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The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans

 

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Back by popular demand, it is Friday! 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 as of this morning: Monday, 581,754; Tuesday, 582,153; Wednesday, 582,848; Thursday, 583,685; Friday, 584,487.

At long last, the masks can come off.  

Fully vaccinated individuals — meaning those who are 14 days clear of their last dose of the vaccine — may resume going about their lives as normal and without any restrictions, including not having to wear masks indoors, according to new guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.  

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated, can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyOvernight Health Care: Biden touts 300 million vaccine doses in 150 days | Biden warns of 'potentially deadlier' delta variant | Public option fades with little outcry from progressives Biden warns of 'potentially deadlier' delta variant, urges public to get vaccine Watch live: White House COVID-19 response team holds briefing MORE said during a White House briefing. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.” 

According to the CDC, the new recommendations do not apply to health care settings, correctional facilities or homeless shelters. The agency also added that vaccinated persons should still wear masks where required by laws, rules and regulations, including on airplanes, trains and public transportation, as well as those set by local businesses and workplaces (The Hill).

The New York Times: CDC guidance, decoded.

The news was a major boon to the country’s push for a full reopening by July Fourth, the day President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE has set as a goal as a return to normal for the country. Biden celebrated the new guidelines immediately on Thursday as he entered the Rose Garden to deliver remarks maskless alongside Vice President Harris.  

“Today is a great day for America in our long battle with the coronavirus,” Biden said on Thursday afternoon, calling the day a “great milestone.” Biden said. “You all made this possible. Now let's finish the work of beating this virus and getting everything back to normal” (The Hill). 

Accordingly, the White House informed staff that those who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks while at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House Correspondents’ Association confirmed to members they no longer are required to wear face coverings while working there. 

While restrictions have not been rolled back on Capitol Hill, lawmakers were already celebrating the new guidelines. 

“Free at last,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters as he walked out of the chamber sans mask. 

As The Hill’s Brett Samuels notes, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhite House reiterates opposition to raising gas tax amid infrastructure debate Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-Maine) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Meghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Senate bill would add visas, remove hurdles to program for Afghans who helped US MORE (R-Iowa) celebrated the news by removing their masks and declaring “freedom.”

The New York Times: Removing masks becomes the first bipartisan activity of Biden’s Washington.

The Washington Post: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Trump against boycotting Beijing Olympics in 2022 House Democrats' campaign arm raises almost million in May MORE (D-Calif.) keeps mask mandate on House floor despite CDC change, sparking GOP backlash: “It’s about control.” 

 

CDC graphic

 

According to Bloomberg News’s vaccination tracker, 46.6 percent of the U.S. population has received one dose of the vaccine, and 35.8 percent are fully inoculated.  

Over the last week, the U.S. is averaging 2.1 million vaccinations per day, a figure that has been on the decline for much of the past month. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. is also averaging 37,000 new infections per day, roughly half of the daily case totals that were being reported a month ago.  

Biden also used his remarks as an opportunity to appeal to those holding out receiving the vaccine. Health experts argued that the new guidance will be an incentivizing factor for those hesitant to receive the jab. 

“I think we’ll get a bump in people seeking vaccination as [a] result of CDC announcement,” said former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “I know many on Twitter are saying the unvaccinated will simply say they were vaxed [sic]. Some will, but many won’t want to, they’ll now view vaccination as something with more value and seek it out.” 

Philip Klein, National Review: Now CDC should liberate children. 

The Wall Street Journal: Blood expert says he found why some COVID-19 vaccines trigger rare clots.

The Hill: Bill MaherWilliam (Bill) MaherMaher goes after Manchin: 'Most powerful Republican in the Senate' Maher calls college a 'grift,' compares it to Scientology Bill Maher rips celebrities considering running for office as malignant narcissists MORE tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

CNBC: India reports more than 343,000 new cases as one professor claims infection may have peaked.     

Reuters: India’s coronavirus tally surpasses 24 million cases as mutant spreads across globe.  

> Schools: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called on Thursday for a full reopening of the nation’s schools for the next academic year, saying: “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.”

About half of the nation’s public schools are not offering five days per week of in-person learning to all students, and teachers’ unions are accused of slowing reopening timelines while seeking strict virus mitigation measures, even after teachers began to be vaccinated in large numbers (The Washington Post).

 

Beaches are full

 

 

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LEADING THE DAY

ADMINISTRATION & INTERNATIONAL: Biden on Thursday said the FBI continues to believe that the Russian government was not behind the cyberattack that led to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, but that “the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia.” Speaking at the White House, the president also urged U.S. motorists not to panic amid fuel scarcity in some states and predicted a return to normal fuel supplies this weekend (The Washington Post). 

The bombshell news of the day was Bloomberg News’s report that Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million to Eastern European hackers on Friday, contradicting reports earlier this week that the company had no intention of paying an extortion fee to help restore the country’s largest fuel pipeline. Officials in the Biden administration were aware of the ransom, which was paid in difficult-to-trace cryptocurrency within hours after the attack.  It underscored the pressure faced by the Georgia-based operator to get gasoline and jet fuel flowing again to major cities along the Eastern Seaboard.  

Once the criminals received the payment, they provided the pipeline operator with a decrypting tool to restore its disabled computer network, Bloomberg reported. The tool was so slow that the company continued using its own backups to help restore the system, one of the people familiar with the company’s efforts said. 

The president continued on Thursday to try to persuade motorists not to hoard scarce gasoline and urged patience, assuring Americans that Colonial Pipeline was poised to operate normally in affected areas “beginning this weekend and continuing into next week.”  

Working to stave off panic buying and political damage ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Biden spoke from the White House: “I know seeing lines at the pumps or gas stations with no gas can be extremely stressful. But this is a temporary situation,” he said. “Gasoline supply is coming back online and panic buying will only slow the process” (The Washington Post). Some GOP pundits have tried to connect the gasoline outages in some Southern states to Democrats’ environmental and energy policies (Vice), falsely suggesting that the government’s hidden hand is behind a ransomware attack. 

The White House has mounted a concerted push to confront the pipeline situation, with officials appearing at daily briefings to explain the administration’s response to mitigate fuel shortages, The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant observes

 

Colonial Pipeline

 

In a world of crises and global unrest, Biden inherited a pandemic, a recession, immigration challenges at the U.S. border and is suddenly faced with fuel transportation problems, serious cyber crimes and what could become war between Israel and the Palestinians (below). 

Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists following days of fighting with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Palestinians militants have fired some 1,800 rockets and the military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three apartment blocks (The Associated Press). Israel said early Friday that its military ground forces had attacked Gaza, a major escalation of violence. “We are doing this and we will continue to do so with great force,” Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE said. “The last word was not said and this operation will continue as long as it takes to restore peace and security to the State of Israel” (The New York Times).

 

Rubble in Gaza

 

Beyond domestic U.S. concerns, the Mideast crisis also threatens to poison the latest talks aimed at reviving the multinational Iran nuclear deal. While Biden has not put peace in the Middle East at the center of his foreign policy, as predecessors did, he's made the Iran talks a priority (The Hill). 

Democrats in Congress are divided about how hard the administration should push the Israeli government to soften its security policies and restart negotiations behind a long-elusive “two-state solution,” reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Republicans, led by McConnell, offer firm support for Israeli defense tactics amid escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and central Israel. Some Democrats say U.S. policy swung too far in Netanyahu’s favor while former President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE was in office and they favor a more neutral stance. Biden has not nominated a U.S. ambassador to Israel.  

The Pentagon said on Thursday it will move 120 U.S. military personnel out of Israel “out of an abundance of caution” (The Hill).

> Immigration: The administration’s top border officials on Thursday defended immigration policies during testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as both parties debate the causes of rising numbers of migrants at the U.S. southern border (The Hill).

> Education Department: Biden plans to nominate Catherine Lhamon to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. She held the same position in the Obama administration (NBC News). 

***** 

CONGRESS: Senate Republicans are prepared to send a new infrastructure offer next week to Biden as the two sides met on Thursday, with each claiming progress toward reaching a bipartisan deal on the issue. 

As The Hill’s Jordain Carney notes, Biden met with a group of 10 Republicans, led by Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (W.Va.), where they discussed two of the biggest sticking points: what is considered “infrastructure” and how to pay for a potential package. 

“He asked that we would come back with another offer, with more granularity to it and more details, and so we agreed to do that,” Capito said, indicating that the counteroffer will be delivered early next week, with another Biden meeting potentially on the docket. 

“He wanted it pretty quickly,” Capito said. “I made it clear this was not a stagnant offer from us, and I didn't want it to be perceived that way.” 

Last month, the Senate GOP group laid out a $568 billion proposal — roughly a quarter the size of Biden’s $2.3 trillion jobs plan. Capito, on Thursday, didn't rule out that Republicans would go higher in their next pitch that they give to the White House after McConnell indicated that their offer could approach $800 billion.  

“Maybe some different numbers too,” Capito said.

Alex Gangitano and Brett Samuels, The Hill: Infrastructure deal imperiled by differences on financing.

The Hill: Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHollywood goes all in for the For the People Act The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (D-W.Va.) on infrastructure: “We're gonna find a bipartisan pathway forward.”

The Washington Post: Path forward is unclear on infrastructure following Oval Office meeting. 

The Hill: Biden says he and GOP both “sincere about” seeking infrastructure compromise.

 

President Biden with Speaker Pelosi

 

> GOP leadership: House Republicans are poised to fill the No. 3 slot in leadership this morning after weeks of infighting, with Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Canadian ambassador calls for close coordination in handling of US border Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE (R-N.Y.) expected to win the post and replace Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyCheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO MORE (R-Wyo.) as House Republican Conference chairwoman. 

The vote is expected to take place at 8:30 a.m. today, with Stefanik the heavy favorite to win despite Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene Roy14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday 21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE (R-Texas), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, throwing his hat in the ring for the position (The Hill).  

With 212 House Republicans in the conference, Stefanik will need to crack 107 votes to win the position. According to one House GOP member, Roy is not expected to crack 60 votes.

Adding to Roy’s issues, Trump said in a statement on Thursday that the Austin-area congressman “has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district.” Roy represents a swing district in the Austin suburbs, having outperformed Trump there in November by 4 percentage points. 

The race to replace Cheney is also forcing House Republicans to look ahead to the 118th Congress amid signals from Stefanik that she may only serve out this term in leadership before running to become chair of the House Education and Labor Committee if the GOP retakes the lower chamber.  

As The Hill’s Scott Wong writes, to do so, the New York Republican would have to leapfrog over several colleagues with more seniority, with Reps. Tim WalbergTimothy (Tim) Lee WalbergThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans Stefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts Greene sounds off on GOP after Hill story MORE (Mich.) and Glenn GrothmanGlenn S. GrothmanWisconsin lawmaker offers bill to ban teaching of critical race theory in DC schools The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans Stefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts MORE (Wis.) saying they may put up a fight. Republican Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonAll House Republicans back effort to force floor vote on 'born alive' bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans Stefanik shake-up jump-starts early jockeying for committee posts MORE (S.C.) says he would endorse Stefanik for the top job on the education panel.   

The Associated Press: Hoping for unity, GOP set to put Stefanik in top House post.

The Hill: Pelosi says GOP downplaying Capitol riot “sick” and “beyond denial.” 

 

Rep. Elise Stefanik

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: For more than a century, politicians have been fond of quoting or paraphrasing Napoleon: “When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him.” 

Ask Democrats to explain their current outlook, should Trump decide to run again in 2024, and they shrug. The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports that Democrats believe that as long as Republicans publicly throttle one another about the de facto leader of their party and his political vulnerabilities, Democrats should get out of the way.

For better or for worse, there is absolutely nothing any Democrat can say or do that is going to change Trump’s behavior and any attempt to do so will be as impactful as farting into a tornado,” Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said.

The Hill’s Niall Stanage in his latest Memo writes that GOP forces opposed to Trump are not giving up. The 2022 and 2024 question: What impact will they have on the 45th president, as well as the GOP leaders they decry as Trump’s enablers?

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! 

 

OPINIONS

Outages and outrages: The fossil fuel industry exploits blackout fears, by Lewis Milford and Abbe Ramanan, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3bnabds 

Biden should take a page out of Reagan's inflation-killing playbook, by Chris Talgo, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3eP3gw1

 

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WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 9 a.m. and will consider legislation that would protect pregnant women in the workplace.

The Senate will convene Monday at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the Endless Frontier Act. 

The president and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden will meet at 3 p.m. with six Dreamers who work in health care, education and agriculture. At 4:30 p.m., the president will receive an economic briefing from his advisers.

The vice president in the afternoon will travel to New York City and join her husband, Douglas EmhoffDoug EmhoffThe Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Harris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety, efficacy in SC event to kick off tour MORE, for their daughter’s graduation. Harris will remain overnight in Washington. 

The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m., accompanied by Cecilia RouseCecilia RouseBiden releases T budget that foresees decade of trillion-dollar deficits The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - What the CDC's updated mask guidance means The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Masks off: CDC greenlights return to normal for vaccinated Americans MORE, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. 

Economic indicator: The Commerce Department at 8:30 a.m. reports on U.S. retail sales in April, reflecting purchases at stores, restaurants and online. It is expected to show continued expansion as the nation emerges from pandemic restrictions (The Wall Street Journal).

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.

ELSEWHERE

➔ SPORTS: The NFL faces mounting pressure over accusations that it is treating Black former players as less intelligent than white players in order to deny them compensation for brain injuries suffered over their playing careers, reports The Hill’s John Kruzel. The league’s race-based approach has made it roughly three times harder for Black ex-players to qualify for payouts under the NFL’s landmark concussion settlement, according to one estimate. Now the former players and their families are seeking to bring on new legal firepower and more court oversight in what they say is a fight for equitable compensation in the face of intentional discrimination on the basis of race. “This is classic systemic racism,” said Ken Jenkins, an advocate for his fellow Black NFL retirees.

STATE WATCH: Nearly 900,000 Americans in Alabama, Mississippi and 11 other Republican-led states are set to see their unemployment checks slashed starting in June, as GOP governors seek to restrict jobless benefits in an effort to force more people to return to work. The cuts are likely to fall hardest on more than half a million people who benefit from stimulus programs adopted by Congress at the height of the pandemic, including one targeting those who either are self-employed or work on behalf of gig-economy companies such as Uber. Beginning next month, many of these workers are likely to receive no aid at all (The Washington Post). … Filings for jobless claims for the week ending May 8 fell to 473,000 as more governors bar the expanded unemployment aid and people return to work or find new jobs. It’s the fourth decline in the past five weeks (The Associated Press). … In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFormer Fla. Gov calls for an investigation into the state's 'outsized role' in the Jan. 6 riot The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Florida pardons residents fined or arrested for mask violations MORE (R) signed a bill on Thursday allowing restaurants to permanently sell to-go alcoholic beverages with takeout and delivery meals beginning on July 1 (The Hill).

➔ ONE GOOD READ: For those heading into the weekend with time for some suspenseful reading, The New Yorker’s Douglas Preston returns to a 1959 mystery involving a group of nine skiers found dead in the Ural Mountains. Has an old Soviet whodunit finally been solved? “Something had happened that induced the skiers to cut their way out of the tent and flee into the night, into a howling blizzard, in twenty-below-zero temperatures, in bare feet or socks.

THE CLOSER

And finally … Kudos to puzzle aces who completed this week’s Morning Report Quiz!  

Here’s who motored into our winners’ circle with correct answers about the energy crises of the 1970s: Mary Anne McEnery, John van Santen, Gary Kalian, Luther Berg and Stewart Baker. 

They knew that in April 1977, former President Carter delivered a prominent address to the nation about the U.S. “energy crisis,” in which he said, “The 1973 gas lines are gone.” 

In 1979, the United States experienced an “oil shock” that had many causes and contributors, including the revolution in Iran, the U.S. reaction to the near-disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania and gasoline panic buying by consumers. Thus, the answer was “all of the above.

As Americans dealt with petroleum supply shortages in the 1970s, locks on gas caps became popular because people stole fuel by siphoning it out of vehicle gas tanks. 

During his first year in office, former President Reagan promoted policies he said would address the energy crisis. Among his ideas: eliminate the Energy Department (which had been created under Carter). 

 

Gas shortages