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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! 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, 826,064; Tuesday, 827,749; Wednesday, 830,284.
As Roger Daltrey once sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
That dynamic played out once again on Tuesday as Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Hundreds attend mass funeral for victims of Bronx apartment building fire MORE (D-N.Y.) laid out his desire to alter the chamber's filibuster rules to enact voting rights reform, only to be swatted away by Sen. Joe Manchin (D) shortly thereafter.
The West Virginia centrist all but killed any chance for Democrats to change the 60-vote rule, warning that his “preference” is for any changes to be bipartisan.
“Being open to a rules change that would create a nuclear option, it's very, very difficult. It's a heavy lift,” Manchin told reporters when asked about using the “nuclear option,” in which Democrats would change the 60-vote legislative filibuster on their own. “I'm talking. I'm not agreeing to any of this. ... I want to talk and see all the options we have open” (The Hill).
Nevertheless, Schumer reiterated his pledge to force a vote to nix the 60-vote threshold by Jan. 17 even though he noted that the party does not have the votes to make the change. As The Hill’s Jordain Carney notes, a group of Democrats that have spearheaded the voting rights discussion met with Schumer and Manchin (D-W.Va.) later in the day as part of running negotiations.
“It's an uphill fight. I don't want to give anybody the illusion that we're there, but hopefully we can get 50 of us to come to an agreement,” Schumer said.
The Hill: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Sununu says he skipped Senate bid to avoid being 'roadblock' to Biden for two years 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE (R-Ky.) says Schumer “hellbent on breaking the Senate.”
Jordain Carney, The Hill: Democrats scramble to lock-down Manchin on filibuster.
For months, Schumer’s dreams and ambitions of enacting the Biden administration’s wide-ranging agenda in the upper chamber have been quashed at almost every turn, with Manchin often standing in the way to do the thwarting. It was a reminder that came up not once but twice on Tuesday, as Manchin also told reporters that at present there are no discussions taking place toward a new Build Back Better proposal.
“I’m really not going to talk about Build Back Better anymore because I think I’ve been very clear on that. There is no negotiations going on at this time,” Manchin said, referring to his opposition to the most recent iteration of the social spending and climate package last month (The Hill).
That state of play is not expected to last too much longer. According to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, Senate Democrats indicated on Tuesday that they expect President BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE and Manchin to resume talks once debate on voting rights and election reforms wraps up in the coming weeks, referring to it as a “cooling-off period” between the two.
At a virtual lunchtime meeting on Tuesday, Senate Democrats agreed that everyone in their caucus would take a deep breath and step back from the heated debate over the mammoth social spending and climate legislation. The move would also give Manchin some space, giving the party hope that he will return to the negotiating table in due time.
“We all acknowledge, understand there’s a cooling-off period and we need to give a little distance to Manchin and Biden on this so they can come back together and try again,” said one Democratic senator who took part in Tuesday’s caucus discussion. “My guess is there will be a very significant reworking of the bill.”
The Wall Street Journal: Manchin deflates Democrats’ hopes of changing the Senate filibuster, passing election bills.
Axios: Omicron, snowstorm thwart Schumer’s midterm year quick start.
The Hill: Rep. Brenda LawrenceBrenda Lulenar LawrenceHouse Democrats inquire about possible census undercount in Detroit, other communities Hillicon Valley — YouTube takes some heat Michigan Democrat to introduce plan to create 'digital literacy' commission MORE (Mich.) to retire, becomes 25th House Democrat to decide against running for reelection.
> Jan. 6 latest: As security preparations near the Capitol took place on Tuesday ahead of the anniversary, including the use of drone surveillance (seen below), the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol released a series of text messages from Fox News’s Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityTucker Carlson extends influence on GOP McCarthy says he won't cooperate with 'illegitimate' Jan. 6 probe Jan. 6 panel fires back at Jordan over refusal to cooperate MORE and asked him to voluntarily cooperate with the committee.
In a letter to Hannity, the panel reviewed five communications he sent among dozens in the committee’s possession, including previously unreleased texts they argue show he “had advance knowledge regarding President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE’s and his legal team’s planning for January 6th.” On Dec. 31, Hannity appeared to express concern over losing support from the White House legal team while relaying his advice to then-White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsLaura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 Tucker Carlson extends influence on GOP Jan. 6 panel asks McCarthy to cooperate MORE.
“We can’t lose the entire WH counsels office. I do NOT see January 6 happening the way he is being told. After the 6 th. He should announce will lead the nationwide effort to reform voting integrity. Go to Fl and watch Joe mess up daily. Stay engaged. When he speaks people will listen,” Hannity wrote that night (The Hill).
Shortly after, Trump canceled his plans to hold a news conference on the one-year anniversary of the deadly riot. In a statement, he blamed the House select committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6 riot for the cancellation. He said he would instead touch on many of the themes he had planned to discuss at the news conference during a rally in Arizona set for Jan. 15 (The Hill).
According to Axios, the decision came after two prominent Trump allies — Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-S.C.) and Fox News’s Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamLaura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 Fox News tops ratings for coverage on Jan. 6 anniversary events Division reigns over Jan. 6 anniversary MORE — questioned whether he should move forward with it. (Graham offered his counsel during a round of golf over the weekend.)
“There could be peril in doing a news conference,” Graham told the outlet of his message to the ex-president, adding that it is “best to focus on election reform instead.”
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Threats to democracy are stark one year after Jan. 6.
The Hill: Biden to note “historical significance” of Jan. 6 at one-year mark.
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LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Biden on Tuesday urged Americans to approach the dramatic new surge in COVID-19 cases as a different and less dire phase of the pandemic, thanks to vaccines, antiviral medications and accessible tests. The president, who has said the government was not prepared for the speed with which omicron spread throughout the country, again urged unvaccinated Americans and those eligible for booster doses to get the shots.
“You can still get COVID, but it’s highly unlikely, very unlikely, that you’ll become seriously ill,” Biden said of vaccinated people.
The administration for nearly a year has tried to reassure Americans they would at some point be able to put COVID-19 behind them. However, Biden’s former talk of beating the coronavirus has given way to guidance about living with it. COVID-19’s viral adaptations have raced ahead of governments’ aspirations to outrun it with antibody-bolstered populations. Omicron is responsible for 95 percent of new U.S. infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts debate whether the attention paid to the winter’s soaring infections is less important than the rate of hospitalizations, which has improved because more people are vaccinated and boosted. Biden’s pandemic strategy remains vaccine centered.
Hospital admissions averaged 14,800 per day last week, up 63 percent from the week before, but still short of the peak of 16,500 per day a year ago, when the vast majority of the U.S. population was unvaccinated. Deaths have been stable over the past two weeks at an average of about 1,200 per day, well below the all-time high of 3,400 last January (The Associated Press). Hospitals say omicron is sending many people to hospitals, but fewer COVID-19 patients to ICUs (The New York Times).
The peaks and troughs of new infections in the U.S. tell winter stories about omicron. Florida is now a hot zone, with confirmed infections up 849 percent in a two-week period (The Hill). But in New York City, where omicron surged last month, infections may have peaked. It’s a pattern observed in South Africa and London, where omicron grabbed hold before spreading through U.S. travel hubs.
The Associated Press: Israel set a new COVID-19 record for cases amid zigzag government actions and a fourth jab for those with compromised immune systems. The omicron variant is outpacing the government’s ability to make and execute clear pandemic public policy.
> A federal judge in Texas on Monday blocked the U.S. Navy from taking punitive action against 35 sailors who refused on religious grounds to get required vaccinations for COVID-19 and sued the Navy and Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinGOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Milley tests positive for COVID-19 MORE. To date, the Navy has granted zero requests for religious waivers (The Associated Press).
Two Republican governors on Tuesday took dramatically different steps to address the COVID-19 challenges they are managing.
Maryland Gov. Larry HoganLarry HoganFeehery: DC will become the inverse of West Berlin Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket Hogan won't say if he will file to run for Senate by Feb. 22 deadline MORE (R), who last month tested positive for the coronavirus after being fully vaccinated and boosted, declared a 30-day state of emergency to deal with surging hospitalizations. He mobilized the National Guard to help staff testing and vaccine sites after Maryland hit a record high 3,057 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, an increase of more than 500 percent in the past seven weeks (The Hill). In Texas, Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottTexas blames supply chain snarls for shortage of voter registration forms O'Rourke says he raised record .2M since launching campaign for Texas governor Trump-DeSantis tensions ratchet up MORE (R) announced he is suing the Biden administration over its requirement that the National Guard be vaccinated against COVID-19 (The Hill). Meanwhile, hospitalizations are again on the rise from COVID-19 and straining medical facilities and staffing in Texas (The Texas Tribune).
The Wall Street Journal: Walmart and Kroger raised prices negotiated with the White House to sell popular BinaxNOW COVID-19 test kits for $14 after the agreement expired last month. Walmart said the price went up to $19.98, but BinaxNow kits are out of stock.
The Hill: COVID-19 vaccine doses do not pose increased risk of preterm births, according to a CDC study. The rate of preterm births in unvaccinated pregnant people was higher in the study.
The Hill: The U.S. ordered another 10 million courses of Pfizer oral treatment for COVID-19 infections known as Paxlovid.
The Associated Press: Chicago officials want students back in school but the city canceled classes today because the Chicago Teachers Union overwhelmingly voted for virtual learning, citing the high rate of COVID-19 infections. Mayor Lori LightfootLori LightfootChicago students protest for virtual learning, COVID-19 stipends School infrastructure is a children's human rights issue — it's time the US acknowledges that The Hill's Morning Report - Biden champions filibuster reform, but doesn't have the votes MORE (D) warned that teachers who do not show up for work today will be put on no-pay status (Chicago Tribune).
Among the many Americans on Tuesday who reported new COVID-19 infections were two members of Congress: Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support JD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid MORE (R-Ohio), who said he was asymptomatic and feeling “fine” while working remotely (The Hill), and Rep. Jim Hagegorn (R-Minn.), who is undergoing treatment for kidney cancer and was hospitalized as a precaution.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Staffers at the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday voted to unionize and join with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500.
“We are incredibly excited to join SEIU Local 500 to live our Democratic values at our workplace,” Alison Goh, a DNC staffer and union leader, said in a statement. “Throughout this process, our aim has been not only to improve the lives of current and future staff at the DNC, but to ensure our staff, no matter where they live, are protected and given the resources they need to thrive in their careers and succeed in our mission to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.”
The vote was finalized by former Rep. Donna EdwardsDonna F. EdwardsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Democrats eye same plays hoping for better results DNC staff votes to unionize The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote MORE (D-Md.), who served as an independent neutral observer in the process. The vote allows the union and committee leadership to kick off contract negotiations (The Hill).
> Big tech: Twitter’s permanent ban and Facebook’s temporary suspension of Rep. Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida MORE’s (R-Ga.) accounts are fueling GOP attacks against social media giants as the party makes opposition to those entities a cornerstone of it moving forward.
Trump, who got himself banned nearly one year ago, and House GOP lawmakers have bashed the platform for removing the congresswoman's personal account over violating COVID-19 misinformation policies.
“Twitter (all big tech), if you shut down constitutionally protected speech (not lewd and obscene) you should lose 230 protection. Acting as publisher and censorship regime should mean shutting down the business model you rely on today, and I will work to make that happen,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyOvernight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Former acting Defense secretary under Trump met with Jan. 6 committee: report MORE (R-Calif.) tweeted on Tuesday, name-checking Greene’s recent banishment. “Big tech’s censorship is out of control and must be addressed. A House GOP Majority WILL fight to hold them accountable.”
However, experts say that the ban on Greene sets a “more far-reaching precedent” than the one imposed on Trump last year, as he was already on his way out of office at the time (The Hill).
Reid Wilson, The Hill: In a drying West, Utah governor proposes major water investments.
ADMINISTRATION: The Biden administration is confronting the nation’s four largest meatpacking companies to try to expand competitive markets for farmers and ranchers in one of the least competitive sectors of the U.S. economy. The president has called the companies’ dominance “exploitation.” The administration wants to create regional slaughterhouses beyond the control of Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef, which purchase and process 85 percent of beef in the United States, and provide a pathway for the Justice Department to investigate anti-competitive practices in the meat industry. Critics, however, say the moves are not tough enough (The Hill).
> Climate change: Biden “over-promised and under-delivered” with the administration’s climate agenda in 2021, whether in the courts, legislatively or while bowing to existing statutes, according to advocates and analysts. The president faces major challenges this year as time runs out (The New York Times).
> VEEP staff turnover: Vice President Harris is losing another member of her staff. Senior aide Vincent Evans, a former House aide, will become executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus (Bloomberg News).
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!
Theranos directors pay no price for Elizabeth Holmes’s fraud, by Timothy L. O’Brien, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3FVnn6J
Medicare needs to test the new Alzheimer’s drug before paying, by Peter B. Bach and Rita F. Redberg, contributors, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/32PS6Uq
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House returns to work on Monday.
The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Anne Witkowsky to be an assistant secretary of State.
The president and the vice president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:10 a.m.
Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandA new Bureau of Prisons director gives administration a chance to live up to promises Lawmakers coming under increased threats — sometimes from one another The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE at the Justice Department at 2:30 p.m. will speak about the Jan. 6 attacks and “the department’s solemn duty to uphold the Constitution, follow the facts and the law and pursue equal justice under law without fear or favor” (The Associated Press).
Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS readying financial sanctions on pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine: report US sanctions Lebanese tourism company, Hezbollah members for ties to terrorism White House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' MORE will meet with German Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock at 11 a.m. and hold a joint press conference with her at noon at the State Department.
The Federal Reserve will release minutes from the Dec. 15 Federal Open Market Committee policy-setting meeting.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:15 p.m. The administration’s COVID-19 response team will brief journalists at 11 a.m.
➜ INTERNATIONAL: North Korea on Wednesday fired a suspected ballistic missile off its east coast, authorities in the region reported, underscoring leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnNorth Korea fires two more missiles, calls US sanctions a 'provocation' Biden strategy on North Korea under pressure over missile launches Kim Jong Un's latest missile hit its mark: US-South Korea relations MORE's New Year’s vow to bolster the military to counter an unstable international situation (Reuters).
➜ WEATHER SNARLS: Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWhite House dismisses report of new Build Back Better package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Democrats ponder Plan B strategy to circumvent voting rights filibuster MORE (D) (seen below) and hundreds of other travelers who were stuck in a snow and accident-triggered traffic jam 50 miles long on I-95 (for 27 hours, in Kaine’s case), were mostly freed by Tuesday evening after a portion of the major Northeast corridor was shut down to allow the much-criticized Virginia Department of Transportation to clear the clogged interstate and off-ramps (The Washington Post and The Associated Press). … Separately, Amtrak train passengers were trapped on tracks for 30 hours after they left Atlanta and encountered fallen trees because of winter weather conditions as they headed north (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). … Airlines continued to blame COVID-19 staff shortages, weather and a holiday rush of passengers for flight cancellations and delays that affected many, many irate, exhausted people. The situation on Tuesday eased in comparison with Monday’s mess (The Associated Press). … Snow, ice and wind led to power outages on Monday for more than 200,000 customers in the Washington, D.C., region (NBC News 4), improving slightly to 100,000 homes and businesses with no electricity as of Tuesday afternoon (NBC News).
And finally … After selling the Iowa Cubs, a AAA minor league baseball club, the outgoing owner, Michael Gartner, 83, made a generous decision last month to give team employees $2,000 for every year they had been with the organization for a total of $600,000. He called it “the right thing to do.”
“My jaw dropped,” said Alex Cohen, 33, the team’s radio broadcaster since 2018. “Seeing all the people who had been there for two decades, three decades, tears streaming down their faces, it was a very special, emotional day” (The New York Times).