Washington Post).
> IRS: The United States is losing $1 trillion a year in unpaid taxes, Commissioner Charles Rettig told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. What’s escaping the tax collector? Cryptocurrency trades, rising foreign-sourced income and abuses of business income passed through as personal income, he said. Rettig said the agency is “outgunned” by increasingly sophisticated tax avoidance schemes and hobbled by years of lean and inconsistent budgets in the context of IRS’s responsibilities (Reuters).
> Economy: Tuesday’s consumer price index report for March showed that Americans paid a lot more for gasoline (prices rose 9.1 percent last month), which contributed to the fastest rise seen in nearly nine years in consumer prices. The closely watched index rose 0.6 percent overall in March from February, according to the Labor Department (The New York Times). Republicans in Congress are warning that Democrats’ big-ticket spending — the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan followed by a $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal — will stoke further inflation, putting a strain on consumers. “We are testing the limits of how much money you can create and pump into the economy and expect prices to remain stable,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told Bloomberg News on Tuesday (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS: Senate Republicans are wary about the president’s outreach efforts to pass an infrastructure bill and remain skeptical that any bipartisan deal can be struck. Democrats suggest they could try to pass the administration’s $2.3 trillion package without GOP votes, if necessary.
The Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Biden agreed he will deliver an address to a joint session of Congress on April 28, the night before his 100th day in office. The nationally televised speech, more often delivered by newly elected presidents in February rather than in the spring, will have COVID-19 precautions for attendees.
Coupled with Monday’s meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House, Biden has been making individual overtures to Senate Republicans in recent days. However, as The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, the presidential outreach has received a mixed reception among GOP lawmakers, especially in the wake of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that passed last month without any support from across the aisle.
Moderate members say they were bothered by his remarks when Democrats enacted the COVID-19 bill, while GOP leadership has criticized the president for not reaching out more often to seek Republican support. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) panned the administration’s infrastructure plan once again on Tuesday, saying that it is “about a whole lot of things that aren’t infrastructure.”
Along with concerns about outreach, Republicans are worried about the scope. One provision that is unlikely to be included, however, is a hike in the gas tax. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the potential tax increase is not being considered. The gas tax has support from Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), industry and union groups, but would violate Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes for households making less than $400,000 per year.
After Monday’s meeting, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) told a reporter that Biden signaled an openness to increase the tax, which Psaki swatted down a day later.
“I think that was a little bit of a garble, unintentional, but in yesterday’s meeting with members of Congress the president mentioned the gas tax only to make a point that even a significant increase in the gas tax, which some people have proposed would pay for only a fraction of the investment the country needs,” Psaki told reporters, adding that Biden believes raising the tax would be an unnecessary burden (The Hill).
> Hate crimes bill: Senate Republicans signaled on Tuesday that they will allow debate on an anti-Asian hate crimes bill, defusing a potential filibuster standoff that was expected to crop up today.
Democrats will force a vote to proceed on a bill by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a move that will require 10 votes from Republicans to hit the requisite 60-vote threshold. McConnell, whose wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is Chinese American, indicated to reporters that Senate Republicans will allow debate to start on the bill and will seek amendments to it.
“As a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem,” McConnell said. “I’m hoping we will work out an agreement to get on the bill in a normal way, have some amendments and move to final passage” (The Hill).
The Associated Press: Senate filibuster test over Asian American hate crime bill.
The Hill: Black lawmakers press Biden on agenda at White House meeting.
Roll Call: Senate GOP to decide April 21 on internal earmark ban.
The Hill: Inside the surprisingly close relationship between Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
> High honor: Capitol Police officer William “Billy” Evans laid in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday after he died in the line of duty earlier this month.
Evans was killed on April 2 when a male suspect rammed his car into a Senate-side security barricade and slammed into him and another Capitol Police officer. Evans is the second Capitol Police officer to receive the rare honor this year, following Brian Sicknick, who died while protecting the Capitol from the Jan. 6 insurrection (The Hill).
Congress on Thursday will hold a hearing about Capitol security on Jan. 6, including information drawn from a 104-page new inspector general report reviewed by The New York Times and The Associated Press. The report says Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the attack than has been previously known, including the potential for violence in which “Congress itself is the target.” Officers were instructed by their leaders not to use their most aggressive tactics to hold off the mob. Key findings from the report are HERE.
Roll Call: Pandemic, insurrection, shootings, but little progress on congressional continuity plans.
More politics & Congress: An indicted Florida associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has reportedly been talking to the Justice Department since last year about the congressman and others as part of an investigation involving alleged sex trafficking. Gaetz, who is now under House Ethics Committee investigation, maintains he has done nothing wrong and says he will not resign (The New York Times). … McConnell again was asked about Trump’s weekend broadside describing him as a “dumb son of a bitch.” He again dodged the query, telling reporters, “What I’m concentrating on is the future, and what we are confronted with here is a totally left-wing administration — with a slight majority in the House, a 50-50 Senate — trying to transform America into something no one voted for last year” (The Hill). … The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports that corporate donors who swore off supporting Republicans who voted to overturn the results of last year’s election changed their minds. Manchester tallies the many, many millions piling up in some campaign accounts since January. … Ohio businessman Mike Gibbons on Tuesday joined the GOP Senate contest (The Hill). … Florida’s governor wants voters’ mail-in ballot signatures to match the most recent signatures on file with the state. Would his signatures pass the test? (Tampa Bay Times).
POLICING & COURTS: In the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday after weeks of testimony and video evidence that George Floyd died last year from asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen, while Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Chauvin’s lawyers began their defense, arguing that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death (NBC News).
The Associated Press: Chauvin’s defense includes testimony from use-of-force experts, including a former police officer, who testified that Chauvin was justified in pinning Floyd by his neck.
Ten miles from Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center Police Department officer Kim Potter resigned on Tuesday following the Sunday shooting death of Daunte Wright, which the medical examiner ruled a homicide. Local authorities say Potter is the veteran officer who shot Wright, 20, during a traffic stop. The death of another young, Black man at the hands of police sparked emotional protests and some looting in Minneapolis and stirred the president and members of Congress to talk about a painful week. The Brooklyn Center police chief on Monday said Potter mistakenly fired her service revolver when she intended to grab her Taser (The Hill).
The New York Times: How could a police officer mistake a gun for a Taser?
The Associated Press: In Brooklyn Center, a decision is expected today on whether to charge the white former police officer who fatally shot Wright.
At the same time that Wright’s death captured national attention, Biden and Vice President Harris also paid their respects on Tuesday to slain Capitol Police officer Evans, whose casket was in the Capitol, accompanied by his mother, his widow and his two children (USA Today).
The Associated Press: Biden works to balance civil rights and criminal justice.
In Kenosha, Wis., Rusten Sheskey, the police officer who was cleared of any wrongdoing after shooting Jacob Blake seven times in August, returned to work after administrative leave. Sheskey shot Blake when he opened the driver’s door on an SUV and leaned into it. Three of Blake’s sons were in the backseat. Blake, 29, is paralyzed (WNCN).
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!
Putin & “consequences”: Russia’s massing of troops at Ukraine’s border poses an early test for Biden and Group of Seven allies, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3wT3EAt
The phony furor over expanding the Supreme Court, by Charles Lane, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3dZi4GH
A MESSAGE FROM TAX MARCH
FedEx made $1.2 BILLION in profits last year but paid NOTHING in federal income taxes. Now FedEx is trying to protect their tax breaks by lobbying against President Biden’s plan to create millions of jobs and rebuild America. Tell Congress: it’s time corporations like FedEx pay their fair share.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Gary Gensler to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission and Brenda Mallory to be a member of Council on Environmental Quality.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. The president will accompany first lady Jill Biden for a medical appointment and both will return to the White House to resume their schedules. Biden will deliver pre-recorded virtual opening remarks scheduled at 10:15 a.m. to the National Action Network’s (NAN) convention. The president will speak from the Treaty Room at 2:15 p.m. about the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which he says will end in September. The commander-in-chief at 3:05 p.m. will visit Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where many of America’s war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried (National Geographic).
Harris at 10 a.m. will convene a virtual roundtable for a discussion with experts on the immigration issues involving Mexico and Central American countries.
The White House press briefing will take place at 12:30 p.m. The administration’s coronavirus briefing is scheduled at 11 a.m.
INVITATION TODAY to The Hill’s Virtually Live three-day program “The Sustainability Imperative” from today through Friday. Join dozens of notable experts, leaders and stakeholders for eye-opening discussions this week, including White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy, former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, Oregon Gov. Jay Inslee (D), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and fashion designer Tracy Reese. Information is HERE.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Iran said on Tuesday it would begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, a move that would take the fissile material much closer to the 90 percent suitable for a nuclear bomb, a day after Tehran accused arch foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site (Reuters). The United States remains “concerned” about the provocative rhetoric, Psaki said. … In Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been on a hunger strike in prison for two weeks, said Tuesday he was suing his prison for withholding the Quran, which he intended to study while serving time outside Moscow. Navalny, 44, was arrested in January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he received medical care after being poisoned while in Siberia. He is Putin’s fiercest domestic opponent (The Associated Press).
➔ STATE WATCH: California is racing to get ahead of what could be another calamitous fire season, with billions in new spending planned (The Hill). … Texas on Tuesday sued the Biden administration for revoking the 2019 Trump era rule requiring U.S.-bound migrants to remain in Mexico (Bloomberg News). … South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) announced on Tuesday that the federal government is barred from housing unaccompanied migrant children in foster care or group homes in his state because of a potential strain on its social services system (The Hill). … Florida is moving to permanently close the leaky Piney Point wastewater reservoir, which threatened homes and businesses south of Tampa and poured millions of gallons of water into Tampa Bay (The Associated Press).
And finally … In the commercial satellite world, they call it a “tug” concept. After years of talking about the possibility of servicing spacecraft in orbit, towing them to new locations or even pulling them back to Earth, the satellite industry is showing what it can do.
In only the second time in history, two commercial satellites this week joined together 22,369 miles above Earth, pulling off a delicate procedure as one satellite (the tugboat concept) grabbed hold of an older spacecraft, Intelsat 10-02, which relays TV channels and other telecom services. Because it is running low on fuel after 17 years in orbit, the aging Intelsat will remain pointed correctly at Earth thanks to its newly docked appendage provided by the Northrop Grumman Corp. and its subsidiary SpaceLogistics. In five years, the Intelsat 10-02 will be steered to a disposal space “graveyard” altitude as obsolete space junk (BBC).
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