The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by AT&T — COVID-19 infects inoculated senators; Kabul evacuations drag

 

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 621,635; Tuesday, 622,321; Wednesday, 623,332; Thursday, 624,253; Friday, 625,166. 

Sens. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate Republicans raise concerns about TSA cyber directives for rail, aviation 6 in 10 say Biden policies responsible for increasing inflation: poll Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell MORE (R-Miss.), Angus KingAngus KingGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill Dems hit crossroads on voting rights Senate appears poised to advance first Native American to lead National Park Service MORE (I-Maine) and John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperOhio GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Colo.) separately announced on Thursday that they tested positive this week for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. 

A Wicker spokesman said that the Mississippi Republican has mild symptoms and is in “good health.” King said in a statement of his own that he began “feeling mildly feverish” on Wednesday before getting tested in his home state on Thursday. 

“It came back positive. While I am not feeling great, I’m definitely feeling much better than I would have without the vaccine,” said King (seen below in June). “I am taking this diagnosis very seriously, quarantining myself at home and telling the few people I’ve been in contact with to get tested in order to limit any further spread.” 

Hickenlooper added that he is “feeling much better” while imploring individuals to get vaccinated (CNN). 

The positive tests bring the total of so-called breakthrough cases in the Senate to four after Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-S.C.) contracted the virus earlier this month (The Hill). 

Despite the high-profile infections, there was good news on the COVID-19 front on Thursday as the White House announced that more than 1 million doses of vaccine were administered in the previous 24 hours, marking the first time that had happened since before the July Fourth holiday. The seven-day average of jabs given also hit 824,000, the highest total since July 6 (The Hill). 

With boosters expected to start being administered in late September, President BidenJoe Biden White House: US has donated 200 million COVID-19 vaccines around the world Police recommend charges against four over Sinema bathroom protest K Street revenues boom MORE told “Good Morning America” in an interview that aired Thursday that he and first lady Jill BidenJill BidenJill Biden talks about what it's like visiting GOP states The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan MORE will get the shot when it is available. 

“We got our shots all the way back in, I think, December so it’s past time,” Biden told host ABC News (The Washington Post).

 

The Wall Street Journal: As COVID-19 boosters loom, Pfizer, Moderna to see billions more in sales.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFDA greenlights mix-and-match booster doses Fauci says trick-or-treating this Halloween ok Overnight Health Care — Presented by EMAA — Pfizer requests FDA authorize COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds MORE said Thursday that yearly COVID-19 vaccinations may not be needed, telling “CBS This Morning” that a third booster shot of either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine may be more than enough to deliver long-term protection.

“This virus has been humbling, so I don’t want to say never, but we are not necessarily anticipating that you will need this annually,” Walensky said. “It does look like after this third dose, you get a really robust response, and so we will continue to follow the science both on the vaccine side but also on the virus side” (CNBC). 

The Washington Post: CDC’s failure to share real-time data led to overly rosy assessments of vaccine effectiveness — and complacency on the part of many Americans.

Austin American-Statesman: Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas in October will require negative COVID-19 test results or proof of vaccination for all attendees.

Bloomberg News: IBM is temporarily closing its New York City offices because of the spread of COVID-19.

CBS News: Americans are canceling their plans for air travel before the holiday season because of the rising spread of COVID-19, according to a new survey. Travel experts say consumers who do want to book flights want to be able to cancel tickets with refunds.

The Wall Street Journal: Delta variant foils Australia’s zero-tolerance strategy for COVID-19.

 

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LEADING THE DAY

AFGHANISTAN: The final days of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan are filled with riveting anecdotes of confusion, frustration and Catch-22 governmental chaos at Kabul’s airport and outside its security perimeter. There are an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Americans who want to evacuate. Ideally, the Pentagon says it could fly out 5,000 people per day. The exodus has been more like 2,000-3,000 people per day — Americans and Afghan families, combined, according to officials. A total of 9,000 people of all nationalities have fled Kabul aboard U.S. flights since Saturday, according to the Pentagon.

Biden will speak this afternoon about the urgent evacuation process for Americans and Afghans at the increasingly tense airport. The president previously vowed to have all U.S. forces out of the country by Tuesday. The exodus of thousands of people who want to flee under the U.S. flag is unlikely to be complete by then.

White House national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanSullivan raised normalizing relations with Israel during meeting with Saudi crown prince: report Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — World leaders call for enhanced cooperation to fight wave of ransomware attacks MORE told NBC News in an interview broadcast on Thursday that getting all Americans out of Afghanistan who want to leave is “a risky operation,” explaining: “We right now have established contact with the Taliban to allow for the safe passage of people to the airport and that is working at the moment to get Americans and Afghans at risk to the airport. That being said, we can't count on anything.”

More than 80,000 Afghans might conceivably qualify for evacuation based on their work with the U.S. military and government over the years. If they survive. 

The United States has so far only extricated a fraction of those people. Some Afghans have enlisted the help of U.S. military leaders or journalists they once served, working in desperation to make every high-level contact possible to break through red tape, clear the Taliban checkpoints and navigate huge crowds in order to flee on an outbound C-17 (video outside the airport taken on Wednesday is HERE).  

Hiding in towns and villages, former Afghans who worked for the United States describe Taliban fighters going door-to-door this week, demanding to see identity papers and hunting for countrymen who helped the coalition. Those Afghans say they are certain they and their families will be tortured or killed when found. 

In the skies over Kabul, armed U.S. fighter planes are flying “overwatch,” more as a deterrent than on offense, according to the Pentagon (The New York Times).

The Hill: Chaos mars Afghan evacuation efforts; criticism of Biden builds.

The Associated Press: U.S. struggles to speed Kabul airlift despite Taliban aggression, danger, mayhem.

The New York Times: How major U.S. news organizations got Afghan colleagues out of Kabul.

Responding to the downsides of State Department bureaucracy, paperwork roadblocks, security worries and the seemingly futile or at least impenetrable special visa application process, the department said on Thursday it was sending more consular officers to Kabul and other locations, including Qatar and Kuwait, to speed up evacuations (Reuters). The State Department said on Thursday that 6,000 people at the Kabul airport had been fully processed and were ready to board planes, a process to continue today.

Some former U.S. servicemen, by turns furious at their own government, are trying to get former translators and interpreters onto airplane manifests by navigating around the State Department, pulling other strings, talking to military sources in Kabul and the news media, contacting members of Congress, fearful that the Afghan employees they leaned on during war will not survive its end (The New York Times “The Daily” podcast Thursday, 44 minutes).  

“Every night, they are searching for people,” former U.S. employee “Abdul,” who didn’t want his real name publicized, told the Times by phone. He described a Taliban drama in which fighters publicly parade Afghans who helped the Americans or coalition forces and promise them forgiveness. Soon after, those Afghans are shot. “Absolutely, I will be assassinated, or I will be killed with my family,” the former translator explained in English. Without visas to evacuate within three days, “we’re going to die, absolutely,” Abdul added.

Fox News: U.S. former military sources assisting former U.S. interpreters who are trapped in Kabul share accounts of Taliban reportedly going house to house; “hanging” people who once worked for Americans.

The Associated Press: Daring rescue: Afghan national police officer Mohammad Khalid Wardak, who worked for years with the United States in Afghanistan and was widely known, was able to get out of Kabul by helicopter Wednesday thanks to Operation Promise Kept, a coordinated effort carried out under cover of darkness by the U.S. military and allies.  

 

 

Afghans have mobilized public demonstrations in the last few days against the Taliban, each protest met with hostility and some violence by the militant rulers. The unrest is accompanied by fears that Afghanistan’s already weakened economy could crumble further without the massive international aid that sustained the toppled Western-backed government (The Associated Press).

The Taliban called on Afghanistan's imams to urge unity when they hold Friday prayers today, as protests against the takeover spread to more cities, including the capital (Reuters).

Niall Stanage, The Memo: Biden’s worst week raises big questions?

News media: CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is earning high praise for her team’s fearless reporting on the ground in Afghanistan (The Hill and New York Post).     

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday took into custody a suspect who parked a pickup truck near the Capitol and claimed to have a bomb, sparking evacuations of several nearby buildings.

Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger confirmed that Floyd Roseberry of North Carolina surrendered to authorities. Footage captured by NBC News showed Roseberry exiting the truck and crawling on the ground from the vehicle following negotiations with officers (The Hill).

Hours later, Capitol Police said in a statement that no bomb or explosives were found in the truck, which was parked outside the Library of Congress on Thursday after they safely arrested the suspect behind the bomb threat, though it did contain “possible bomb making materials.”

“This afternoon, the United States Capitol Police safely took a bomb threat suspect into custody, cleared the vehicle and has now determined the area is safe,” the department said in a statement. “A bomb was not found in the vehicle, but possible bomb making materials were collected from the truck.”

Roseberry’s motivation remains unknown, according to Manger (The Hill). 

The Associated Press: Man surrenders after claiming to have bomb near Capitol.

The Hill: Facebook removes account of Capitol-area bomb threat suspect.

> Vets in 2022: Veteran candidates in areas with high concentrations of military voters are tailoring their messaging around the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan ahead of the 2022 midterms, drawing upon the 2018 playbook that sent many former service members to Congress. 

As The Hill’s Julia Manchester and Hanna Trudo write, although foreign policy isn’t usually a front-and-center issue in national campaigns, the ongoing situation in Afghanistan has prompted many to speak out following years of personal service. Some candidates have offered candid remarks as images of Afghan civilians desperately trying to escape Taliban control made their way into media. 

“These heroes have a home in Virginia,” Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe tweeted. “Thank you to all who are working to safely evacuate our allies out of harm's way.”

The Washington Post: The Texas House reached a quorum on Thursday for the first time since July, clearing the way for new voting restrictions to pass after a record-breaking Democratic boycott had stalled the bill for weeks, creating a standoff with Republicans who sought the arrest of absent members.

Kara Swisher, The New York Times: How Jason Miller is trying to get Trump back on the internet.

*****

MORE ADMINISTRATION: The Education Department announced on Thursday that the government will automatically erase $5.8 billion in student debt held by 323,000 permanently disabled borrowers as part of a patchwork administration approach to relief from college debt deemed to hamper borrowers’ economic and employment prospects (The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post). “We are working to improve targeted loan relief and help our borrowers,” Education Secretary Miguel CardonaMiguel CardonaPresident, first lady honor teachers at White House awards ceremony Ilhan Omar to Biden: 'Deliver on your promise to cancel student debt' Florida Board of Education approves sanctions on eight school districts over coronavirus mandates MORE said, adding the government wants to simplify the process for borrowers seeking debt relief. Biden has resisted calls from fellow Democrats and activists to cancel most of America’s roughly $1.6 trillion in federal student-loan debt using his executive authority.

 

 

> The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that it is proposing $532,000 in fines against 34 airline passengers accused of disrupting flights, including a person who threw a carry-on bag at other passengers, another who snorted what appeared to be cocaine and another who hid a flight attendant’s jacket. Most of the infractions are related to violating mask mandates on planes (The Washington Post).

> Cuba: The State Department and Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced new sanctions on Cuba, specifically three Cuban officials involved in the anti-government protests (The Miami Herald).

> The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River, triggering mandatory cuts from a water source that serves 40 million people in the West (The Associated Press).

 

OPINION

Want to solve the U.S. housing crisis? Take over hotels, by Jay Kaspian King, The New York Times opinion. https://nyti.ms/3xX8VGl

The Taliban says it will respect women. But we Iranians have seen this movie before, by Masih Alinejad, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3D02ypF


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WHERE AND WHEN

The House will meet at 3 p.m. for a pro forma session. Members are out of town until Aug. 23. 

The Senate convenes for a pro forma session at 9 a.m. Senators are expected back in Washington Sept. 13.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with their national security teams to discuss Afghanistan at 10:45 a.m. At 1 p.m., Biden will deliver remarks on the East Room on evacuations from Afghanistan. An hour later, the president will depart for Wilmington, Del., where he will remain over the weekend.

The vice president will depart for Singapore at 9:15 p.m. She will arrive there on Sunday for a Southeast Asia trip that will also take her to Vietnam next week (The Associated Press).

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

BOY SCOUTS: A district judge on Thursday partially approved provisions of an $850 million agreement reached in July between the Boy Scouts of America and lawyers of roughly 70,000 victims who allege sexual abuse. The organization is trying to emerge from bankruptcy (The Associated Press).

 

 

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT: Impact on water quality from the process of extracting oil and gas by fracturing or injecting high-pressure water and chemicals into the ground may be even worse than scientists previously thought — contaminating not only groundwater, but also nearby surface water, said a new study of fracking (The Hill). … A wildfire has burned across the Sierra Nevada mountain range for the first time in recorded history, according to a top California official. Cal Fire Director Thom Porter says the Dixie wildfire is the first to burn from Sierra Nevada’s western slopes to the floor of the eastern valley. Firefighters have been battling the Dixie inferno for more than a month (The Hill).

  ONLINE DISRUPTOR TRIES OLD-FASHIONED RETAIL: Amazon, the online retail giant, is headed back to the future with large retail locations in the U.S. that will operate akin to brick and mortar department stores (The Wall Street Journal). Walmart and Target have done well during the pandemic and as shoppers flock back to stores for one-stop-shopping for everything from groceries to clothing.

  LITTLE HEART, SILVER LINING: Polish javelin silver medalist Maria Andrejczyk, 25, a champion at this summer’s Tokyo Summer Olympics, demonstrated the spirit of generosity when she auctioned her prize to help a sick infant pay for heart surgery in the United States. The highest bidder (a Polish convenience store chain) told Andrejczyk to keep her medal after it committed the equivalent of $51,000. Fans contributed another $76,500 to help baby Milosz Malysa. Andrejczyk said she knows something about adversity and pain and was moved to help the infant after overcoming bone cancer and a shoulder injury to be able to compete in her sport (Chicago Sun-Times).  

THE CLOSER

And finally …   Bravo to this week’s Morning Report Trivia Quiz champs! We were looking for smart guesses and Googling about disasters and losses of yore, which marked the month of August.

Here’s who made it to our winner’s circle: Amanda Fisher, Candi Cee, Mary Anne McEnergy, Patrick Kavanagh, Mike Heffron, Richard Baznik, Lou Tisler, Robert Nordmeyer, John van Santen, Lesa Davis, Jaina Mehta, John Donato, Sandy Walters, Steve James and Jack Barshay.

They knew that Russia and the term “August curse” have been linked, referring to a succession of disasters and tragedies.

 The Enola Gay in August 1945 was the first of two U.S. aircraft that dropped atom bombs on Japan, killing an estimated 200,000 people. (The B-29 bomber was nicknamed for the pilot’s mother.)

Hurricane Sandy was the enormously destructive storm listed in our question that did not roar into the United States in the stormy month of August.

In 1923, former President Warren G. Harding died on the second day of August at age 57 after suffering a heart attack while in California during a lengthy cross-country speaking tour. (He was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge, pictured on the left with Harding).

 

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!