Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Friday! TGIF! 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 reported each morning this week: Monday, 609,021; Tuesday, 609,231; Wednesday, 609,529; Thursday, 609,862; Friday, 610,177.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) and House Democrats are moving ahead with their investigation of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and are looking into adding more GOP gravitas to their efforts after Republican leaders withdrew participation on the select committee.
Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that despite House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' Juan Williams: Shame on the anti-mandate Republicans MORE’s (R-Calif.) decision to remove all five of his choices for the panel after she vetoed two of them, the committee will proceed as originally planned.
“It's my responsibility as Speaker of the House to make sure we get to the truth on this, and we will not let their antics stand in the way of that,” Pelosi said at a press conference (The Hill).
The comments came a day after Pelosi disallowed Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) from serving on the committee, which led McCarthy to pull back any involvement on his part. However, the Speaker’s decision could force the panel to add more Republicans to the investigation.
On top of Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear The Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out MORE (R-Wyo.), Pelosi and top Democrats are considering adding Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Kinzinger says Trump 'winning' because many Republicans 'have remained silent' 'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot MORE (Ill.)(pictured below), another Republican who voted to impeach former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE and who has been an outspoken critic of the GOP’s lack of interest in investigating the insurrection (The Hill).
Democrats are also considering adding former Rep. Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanHouse Democrats select Riggleman as Jan. 6 committee adviser Virginia Democrats seek to tie Youngkin to Trump's election claims The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week MORE (R-Va.) as a senior adviser to the committee. According to a source familiar with the committee, Riggleman — who lost his bid for the GOP nomination to the seat in 2018 — met with the panel and Pelosi staff members on Thursday. No decision has been made regarding his involvement, though Riggleman told reporters following the meeting that he is interested in working with the committee in some capacity (CNN).
Trump backed Riggleman in his primary before the congressman lost to Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.). Riggleman is now an anti-Trump Republican.
The Hill: Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe, eyeing new GOP reinforcements.
The Associated Press: Pelosi says “deadly serious” Jan. 6 probe to go without GOP.
The New York Times: Pelosi weighs adding Kinzinger, a second anti-Trump Republican, to the Jan. 6 inquiry.
Meanwhile McCarthy kept up his constant line of attack on Thursday, labeling the committee a “sham.” His decision also takes the spotlight in the coming months off of Banks, who was slated to be the top GOP member involved in the investigation. However, as The Hill’s Scott Wong writes, Pelosi’s decision to remove Banks has only elevated his stature within the House Republican conference and with onlookers as he seeks to cultivate a national profile.
Banks, who is widely considered one of Trump’s preeminent defenders on Capitol Hill, has been on a steady climb since being elected to Congress in 2016. Only six months into his term as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC), his GOP colleagues believe the 42-year-old will make a bid for a leadership post in the next Congress — especially if Republicans win control of the House and more jobs open up at the top.
“I have no grand plan. But I've always been transparent about my ambition in the House and about being a leader on the House Armed Services Committee,” Banks said. “I see myself serving here for a while, and with seniority comes more opportunity to do good things for Indiana and fight for conservative issues that my conservative district cares about.” He added that if McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Democrats to nix B for Israel's Iron Dome from bill to avert shutdown Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (R-La.) see a spot for him in leadership, he’s “open” to it.
Henry Olsen, The Washington Post: Pelosi’s blunder will harm the Jan. 6 select committee.
> Infrastructure Week(s): With negotiators moving closer to a bipartisan infrastructure deal, Democrats are angling to regain their political footing and momentum after the implementation was waylaid by discussions, threatening the August recess in the process.
As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes, Democrats — faced with rising inflation coupled with a sidetracked agenda — turned to White House senior adviser Anita Dunn (pictured below) on Thursday for help to refine their messaging on infrastructure. Democratic senators are worried that if an infrastructure deal doesn't get nailed down in the coming few weeks, conservative opponents will use the August recess to turn public sentiment against the Democratic agenda, something Republican strategists did successfully in August 2009 by turning the tide of opinion against that year's Affordable Care Act.
Assuming a deal is struck, the Senate is still expected to vote to open debate on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal on Monday.
Fox Business: Pelosi reiterates no bipartisan infrastructure bill without reconciliation package.
Politico: Dems are “not particularly pleased” with the Senate infrastructure deal. They'll back it anyway.
NBC News: Transit money emerges as a last major obstacle to bipartisan Senate infrastructure deal.
More in Congress: The House passed legislation on Thursday aimed at expediting visas for Afghans who aided the U.S. military and are facing threats to their lives as the Pentagon winds down its involvement in Afghanistan after nearly two decades. The bill passed 407-16, with the “no” votes all coming from Republicans. The Allies Act would add another 8,000 visas to the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who helped the United States and remove several hurdles to obtaining the visas (The Hill).
In the courts: Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R) urged the Supreme Court in a Thursday brief to overrule Roe v. Wade next term when the justices review Mississippi’s ban on virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy (The Hill). “The court cannot uphold this law in Mississippi without overturning Roe’s core holding,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told reporters in May. “The stakes here are extraordinarily high.”
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: The news about rising COVID-19 infections, virus variants, U.S. vaccination trends and guidance about mask wearing (again) have many Americans confused and exasperated.
Just when the reward for getting fully vaccinated was supposed to be immunity powerful enough to allow life to return to “normal,” the delta variant spread like a brushfire around the globe. The carrot: vaccinated people most likely live if infected. The stick: unvaccinated people are delta’s defenseless prey.
The debates have returned to mask wearing, testing and contact tracing, sifting through scientific data (or worse, conjecture), and the endless seesawing between trying to frighten or force reluctant people to get vaccinated, and bouquets and commendations for those who do.
ESPN: Under the heading “negative incentives,” the NFL on Thursday announced a new policy that says a forfeit will be declared for a postponed game that can't be rescheduled within the 18-game 2021 season and is caused by an outbreak of COVID-19 among unvaccinated players of one team. In addition, if a forfeit occurs, players on both teams would lose their game checks.
First lady Jill BidenJill BidenFirst Lady visits schools to discuss COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Biden travels west as Washington troubles mount MORE, who is fully vaccinated, was wearing a mask while in Japan to hail U.S. athletes competing in the Olympics. Pelosi wore a mask while hosting King Abdullah II of Jordan, who also wore a face covering, for meetings in the Capitol. The president, signing legislation at the White House on Thursday amid a tightly packed and unmasked crowd of vaccinated lawmakers, is aware that congressional staff, a Florida representative, members of the Texas legislature and White House aides who have all been fully vaccinated recently tested positive for COVID-19.
The Hill: Tokyo hits six-month high in COVID-19 cases as Olympics begin.
The president has repeated that the White House takes its public health cues from scientists, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not changed its guidance that fully vaccinated American adults don’t need to wear masks, regardless of which strain of COVID-19 is to blame for rising infections.
Will the federal guidance change? Perhaps, according to Washington Post sources. Conversations at the CDC are taking place as the country experiences more than 40,000 new cases of coronavirus infections a day, an increase from a low of about 11,000 cases a day in June. Federal officials fear that new restrictions to stop the spread will further slow progress in many communities toward getting more people vaccinated.
On Thursday, the White House announced $100 million in funding for vaccination and testing efforts in rural health clinics (The Hill).
The New York Times: Why vaccinated people are getting breakthrough infections.
The New York Times: Should vaccinated people start wearing masks again?
The Washington Post: The federal government’s back-to-the-office plans for the fall are imperiled by the delta variant of the coronavirus.
More coronavirus news: The Pfizer vaccine is 88 percent effective against the highly transmissible delta strain of COVID-19, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (The Hill). … But the available vaccines hold up best against the delta variant after two doses (The Wall Street Journal). … Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Pfizer results offer hope amid worsening pandemic for children The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offered praise on Thursday for prominent Republicans, including in the House and Senate, who are encouraging Americans to get fully vaccinated, calling their public statements “a very good thing” (The Hill). … Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) is among conservatives who has publicly embraced COVID-19 vaccines as life-saving (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes MORE (R-Wis.), 66, on Thursday said out loud what conservative senators pondering reelection in 2022 rarely share: “I may not be the best candidate,” he said.
For months, Johnson (pictured below) has been publicly and privately weighing whether to seek a third term in the upper chamber, with Wisconsin Democrats smelling blood in the water. His seat represents one of the best opportunities for the majority party next year.
“I want to make sure that this U.S. Senate seat is retained in Republican hands,” Johnson told “The Truth with Lisa Boothe.” “You see what the media’s doing to me. I may not be the best candidate. I wouldn’t run if I don’t think I could win, if I don’t think I was the best person to be able to win.”
One Wisconsin GOP operative told the Morning Report that Johnson remains truly undecided about a bid, though there are signs he is still actively considering running for election. He posted a $1.2 million fundraising total between April and June, a total that eclipsed his Democratic challengers and was more than double his first quarter tally (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Reminder: Johnson was considered the underdog twice against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and won. He is used to being an underdog.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) announced a bid for Johnson’s seat this week, further crowding the Democratic primary for the seat. If Johnson does not run, Rep. Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates Bipartisan momentum builds for war on terror memorial Bipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader MORE (R-Wis.) is considered a leading candidate to take the plunge.
Des Moines Register: Former Rep. Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerGrassley leads Finkenauer by 18 points in hypothetical matchup: poll Cotton to stump for Iowa GOP candidate amid 2024 speculation Axne endorses Finkenauer Senate bid in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa) is running for Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Grassley leads Finkenauer by 18 points in hypothetical matchup: poll 62 percent in Iowa disapprove of Biden, poll shows MORE’s (R-Iowa) seat. The senator has not indicated if he will seek reelection, and a decision is expected in the fall.
Axios: California's recall circus.
> 2021 watch: Later today, Biden is set to hit the campaign trail alongside former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), marking the first time the president has done so since taking office, giving him a chance to test his political standing ahead of the 2021 gubernatorial election
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Julia Manchester write, the appearance poses an early test for Biden’s political brand with the Virginia gubernatorial contest coming up in November and ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Biden and McAuliffe, who are longtime friends, will appear in Arlington, Va., a Democratic stronghold, handing Biden an opportunity to sell his agenda to the Virginia electorate ahead of November.
ADMINISTRATION: The U.S. launched several airstrikes this week in support of Afghan forces fighting Taliban insurgents, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. The administration has not said whether it will continue that support in Afghanistan after the U.S. military pullout is complete by Aug. 31 (The Associated Press).
To reach a peace deal, the Taliban say the Afghan president must go (The Associated Press).
CIA Director William BurnsWilliam BurnsCIA chief team member reported 'Havana syndrome' symptoms during trip to India: report Overnight Hillicon Valley — Hacking goes global Rubio knocks CIA over consideration of TikTok presence MORE, interviewed on Thursday by NPR’s “All Things Considered,” said his intelligence agency would retain “significant capabilities” in Afghanistan, but conditions on the ground are “troubling.”
“The Afghan government retains significant military capabilities,” he said. “The big question ... is whether or not those capabilities can be exercised with the kind of political willpower and unity of leadership that's absolutely essential to resist the Taliban. So . . . the trend lines are certainly troubling. I don't think that that should lead us to foregone conclusions or a sense of imminence or inevitability. But, you know, they really are worrying as well.”
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): The agency this week tightened criteria for awarding astronaut wings to those flying on commercial spacecraft, making the requirements stricter for training and safety while including a significant loophole that allows the FAA to issue “honorary” wings to individuals “who demonstrated extraordinary contribution or beneficial service to the commercial human space flight industry” (Space News).
NASA: What’s the Mars rover Perseverance up to? Soon, it will drill a smooth cavity in selected rocks and get below the surface crud on the red planet. Instruments on its robotic arm will then produce detailed chemical and mineralogical maps that will reveal the rocks’ true nature, perhaps volcanic or sedimentary. In about a month, a NASA team will extract its first Mars sample from a distance, which will go into a tube that will eventually get dropped off — along with samples from other locales — for some future mission to pick up and bring to Earth (Science News).
Commerce Department: The Biden administration began to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill. Commerce Secretary Gina RaimondoGina RaimondoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden increases vaccine requirement for federal workers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats face headwinds on .5 trillion plan, debt ceiling White House rallies private industry in cyber battle MORE said her agency on Thursday began accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development (The Associated Press).
U.S.-Cuba: The administration on Thursday sanctioned some individuals in Cuba’s communist government for human rights abuses following recent attacks on demonstrators (The Washington Post). “This is just the beginning,” Biden said in a statement. “The United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.”
U.S.-Canada: Some of Biden’s closest allies, including Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeSeattle area to require COVID-19 vaccine to enter indoor venues Washington state troopers, firefighters sue over vaccine mandate Washington state enacting mask mandate for large outdoor events MORE (D) and Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellDemocrats face full legislative plate and rising tensions Virginia Democrat introduces tax credit for electric commercial vehicles More than 100 Democrats back legislation lowering Medicare eligibility age to 60 MORE (D-Mich.), say they are disappointed with Biden’s decision to temporarily extend the closure of the land border with Canada because of COVID-19. After more than a year, Canada’s government recently opened the border to vaccinated Americans, but the president and his public health advisers are wary about opening U.S. borders to its North American neighbors to the north and south as the delta variant spreads and some states continue to lag in vaccination rates (The Hill).
U.S. Olympics: The first lady arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to celebrate today’s start of the Summer Olympics. She tweeted “@TeamUSA I’m here for you! You make us all proud.” Later, during a virtual hookup from the U.S. ambassador’s residence with members of the U.S. team located around the city, she commended athletes’ achievements and the family and friends who offered them so much support.
“For most of you, the journey to Tokyo began long, long ago. It likely started at a young age. The first time you picked up a ball or jumped in the water. The first ride that made you feel really free. Or when the backflip you thought was impossible suddenly wasn’t,” Biden said. “You’ve given up so much to be here. You’ve sacrificed time with friends and pushed yourself harder than you thought you could.”
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’s options to avert disaster in Afghanistan are shrinking, by David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3rqQJ6y
Politics aside, Americans need more facts about Jan. 6, by Ramesh Ponnuru, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3BorFS6
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Monday at noon.
The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of Todd Kim to be an assistant attorney general.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief in the Oval Office at 10 a.m. Biden will travel to Arlington, Va., to headline a campaign event for gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. McAuliffe at 7:45 p.m. He will depart for Wilmington, Del., at 8:45 p.m. to spend the weekend.
The first lady is leading the U.S. delegation in Tokyo during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics. After departing Japan, she will stop in Hawaii over the weekend.
The White House press briefing will take place at 12:30 p.m.
➔ ECONOMY: Weekly filings for unemployment benefits rose last week, according to a Labor Department report on Thursday. An increase of 51,000 was not the trend line expected by most economists (The Hill). … Housing prices for existing homes in June were up 23 percent year-over-year, and median prices rose 1.4 percent last month. Home sales and prices skyrocketed through most of 2020 because of a combination of low interest rates, federal stimulus and a rush of buyers eager to expand or add to their living spaces while locked down during the pandemic (The Hill). … Biden on Wednesday suggested restaurants may be having a tough time finding workers because they offer low wages and workers are sifting through competing career options. Republicans and business groups dispute the president’s theories (The Hill).
➔ TECH: Twitter is testing a feature to allow users to “down vote” replies to their posts, the tech giant said on Wednesday. If users down vote a reply it will not be public, and if they choose to “up” vote the reply it will be shown as a “like” on the tweet, according to the company. The feature will start appearing for users using iOS (The Hill). … Multiple major websites were down for roughly an hour on Thursday due to an apparent widespread outage linked to Akamai, a global content distribution network. The sites included major banks, Amazon, Steam (a gaming website), Delta Air Lines, and the Dallas Morning News. Akamai said it was investigating a glitch shortly before service was restored (The Hill).
➔ ENERGY: Mercedes-Benz on Thursday said that it hopes to make a full transition to manufacturing only electric vehicles by 2025. The company became the latest car manufacturer to unveil plans for an expanding investment in electric vehicles, saying in a press release that by the end of the decade, it hopes to “go all electric” in its car sales, if “market conditions allow” (The Hill).
And finally … Winners of this week’s Morning Report middle-of-the-summer quiz are to be congratulated! We focused on measurements of news events, however obscure.
Here’s who puzzled along with us — and earned a victory lap: Candi Cee, Roger Wyse, Amanda Fisher, Mary Anne McEnery, Michel Romage, Patrick Kavanagh, Pam Manges, Joan Domingues, Carol Gwinn Brill, and John Donato.
They knew that billionaire Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Bezos promises billion for biodiversity Elon Musk promises upgraded toilets, Wi-Fi on next SpaceX flight Elon Musk mocks Biden for ignoring his company's historic space flight MORE rocketed aloft 66 miles to gain 3 minutes of weightlessness on Tuesday aboard the Blue Origin spacecraft
The Tokyo Summer Olympics competition in softball (pictured below) is taking place 150 miles from Tokyo.
The wildfires in Western states, especially Oregon, created columns of smoke and ash that climbed 6 miles into the atmosphere, eventually drifting to create a visible haze in New York City.
Nevada experienced a mild, shallow earthquake on Wednesday morning at a depth of between 1 and 5 miles, according to data recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey.