The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Congress avoids shutdown
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 776,639; Tuesday, 778,601; Wednesday, 780,233; Thursday, 782,100; Friday, 785,912.
Congress got its job done early. Both chambers on Thursday acted to fund the government temporarily through mid-February, which averted a looming government shutdown at midnight tonight.
The House on Thursday evening passed a continuing resolution, 221-212, to fund government operations at the previous year’s fiscal levels through Feb. 18, giving lawmakers more time to hammer out their differences. Retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was the lone GOP member to vote with Democrats (The Hill).
Hours later, the Senate surprised some by following suit after days of threats by some conservative senators to use a shutdown threat as leverage to defund President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test mandate for large employers. The chamber ended the skirmish with a 69-28 vote to approve the continuing resolution, now headed to the president’s desk (The Hill).
Thursday’s reprieve means Congress will return to the funding battlefield in 11 weeks.
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Senate averts initial December crisis with last-minute deal.
The Washington Post: Senate passes bill to fund the government, averting shutdown.
Politico: Congress thwarts shutdown after vaccine mandate clash.
The vote took place after Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) got their wish in the form of a chance to vote by simple majority on the question of jettisoning the administration’s mandate. Democrats batted it down, 48-50. Leadership held the mandate vote in part because two Senate Republicans, Sens. John Thune (S.D.) and Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), were absent on Thursday, meaning the majority party could withstand losing a vote and still pass their objective, which was funding the government into February.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) provided some drama earlier in the day when he opened the door to voting to defund the mandate, telling reporters that he was “less enthused” about a private sector compared to one for the government (The Hill). He ultimately voted with Democrats to swat away the amendment vote.
“I am glad that in the end cooler heads prevailed,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor prior to the vote. “The government will stay open. And I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown.”
For days, leaders in both parties maintained there would not be a shutdown. Biden told reporters on Thursday that a gap in funding would be averted so long as no member “decides to be totally erratic.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained that lawmakers would not shutter the government to protest the administration’s vaccine mandate, arguing that it was a futile and pointless endeavor.
“I don’t think shutting down the government over this issue is going to get an outcome. It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don’t think that’s the best vehicle to get this job done,” McConnell told Fox News on Thursday morning (The Hill).
At a Senate GOP meeting earlier Thursday, leaders tried to dissuade the conservative troika from pursuing their plan. One GOP senator told The Hill colleagues hoped to persuade Lee (pictured below) to instead use next week’s planned action to challenge Biden’s vaccine mandate using the Congressional Review Act to revoke the rule, which remains under court challenge and has not been implemented. Earlier this year, Marshall secured a vote on a similar amendment to prohibit funding for mandate enforcement, but it would have required at least 60 votes and failed along party lines (The Hill).
“I think funding our government and whether you’re going to get your Social Security check is not something we need to put on someone’s table right now,” Senate Appropriations Committee member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told Bloomberg TV and Radio, adding that the quest by Lee and others was a “fool’s errand.”
Throughout the lead-up to the votes, Democratic leaders hammered Republicans for contemplating a possible federal shutdown during a pandemic, ahead of the holidays and amid scientific mysteries about the omicron version of COVID-19.
“How do they explain to the public that they’re shutting down government because they don’t want people to get vaccinated?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during her weekly press conference Thursday. “This is so silly that we have people who are anti-science, anti-vaccination saying they’re going to shut down government over that. And you’re asking me what’s our message? Our message is that we have to respect governance, and we have to respect science, and that’s what we are doing, and we will pass this legislation” (The Hill).
CNN: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) won’t commit to voting for Biden’s sweeping social safety net expansion.
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LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Biden on Thursday said the administration’s winter strategy to respond to COVID-19 and the omicron variant, confirmed in at least five states, is focused on getting more people vaccinated, administering booster doses, extending to March a mask requirement on all public forms of transit, securing insurance-paid COVID-19 rapid testing beginning in January, and new U.S. travel restrictions beginning next week to require a negative test by all travelers originating abroad within 24 hours before they begin their trips (The Hill). The administration has held off on implementing vaccine or testing requirements for domestic flights, although future changes are possible.
Omicron infections are appearing from coast to coast and on the island of Oahu and may have been present in the United States for some time, according to hypotheses from some infectious disease experts.
Cases were confirmed Thursday in residents of Minnesota, New York, Hawaii and Colorado and a case was previously identified in California. A Minnesota man attended an anime convention at the New York City Javits Center Nov. 19-21 and then developed mild symptoms of COVID-19 that were confirmed by a test on Nov. 24 after returning to Minnesota. The man, who was vaccinated, experienced mild symptoms that subsided (The Hill). The Colorado omicron case involves a resident east of Denver who recently traveled to multiple countries in southern Africa as a tourist. She was fully vaccinated but not boosted and experienced mild symptoms. Her close contacts have tested negative so far (The Associated Press). Five people in the New York City area, including a 67-year-old, vaccinated woman from Long Island who recently traveled to Africa, were reported to have tested positive for the new variant (The New York Times).
Genetic sequencing is required to confirm particular variants of the virus in those who have been infected, and the process in the U.S. has not been widespread and takes time, usually about 10 days.
World Health Organization officials said that international COVID-19 responses familiar during the long pandemic appear to be effective following the emergence of omicron. “The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director based in Manila, said Friday (The Associated Press).
Economic forecasting firms, unsure of omicron’s potency and the path ahead, said on Thursday that it’s possible that the variant’s global spread could knock the fragile U.S. economic recovery off track (The New York Times). The new variant “could cause significant problems” for international economies by exacerbating supply chain interruptions and dampening demand, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told a Reuters conference on Thursday.
Citing overloaded hospitals, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues. She also said that parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period (The Associated Press).
In Greece, Israel, the Netherlands and European countries, tighter and in some cases punitive COVID-19 restrictions are being applied as the pandemic continues, the delta and omicron variants spread and unvaccinated populations remain vulnerable (The Associated Press).
More than 50 people in Norway, many of them vaccinated, tested positive for the omicron variant following a company Christmas party held at an Oslo restaurant. The Norwegian government said Thursday that new national and regional restrictions take effect today, including working from home when possible in Oslo, a 100-person attendance limit at private indoor events in public places or rented venues, and registration of patrons at restaurants and bars. Nationally, anyone entering Norway must be tested within 24 hours, either at the border, at a public test station or by self-test. If a rapid test comes back positive, a traveler must take a more conclusive PCR test within 24 hours, the government said (The Associated Press).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Once again, the political universe is revolving around Georgia, a state poised to become ground zero for both parties in the 2022 midterms.
Democrats are doing all they can in the Peach State to put their best foot forward, headlined by Wednesday’s news that Stacey Abrams is reprising her bid for the governorship. As The Hill’s Max Greenwood and Hanna Trudo write, Democratic operatives are hoping that Abrams’ entrance will help put Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) chances over the top. Warnock’s seat is crucial to Democrats retaining the upper chamber.
However, the political winds could stand in the way. COVID-19 continues to be an issue for the nation, with rising inflation and Biden’s standing with Americans proving problematic for the party already, as evidenced by the Virginia and New Jersey contests last month.
As The Hill reported, the political coalition that powered Democratic victories in the state last year appears fragile, and a loss for either Abrams or Warnock would be a major blow to the majority party.
The Washington Post: GOP tactics herald a grim new era of governing for Biden and Democrats.
The Associated Press: Biden, allies push back against GOP’s objections about the administration’s COVID-19 responses with political barbs of their own.
Axios: McConnell: No legislative agenda for 2022 midterms.
The Associated Press: Lawyers allied with former President Trump ordered to pay $175,000 in sanctions.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Elites’ misdeeds fuel public distrust.
Politico: Senate Republicans wonder whether Mehmet Oz is their Pennsylvania remedy.
ADMINISTRATION: Under court order, the Biden administration next week will resume the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum-seekers migrating toward the U.S. southern border, a policy that requires them to wait for U.S. court hearings on the Mexico side of the border (The Associated Press).
> Vice President Harris was in Charlotte on Thursday with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to tout the new infrastructure law, and on Wednesday, she focused on her duties running the National Space Council. Behind the scenes, her staff was acknowledging the sort of prominent turnover that hints at a makeover-in-the-making, although Harris, when questioned by journalists, offered no hints about how her White House staff will change after less than a year in office.
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Amie Parnes report, the exodus of staff members, including senior adviser and spokesperson Symone Sanders (seen below), cap a rocky year for Harris and a potential reset amid Democratic worries that the vice president, her top team and the West Wing staff serving Biden have not sufficiently enhanced Harris’s public image as a confident leader and national problem-solver.
The Hill and The Washington Post: Two more experienced Harris aides in addition to Sanders and communications director Ashley Etienne will leave the vice president’s staff.
Axios: Burnout, money, fear drive Harris staff turnover.
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Why does Congress only act at the last minute? By former Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3Em6Asv
Will the justices let go of abortion? By Peggy Noonan, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3Ej0OrG
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will hold his weekly press conference at 11:30 a.m.
The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel to be a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will speak about the government’s November jobs report at 10:15 a.m. from the State Dining Room. He will have lunch with Harris at 12:15 p.m. The president, who celebrated the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on Thursday along with entertainer Billy Porter (pictured below), will depart the White House at 5:30 p.m. to spend the weekend at Camp David.
First lady Jill Biden will travel today to Philadelphia and Tahlequah, Okla. At 10:45 a.m., she will visit a pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to urge that children receive coronavirus inoculations. She will fly from Philadelphia to Tulsa, Okla., arriving in the afternoon. The first lady will visit the Cherokee Immersion School in the Cherokee Nation at 3:45 p.m. local time to highlight native language preservation.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. will release its employment report for November, which is expected to show additional U.S. jobs growth.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
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: Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov (both pictured below) on Thursday in Sweden and repeated U.S. warnings that Russia risks “consequences” if Moscow uses aggression with Ukraine instead of the preferred option of diplomacy. Blinken said Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to speak directly “in the near future” (CNN). … The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Belarus (Reuters). The United Kingdom announced new Belarus sanctions (Reuters). … Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Thursday he is stepping down from the post only two months after replacing Sebastian Kurz. The outgoing chancellor said he would depart office when a new leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party is decided on, with Kurz (the party leader) announcing only hours earlier that he was exiting politics. Kurz resigned as chancellor in October over allegations of bribery (The Associated Press).
➔ HEALTH: Perhaps because of greater public and medical awareness, more U.S. children are being diagnosed with forms of autism and at younger ages, according to government information released on Thursday. According to data drawn from nearly a dozen states, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among 8-year-olds, 1 in 44 had been diagnosed in 2018 with the developmental condition, compared with 1 in 54 in 2016. According to The Associated Press, experts believe more awareness and wider availability of services to treat the condition are behind the shift in data.
➔ STATE WATCH: A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the enforcement of a Texas law to halt social media companies from banning users based on political views. Judge Robert Pitman sided with two industry associations, saying that social media companies “have a First Amendment right to moderate content disseminated on their platforms.” The order underscored that social media platforms are “privately owned platforms” and not “common carriers” (The Hill).
And finally … Congratulations to the Morning Report Quiz all-stars this week! Asked to ponder some recently inflated numbers, they guessed (or Googled) a few dollar signs in the news.
Taking well deserved bows in the winners’ circle: Pam Manges, Candi Cee, Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Anne McEnery, Richard E. Baznik, Gary Sensenig and Sharon Banitt.
They knew that the cost per pound for wholesale frozen turkeys weighing 16 pounds or less jumped this year by 23 percent compared with 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Turkey Market News Report.
Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal will receive a bonus of $12 million if he makes rapid decisions and implements them.
University of Connecticut basketball star Paige Bueckers landed a $1 million, multi-year name, image and likeness deal with Gatorade and sneaker marketplace StockX.
A $30 sketch purchased at an estate auction four years ago by an astute Massachusetts man may be worth $50 million now that experts think it’s the work of German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. The drawing, believed to be from 1503, now hangs in a London gallery.
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