The Hill’s Morning Report – High-profile COVID-19 infections spark new worries
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 609,021; Tuesday, 609,231; Wednesday, 609,529.
The dynamics of the delta variant of COVID-19 represent both the best and worst of times for a pandemic that’s far from over.
On the plus side, vaccines are keeping most inoculated people out of hospitals and out of morgues. But the delta variant can still infect vaccinated people, startling those with no symptoms or mild illness who test positive for the virus, including at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
In official Washington, relaxed behaviors began to change on Tuesday following the discovery that vaccinated aides from the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) staff, along with vaccinated legislators from Texas visiting the nation’s capital, plus Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), who was fully vaccinated early this year, all recently tested positive for COVID-19 with mild or no symptoms. Their infections are met with self-isolation, contact tracing to determine whether senior elected officials might be exposed, and lots and lots of testing. The infected-but-vaccinated can transmit the virus to others, including children and adults.
The delta variant is everywhere in the United States and is now responsible for at least 83 percent of all genetically sequenced U.S. infections. As masks again appeared on the House floor and lawmakers thought twice about confabs in clusters, the Capitol physician on Tuesday noted that vaccinated people “may consider additional protective actions,” such as face coverings, while noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not changed its voluntary mask guidance and “does not generally require vaccinated individuals to wear a mask indoors at this time.”
The question afoot is whether the current prevalence of the delta variant means the “rare” breakthrough cases of infection the CDC initially described in people who are fully vaccinated is not quite so rare. More testing would help answer transmission questions. The CDC points to a five-month study that found 99.5 percent of COVID-19 deaths were among people who were unvaccinated, but the number of infections among those who are vaccinated is unclear.
A White House aide and a Pelosi aide, both fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an event together off-campus, Axios reported on Tuesday.
An official told Axios, “the White House is prepared for breakthrough cases with regular testing. This is another reminder of the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalization.” The White House says no staff member discovered to be infected with COVID-19 had been near President Biden.
CNN: White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed there have been prior breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated White House staff.
Pelosi’s staff member helped usher a delegation of Democratic Texas lawmakers around the Capitol last week. Six of those lawmakers, who flew to Washington to block the Texas legislature from changing the state’s voting laws, tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Vice President Harris met with some of the Texans last week and was tested on Sunday for possible infection.
Politico: “It’s a nightmare”: COVID-19 delta variant rocks a recovering Capitol complex.
More COVID-19 headlines: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who early in the pandemic contracted COVID-19 and has not been vaccinated, clashed with Anthony Fauci on Tuesday at a hearing while accusing the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of lying to Congress about the origin of the coronavirus in China. “Sen. Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially,” Fauci responded while denying being untruthful with lawmakers. “You do not know what you’re talking about” (NBC News). … The progressive group Protect our Care today plans to target Paul and others for circulating false and misleading information about COVID-19. … House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), 55, received his first COVID-19 vaccine dose on Sunday and had it photographed. After telling reporters since April he would get inoculated “soon,” he said he was persuaded this month that the available vaccines are effective (NOLA.com).
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Senate GOP negotiators on Tuesday pressed Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to delay a planned procedural vote later today to open debate on the bipartisan infrastructure proposal, though the Democratic leader has shown little inclination to pause.
Centrist Republicans on Tuesday were circulating a letter to Schumer to formalize their request to have today’s vote delayed until Monday, citing progress in bipartisan talks that they maintain could be finalized within days.
“Wednesday is premature, but I think Monday would be sufficient time for us to get all the remaining issues solved and socialize the legislation with our colleagues,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters. “We’ll be ready Monday. We won’t have the full text of course, but we’ll have a detailed outline.”
Full text or no, Schumer wants a vote, arguing that the time has come to move ahead on the bipartisan package. The New York Democrat is anxious to do so ahead of the monthlong August recess, which serves as an unofficial deadline to move the proposal alongside the budget resolution that opens the door to a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that can be passed with only Democratic support.
“It’s not a cynical ploy. It is not a fish-or-cut-bait moment. It’s not an attempt to jam anyone. It’s only a signal that the Senate is ready to get the process started,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
“There’s no reason that it should fail,” Schumer added later in the day. “We hope that our Republican friends vote ‘yes’ tomorrow.”
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Senate GOP likely to nix plan.
Bloomberg News: Republicans poised to thwart Schumer on infrastructure vote.
The Associated Press: Big infrastructure bill in peril as GOP threatens filibuster.
As things stand, it remains unlikely that 10 Senate Republicans will agree to vote on shell legislation serving as a placeholder for bill text as yet incomplete and unseen.
Although most Senate Democrats are on board with Schumer’s strategy, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), during a closed-door caucus lunch, discussed both moving ahead and also possibly delaying the vote while the bipartisan bill is finalized, a source confirmed to The Hill’s Jordain Carney.
Speaking with reporters, Manchin said Democrats discussed the “ramifications” of the strategy, but added, “I’m with Schumer on this plan. …We’re going to vote tomorrow.” Manchin also signaled that he was sticking to the need to pass a bipartisan deal.
“I’m not committed to anything right now except for a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Manchin said.
Despite the chatter earlier on Tuesday, there were signs of optimism by night’s end that a conclusion is near. After an evening meeting of Senate negotiators over dinner and wine, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) indicated that a deal could be reached as early as noon today. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) added that outstanding issues have largely been resolved and that legislative text could be done by Monday (The Hill).
The bottom line: Nothing is final until it’s actually final. Lawmakers have done this song and dance for more than a month.
Politico: Inside Schumer’s infrastructure gamble.
Axios: “Senate Democrats are weighing a Plan B if the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations fail: adding the nearly $600 billion in spending Republicans have already accepted to the $3.5-trillion plan they want to enact alone — a $4.1 trillion overall price tag.”
The Hill: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, warns he’s no rubber stamp for Senate infrastructure.
> Jan. 6 latest: Pelosi on Tuesday said that she has not yet accepted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) selections of lawmakers to serve on the select committee that will investigate the U.S. Capitol attacks this year.
“I’m reviewing that,” Pelosi said, adding later in the day that how lawmakers voted on confirming the results of the election would not preclude any of McCarthy’s choices from serving on the panel. There of the five selected — Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Troy Nehls (Texas) — all voted against certifying the election results from Pennsylvania and Arizona.
“I’m considering his proposals,” Pelosi told reporters later in the day. “But to be clear, how people voted on the president — affirming the election of Joe Biden — is not a criterion for service. That doesn’t matter” (The Hill).
The Hill: Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection.
The Hill: Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) leads charge ahead of key House vote on “forever chemicals.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
ADMINISTRATION: This evening, Biden plans to respond to a range of questions about the economy, his agenda and the pandemic during a CNN town hall event scheduled in Cincinnati with moderator Don Lemon.
> Cyber: The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Maggie Miller mark Biden’s first six months as president with a report about how cyberattacks forced the White House to put cybersecurity at the center of the U.S. national security agenda.
> “Havana syndrome”: As many as 200 Americans have come forward to describe possible symptoms of directed energy attacks, part of a wave of fresh reports that includes newly identified incidents around the world, officials say. A U.S. official with knowledge of new potential cases of so-called Havana syndrome, which some believe could be the result of mysterious energy-emitting devices, said a steady drumbeat of cables has been coming in from overseas posts reporting new incidents — often multiple times a week. Officials with direct knowledge said there are now possible cases on every continent except Antarctica. In the past year, officials said, more than one American in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan has experienced symptoms, including a baby. Almost half of the possible cases involve CIA officers or their relatives, two officials said, while about 60 involve Defense Department employees or relatives, and around 50 were linked to the State Department (NBC News). … The U.S. intelligence community recently convened a meeting of experts to explore the cause of the reported illnesses, according to McClatchy sources (News & Observer). The group formed under Biden’s direction is led by senior officers from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA and includes scientific experts from outside the government. Since 2016, government personnel and some family members have reported experiencing sudden sound pressure or heat, vertigo, nausea and head or neck pain that government physicians have been unable to diagnose. Some of those affected say they require long-term care for the damage.
> Cabinet secretary and astronaut, too? The Transportation Department has an Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Tuesday will be busy in the years ahead. “Everybody understands it will be a while before we’re at the level of commercial air travel where you should have 100 percent expectation of safety onboard,” he said. “But whatever risks those early travelers decide they’re going to take on, we have got to make sure there is no risk to people on the ground and in the airspace.” Buttigieg said he would like to make the trip into space himself. “I would go up in a heartbeat. I think it’s such exciting stuff,” the 39-year-old former presidential candidate told the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. (The Associated Press).
> Preventing evictions: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge defended her department against criticism on Tuesday from House Republicans who question the slow pace of federal distribution of rental assistance to tenants and landlords just two weeks ahead of the end of a ban on evictions, reports The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. Congress approved $46 billion in rental aid to be disbursed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury Department, but only $1.5 billion made it to tenants, landlords and utility companies as of May, according to data released by the Treasury Department last week.
POLITICS: Tom Barrack, a close ally and former adviser to former President Trump was arrested Tuesday and charged with several criminal counts of allegedly working as an undisclosed foreign lobbyist on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
Federal prosecutors said Barrack, a wealthy private equity investor, worked to influence Trump’s 2016 campaign and his administration for policy proposals that were favorable to the UAE. Barrack also served as the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” Mark Lesko, the acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement. “The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President.”
Barrack, 74, and two co-defendants — Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi, a UAE citizen residing in the U.S., and Matthew Grimes, who worked for Barrack at an investment firm — each face two counts of undisclosed foreign lobbying. Barrack also faces five additional counts of obstruction of justice and lying to federal law enforcement (The Hill).
> 2022 watch: Democrats have zeroed in on Ohio’s 11th Congressional District for clues about the direction of the party as the contest has become a proxy war over ideology roughly two weeks out from election day.
As The Hill’s Hanna Trudo and Julia Manchester write, Nina Turner, a progressive former Ohio state senator, has seen her lead tighten in recent days amid increased attacks from middle-of-the-road Democrats. Some high-profile party leaders and moderate groups have thrown their support behind Shontel Brown, a centrist who is hoping her political positioning will boost her to victory in the Aug. 3 election.
The race is also bringing the big guns to Cleveland as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are expected to stump for Brown and Turner, respectively, this weekend.
The Hill: Trump is a complication for Republican hopes in Virginia.
The Hill: Seeking red gains in blue New Jersey.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
A misplaced sense of virus complacency is falling into place in the U.S., by Hugh Hewitt, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3zdKqWu
If vaccine carrots aren’t working, maybe it’s stick time, by Mark Gongloff, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/2TuxL2o
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. to debate the “PFAS Action Act of 2021,” which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to designate perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals as hazardous and make the chemicals eligible for cleanup under the Superfund program.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nominations of Jennifer Abruzzo to be general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board and Bonnie Jenkins to be under secretary of State for arms control and international security.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief in the Oval Office at 10:30 a.m. Biden will travel to Cincinnati to visit an IBEW/NECA Electrical Training Center and deliver a speech at Mount St. Joseph University and participate in a CNN town hall at 8 p.m. (WLWT).
The vice president will meet with poll workers and other election officials to discuss voting rights at 2:45 p.m.
First lady Jill Biden heads to Anchorage, Alaska, and will visit Alaska Native Medical Center at 1:45 p.m. She is scheduled to depart Alaska approximately two hours later, headed for Japan.
➔ WILDFIRES: The milky, hazy white skies over parts of the East Coast are the result of massive wildfires in the West, including the largest fire burning in the country. Oregon’s Bootleg Fire grew to 606 square miles, half the size of Rhode Island, and other summer infernos are ablaze in California and Montana. The columns of smoke and ash are six miles high in some areas (The Associated Press).
➔ K STREET: With Democrats in control in Washington and a potential for more major legislation, the top lobbying firms raked in record revenues in the second quarter of 2021. Lobbyists expect the lobbying boom to continue this fall as Democrats explore legislation to overhaul sections of the health care and tech industries (The Hill).
➔ BABY DEER IN THE SHOWER: Take a few minutes to read about New Yorkers who patiently care for wildlife that stray into the suburbs (The New York Times with photos).
➔ SPORTS: The NBA has a new champion. The Milwaukee Bucks pulled out a tough 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night to bring home their first title in 50 years. The Bucks fell behind 2-0 in the series, but dug deep and won four straight games to lay claim to the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The series’ unanimous MVP was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who posted 50 points and 14 rebounds in Tuesday’s clinching win (CBS Sports). … The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday awarded Brisbane the 2032 Summer Olympics, handing Australia its first olympiad since Sydney hosted the 2000 edition. The IOC had steered the games in Brisbane’s direction, having given the city exclusive negotiating rights in February, essentially selecting the 2032 locale for the Summer games (The Associated Press).
And finally … Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Tuesday rocketed 66 miles above Earth to spend about three minutes in zero gravity with his three Blue Origin crewmates, pronounced it the best day ever, and then gave away $200 million for good causes when he landed back on terra firma.
Bezos announced he will donate $100 million to chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, which donates food and meals following disasters, and another $100 million to CNN commentator Van Jones to support any charity of his choice, including his nonprofit, devoted to criminal justice reform. Both recipients of Bezos’s “Courage and Civility Award” were on hand in West Texas (below) with the billionaire, who wants to popularize space tourism (The Hill).