The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Charter Communications – BBB on the ropes
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Friday! 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 each morning this week: Monday, 797,348; Tuesday, 798,710; Wednesday, 800,473; Thursday, 802,511; Friday, 803,652.
Democrats on Thursday all but punted their hopes of advancing the party’s Build Back Better Act until the new year as a Joe Manchin-sized roadblock stands squarely in the way and immigration provisions were struck from being included in a final bill (The Hill).
President Biden issued a lengthy statement on the status of negotiations on Thursday, acknowledging that the nearly $2 trillion package is unlikely to pass before the end of the year and that Democrats will work to finish it “over the days and weeks ahead.”
“I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition,” Biden said in his statement. “My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Sen. Manchin; that work will continue next week. It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote.”
“We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible,” he added.
The Hill: Democrats face painful reality as priorities stumble.
The president’s latest remarks come amid rising frustration for Senate Democrats, especially over Manchin’s refusal to back a one-year extension of the child tax credit, which is on the verge of expiration. The West Virginia centrist argues that a one-year add-on would mask the true cost of the proposal as the provision is likely to be renewed on a yearly basis (The Hill).
“I was stunned by that,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in reaction to Manchin’s blockade of the tax credit. “That is such a critical element — the largest tax cut for working Americans in the history of the United States. We were so proud of what we accomplished there and for this to come up as an issue toward the end was stunning” (The Hill).
Politico: Senate that “sucks” gets a dose of reality from Biden.
Bloomberg News: Manchin’s hard line has Democrats working to save Biden’s agenda.
The Associated Press: Manchin’s child tax credit stance draws criticism back home.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Failure on big bill would spark cascade of trouble for Biden.
Adding to the Democratic troubles, their third attempt at including immigration-related provisions in the social spending and climate bill were batted away by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who told senators that specific provisions do not meet budget rules to allow ducking the filibuster, as Democrats hoped.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney notes, MacDonough previously rejected two plans that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. The third plan stopped short of that pathway and would have granted 6.5 million foreign nationals temporary parole status and given them five-year work and travel permits.
“We strongly disagree with the Senate parliamentarian’s interpretation of our immigration proposal, and we will pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and four other Senate Democrats said in a statement. “Throughout the entire reconciliation process, we have worked to ensure that immigration reform was not treated as an afterthought.”
The Hill: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he thinks Biden’s Build Back Better is “dead forever.”
The Associated Press: Senators gave final congressional approval Thursday to a bill barring imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless businesses can prove they were produced without forced labor, overcoming initial hesitation from the White House and what supporters said was opposition from corporations. The Senate vote sends the bill to Biden, who supports the bill.
The Hill: House panel subpoenas author of Jan. 6 PowerPoint.
Politico: GOP blows off former President Trump’s bid to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The Washington Post: GOP agrees to pay up to $1.6 million of Trump’s legal bills in New York probes.
NBC News: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) accuses McKinsey & Co. of appearing to lie to Congress over its ties to China.
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LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: If you’re vaccinated, boosted, masked indoors in public settings and careful, this could be a cozy, relaxed holiday respite at the end of the year, despite the ominous COVID-19 collaboration between delta and omicron. It’s a good idea to put COVID-19 home test kits on your shopping lists, if you can find them, public health experts advise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, steeped in data and warnings, expects the climbing number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths to “increase over the next 4 weeks, with 8,900 to 15,600 new deaths likely” by Jan. 8. By then, the U.S. death toll, which this week soared past 800,000, is predicted to total between 837,000 to 845,000, says the CDC. So much for the ho, ho, ho.
Omicron’s capabilities are worrisome. It can evade the immunity delivered by effective vaccines, but booster doses can give immune systems a jump — if the booster jab has enough time to rev the immune systems before omicron strikes. Symptoms of infection appear milder or missing in many of those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 but still wind up testing positive for COVID-19. To some observers, omicron is akin to a new disease compared with the original pathogen. It multiplies 70 times faster in human bronchial tubes than the virus that first escaped from Wuhan, China, and the delta mutation that spread around the world, according to a University of Hong Kong study. In many cases, omicron is less severe in the lungs than its cousin.
“By infecting many more people, a very infectious virus may cause more severe disease and death even though the virus itself may be less pathogenic,” one of the Hong Kong researchers explained. “Taken together with our recent studies showing that the Omicron variant can partially escape immunity from vaccines and past infection, the overall threat from Omicron variant is likely to be very significant.”
The New York Times: Scientists are racing to gauge the omicron’s threat. It spreads rapidly. What happens after that is less certain.
The Washington Post: U.S. public health officials are stockpiling the one monoclonal antibody that remains effective following omicron infection, to have ample supply on hand when the variant inevitably becomes more prevalent.
In an ABC News interview on Thursday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is “absolutely certain” omicron will soon become the dominant culprit behind new COVID-19 infections in the United States.
The public health implications of an evolving coronavirus raises many questions. U.S. vaccine policy was intended to keep people alive and steer as many of 330 million people as possible toward immunity. But if omicron persistently evades vaccine-induced and infection-induced immunity, public frustration, confusion and demands for policy changes seem inevitable.
“We’ve never seen this before in #NYC,” Jay Varma, a Cornell professor and New York City’s health adviser, tweeted, noting that the daily positivity rate on Dec. 9 was 3.9 percent and appeared to have doubled by Dec. 12 to 7.8 percent. The “only” explanation for such a dramatic surge is that omicron got past vaccine defenses, he wrote (NBC New York).
It has been more than two years since the pandemic began, and in many ways, schools, colleges, restaurants, entertainment venues, businesses and public-facing service industries are reevaluating the perplexing situation and tightening precautions.
The Daily Beast: Schools in Missouri, D.C., Maryland, New York City close early.
The Associated Press: Colleges are going back to the drawing board (again) to fight COVID-19.
The newest emphasis is on boosters layered on top of being “fully vaccinated,” plus the acknowledgement that vaccinated people are not off the hook when it comes to infection, transmission and illness. All American University students, faculty and staff in Washington, D.C. will be required by Feb. 10 to get booster shots. Georgetown University in Washington says it will require booster shots for students, faculty, staff and visitors by Jan. 21, if an exemption has not been secured (NBC News 4).
> An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended that people not get Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine doses if “preferred” Pfizer or Moderna mRNA doses are available because of rare but serious risks of blood clotting complications from the J&J vaccine (NBC News and The Associated Press).
> In the U.S. Army and Navy, a small number of service members who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as required, will be dismissed. The governors of five states are seeking exemptions for their National Guard (The New York Times).
> The family of a Virginia woman hospitalized with COVID-19 since October won the right in court this week to have Kathleen Davies treated with ivermectin, which is an unproven treatment for the coronavirus. A judge on Monday found the Fauquier Hospital in contempt of court and fined it $10,000 a day for refusing a request for ivermectin treatment sought by relatives and the Culpeper County patients. Davies, 63, has been on a ventilator in the hospital since Nov. 3, according to her family members (Fauquier Times). She received half a dozen doses of the drug since Monday and showed no signs of improvement as of Thursday, according to her son (The Washington Post). … A Florida woman infected with COVID-19 died last month after her husband unsuccessfully sued a hospital to get his wife treated with ivermectin (WTOP).
> Reacting to the spread of COVID-19 and the omicron variant, Canadian public health officials in Quebec asked the Montreal Canadiens to play the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday with no fans in the arena, which they did.
> South Korea for the next 16 days will limit gatherings to four people to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
ADMINISTRATION: Biden is facing an avalanche of pressure from advocates and progressives over his administration’s plans to soon lift the current moratorium on student loan payments (The Hill).
> The Department of Justice told lawyers for the migrant families separated at the border during the Trump administration that it will no longer seek to negotiate settlement with payments to the families. Advocates for the families say the Biden administration is “walking away” from traumatized families because of politics (The Hill).
> The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday permanently loosened a key restriction on abortion pills, eliminating a long-standing requirement that the medication be picked up in person. Millions of American women will now be able to get a prescription via an online consultation and receive the pills through the mail (The Associated Press).
> A pre-Trump administration Energy Department rule is back in place covering showerheads and their water flow, according to the Biden administration. The former president, who had strong personal opinions on everything from “windmills” to the proper length of men’s ties, complained that Obama-era federal requirements for low-flow plumbing had to go. “You take a shower, the water doesn’t come out. You want to wash your hands, the water doesn’t come out. So what do you do?,” Trump told an audience last year. “You just stand there longer or you take a shower longer? Because my hair — I don’t know about you, but it has to be perfect” (The Hill).
POLITICS: Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) announced Thursday that he will retire from Congress at the end of his term, making him the 20th House Democrat to decide against seeking reelection in the 2022 midterm elections.
“It is time to pass the baton. It is time to rest and surround myself with the benefits of a life well lived and earned honorably in the service of my fellow citizens,” Lowenthal, 80, said in a statement.
Although Lowenthal’s announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise, the news wasn’t great for House Democrats as incumbent members continue to head for the exits ahead of what is shaping up to be a grim midterm election in the fight for the lower chamber. Republicans only need to flip five seats to win the House majority and just one for the Senate (The Hill).
> Legal battles: The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports that lawyer Marc Elias may be House Democrats’ last best hope of winning a majority in Congress for the next decade. A specialist in election law, voting rights and redistricting, Elias is the founding partner of Elias Law Group and former general counsel for Hillary Clinton during her 2016 election campaign (ABA Journal).
Haaretz: AIPAC launches PACs, entering political campaign space for first time.
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America is not ready for omicron, by Ed Yong, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/325qv19
Hong Kong’s freedom fighters need our help, by Josh Rogin, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3mbyGzG
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 on Monday at 10:30 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes at 9:30 a.m.
The president will travel to Orangeburg, S.C., to deliver the 10 a.m. keynote address at South Carolina State University’s 2021 commencement ceremony. He will fly from S.C. to Wilmington, Del., arriving at 3:25 p.m. He will remain in Delaware during the weekend.
➜ INTERNATIONAL: All members of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries who were kidnapped in October in Haiti are now free, the organization announced in a statement on Thursday. Twelve were released recently and five were freed earlier, but the aid group offered no details about the condition of the released captives, when or where they were handed over and whether a ransom was paid (The New York Times). … Afghans are pushing through the snowy Alps to try to attain new lives in Europe. The Associated Press sent a journalist along with refugee Ali Rezaie, 27, who is trying to escape along a forbidding route, most of it on foot.
➜ COURT: A federal judge on Thursday upended a $4.5 billion negotiated settlement between Purdue Pharma and thousands of state, local and tribal governments who had sued the maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin for its role in the ongoing opioid epidemic. Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said the settlement, part of a restructuring plan for Purdue approved in September by a bankruptcy judge, should not be allowed because it released the company’s owners, members of the billionaire Sackler family, from liability in civil opioids cases. She said releasing civil liability, a requirement in the minds of the Sacklers who did not file for personal bankruptcy protection, is beyond a judge to grant under the bankruptcy code (The New York Times and The Hill). Attorney General Merrick Garland agreed. “The bankruptcy court did not have the authority to deprive victims of the opioid crisis of their right to sue the Sackler family. The department remains committed to opioid abatement efforts and supporting victims of opioid abuse,” he said in a statement.
➜ TECH: Frances Haugen, also known as the Facebook whistleblower, is writing a book that will include “a critical examination” of the social media giant after revealing what critics say is damning information about it. Little, Brown and Co., an imprint of Hachette Book Group, announced on Thursday plans to publish Haugen’s book. No title or release date has been unveiled, nor have any financial terms of the agreement (The Hill).
➜ SPACE: After many lengthy delays, the launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a successor to the famous Hubble Telescope, will happen at Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, no earlier than Dec. 24, the European Space Agency said on Thursday (Space.com). Seven times more powerful than the Hubble in light-gathering ability, the nearly $9 billion Webb project was designed to see farther out in space and deeper into the past of the universe. It may solve mysteries about how and when the first stars and galaxies emerged some 13 billion years ago (The New York Times).
And finally … Bravo to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! We asked a few questions ripped from the headlines about fun (and diversionary) things Americans loved in 2021.
Here’s who Googled or guessed with end-of-year success: Mary Anne McEnery, Patrick Kavanagh, Lou Tisler, Pam Manges, Joe Erdmann, Steve James, Len Jones and Bonnie LePard.
They knew that among hundreds of enticing recipes published in 2021 by The New York Times, the most popular (most viewed) was the comfort food standout extra-creamy scrambled eggs.
“Succession” on HBO is the hit series included in our quiz list, as lauded by viewers, social media wags and among TV critics. It will return for a fourth season.
Americans were over the moon about dogs during pandemic-affected 2021. Some made the connection so obvious, they named their canines “Fauci,” “Covid” and “Zoom,” according to pet-focused website Rover.com, whose dog name research appeared recently in USA Today. Thus, the correct answer was all of the above.
December includes inevitable reporting about toy trends. Among 10 runaway holiday favorites this year are Squishmallows, deceptively simple and huggable plush toys (below).
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