The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden wants Congress to pass abortion bill, pushes for Mideast cease-fire
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 585,970; Tuesday, 586,359.
The Supreme Court next year will render what could be a seismic decision about a constitutional right to abortion, a prospect raised on Monday that cheered opponents of Roe v. Wade and disturbed abortion rights advocates who fear the intentions of the court’s conservative majority.
The court’s agreement in an unsigned order on Monday to take up a dispute over a Mississippi law that bans virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy immediately animated partisans on both sides. With attention firmly on next year’s midterm elections and the White House after 2024, the prospect of a Supreme Court decision that could curtail or overturn abortion rights is also expected to revive debate about the size of the Supreme Court and its rightward-leaning 6-3 majority (The Hill).
On Capitol Hill, progressive Democrats wasted no time weighing in. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Congress could legislate abortion rights. “This shouldn’t just be up to the Supreme Court,” she tweeted. “Congress can — and must — pass a law to protect the right to a safe and legal abortion, no matter what Trump’s justices say. … Congress must step up to enshrine Roe into federal law.”
President Biden is “committed to codifying” in law the landmark 1973 right to abortion affirmed by Roe v. Wade, regardless of the debate about the Mississippi state law, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said (The Hill and CBS News).
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan (D), who is running for the Senate, echoed the calls within his party to seek action in Congress. “The fact that #SCOTUS is reviewing this extreme abortion ban underscores the urgent need for us to pass laws that protect this fundamental right,” he tweeted.
The odds of such legislation getting through the current 50-50 Senate are seen as nearly nil.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tweeted that the Monday announcement was the “biggest threat to Roe v. Wade in 30 years. The justices cannot turn back the clock on reproductive freedom.”
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma called the Supreme Court decision to take up the Mississippi case “a huge step forward in the work that has been done over decades to protect the life of every child starting in the womb.”
In Georgia, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), who has left the door open to running again after losing her seat in a special election this year, hailed the court’s agreement to hear the Mississippi case as “great news! The Supreme Court will finally have the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade and restore the right to life in our country.”
The Mississippi law seeks to ban most abortions about two months earlier than allowed in Roe and subsequent decisions and is seen by both sides of the abortion debate as potentially pivotal in establishing how aggressively the court’s majority will move to place new constraints on abortion (The New York Times). The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, probably will be argued in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022 during the campaign for congressional midterm elections (The Associated Press and SCOTUSblog).
“Yes, this will energize anti-choice crusaders, but in reality public opinion is against them,” Democratic strategist Cole Leiter told the Morning Report. “If you thought the Women’s March lit the match for the 2018 midterms, buckle up.”
Abortion rights advocacy organizations on Monday used the kind of rhetoric that often appears in fundraising entreaties. The National Abortion Rights Action League warned that “it doesn’t get scarier than this,” and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts tweeted, “Let’s be explicit: anti-abortion extremists made it clear that this was the goal all along. It’s why they couldn’t wait to rush Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court before the November election. Keep your hands off of our health care.”
Fifty percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. About 29 percent believe it should be legal under any circumstances. Just 20 percent, according to Gallup, favor making abortion illegal under all circumstances.
Abortion rates have continued to fall in the United States since 2011, but abortion restrictions were not the main driver, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports women’s reproductive rights.
> More in the court: Why Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, may resist calls for his retirement: The justice, who has served on the court for nearly 27 years, “has been particularly adamant that politics plays no role in judges’ work, and he recently suggested that it should also not figure into their decisions about when to retire,” reports The New York Times’s Adam Liptak. … The court on Monday also backed a bid by major players in the oil and gas industry to undo a lower court’s decision that kept the city of Baltimore’s lawsuit against them in state court. Justices ruled 7-1 that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals erred in its decision that it lacked jurisdiction to consider certain grounds from the companies for bringing the case into federal court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the dissenting vote (The Hill).
More D.C. discord: Progressive efforts to beef up voting rights in Congress face major stumbling blocks as GOP state legislatures propose new restrictions around the country. In a letter to senators, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called on lawmakers of all stripes to throw their weight behind strengthening the 1965 Voting Rights Act instead of enacting the For the People Act, a sweeping package that would overhaul elections. But Republicans are balking at supporting even that, with nearly half of Republicans saying the party’s strategy for future elections should be changing voting laws (The Hill). … After months of mostly keeping his head down and being a team player, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is speaking up (The Hill).
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LEADING THE DAY
ADMINISTRATION & MIDEAST: Today, Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building, and militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel as war, now in its second week, shows no signs of abating. Palestinians across the region observed a general strike (The Associated Press).
The toll: At least 212 Palestinians have been killed to date, including 61 children and 36 women, with more than 1,400 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not separately categorize fighters and civilians. Ten people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier, have been killed in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel, according to news accounts.
On Monday, the White House said Biden expressed “support” in principle for a cease-fire in a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president’s action and emphasis on civilian casualties signaled U.S. concern for an end to Israel’s part of hostilities with Hamas, although it fell short of joining growing Democratic demands for an immediate cease-fire. Biden’s intention is to show support for Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas (The Associated Press and The Hill).
An Israeli official told Axios that the Biden administration had not given Israel a deadline for reaching a cease-fire but had been stressing on Monday that it was reaching the end of its ability to hold back international pressure on Israel over the Gaza operation. “The overall message was that they support us but want this to end,” the Israeli official said. The U.S. has blocked at least three attempts at the United Nations Security Council to release a statement on the situation in Gaza.
Hours before the release of the White House statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled that the Biden administration would continue to urge a de-escalation of violence but would stop short of wading into the international diplomatic drive underway to try to negotiate peace.
“In all of these engagements we have made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a cease-fire,” he said.
Biden faces pressure from the U.N. Security Council, some Democrats in Congress and others who want him and other international leaders to get more involved in forging an immediate diplomatic end to the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in years and revive long-collapsed mediation for a lasting peace (The Associated Press).
The New York Times: Diplomatic efforts appear stalled. Thus far, Israel has resisted efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to broker a cease-fire. And Hamas has continued its rocket fire into Israel.
While traveling in Copenhagen during a tour of Nordic countries, Blinken spoke again on Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
The Hill’s Laura Kelly reports that the U.S. approach to the situation in Gaza is frustrating close allies and leading to criticism from some of Israel’s staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill.
Blinken also said on Monday that he has yet to see evidence of intelligence related to Israel’s destruction of a 12-story building in Gaza used as a media bureau by The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other outlets. Israeli military forces say they destroyed the building after giving occupants an hour’s notice because it claimed Hamas operated there (The Associated Press).
> Steel tariffs: The United States and the European Union (EU) on Monday temporarily suspended tariffs in an ongoing steel dispute as Biden pursues better trading relations with allies. The decision comes in time for Biden’s visit to EU headquarters in mid-June to discuss a new relationship following the bloc’s difficult relationship with former President Trump (The Associated Press).
> Child tax credit: On Monday, the IRS announced the first monthly payment of the expanded child tax credit from the COVID-19 relief law will be sent to 39 million households beginning on July 15, benefiting more than 88 percent of children in the United States. The White House used the phrase “Bidenomics” to describe the administration’s economic and taxation policies.
> Biden and Vice President Harris tax returns: In another contrast with his predecessor, Biden released copies of his tax filings on Monday showing adjusted gross income of $607,336, along with his wife, Jill Biden, HERE. The vice president’s returns showed adjusted gross income of nearly $1.7 million in 2020 with her husband, Doug Emhoff, an attorney, HERE.
CORONAVIRUS: Confusion continued to set in Monday as states and municipalities attempted to sort out mask recommendations days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance allowing fully vaccinated individuals to not wear masks in most settings.
As The Hill’s Justine Coleman notes, a range of experts and groups, including National Nurses United, have questioned rolling back the mask rules for vaccinated people and believe it could jeopardize the country’s recovery. However, the administration has thrown its weight behind the new guidance, saying that it reflects the vaccines’ effectiveness and signals a step toward normalcy.
“The CDC director promised the American people that she would convey the latest science to them as she knew it, that she would not delay, that she would not be impacted by politics or influenced by political pressure on the White House or elsewhere,” Psaki said. “And that’s exactly what she did.”
In response, a number of states and entities rolled back their rules on Monday. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) changed the District’s guidance to largely reflect the CDC’s updates.
According to the mayor, fully vaccinated people in the nation’s capital must wear a mask or practice social distancing only in settings where doing so is required, including in businesses that mandate masks, taxis and rideshares, schools, health care settings, and homeless shelters. District residents and commuters will also have to continue wearing masks on the Metro and on buses (The Hill).
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced that all remaining COVID-19 restrictions in the commonwealth will be lifted on May 29 ahead of Memorial Day weekend. The order also rescinds Massachusetts’s face covering order (The Hill).
However, the same cannot be said for California, as Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has delayed lifting the Golden State’s mask mandate until mid-June (The Hill).
The Hill: Mask mandate lifted for vaccinated people in national parks, federal buildings.
The New York Times: They’re vaccinated and keeping their masks on, maybe forever.
The Hill: Senators shed masks after CDC changes guidance.
Mediaite: Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, predicts the disappearance of masks within weeks: “Nobody is going to be wearing” them.
> Vaccines: Biden on Monday announced that the U.S. will share an additional 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved domestically with the rest of the world by the end of June.
According to Biden, doses of the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be shared amid calls for the administration to help nations that have struggled to inoculate their citizens. The decision is on top of a commitment by the Biden administration to ship out 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s jab as it is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is not known how long it will take for the FDA to declare the AstraZeneca vaccine safe.
“We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that’s raging globally is under control,” Biden said during a White House address. “No ocean’s wide enough, no wall is high enough, to keep us safe” (The Hill).
As for the situation in the U.S., the national map of vaccinations closely resembles an electoral map as most Democratic-leaning states are administering shots at a level well above the national average, while states that vote Republican in presidential contests are bringing up the rear.
As The Hill’s Peter Sullivan writes, the politics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have consistently been partisan, with polls showing that conservatives and Republicans, particularly men, are the most hesitant to get vaccinated. The data bears this out as the jab rates in states offer insight into the national political winds.
Making up the top states for vaccination rates are New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Connecticut. Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho make up the bottom of the list. Some swing states offer surprises, with Pennsylvania boasting a vaccination rate of 55 percent and Georgia and Arizona, both of which supported Biden, checking in at 44 and 37 percent, respectively.
Axios: Vaccine-hesitant Americans cite inaccurate side effects.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Pent-up consumer demand fuels post-pandemic spending spree.
The Wall Street Journal: COVID-19 hospital patients tend to be younger now.
CNBC: COVID-19 variant from India could become dominant in the UK “in a matter of days,” posing unknown dangers.
The Associated Press: India reports record day of virus deaths as cases level off.
> Sports: The New York City Marathon is returning this fall with a smaller field (The Hill)… In Japan, the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for July-August face pressure from the Japanese people, including Japanese doctors, who would like to cancel the competitions because of fears of COVID-19 transmission. The International Olympic Committee says it expects the Olympics to proceed (Yahoo Sports).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Joel Greenberg, an associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), pleaded guilty to six federal crimes on Monday, including sex trafficking of a minor, and has entered into a plea deal with prosecutors and is cooperating in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Florida congressman.
Greenberg, a former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector, is at the center of the legal investigation looking into Gaetz and allegations against him involving sex crimes. As part of his plea deal, Greenberg admitted that he recruited women for commercial sex acts and paid them more than $70,000 between 2016 and 2018, including sending money through Venmo. Greenberg had been facing 33 federal criminal charges before the plea agreement.
The attention now turns to Gaetz, who has maintained that he has committed no wrongdoing. In a statement to The Hill, a Gaetz spokesperson said, “Joel Greenberg has now confessed to falsely accusing an innocent man of having sex with a minor” (The Hill).
> Trump watch: Trump is slated to address the North Carolina state GOP convention next month amid Republican preparations for the midterm elections and as the former president continues to float a possible 2024 bid.
Trump will address the convention dinner on June 5 in Greenville (The Hill). News of the appearance comes as he gears up to become more active and boost the political hopes of GOP allies while concurrently kicking around a potential third White House run. As Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant write, the 45th president is expected to soon resume his signature rallies and hold his first fundraiser for his new super PAC.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Republicans eye new House majority through redistricting.
The Washington Post: “Our democracy is imperiled”: Maricopa County officials decry 2020 recount as a sham and call on Arizona Republicans to end the process.
The Hill: Democrats look to rebuild party structure with midterms in mind.
> Primary bids: Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee (R) on Monday launched her campaign for governor to replace Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who is term-limited. Yee was elected as treasurer in 2018 and previously served as majority leader for the Arizona state Senate (The Hill). … In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) announced that he will not run for reelection next year, due in large part to his rebukes of the former president’s false claims of a rigged election in the Peach State last year (The Hill). … Finally, former Rep. Lou Barletta (Pa.) kicked off his bid to retake the Pennsylvania governorship on Monday, becoming the highest-profile Republican to formally announce a bid for the post. Barletta lost the state’s Senate contest to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in 2018 by 13 points, having been accused of running a lazy campaign that was plagued by poor fundraising. Barletta is running to replace term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf (D) (The Hill).
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!
Biden hits choppy waters, by Niall Stanage, associate editor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2RrLDcz
The Trumpy right is violating everything our children are taught, by Dana Milbank, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2S234QS
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. to consider nine bills, including the Senate-passed anti-Asian American hate crimes bill and reauthorization of State Department operations for fiscal 2022. The House Foreign Affairs Committee hears testimony at 10 a.m. about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan from witnesses with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of the Endless Frontier Act aimed at helping the United States compete with China through technology and research.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will travel to Dearborn, Mich., to speak at 1:40 p.m. at the Ford Rouge Electric Vehicle Center before returning to the White House this evening.
Blinken is in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he will meet with President Gudni Johannesson, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thordarsonand and participate in the May 19-20 Arctic Council Ministerial. The secretary will also tour Keflavik Air Base.
Emhoff will travel to Annapolis, Md., to meet with small business owners.
The White House coronavirus response team will brief reporters at 10:15 a.m.
Economic indicator: The Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 8:30 a.m. will jointly report housing starts for April. Analysts think there could be a small retreat in the housing boom after March set a 15-year high.
➔ MORE INTERNATIONAL: Pope Francis met on Monday at the Vatican with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (Republic World/AP Television News). … Japan’s economy slumped back into decline during the first quarter of the year, blamed on declining consumer spending during the pandemic (Reuters). … Hong Kong’s government on Tuesday suspended operations at its representative office in Taiwan in a sign of escalating diplomatic tension between the global financial hub and the democratically ruled island that Beijing claims (Reuters).
➔ MEDIA MERGER: AT&T and Discovery Communications on Monday announced a $43 billion deal to bring one of Hollywood’s biggest studios and Discovery’s channels under the same ownership. The goal for the newly merged company is to offer a wider array of material than either can offer on its own to compete with Netflix, Amazon and Disney in the widely acknowledged top tier of streamers (The Associated Press). AT&T owns CNN, HBO and Warner Bros. after acquiring many brands in a $108.7 billion purchase of Time Warner in 2018. The deal would mark the entry of another player into a crowded market. “This is a streaming arms race and AT&T is making an offensive strategic move to further bulk up its content in the battle versus Netflix, Disney and Amazon,” Dan Ives from Wedbush Securities told the BBC.
➔ SPACE: For some Americans, the U.S. Space Force is little more than a punchline on Twitter or a Netflix satire with middling reviews. Retired Col. Bill Woolf is hoping the Space Force Association can help change that. “If the only thing that folks have to reference are late night comedians or a Netflix series, then that’s a problem,” Woolf, president and founder of the association, said in a recent interview with The Hill.
➔ HORSE RACING: Bob Baffert, the head trainer for Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, was suspended from Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course on Monday, meaning not only is he not allowed on the grounds of either location, but he will not be able to enter his horses at the tracks. The ruling means Medina Spirit, who failed a drug test after the Kentucky Derby but was able to compete in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, will not be able to compete in the third leg of the Triple Crown races on June 5 or at either track throughout the summer (The New York Times).
And finally … Spectacular water views, solitude with nature, historic properties at no charge to new owners!
The General Services Administration (GSA) is offloading four picturesque lighthouses the Coast Guard no longer needs, searching for interest among entities that might be willing to adapt the structures for new uses. The GSA has in mind other federal, state and local agencies; nonprofit organizations; educational and community development agencies, or groups devoted to parks, recreation, culture or historic preservation.
The buildings in question are Beavertail Lighthouse in Jamestown, R.I., which is the country’s third-oldest lighthouse and was established on the site in 1749 before the current granite tower was erected in 1856. The views of Narragansett Bay are breathtaking. Then there’s Watch Hill Light in Westerly, R.I., not far from Taylor Swift’s beachside mansion. Also on the list: Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light in Ohio, and Duluth Harbor North Pierhead Light in Minnesota (The Associated Press).
The government is asking interested groups to formally apply by mid-July (see details for Beavertail Lighthouse HERE.) The National Park Service reviews the applications.