The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by National Industries for the Blind – Biden calls for omicron concern, but not panic
Presented by National Industries for the Blind
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths each morning this week: Monday, 806,438; Tuesday, 807,952; Wednesday, 810,164.
Note to readers: Morning Report will return on Monday, Jan. 3, following a brief holiday hiatus. We wish everyone a happy, safe new year!
President Biden on Tuesday called on Americans to walk a fine line in the coming weeks as the omicron variant takes hold throughout the country, saying they should be concerned about its spread but should not panic, as the U.S. is in far better shape than it was at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden delivered the call in a speech on Tuesday in which he laid out a new plan of attack for the coming weeks, headlined by the production of 500 million free at-home tests, a sped-up vaccination campaign, and the deployment of the military to help boost hospitals and medical facilities. All the while, Biden maintained that the U.S. will not be going through another series of lockdowns.
“We should all be concerned about omicron, but not panicked,” Biden said from the State Dining Room, emphasizing that vaccinated individuals, especially those who have received a booster shot, are “highly protected” against COVID-19. “This is not March of 2020. Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We’re prepared. We know more.”
Repeatedly, Biden made direct appeals to Americans to get jabbed, including at one point when he admitted that one of the most questioned directive of his administration — a vaccine mandate for large employers — is not a political winner with many.
“I know vaccination requirements are unpopular for many. They’re not even popular for those who are anxious to get them,” Biden said. “But my administration has put them in place not to control your life, but to save your life and the lives of others.”
“I know you’re tired, and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it. This is a critical moment. … We’ll get through this,” he said to conclude his speech (The Hill).
The Washington Post: Biden announces omicron battle plan that includes a half-billion free at-home tests, help from military.
The Hill: Five things to know about Biden’s omicron plan.
The Wall Street Journal: Omicron spread prompts more interest in booster shots than new vaccinations.
CNN: Biden offers rare praise of former President Trump during COVID-19 speech.
Biden’s remarks come at a critical time for the U.S., with case numbers exploding in parts of the country. Washington, D.C., on Tuesday reported the largest case totals since the outset of the pandemic — 3,763 new infections from Friday through Sunday, with those totals increasing day over day.
However, there was positive news regarding COVID-19 therapeutics. According to Bloomberg News, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to give the OK to pills by Pfizer and Merck as early as today — a major marker in the battle against the virus.
“It’s the biggest thing to happen in the pandemic after vaccines,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the outlet, adding that the late-in-the-year timing shows the urgency behind the effort to greenlight the treatments.
Overall, the Biden administration is expecting to take in roughly 4 million courses of COVID-19 treatments by the end of next month (Bloomberg News).
The New York Times: The lone remaining monoclonal antibody therapy effective against omicron is now in short supply, leaving hospitals scrambling.
The Washington Post: Early use of convalescent plasma reduced hospitalizations, raising hopes for treating omicron variant, scientists say.
The Wall Street Journal: Churches aim to hold Christmas services despite rise in omicron cases.
Axios: Rethinking the COVID-19 isolation period.
However, vaccination mandates continued to spread in parts of the country. Chicago on Tuesday became the latest major city to roll out a proof-of-vaccination plan for indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars and gyms, effective Jan. 3. New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston all require or will require proof of full vaccination in the coming weeks (NBC Chicago).
The sports world continued to reel from the spread of omicron. The NHL confirmed speculation on Tuesday that it will no longer send its players to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, a decision made in tandem with the league’s players association. The two organizations had agreed to send players back to the Olympics in the latest collective bargaining agreement but allowed for that decision to be rescinded if COVID-19 materially altered the league’s schedule this season. A number of postponements and outbreaks in recent weeks forced the league’s hand (ESPN).
However, the NBA maintained on Tuesday that it has no plans to pause its season, according to Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver told ESPN that omicron had become “beyond dominant” within the league, adding that it represents 90 percent of the total cases (ESPN).
The Associated Press: Case drop may show South Africa’s omicron peak has passed.
The Guardian: Germany to limit private gatherings post-Christmas, including a ban on fans at games, as omicron sweeps Europe.
Defense One: U.S. Army creates single vaccine effective against all COVID-19, SARS variants.
Worth keeping an eye on today: Likely in lieu of the traditional end-of-the-year press conference, Biden is sitting for an interview with ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir this afternoon. According to the network, the interview will air on tonight’s broadcast (ABC).
Staten Island Advance: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) tests positive for COVID-19.
The Hill: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tests positive for COVID-19 in latest breakthrough case.
The Star Tribune: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) tests positive for COVID-19, says he doesn’t have symptoms.
A MESSAGE FROM NIB
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: COVID-19 was by no means the only topic on the mind of the president on Tuesday as he indicated that he still hopes to work out a resolution with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on his Build Back Better agenda in some way, shape or form in 2022.
Following his Tuesday speech, Biden took multiple questions from reporters, including a few pertaining to the status of his agenda after Manchin put a temporary end to the Democratic effort to pass the Build Back Better Act on Sunday. The president offered up one of his preferred idioms, saying that people question whether he is Irish because he doesn’t “hold a grudge.”
“Look, I want to get things done, I still think there’s a possibility of getting build Back Better done. What I don’t want to do is get into it,” Biden said before launching into an extended defense of multiple provisions of the dormant multi trillion-dollar proposal.
“Sen. Manchin and I are going to get something done,” Biden added when asked if Manchin broke his commitment to him.
That sentiment was shared by Senate Democrats during a virtual caucus-wide meeting on Tuesday night. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told his conference that he plans to hold a floor vote on the social spending and climate measure next month even though the package is very much in limbo. He added that plans to keep working on a proposal that can earn the support of all 50 Senate Democrats.
“I know we are all frustrated at this outcome. However, We are not giving up on BBB. Period,” Schumer said, using the shorthand acronym for the proposal. “We won’t stop working on it until we pass a bill” (Politico).
The Hill: Schumer vows to bring up voting rights legislation, Senate rules changes.
The Washington Post: Liberal lawmakers don’t want to talk about scaling back their ambitions to revive some of what Manchin killed.
The Hill: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) texted Manchin about joining GOP. Manchin has repeatedly said in the past that it could never happen because of his stances on taxes and health care.
Despite this week’s death knell for the gargantuan package, environmental groups and climate hawks are not yet giving up hope that they can still pass climate-related legislation, as 2022 could be the party’s last chance to do so for years.
In an interview with The Hill, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) did not rule out passing parts of the reconciliation bill piecemeal and said if he had to identify the most important climate provision, it would be the bill’s tax credits.
“That’s where the biggest part of the emission reduction is concentrated,” he said. “I would love to be able to do the other pieces as well.”
Politico: Democrats not yet ready to trim climate ambitions despite Manchin blow.
William A. Galston, The Wall Street Journal: One last chance to Build Back Better.
Democrats also worry about the political implications of the past couple of days, with progressives directing their anger toward the 2022 midterm elections and arguing that parts of the package should be delivered via executive order in a bid to maintain the trust of their constituents and base supporters.
“We absolutely are going to do that,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Hill when asked if she expects to see a shift toward touting already-passed achievements. She said she talked to Biden late last week about creating an “education campaign” to let voters know what Democrats have done.
“The president said to me when he called me last Thursday that they were working on making sure we have a really big education campaign about exactly what we’ve accomplished,” Jayapal said. “There’s no contradiction in talking about what we have accomplished under a Democratic president and Democratic Congress and also talking about what we still need to do.”
According to The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Jayapal reached out to Manchin on Tuesday to offer a pathway forward on Build Back Better. Specifically, she asked him to look at Biden’s framework once more and lay out what exactly he did not commit to backing and what he absolutely cannot support.
The Hill: Biden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections.
The Hill: Trump’s tax law hits four-year anniversary in a safer spot.
More in Congress … Could Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) retire? According to The New York Times, that’s a very real possibility for the No. 2 Senate Republican as he considers another potential bid and a future push to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as the top Senate Republican.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) on Tuesday declined to voluntarily appear before the House select committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The panel is hoping to speak with Perry regarding his push for the Department of Justice to help overturn the 2020 election. Perry reportedly forwarded alleged claims of widespread voter fraud and introduced Jeffrey Clark, a midlevel Justice Department employee, to Trump, who subsequently considered installing as attorney general in order to better enable him to advance voter fraud investigations to stall certification of the election results.
“I stand with immense respect for our Constitution, the Rule of Law, and the Americans I represent who know that this entity is illegitimate, and not duly constituted under the rules of the US House of Representatives,” Perry (pictured below) tweeted Tuesday, referring to the committee.
“I decline this entity’s request and will continue to fight the failures of the radical Left who desperately seek distraction from their abject failures of crushing inflation, a humiliating surrender in Afghanistan, and the horrendous crisis they created and refuse to address at our southern border,” he added.
According to a spokesperson for the panel, the committee is considering extracting testimony and additional information using other means, which could also possibly include a subpoena.
“If members with directly relevant information decline to cooperate and instead endeavor to cover up, the Select Committee will consider seeking such information using other tools,” the spokesperson told The Hill.
Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill: Focus on Perry could mean more subpoenas, challenges for Jan. 6 panel.
CNN: Jan. 6 committee says it would make criminal referrals if “appropriate,” but that could be a long way off.
The Hill: Federal judge rules against Oath Keepers, upholding felony count.
New York Magazine: What do you do the day after you storm the Capitol?
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A simple question about Build Back Better: What’s in it for West Virginia? By Charles Lane, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/30RMCYm
Biden can promise action, but omicron is in charge right now, by Jonathan Bernstein, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3JdvfTg
A MESSAGE FROM NIB
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Thursday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes on Thursday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session and will return to session on Jan. 3.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will meet with officials and CEOs to discuss supply chain issues at 10:30 a.m. Biden will be interviewed this afternoon by ABC News for broadcast on “World News Tonight.”
Economic indicator: The National Association of Realtors at 10 a.m. will report on U.S. existing-home sales in November.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. The White House COVID-19 response team will brief reporters at 3 p.m.
➜ HEALTH: The FDA has approved the first injectable treatment for HIV pre-exposure prevention, providing another option to help at-risk individuals avoid sexually transmitted HIV. The drug, Apretude, will be available to at-risk individuals who weigh at least 77 pounds and have tested negative for the virus immediately beforehand (The Hill).
➜ INTERNATIONAL: Japan executed three death row inmates by hanging on Tuesday, marking the first executions the country has carried out in two years. They were also the first undertaken since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office. Among those put to death was Yasutaka Fujishiro, 65, who murdered seven people, including his aunt and neighbors, in 2004. “These are extremely brutal cases, taking precious lives for selfish reasons. I think these are terrible incidents not only for victims who lost their lives but also for bereaved families,” Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said at a news conference (CNN).
➜ BUSINESS: Rite Aid is set to close 63 stores across the country in an effort to “reduce costs, drive improved profitability and ensure that we have a healthy foundation to grow from,” according to the company on Tuesday. In total, the move will save Rite Aid roughly $25 million per year. The move followed one by CVS to close nearly 900 stores over the next three years (CNN).
And finally … ‘Tis the season to be merry, and that includes for those aboard the International Space Station.
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship containing more than 6,500 pounds of gear for astronauts landed successfully at the space station at 3:41 a.m. EST earlier today. Notably, included in that capsule was a horde of Christmas presents for those aboard the ISS.
In addition, the capsule’s launch on Tuesday marked SpaceX’s 100th successful landing of its reusable rocket boosters. The delivery also includes food, laundry detergent and science experiments, with the capsule set to dock at the space station for about a month (The Hill).
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