The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths as of this morning: Monday, 581,754; Tuesday, 582,153.
As lawmakers return to Washington today and President Biden tries to plot a clearer course to round up votes for his major domestic aims, new threats including a cyberattack aimed at a U.S. oil pipeline and Hamas rockets in Israel are reminders that a dangerous world can complicate an administration’s first years in office.
The operator of a major U.S. fuel pipeline said Monday it hopes to have services mostly restored by the end of the week as the FBI and administration officials identified the culprits of a ransomware attack as a gang of criminal hackers. The attack stunned the Biden administration and the energy industry.
Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was forced on Saturday to halt operations after revealing an attack that it said had affected some of its systems. On Monday, U.S. officials sought to soothe concerns about price spikes or damage to the economy by stressing that the fuel supply had so far not been disrupted. Colonial Pipeline said it is working toward “substantially restoring operational service” within days (The Associated Press).
“We need to invest to safeguard our critical infrastructure,” Biden said Monday. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the attack “tells you how utterly vulnerable we are” to cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure.
The Hill: Colonial Pipeline’s experience with ransomware hackers underscores the vulnerability of U.S. energy infrastructure.
CNN explainer: What we know about the ransomware demands and “DarkSide” hackers, identified as the group responsible for the cyberattack.
The Hill: Five takeaways from the attack on the Colonial Pipeline.
Reuters: The ransomware gang accused of crippling the pipeline said on Monday that it was after money, not chaos, an unusual statement that experts saw as a sign that the cybercriminals’ scheme had misfired.
Meanwhile overnight, Israel retaliated against Hamas, unleashing new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, killing a reported 24 Palestinians, including nine children, as Hamas and other armed groups fired dozens of rockets toward Israel. It was an escalation sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem (The Associated Press).
Reactions veered between calls on Biden to put his global human rights policies to the test, and entreaties from Israel to stay out of the Jerusalem crisis. The United States in a statement appealed for “calm,” urging “de-escalation on all sides,” while singling out Hamas for condemnation and defending Israel’s right to self-defense.
Politico: Critics urge Biden to step up as violence spreads in Israel.
The Washington Post analysis: A growing list of rights groups now see the status quo of Israeli military occupation over millions of Palestinians as tantamount to apartheid and view the United States as enabling a morally unacceptable status quo.
Hamas militants on Monday fired dozens of rockets into Israel, including a barrage that set off air raid sirens as far away as Jerusalem, after more than 700 Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli police at a flashpoint religious site in the contested holy city (pictured above and below).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assailed Hamas on Monday, accusing the terror group of crossing a “red line” with the rocket attack on Jerusalem and he vowed a tough response. “Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time” (The Associated Press).
Israeli health officials said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed in fighting, making it one of the bloodiest days of battle between the bitter enemies in several years. One rocket was reported to have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome over the town of Sderot (The Jerusalem Post).
The Times of Israel: Hamas on Monday gave Israel a 2 a.m. ultimatum to remove forces from Temple Mount.
Reuters: The European Union on Monday called for a halt to the violence. “The firing of rockets from Gaza against civilian populations in Israel is totally unacceptable and feeds escalatory dynamics,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
The Hill’s Niall Stanage reports that outrage is rising among Democrats over events in the Middle East — and it’s aimed at Israel. The most influential figures on the American left — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — issued recent statements that condemned Israel’s actions in trying to evict Palestinian families from East Jerusalem.
The comments, reinforced by other Democratic members of Congress — Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Betty McColllum (Minn.) — point to an increasing assertiveness by critics of Israel, complicating life for the Biden administration. Even the more moderate Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted condemnation of the removal of Palestinians and warned the White House, “this is not a moment for tepid statements.”
Then there are the grisly bombings at a girls’ school in western Kabul on Saturday, which killed at least 85 people, mostly schoolgirls (pictured below). The turn of events worries U.S. lawmakers, former diplomats and some former U.S. officials. They fear that fragile gains achieved for Afghan women’s rights over the past 20 years will be lost as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. Some predict the Taliban may overrun the Afghan government or make a power-sharing deal that reinstates repressive policies (The Hill).
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LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Biden on Wednesday is set to hold the first sit-down with Congressional leaders since his inauguration, putting him face-to-face with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ahead of a key stretch on Capitol Hill as Democrats weigh whether a bipartisan deal on infrastructure and jobs is feasible.
As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes, McConnell (pictured below in 2015) is viewed by-and-large as the main obstacle to Biden and Democrats enacting their agenda, especially after the Kentucky Republican said last week that “100 percent” of his attention is trained “on stopping this administration.” Putting the cherry on the sundae, he added that “zero” Republicans will support Biden’s $4.1 trillion infrastructure and jobs agenda.
With those comments fresh in mind, Democrats have little to no expectations that Wednesday’s meeting, which will also include Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), will lead to a breakthrough on any substantive issue. Since taking office, Biden and McConnell have spoken over the phone, but the meeting will be their first face-to-face discussion in this type of setting since Biden’s inauguration.
As for Biden, he kicked off his week of meetings with members of Congress with a pair of Democratic allies as he met separately with Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Tom Carper (Del.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee and is key to infrastructure negotiations. Manchin told reporters on Monday evening that the discussion was “very encompassing.”
On Thursday, Biden is also set to meet in the Oval Office with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is heading the GOP’s efforts to craft an infrastructure proposal, with the last one checking in at $568 billion. McConnell recently indicated that the party’s proposal could grow to $800 billion (The Hill).
The Washington Post: West Virginia’s Capito emerges as central figure as Democrats, Republicans seek infrastructure deal.
> Election reform: The Senate is set for a high stakes battle over one of Democrats biggest priorities as the Senate Rules Committee will meet later today to vote on the For the People Act, a sweeping election reform package that progressives view as crucial to the future of democracy and Republicans see as a federal takeover of elections.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney points out, the vote is likely to fuel calls to nix the legislative filibuster as the bill moves closer to the floor, with Schumer vowing to hold a vote this summer. Progressives are hopeful that the bill could lead to filibuster reform as it has no chance of winning the requisite 60 votes needed to pass the upper chamber.
The Hill: Capitol Police watchdog calls for boosting countersurveillance.
> House GOP drama: McCarthy made official what everyone was expecting on Monday: The House GOP will vote on ousting House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (Wyo.) from her leadership post on Wednesday over her repeated comments about former President Trump.
The secret-ballot vote will come during a conference meeting and after weeks of maneuvering by GOP leaders to boot Cheney from her post. They complain that Cheney’s repeated remarks about Trump and condemnation of his false claims about the 2020 election have put House Republican messaging in peril as they push to retake the lower chamber next year.
“It had been my hope that our driving focus would be taking back the House in 2022 and implementing our Commitment to America. … Unfortunately, each day spent relitigating the past is one day less we have to seize the future,” McCarthy said in Monday’s letter to House GOP colleagues. “This is no time to take our eye off the ball. If we are to succeed in stopping the radical Democrat agenda from destroying our country, these internal conflicts need to be resolved so as to not detract from the efforts of our collective team.”
“Having heard from so many of you in recent days, it’s clear that we need to make a change. As such, you should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair this Wednesday,” he said.
As for Cheney, she has refused to back down from her past comments and has reiterated that Trump’s comments about the “big lie” is a detriment to the party (The Hill).
The Washington Post: The “GOP Impeachment 10” try to navigate Cheney’s demise and their own futures.
The Atlantic: Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) is asking his party to just stop.
Amie Parnes, The Hill: Biden sees Trump rematch as real possibility.
More in politics … Glenn Youngkin took home the GOP nomination for the Virginia gubernatorial contest after he defeated Pete Snyder on the sixth ballot at the state’s nominating convention on Monday. Youngkin, a former CEO at the private equity firm Carlyle Group, will likely face off with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in November (Politico). … A diverse coalition of young and new voters helped move Biden to victory in November, according to a major new study of the 2020 electorate, while Trump made inroads among Hispanic voters in key states. The report, from the Democratic data analytics firm Catalist, confirmed the findings of previous studies that said the most diverse electorate in American history shaped last year’s elections (The Hill). … The New York Times editorial board on Monday endorsed New York mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia. The Democratic primary is next month (The Hill).
ADMINISTRATION: Biden on Monday announced efforts to make it easier for employers to hire new workers and to nudge more people who are living on unemployment benefits to accept new jobs. His comments followed several days of criticism from Republicans over a disappointing employment report released on Friday. Biden said his administration would affirm that workers cannot turn down most jobs they are offered and continue to receive federal unemployment benefits.
“We’re going to make it clear that anyone who is collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said in remarks on the economy from the East Room, noting there would be “a few COVID-19-related exceptions” to the guidance, The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant reports.
Through September, certain workers can get a $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law enacted in March.
Critics argue last week’s jobs report is evidence some people aren’t returning to work because the unemployment benefits are generous and create a disincentive if earnings on the job would be lower. Labor economists and many Democrats dispute this as the reason some people are hesitant to return to previous jobs or leap into new ones. Other explanations for the hesitancy: fear of COVID-19, shuttered schools and public-facing workers who believe they have inadequate options for affordable child care during a public health crisis as well as the recession.
The Wall Street Journal: Biden disputes the argument that enhanced unemployment benefits enacted during the pandemic are hampering the economy.
> Transgender: The administration on Monday barred health care discrimination against transgender people. The Health and Human Services Department will once again prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by health care organizations that receive federal funding, reversing a Trump-era policy (The New York Times).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday authorized the COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech for use in children ages 12 to 15, potentially expanding the U.S. population inoculated heading toward the fall and the school year.
According to results of a 2,260-person clinical trial by Pfizer and BioNTech, children aged 12 to 15 received two doses of the vaccine or a placebo shot, with none of the individuals who received the vaccine becoming infected with COVID-19. There were 18 symptomatic cases of the virus among those who received the placebo. The side effects of the vaccine were also similar to those aged 16 to 25 who received the shot.
Bill Gruber, a senior vice president at Pfizer and a pediatrician, hailed the trial results as a “trifecta” of positive news.
“We have safety, we got the immune response we wanted — it was actually better than what we saw in the 16- to 25-year-old population — and we had outright demonstration of efficacy,” Gruber told The New York Times.
The FDA approval is not the final step though as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel will meet on Wednesday to discuss the data and make a recommendation. If the committee also gives the green light, children in the age class will be able to immediately start receiving shots as early as Thursday (Reuters).
The development is huge as the U.S. pushes to return to normalcy, especially in schools.
The Wall Street Journal: Coronavirus strain found in India is a “variant of concern,” World Health Organization says.
The Hill: BioNTech CEO: Patent waivers are not needed.
The Wall Street Journal: Novavax COVID-19 vaccine faces delay.
> Reopenings: Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Monday that the district will be lifting most capacity restrictions on May 21, with full capacity allowed at bars, nightclubs, sporting events and concert venues on June 11 in a full reopening of the nation’s capital (The Washington Post).
Next Friday, a host of locales, including restaurants, gyms, places of worship, weddings and other spots will not be subject to capacity restrictions, with a complete reopening of the district taking place June 11. As part of Friday’s updated restrictions, capacity at Nationals Park and Audi Field will be upped to 36 percent, while Wizards and Capitals games will be attended at 25 percent capacity at Capital One Arena (WTOP).
“I give all credit, as I always have, to D.C. residents and businesses who have followed the public health advice, and they’ve even outperformed where we thought we’d be on this date. And that’s how we can get closer to reopening because of the precipitous fall in our case rate,” Bowser said during a Monday press conference.
The New York Times’s new map graphic: See reopening plans and mask mandates for all 50 states.
Axios-Ipsos poll: “Normal” is in sight.
The Associated Press: New Orleans incentive for getting vaccinated: free crawfish.
The Wall Street Journal: Catholic schools are losing students at record rates, and hundreds are closing.
South Florida Sun Sentinel: A new mutation of the Brazilian COVID-19 variant surfaces in Broward County.
The Associated Press: Publix pharmacies offer walk-in vax in seven states.
> International: At Dracula’s castle in picturesque Transylvania, Romanian doctors are offering a jab in the arm rather than a stake through the heart. A COVID-19 vaccination center has been set up on the periphery of Romania’s Bran Castle, which is purported to be the inspiration behind Dracula’s home in Bram Stoker’s 19th century gothic novel “Dracula” (The Associated Press).
The Guardian: Zero daily COVID-19 deaths reported in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. … Queen Elizabeth II today will set out the U.K. government’s post-pandemic agenda (Reuters).
Reuters: Germany to make Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine available to all adults.
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!
The Fed does a quiet about-face on inflation, by Anthony O’Brien, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3y3QocX
A massive pipeline hack is just a taste of what’s to come, by Mark Gongloff, editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3yakRpR
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 2 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of Andrea Palm to be deputy secretary of Health and Human Services.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will meet virtually at 1 p.m. with a bipartisan group of governors about their states’ COVID-19 vaccination programs.
Vice President Harris at 4 p.m. will meet with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus at the White House.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at noon.
INVITATION: The Hill Virtually Live hosts Wednesday’s “The Future of Mobility Summit at 12:30 p.m. with a standout roster of speakers, including major corporate CEOs, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Vi Lyles and Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Register HERE to join a conversation about the intersection of technology and transportation and how technology advances in mobility can be supported by policymakers at the local, state and federal levels.
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.
➔ FARMING: Farming-related pollution leads to nearly 18,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Reduced air quality from the agriculture industry results in 17,900 deaths annually, with ammonia accounting for 69 percent of those deaths, researchers wrote. Many of the deaths occurred in California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest Corn Belt, researchers found, noting that about 80 percent of the deaths are related to pollution from animal agriculture. Such pollutants are much more loosely restricted under the Clean Air Act than comparable pollutants from sources such as vehicles and factories (The Hill).
➔ REOPENING (non-COVID-19 edition): Lafayette Square, located just across the street from the White House, reopened to pedestrians on Monday for the first time in nearly a year after being shuttered when police forcibly cleared protesters to allow a photo-op for Trump. The entrance to the park was reopened along H Street NW, and visitors could be seen walking, jogging and biking through the park on Monday morning. Pennsylvania Avenue NW, directly in front of the White House, remained closed to the public. Fencing remains in place along H Street, however, to funnel visitors into one entrance to the park (The Hill).
➔ IN THE KNOW: NBC said on Monday that it will not air the 2022 Golden Globes, saying that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) “needs time” to undergo “meaningful” changes addressing diversity issues. “We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform,” NBCUniversal said in a statement. The network left the door open to airing the annual awards show the following year, saying, “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.” Last week, the board of the HFPA, the organizer of the awards show, unveiled several recommendations for “transformational change” following widespread criticism for its lack of diversity (The Hill). … Tom Cruise returned the three Golden Globe trophies he was awarded for “Born on the Fourth of July” (best actor, drama), “Jerry Maguire” (best actor, comedy or musical), and “Magnolia” (best supporting actor) in protest of the ongoing controversy surrounding the lack of diversity within the HFPA’s membership (Variety).
And finally … Animals can sometimes change their spots and in the case of “Freckles,” the Calico-dotted lobster, coloration proved a lifesaver at Red Lobster.
Dotted with rare dark blue and bright orange spots, Freckles the crustacean showed up a few weeks ago in Manassas, Va., as part of a lobster shipment from Maine. Employees, who know the difference between mundane and sublime lobsters, called the company with news of a rare delivery. Red Lobster intervened for a humane rescue, and Freckles went to a zoo in Newport News, Va., where the only thing on the menu is admiration (The Washington Post).
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