The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Gears begin to shift in Congress on stalled Biden agenda
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 688,033; Tuesday, 690,434.
President Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday night began to see that plan C — the keep-at-it plan ahead of a Thursday deadline — might work. Maybe. After weeks of impasse, there were signs the gears were moving on Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar domestic agenda.
“It may not be by the end of the week. I hope it’s by the end of the week,” Biden told reporters when asked whether the House would vote later this week. “But as long as we’re still alive, we’ve got three things to do: the debt ceiling, continuing resolution and the two pieces of legislation. If we do that, the country is going to be in great shape” (The Hill).
The president’s comments came as Pelosi indicated to the House Democratic Caucus that the initial plan to move the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package alongside the party’s massive spending bill via reconciliation has been altered and that she wants to move the bipartisan package sooner rather than later.
“It all changed, so our approach had to change,” Pelosi told her caucus. “We had to accommodate the changes that were being necessitated. And we cannot be ready to say, ‘Until the Senate passed the bill, we can’t do BIF.’”
The Washington Post: House Democrats huddle amid simmering tensions over Biden’s big economic agenda.
Pelosi’s latest stance dovetails with the party’s effort to alter the reconciliation bill, which remains in flux and nowhere near a finished product. The topline figure of that package is likely to shrink from $3.5 trillion over 10 years; questions linger about how to pay for it.
“I’ve heard ($2.5 trillion) could conceivably do it. But we’ve got to know what’s behind these numbers. That’s just far more important than just throwing numbers around like they have inherent meaning,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who has been among the liberal lawmakers demanding a robust social spending bill, told The Hill.
“Some of my colleagues have just thrown that out, that they think that we might be able to get the core of what we need at ($2.5 trillion),” he added
Nonetheless, the wheels were in motion on Monday. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) spoke by phone and texted several key moderates, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Additionally, Biden held a conference call with Schumer and Pelosi to talk shop (The Hill).
Democrats are also attempting to hammer out the future of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which has long been reviled by tri-state lawmakers. Although SALT deduction cap changes were left out of the initial legislation, lawmakers are expecting a final bill to include language altering it. Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Monday that he expects final decisions on SALT to come this week.
One Democratic aide told The Hill that there have been discussions about potentially including a two-year repeal of the cap. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a top moderate and a leading advocate for eliminating the cap, said on Monday he supports such a move, saying that it’s a step “in the right direction.”
The Hill: 56 percent in new poll support bipartisan infrastructure bill.
This is not the first legislative tangle Pelosi has guided into law. As The Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis note, the longtime Democratic leader overcame the odds more than a decade ago to shepherd the Affordable Care Act, her crowning legislative achievement. This could be Pelosi’s last major legislative achievement, and once again, all eyes are on her.
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Enigmatic Sinema has Democrats guessing.
Across the Capitol, Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a bill to avert a government shutdown and suspend the debt limit amid an entrenched fight as the country barrels toward two fiscal cliffs (The Hill and The New York Times).
The vote, which was 50-50 down party lines, comes days ahead of a deadline to prevent a government shutdown and as Congress is expected to need to deal with the nation’s borrowing limit as soon as next month or risk a default. The vote is likely to force Democrats to decouple the two actions and bring up a clean short-term government funding bill by the Thursday night deadline (Politico).
The Associated Press: GOP blocks bill to keep government going; new try ahead.
The New York Times: As Sinema resists the budget bill, she is set to raise money from business groups that oppose it.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden faces crunch time amid Democratic divisions.
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LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Biden, 78, received a booster shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday while touting a third dose as “safe and effective.”
“I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am over 65, way over, and that’s why I’m getting my booster shot today,” Biden said as he stuck out his left arm for a needle and a Band-Aid as journalists recorded the event (The Hill).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 79, said Monday from the floor of the upper chamber that he also received a booster jab. He did not roll up his sleeve in public.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Monday tweeted a photograph of his jab accompanied by a message that at age 81, he received a third COVID-19 dose and encouraged others who are now eligible to do the same.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price, 38, who is fully vaccinated, announced on Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19 and went into quarantine with symptoms of illness (The Hill).
> Treatment: Pfizer says it is testing an oral medication as a possible COVID-19 treatment to prevent infection in those exposed to the coronavirus. Pfizer next will enroll 2,660 healthy adults who live in the same household with a person or individuals with confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 infection. Participants in the clinical trial will receive the oral Pfizer drug and a low dose of the HIV drug ritonavir, or a placebo twice daily for five to 10 days (The Hill).
> Misinformation: A majority of unvaccinated respondents said they believed the potential need for COVID-19 boosters indicate that the vaccines aren’t working “as well as promised,” a Kaiser Family Foundation poll published this morning found. KFF’s September Vaccine Monitor assesses that 71 percent of unvaccinated respondents believe that additional shots mean the vaccines are not working, compared with 19 percent of vaccinated people (The Hill). Government and outside researchers say Pfizer data indicate additional doses add and extend the strong benefits of immunity for certain high-risk individuals following two doses of vaccine administered early this year.
> Mandates: Business groups are frustrated with the Labor Department as they search for answers about Biden’s announced vaccine mandate that affects private-sector employees. “The administration has refused to engage in any substantive dialogue about their plans,” said Ed Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development at the National Retail Federation. Lobbying organizations representing corporate America say they do not oppose the administration’s emergency federal rule, which would require businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workforces, or weekly testing as an alternative. The rule is expected to land in court (The Hill). … New York state’s vaccine mandate for health care workers went into effect on Monday. The unvaccinated risk dismissal and employers brace for worker shortages. “To those who have not yet made that decision, please do the right thing,” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said at a press event. “A lot of your employers are anxious to just give you the jab in the arm and say you’re part of the family, we need your help to continue on” (ABC7). … The U.S in November will resume welcoming fully vaccinated international travelers into the country, except if they were inoculated against COVID-19 with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, The Washington Post reported. Why? The administration requires vaccines approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. Included are Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well as shots developed by Chinese firms such as Sinopharm and Sinovac.
> Anatomy of a surge: Harvard Business School temporarily moved some master’s degree classes online through Oct. 3 because of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, mostly infecting graduate students who are fully vaccinated. The business school also is mandating coronavirus testing three times a week for all students regardless of vaccination status. The university believes, based on data from its contact tracing, that transmission is not occurring in classrooms or among those who are masked. Administrators are asking that students avoid unmasked indoor events, group travel and gathering with anyone outside their households. Masks remain mandatory in all indoor settings at Harvard (CNBC).
> An optimist: Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is fond of examining available U.S. data about the pandemic and then making TV predictions. His latest: The COVID-19 delta wave will “probably” run its course by Thanksgiving across the country (The Hill).
> Pandemic of the unvaccinated in GOP states: Almost every reliably blue state now has a higher vaccination rate than almost every reliably red state. COVID-19 fatalities are disproportionately occurring in Republican-dominated states (The New York Times).
ADMINISTRATION: As prospects for immigration changes by Congress appear remote this year, the Biden administration on Monday renewed efforts to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the United States as young children from deportation, proposing to do so via regulation. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled in July that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was illegal. Hanen said the Obama administration overstepped its authority and did not properly seek feedback when it introduced DACA in 2012. The judge allowed for renewals to continue but prohibited new enrollments. The new federal rule would solicit public comment to address the issue raised by Hanen while the administration appeals the ruling (The Associated Press).
> Defense Department: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (pictured below), will offer a Senate panel much anticipated testimony today about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. He’ll also speak with House lawmakers on Wednesday. Following revelations in a new book “Peril,” by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Milley is expected to be asked why he decided to give China his personal reassurance before and after the upheaval surrounding the U.S. presidential election that the United States would not attack. Some Republicans have accused Milley of exceeding his orders and authority, insisting he should resign or be fired. The Pentagon’s recent admission that it got its ISIS intelligence wrong when it blew up a Toyota at a private residence in Kabul with a drone strike, killing 10 civilians including seven children, will also likely prompt some Senate queries (The Hill).
Milley recently told reporters that the U.S. and Russian militaries need to expand and deepen their communications, which could help de-escalate a future crisis. The general met in Helsinki with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov. “It’s important to have an effective means of military-to-military communications in order to clearly understand each other’s positions on very difficult issues and to develop a relationship where we are candid and professional, which in times of crisis can become a very important means in order to de-escalate any kind of crisis situation,” Milley told The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press during interviews while he traveled on Thursday (The Wall Street Journal).
FBI: Gun-related crimes including murder and manslaughter soared nearly 30 percent in 2020 in the United States, a record jump, the government reported on Monday. Overall crime was down (The Washington Post).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Texas lawmakers on Monday unveiled a proposed redistricting map, with Republican members looking to cement the party’s dominance in the state by reducing the number of competitive districts and seeking to protect incumbent members for much of the next decade.
The new map, which was proposed by state Sen. Joan Huffman (R), would add two new seats in the Austin and Houston areas and give the GOP a distinct advantage. Under the proposal, there would be 25 districts that broke for former President Trump compared with only 13 that voted for Biden. The state gained two additional districts in the 2020 census, with much of the state’s growth taking place between Austin and Houston.
As The Hill’s Max Greenwood notes, the map would likely create a number of headaches for lawmakers, mostly for Democrats. For example, it would pit Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green against one another. Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s (R) district would overlap with that of Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D).
It would also put Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D), who narrowly won reelection last year, in a more competitive district. However, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) would represent a safer district.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Cities become pawns in redistricting.
The Hill: Democrats see Harris as a major player in the midterms.
> Virginia: Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin face off during their second gubernatorial debate tonight, this time in Northern Virginia (Patch.com). They debated for the first time in mid-September (CBS News). The Hill’s Julia Manchester examines what to watch: Does McAuliffe go on the offense amid tightening polls? Will Youngkin tie McAuliffe to Biden’s sagging approval ratings? How often do the candidates mention Trump during exchanges? Abortion and vaccine mandates are set to be major issues for both candidates. And will McAuliffe press Youngkin on the GOP’s approach to election integrity?
Axios: Youngkin clarifies he would have certified the 2020 election.
Politico: White House believes it cannot afford a loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race.
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Can Biden regain popularity? Well, Reagan saw worse, by Jonathan Bernstein, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/39HXfOb
It’s not just the Larry Nassar case. We are failing sexual assault victims across the country, by Jane Manning, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3ufOkwK
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House convenes at 10 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of Karen Donfried to be an assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs. Milley will testify at 9:30 a.m. to the Senate Armed Services Committee about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan (and likely his phone calls to China before and after the 2020 election). Also testifying in open and closed formats: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie.
The president receives the President’s Daily Brief at 10:30 a.m.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. The administration’s COVID-19 response team will brief the press at 12:30 p.m.
INVITATION: The Hill’s Virtually Live hosts “Future of Medicare and Oral Health” on WEDNESDAY at 1 p.m. with Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), co-sponsor of the Medicare Dental Act of 2021, and Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson, GOP chief deputy whip, plus other experts.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at 8 p.m. holds a virtual event featuring a discussion with Amal Clooney, co-founder and president of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, and Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., media law attorney and partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, recipients of the 2021 Freedom of the Press Awards. Information is HERE.
The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago gets underway today with former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama and an official groundbreaking for a presidential library, museum and campus center. Construction is expected to take four years (The Associated Press, WGNTV9).
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.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Pay attention to these shortages: petrol supplies in the United Kingdom and scarce electricity in China. The British government on Monday readied dozens of soldiers to help ease fuel supply problems caused by a shortage of truck drivers (The Associated Press). … In China, industrial production is going dark in some eastern parts of the country, traffic lights failed amid power rationing and homes are resorting to off-the-grid substitutes. One local government has warned that China’s entire power grid is at risk of collapse if electricity is not rationed. Analysts have slashed economic projections for the remainder of the year in China, and economists believe the power problems are exacerbating well known supply chain troubles (South China Morning Post, The New York Times and Reuters). … North Korea, which has been experiencing food shortages, fired another short-range missile into the sea on Tuesday. A U.S.-led diplomatic effort aimed at nudging North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons in return for economic and political benefits has been stalled for 2-½ years. Kim Jong Un has maintained a moratorium on testing longer-range weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, an indication he wants to keep alive the chances for future diplomacy with the United States (The Associated Press).
➔ ROBOCALLS: Starting today, phone companies are required to block any incoming traffic from providers not listed in the Robocall Mitigation Database. The Federal Communications Commission says all voice providers must use a new database to allow the agency to track efforts by the companies to halt highly unpopular phone spam and scams (Yahoo News, CNBC, Marketplace).
➔ TECH: Instagram announced Monday that its plan to launch a version of the photo-sharing app targeted for children under the age of 13 is on ice following leaked internal reports showing the platform’s impact on the mental health of young users. However, Instagram head Adam Mosseri wrote in a blog post that the delay is not an acknowledgement that the plan is a bad idea (The Hill). … Following the mental health report by The Wall Street Journal, wrath directed at tech giants — particularly Facebook — has reached a boiling point in D.C. with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pressing the company over Instagram’s impact on teen mental health (The Hill). … A Brooklyn-based energy startup known for “turning buildings into Teslas” is about to roll out free and low-cost WiFi to about 100,000 new users in the Bronx — in a system administered by the people it serves. “Once we saw folks, and really children, struggling with the digital divide during the pandemic, we knew that we could…provide a data signal at low cost across certain communities,” Donnel Baird, founder of BlocPower, told The Hill (The Hill).
➔ COURTS: John Hinckley Jr., 66, can be granted “unconditional release” from court supervision in June after an agreement was struck between his lawyer and the Justice Department, ending a 40-year legal saga after he attempted to assassinate former President Reagan and a jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. According to the agreement, the release means that courts will no longer control conditions concerning Hinckley’s medical care (NBC Washington). … A jury on Monday found R&B superstar Robert Sylvester Kelly (R. Kelly) guilty of all charges at the end of a lengthy sex trafficking trial during which numerous victims, some underage, detailed abuse that he denied. Kelly was found guilty of sex trafficking and racketeering and faces sentencing that could mean decades of imprisonment (The Hill).
And finally … If a cinghiale runs toward you, what do you do? This is a question contemporary Romans have been forced to confront as they stare down wild boar, the marauding four-legged beasts that emerge from the Eternal City’s parks to plunder overflowing rubbish bins (The Associated Press).
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