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The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Charter Communications – Tornado deaths high; Chris Wallace shocker

A family photo lays among the debris inside of a house after a tornado in Dawson Springs, Ky.
Associated Press/Michael Clubb

                    Presented by Charter Communications

A family photo lays among the debris inside of a house after a tornado in Dawson Springs, Ky.

 

 

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday! 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 as of this morning: 797,348. 

 

As of this morning, 72 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 60.8 percent has received two, according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker.

December tornadoes that roared through Kentucky and five other states along a 220-mile path of destruction on Friday took the lives of at least 80 people, and officials on Sunday predicted the death toll this week would climb, along with estimates of property damage and business losses.

 

President Biden this morning will be briefed by his team from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency after declaring a major disaster in Kentucky. Federal agencies have been responding to disaster conditions since Saturday in coordination with officials in the affected states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Communities are without power, water and safe housing.

 

“I can tell you from reports that I’ve received I know we’ve lost more than 80 Kentuckians,” Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said on Sunday talk shows. Later in the day, Kentucky said the death toll might be smaller than initially feared because more people had been accounted for.

 

I’ve got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean, gone. My dad’s hometown — half of it isn’t standing. It is hard for me to describe. I know people can see the visuals, but that goes on for 12 blocks or more in some of these places,”  the governor said (The Associated Press and The New York Times). “We’re still finding bodies,” he added later. “I mean, we’ve got cadaver dogs in towns that they shouldn’t have to be in” (The New York Times).

 

Half the homes in Bremen, Ky., population 365, were demolished. A candle factory filled with busy employees working on Christmas products during the night shift was flattened in Mayfield, Ky., according to satellite footage and descriptions from stunned emergency responders. Late on Sunday, the company said eight workers were confirmed dead and eight remained missing, while more than 90 others had been located (The Associated Press), while the state said those numbers remained unconfirmed (The Washington Post). In Edwardsville, Ill., at least six people were reported killed by a tornado that partially demolished an Amazon distribution warehouse. 

 

The costs of the destruction, displacement and impact on thousands of families and businesses across multiple states will be high, governors predicted during interviews on Sunday.

 

Reuters: An Amazon driver died in a bathroom sheltering with other workers.

 

The Associated Press: A 1942 family photograph from a tornado-damaged home in Dawson Springs, Ky., was discovered nearly 130 miles away in New Albany, Ind., and will be returned, thanks to information written on the back of the photo and lots of helpers on Facebook.

 

Scientists suggest it is too soon to blame climate change for the weekend tornadoes. Twisters have mowed through the United States during previous Decembers, but affected states reported unusually warm, moist conditions on Friday.

 

The Hill: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell on Sunday said extreme weather “is going to be our new normal,” pointing to the effects of climate change.

 

The Hill: The Sunday spotlight shifted to deadly storms.

 

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will reschedule a planned visit today to Lexington, Ky., to focus on vaccinations against COVID-19, the White House said.

 

> In Washington, a different kind of headline caught many by surprise on Sunday. Chris Wallace signed off after 18 years anchoring “Fox News Sunday” with the announcement that he would be leaving to pursue opportunities “beyond politics.” Within hours, CNN announced Wallace will be an anchor for its streaming service CNN+, launching in 2022 (The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Hill). 

 

 

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News speaks at the first presidential debate

 

A MESSAGE FROM CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS

We believe internet access for all means opportunity for everyone. That’s why we’re investing billions to extend our network to reach those who need it most.

LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: Senate Democrats are staring down a crucial week in their push to pass the Build Back Better Act by Christmas, headlined by discussions with the Senate parliamentarian and their continued efforts to bring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on board for the party’s preeminent priority.

 

According to The Hill’s Jordain Carney, Democrats last week released text from five of the 12 committees tasked with writing pieces of the multi trillion-dollar bill and incomplete draft language from the Senate Finance Committee, representing a sign of progress. In addition, lawmakers are expected to ramp up formal talks with Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, this week.

 

However, any issues could push work on the package into next year. 

 

“If I get out of here by the evening of the 24th I’ll be very happy,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about the pre-Christmas effort.

 

Among the outstanding issues is Manchin, the centrist Democrat who continues to withhold his support not just for the package writ large but for even starting debate on the bill. Both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who also has not said if she supports the legislation, have privately predicted it won’t be ready to pass by Christmas. 

 

Top Democrats have tried to mold the bill with Manchin in mind, including dropping a program designed to incentivize the transition to clean energy, while other provisions, including paid family leave, could also be casualties. However, assuaging Manchin on some aspects is tougher than others, especially on inflation, which the West Virginia centrist has been vocal about for months. Adding to his argument was Friday’s news that the inflation rate is at a 39-year high, with the White House countering that the social spending package will help lower the figure.

 

The Wall Street Journal: Biden aims to win pivotal Democrat’s support for $2 trillion spending plan.

 

Politico: Old St. Chuck? Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) under pressure to deliver by Christmas.

 

Aris Folley, The Hill: Manchin faces pressure from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), other colleagues on paid family leave. 

 

The Hill: Child tax credit expiration adds pressure for Democrats.

 

> She’s running: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is likely staying put. 

 

According to CNN, the longtime House Democratic leader is planning to run for reelection next year and is not ruling out attempting to stay in leadership after 2022 despite her agreement to depart her leadership position after her two-year term ends. 

 

For years, Pelosi, 81, has made decisions about her future in Congress at the end of election cycles. If she wins reelection in November, Pelosi will have secured an 18th full term in Congress, though it remains to be seen whether she sticks around for the 2024 cycle. 

 

Politico: “Who is he?” The X-factor relationship between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) that could soon rule the House.

 

Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong, The Hill: Trump demands undermine unity of GOP leaders. 

 

The New York Times: Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was deeply involved in fighting the election outcome, Jan. 6 panel says. The committee is set for a contempt vote today.

 

The Hill: Appeals court ruling against Trump Jan. 6 case tees up likely Supreme Court test.

 

 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives to meet with reporters at the Capitol

 

 

*****

 

CORONAVIRUS: The COVID-19 pandemic set U.S. milestones on Sunday, recording 800,000 deaths exactly two years after the initial virus cropped up in Wuhan, China, setting the worst record per capita among the world’s richest nations.

 

More than 450,000 people have died from COVID-19 thus far in 2021. According to Reuters, that accounts for 57 percent of all U.S. deaths from the illness since the pandemic started. The U.S. also ranks the worst in terms of per capita deaths from COVID-19 among the other Group of Seven (G-7) countries between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 (The Hill).

 

The latest fatality total comes as the U.S. pushes for more Americans to receive booster shots, with the threat surrounding the omicron variant increasing ahead of the Christmas holiday, when families are set to gather en masse. 28.9 percent of American adults have received a booster dose, with 26.6 percent of all Americans having done so. 

 

According to the White House, more than 1 million Americans have received a booster jab per day over the past week. Pfizer and BioNTech reported last week that a third shot helped restore antibody and protection levels against the omicron variant.

 

“People who have received one or two doses appear to have significantly lower levels of immunity to omicron,” said Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “It does seem to have raised the stakes a bit” (The Hill).

 

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: We know a lot more about omicron now. Here’s how to think about all the emerging data.

 

The Hill: Four omicron cases in Washington, D.C., confirmed on Sunday.

 

The Wall Street Journal: COVID-19 cases rise in many states after Thanksgiving.

 

The Washington Post: Vaccine holdouts in U.S. military approach 40,000 even as omicron variant fuels call for boosters.

 

The Associated Press: Connecticut will have a proof-of-vaccination cell phone app.

 

Globally, reactions in other countries to omicron and the pandemic continue to veer  between lifting restrictions and clamping down. 

 

Austria lifted its lockdown (The Hill), while Great Britain raised its COVID–19 alert level on Sunday in reaction to the spread of the omicron variant, with leaders indicating that hospitalizations will likely increase in the coming weeks. The British medical officers recommended that the alert level rise to level 4 (on a 5-point scale), meaning that transmission of the virus is high (Reuters).

 

BBC: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured in London) sets new booster target over “omicron tidal wave.”

 

The Hill: Israel adds United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium to travel ban list. 

 

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson records an address to the nation

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

ADMINISTRATION: I know what I’m willing to lose over,” Biden said in a cameo appearance during a CBS “Sunday Morning” feature ostensibly about first lady Jill Biden. He was referring to his presidency, arguing that if his poll numbers keep falling but his aspirations for Americans remain true, he is determined to stay the course. “If we walk away from the middle class, if we walk away from trying to unify people, if we start to engage in the same kind of politics that the last four years has done … I’m willing to lose over that.”

 

The president, whose job approval ratings are stuck in the low 40s, has avoided wide-ranging, formal White House press conferences (in part because of COVID-19 restrictions) but has participated in several televised town hall programs. He has sidestepped all but one request to be interviewed by a major national newspaper and avoided even local TV and radio question-and-answer sessions during his first year in office, according to detailed comparative tallies maintained by presidency scholar and author Martha Joynt Kumar. The president appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” on NBC on Friday.  

 

Vice President Harris, during an interview published Sunday by the San Francisco Chronicle, brushed aside negative media coverage she’s received in her first year, calling critical headlines “ridiculous” (The Hill). Harris has been tasked by the president to show progress on thorny public policy issues, including voting rights and U.S. immigration policies at the southern border.

 

On Friday, Harris, the former California attorney general and former Senate Judiciary Committee member, waded into the abortion debate and the future of Roe v. Wade amid state challenges, telling reporters, “As far as I’m concerned and as far as our administration is concerned, a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body is non-negotiable.”  

 

 

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to mark the first-ever federal Maternal Health Day of Action

 

 

*****

 

POLITICS: Democrats are fretting over the possibility that their grip on overwhelming support from Hispanics could be slipping away.

 

Democrats are alarmed after a new poll by The Wall Street Journal showed that Hispanic voters, who represent the second-largest voter bloc as measured by ethnicity, are split evenly between the two parties, prompting both sides to step up their outreach efforts with the community. 

 

According to The Hill’s Rafael Bernal and Alex Gangitano, Biden’s political orbit, wary of sagging poll numbers, is betting on economic messaging, hoping Biden’s legislative wins will translate into tangible economic well-being among lower income communities. However, despite the poll’s small sample size, the survey indicated that the voting bloc is open to GOP messaging. 

 

Reid Wilson, The Hill: Trump-inspired challengers target GOP governors.

 

The Hill: Former Vice President Pence fuels speculation of 2024 presidential bid.

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! 

OPINION

We served on the Supreme Court commission. Term limits and court-packing are bad ideas, by Thomas B. Griffith and David F. Levi, opinion contributors, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3pOzADd 

 

A fourth shot against omicron? Don’t count it out, by Therese Raphael and Sam Fazeli, opinion contributors, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3EQmDiP 

A MESSAGE FROM CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS

 

We believe internet access for all means opportunity for everyone. That’s why we’re investing billions to extend our network to reach those who need it most.

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 12:30 p.m.

 

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of Samantha Elliott to be a U.S. district judge for the District of New Hampshire.

 

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden will get an 11 a.m. briefing about the tornado disasters from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FEMA’s Criswell and homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall. He will sign an executive order at 1:15 p.m. about improving government services.

 

The vice president at 10:20 a.m. will receive a briefing at the Brandywine Maintenance Facility in Prince George’s County, Md., about electric vehicle investments. At 11 a.m., Harris will speak about ways that Biden’s agenda supports electric vehicles, accompanied by climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Harris later will convene CEOs at 3:30 p.m. at the White House to discuss private-sector investments in Central America.  

 

Secretary Blinken, in Jakarta, Indonesia, will speak about the U.S. approach to the Indo-Pacific at 9:30 p.m. EST.  

 

Group of Seven finance ministers, representing leading developed nations, will meet virtually today to discuss inflation (Bloomberg News).  

 

The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 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.

ELSEWHERE

STATE WATCH: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called on state lawmakers on Saturday to take aim at the gun industry using a legal strategy, which he criticizes, initiated by Texas conservatives to block early-term abortions (The New York Times). … Newsom’s idea will fail legally, wrote law professor and analyst Jonathan Turley in a blog post on Sunday (Fox News).

 

INTERNATIONAL: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday became the first Israeli leader to make an official visit to the United Arab Emirates. He met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto Emirati leader. The shift in diplomacy accelerated in the fall of 2020, when Israel signed agreements with four countries that had previously avoided formal relations because of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians (The New York Times). … The Group of Seven called on Russia on Sunday to “de-escalate” its military presence along the Ukrainian border, adding that a potential invasion of its neighbor nation would bring “massive consequences.” The G-7, which is the U.S., Great Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan, says the countries are “united in our condemnation of Russia’s military buildup and aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine” (The Associated Press). … Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered a downbeat assessment over the weekend about the trajectory of nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna (The Hill).

 

FOOD CONTAMINANTS: “Forever chemicals” lurk in food packaging and farmlands, posing underestimated threats to American consumers (The Hill).

 

DANGEROUS SOFTWARE FLAW: The Department of Homeland Security warned on Saturday about a widespread and significant software flaw and urged government and private sector entities to patch it immediately. The flaw, now being exploited by hackers, is in Java-based software known as “Log4j” that large organizations, including some of the world’s biggest tech firms, use to configure their applications (CNN and The Associated Press). 

THE CLOSER

And finally … Lost and found, with luck or divine intervention. 

 

Joe Esquibel, 95, a World War II veteran now living in Colorado, lost a silver ID bracelet in a duffel bag that went missing during the war when he was an 18-year-old soldier. He survived the fighting, earned a Purple Heart, returned to the U.S. to marry his sweetheart and forgot about his stolen possessions. 

 

Decades passed, and a man in Czechoslovakia in October with a metal detector discovered a silver bracelet and some U.S. artifacts where a POW camp had once stood. Petr Švihovec couldn’t read Esquibel’s name on the metal but could decipher “Lydia” hand-etched on the back. He decided he would take what emerged from the dirt and try to locate its American owner.

 

This fall, Esquibel’s daughter received a call she first thought must be some kind of scam. Property belonging to her father had been found half a world away. The return of the silver bracelet to Esquibel had everything to do with his late wife, Lydia, the pluck of Švihovec, the reach of the internet and Facebook, a woman in Colorado who speaks Czech, and the U.S. Embassy and the Marines (CPR).

 

Take two minutes HERE to listen to Sunday’s NPR “Morning Edition” report and Esquibel’s simple “thank you” to Švihovec.

 

 

Czech detectorist discovers silver bracelet lost in 1945 by Colorado WWII vet

 

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Antony Blinken Boris Johnson Charles Schumer Chris Wallace Doug Emhoff Gavin Newsom Gina McCarthy Hakeem Jeffries Jennifer Granholm Jill Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kevin McCarthy Kirsten Gillibrand Kyrsten Sinema Mark Meadows Nancy Pelosi Tim Kaine

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