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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday! 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, 776,639; Tuesday, 778,601; Wednesday, 780,233; Thursday, 782,100.
President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE today will describe new federal travel restrictions and stricter COVID-19 testing requirements for all international travelers to the U.S. beginning next week in response to the omicron variant, which was confirmed on Monday in a traveler from South Africa who arrived in San Francisco 11 days ago (The Hill).
The president and his public health advisers have encouraged Americans to be cautious without panicking as scientists spend a few weeks researching omicron’s capabilities. Their primary message: Get vaccinated and get booster doses if you’re eligible.
On Wednesday, the president sought to be reassuring. “We’re looking ahead to a brighter and happier December,” he said.
The Hill: About 18 percent of U.S. adults are still unvaccinated, contributing to almost 1,000 COVID-19 deaths every day. Biden’s tough admonitions to the unvaccinated and to Republicans, including in Congress, who say they back vaccines but oppose federal mandates, are piling up in courts.
Reuters: Mask requirements on modes of transit will extend until mid-March.
The New York Times: Biden will announce that private insurers will cover the reimbursement costs of at-home COVID-19 test kits available over the counter. The administration is becoming more focused on the need for testing and will supply such rapid COVID-19 kits to community health centers and rural clinics and add vaccination centers nationwide.
“So much of the next phase of covid depends on easy, rapid access to testing, whether it’s omicron or quick access to oral treatments” or compliance with employer vaccine mandates, Nirav Shah, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Post.
In the week since the discovery of the newest variant and its spike protein mutations, scientists worldwide have adopted a cautiously optimistic outlook that while omicron appears adept at moving from human to human, the infections it causes have been treatable and available vaccines have lessened the severity of illness and could be tweaked by manufacturers within months to provide stronger immune responses (The Wall Street Journal).
Omicron has been identified in more than 30 countries across continents in the span of a week, pointing out yet again that the pandemic is far from over as long as COVID-19 can ignore borders and find susceptible human hosts (CNBC). Omicron now accounts for the majority of new COVID-19 infections identified in South Africa. The country has administered enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate just 22 percent of the population, according to the Reuters tracker.
The Associated Press: South Korea on Wednesday confirmed its first five cases of omicron.
The first known U.S. case of the new strain arrived in San Francisco with a traveler who was healthy, had received two doses of Moderna vaccine but no booster, developed mild symptoms within three days of arriving from South Africa on Nov. 22 and is now self-quarantining while contact tracing continues. The variant was confirmed through genomic sequencing (The Hill, San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times).
The New York Times: California assures residents it is prepared for omicron’s presence. The state will increase COVID-19 testing at its major airports, focusing on arrivals from countries identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as potential sources of the variant, but Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomThe Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin Newsom denies parole for RFK assassin Why California needs a Latino state supreme court justice MORE (D) said California was not contemplating tougher public health restrictions or school closures.
The New York Times: New York has weathered three coronavirus variants this year. Will omicron be different?
It is inevitable that omicron will be detected in other states, posing new challenges for Biden and his advisers, for governors and mayors, not to mention physicians and hospitals at a time when Americans are losing patience with pandemic uncertainty and economic challenges.
The public bemoans rising prices for food and gasoline, shortages of some consumer goods, gyrations in financial markets and predictions of higher interest rates next year, ever-evolving coronavirus restrictions and precautions that lack consistency and sometimes logic, and a recent burst of optimism about safe travel options now dashed ahead of the holidays.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats in the Senate have a $2 trillion legislative agenda that has become more challenging to sell and may limp into 2022. Partisan warfare, in part involving GOP antipathy toward Biden’s COVID-19 mandates, cast a shadow over the need to fund basic government functions ahead of a Friday deadline. Drama is expected at the close of the week, although Senate Republicans offered assurances on Wednesday that a shutdown was unlikely. Separately, to avoid U.S. default on Treasury obligations, both parties in Congress are being asked to bless tens of billions of dollars in U.S. borrowing authority ahead of a mid-December deadline (and ahead of next year’s potentially seismic midterm elections).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE (R-Ky.) continues to present an aura of confidence that a default crisis is not imminent. How it’s averted, however, involves a strategy he’s been discussing since last month with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) — privately.
The New York Times: One anecdotal case of omicron infection affecting a busy Israeli doctor hints that three doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was a valuable shield for some vaccinated individuals with whom he came in contact. In other words, omicron may be giving boosters a boost.
More executive branch news: The administration will try to persuade a federal appeals court that an internal Justice Department memo that cleared former President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE of any wrongdoing in connection with the Mueller investigation should be kept under wraps (The Hill). … Symone SandersSymone SandersSymone Sanders hired by MSNBC Staffer who had contact with Harris tests positive for COVID-19 White House points finger at the press MORE, a top communications aide to Vice President Harris, will leave the White House at the end of the month, adding to West Wing personnel change as the administration’s first year nears an end (Politico).
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LEADING THE DAY
SUPREME COURT: Justices during oral arguments on Wednesday appeared poised to consider setting new abortion limits as they weighed a Mississippi law that takes direct aim at Roe v. Wade.
A majority of the court posed sharp questions about how firmly rooted Roe’s viability standard is in the Constitution. The Mississippi law, which bans virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, conflicts with the nearly five-decade-old rule that says states cannot prohibit abortion prior to when a fetus can live outside the womb, known as fetal viability, which occurs around 24 weeks.
“If you think that the issue is one of choice, that women should have the choice to terminate their pregnancy, that supposes that there is a point at which they’ve had the fair choice, the opportunity to choice. And why would 15 weeks be an inappropriate line? Viability, it seems to me, doesn't have anything to do with choice. But if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked.
Roberts, along with Associate Justices Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSupreme Court sides with murder defendant in major evidentiary ruling Ossoff and Collins clash over her past support for voting rights legislation Supreme Court rejects Trump's bid to shield records from Jan. 6 committee MORE and Amy Coney Barrett, are who many court watchers consider key votes in a case that anti-abortion activists view as their best chance in decades to undermine the 1973 decision.
As The Hill’s John Kruzel notes, Kavanaugh asked multiple times why the court is better suited than Congress or the states to play referee in this situation.
“One interest has to prevail over the other at any given point in time,” Kavanaugh said to the U.S. solicitor general, who argued against the Mississippi law.
The Hill: Five revealing quotes from Supreme Court abortion case.
Amy Howe, SCOTUSblog: Majority of court appears poised to roll back abortion rights.
The Hill: Associate Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorSupreme Court rebuffs abortion providers again over Texas 6-week ban Supreme Court sides with murder defendant in major evidentiary ruling The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE suggests the Supreme Court wouldn't “survive the stench” of political calculation if abortion rights are undercut.
CONGRESS: Senate Republicans are grappling with a push by some in their conference to force a government shutdown in an effort to stop Biden’s vaccine mandate for private businesses ahead of the Friday deadline to extend funding.
Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Juan Williams: The GOP is an anti-America party MORE (R-Utah) (pictured below) and Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin GOP senator plans to introduce FAUCI Act after clash at hearing MORE (R-Kan.) are leading the charge to block funding for the administration to enforce its employer vaccine (or testing) mandate for large employers. The plan to delay a spending bill could push any shutdown into the weekend and potentially into next week (The Hill).
As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports, the two senators refused to back down from their plan to drag out consideration of a stopgap spending bill during a GOP steering committee meeting on Wednesday. However, most Senate Republicans opposed their plan, saying they will almost certainly be blamed for any shutdown and, in any case, the Senate will be voting next week on a resolution to nullify the employer vaccine mandate under the Congressional Review Act.
“There was not full agreement, that’s for sure,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection MORE (Mo.) told reporters.
McConnell insisted on Wednesday that all will be alright once all is said and done.
“I think we’re going to be OK,” McConnell told reporters heading into the meeting (CNN).
Also at issue is how long any stopgap spending bill would last. As The New York Times notes, the spending levels in an expected continuing resolution were set while Trump was in office, with Republicans hoping to extend it as long as possible.
“I’d like February, March would suit me — April, May,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyNegotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Alabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash MORE (Ala.), the top Senate GOP appropriator. “I think it gives us more time to seriously sit down.”
The Wall Street Journal: Government shutdown deadline approaches as deal eludes lawmakers.
Politico: McConnell's latest challenge: stopping a shutdown over vaccine mandates.
The Hill: McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling.
The Hill: Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine I'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE (R-Fla.) blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill.
> GOP v. BBB: Republicans are ramping up attacks on the state and local tax (SALT) provision in the Build Back Better agenda, arguing that the move would lower taxes for high-income households with the hope that it will help them in the 2022 midterms.
The SALT plan under discussion, which was pushed for heavily by members from high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey, would undo the $10,000 cap on the deduction. However, some progressives and moderates are concerned that a rollback of the cap would benefit wealthy Americans, with their GOP counterparts lying in wait to attack them.
As The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda writes, Republicans are highlighting the potential benefits to high-income households in the massive social spending package in an effort to kill the changes.
Cristina Marcos, The Hill: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse GOP leaders vow to end proxy voting despite widespread use among Republicans Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump to sit for interview How Kevin McCarthy sold his soul to Donald Trump MORE (R-Calif.) faces headaches from far-right House GOP.
The Hill: McCarthy pleads with Republicans to stop infighting: “Congress is not junior high.”
Politico: House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioTop Democrats call on AT&T and Verizon to delay 5G rollouts near airports On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Democrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends MORE (D-Ore.) to retire from Congress in latest blow to Democrats.
The Hill: GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority.
> Jan. 6: The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted unanimously Wednesday night to refer Jeffrey Clark, a Trump Justice Department lawyer, for prosecution, the second such censure by the panel.
The committee is now planning to convene a second hearing for Clark on Saturday, after his lawyer asked for a change to plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, with the vote continuing the contempt process (The Hill).
The Hill: Media giants side with Stephen Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Democrat Stacey Abrams, whose voter turnout expertise and following within her party are notable, on Wednesday launched her second campaign to be Georgia governor, boosting the party’s chances to turn the state blue.
As The Hill’s Max Greenwood notes, Abrams was expected to launch the bid for months. No other Democrat had entered the Georgia gubernatorial race, and with Abrams in the contest, it’s unlikely she’ll see a primary challenge.
Abrams announced her campaign in a video touting her work in the state since her 2018 loss to Gov. Brian KempBrian KempPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Perdue proposes election police force in Georgia GOP governors press Biden administration for control of infrastructure implementation MORE (R) by 1.4-percentage points. Her candidacy also tees up one of the most anticipated gubernatorial contests of next year, with a potential rematch against Kemp in the offing.
However, Kemp has his own problems on the right, as evidenced by Trump’s statement in reaction to Abrams’s announcement.
“I beat her single-handedly, without much of a candidate, in 2018,” Trump said, referring to Abrams. “I’ll beat her again, but it will be hard to do with Brian Kemp, because the MAGA base will just not vote for him after what he did with respect to Election Integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats. But some good Republican will run, and some good Republican will get my endorsement, and some good Republican will WIN!”
Former Sen. David PerdueDavid PerduePerdue proposes election police force in Georgia Kemp campaign alleges Perdue team illegally coordinating with new fundraising committee Abrams treads carefully in relationship with Biden MORE (R-Ga.) has floated a possible primary challenge against Kemp, whom he supported in 2018.
Abrams would become the nation’s first Black female governor if she wins.
The Hill: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will not seek reelection in 2022, leaving his party scrambling for a prominent candidate.
NBC News: Former Rep. Keith RothfusKeith James RothfusGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud Former GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus eyeing Pennsylvania Senate race MORE (R-Pa.) is considering entering the Pennsylvania Senate race.
Politico: Trump intervenes in Ohio Senate primary — for himself.
The Hill: Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats.
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!
My abortion story shows why the Supreme Court must save Roe v. Wade, by Billie Jean King, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/32Sr3rh
Justice Sotomayor gets political on abortion, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3Ef0iLb
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 8 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden will visit the National Institutes of Health in Maryland and deliver remarks at 1:40 p.m. about the government’s revised COVID-19 battle plan for the winter, including new federal travel restrictions following the global spread of the omicron variant. The president, first lady Jill BidenJill BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Jill Biden adds to communications team in lead-up to midterm elections Harris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' MORE, Harris and second gentleman Doug EmhoffDoug EmhoffHarris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE will participate in the traditional National Christmas Tree lighting on the Ellipse at 5:30 p.m. Biden and Interior Secretary Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOvernight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden officials announce clean energy plans Biden administration announces actions bolstering clean energy MORE will speak.
The vice president will travel to Charlotte, N.C., and tour a public transit facility at 11:20 a.m. with Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks Airlines suspend US flights in response to 5G deployment AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G rollout near certain airports MORE to tout the merits of the new infrastructure law in a speech at 11:55 a.m. (WBTV). She will return to Washington in the afternoon.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department today reports on claims for unemployment benefits filed in the week ending Nov. 27, data that is expected to show continued U.S. employment recovery.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 11 a.m.
INVITATION to The Hill’s Virtually Live event: TODAY at 1 p.m., “Investing in Maternal & Infant Health,” with Reps. Alma AdamsAlma Shealey AdamsAdams: Maternal health is in 'a crisis within a crisis' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Supreme Court weighs abortion restrictions MORE (D-N.C.) and Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerThe fates of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Pelosi: McCarthy has 'obligation' to help Jan. 6 investigation West Virginia lawmaker slams GOP colleague over support for infrastructure law MORE (R-Wash.), plus federal and advocacy organization experts (information HERE).
➔ DEFENSE: Pentagon chief Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE said Thursday while speaking in Seoul, South Korea, that China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region.” The United States is concerned about China’s military capability, Austin said, calling Beijing “our pacing challenge” (The Associated Press). China’s drive to end American predominance in Asia stirs unease in Washington, particularly a July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.
➔ SPACE: Harris on Wednesday said Russia's “irresponsible act” last month of blowing up one of its satellites, creating a field of space junk, demands a more robust global effort to adopt new rules of behavior in orbit to protect national security and to defend commerce. “By blasting debris across space, this irresponsible act endangered the satellites of other nations, as well as astronauts in the International Space Station,” she said while convening the inaugural meeting of the National Space Council under her leadership (Politico).
➔ SPORTS: ⚾ Major League Baseball plunged into its first work stoppage in a quarter-century when the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night and owners immediately locked out players in a move that threatens spring training and opening day (The Associated Press). ... The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced Wednesday a suspension of all tournaments in China and Hong Kong until a probe is launched into tennis star Peng Shuai’s recent allegation of sexual assault against a retired senior government official. Steve Simon, the WTA’s president and CEO, said in a statemen that Peng has “seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault” and “is not allowed to communicate freely,” which Simon said was unacceptable for the tennis organization (The Wall Street Journal).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for the Morning Report Quiz! Startled by some inflated numbers, we’re eager for some smart guesses about dollar signs in the news.
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Turkey Market News Report, released ahead of Thanksgiving this year, the cost per pound for wholesale frozen turkeys weighing 16 pounds or less jumped by how much compared with 2020?
- 1 percent
- 23 percent
- 52 percent
- 100 percent
Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal will receive an annual salary of $1 million. But there’s an inducement: If he drives rapid decisions and implements them, the company says he will land a bonus. How much?
- $3 million
- $8 million
- $12 million
- $25 million
Paige Bueckers, who plays basketball for the University of Connecticut, became Gatorade's first NCAA athlete partner in a multi-year name, image and likeness deal that, together with sneaker marketplace StockX, is described as how lucrative?
- $1 million
A Massachusetts man bought a sketch at auction for $30 four years ago that experts recently said could be a work from the 1500s by German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. How much do authorities think the artwork, now on museum display, might be worth?
- $1 million
- $6 million
- $20 million
- $50 million