The Hill’s Morning Report – Voting rights takes center stage for Democrats
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths this morning: 837,664.
As of today, 74.3 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 62.5 percent is “fully vaccinated,” according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker and the government’s definition. The percentage of Americans who have received third or booster doses is 22.7.
Voting rights week has arrived for President Biden and Democrats as the party attempts to make the issue its centerpiece ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and following the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The issue has returned to the forefront for the White House despite a murky path forward. Biden is expected to up the stakes for the party to maneuver in order to pass a pair of voting rights and election reform bills that are considered priorities in a Tuesday speech in Atlanta.
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels notes, Biden and Vice President Harris — who is also slated to speak in Atlanta — both mentioned the threat to the right to vote in their respective speeches to mark the anniversary of the deadly Jan. 6 riot. However, their words are still likely to prove futile in the quest of passing either piece of legislation through the Senate, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) showing precious few signs of willingness to scrap the legislative filibuster.
“If the Senate cannot pass the voting rights act before the King holiday, they are making a mockery of the holiday,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, told reporters on a call this week. “If you can find a way to pass infrastructure, you can find a way to deal with the moral structure of this country, and that is the Voting Rights Act.”
The Hill’s Sunday show roundup: Voting rights in the spotlight after Jan. 6 anniversary.
NBC News: Election overhaul push gains steam in Congress as Biden prepares Ga. speech.
Democrats have repeatedly beat the drum in the name of voting rights reform, especially in the face of former President Trump’s repeated falsehoods surrounding the 2020 election and bills passed by GOP-held state legislatures. However, with any action in the Senate unlikely, this week’s talk is expected to be just that: talk and messaging toward the party’s progressive activists who have clamored for action since the pair of Georgia Senate victories swung the upper chamber in the party’s direction.
Politico: “We are going right to the belly of the beast”: Biden takes on Georgia.
The Hill: House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) knocks Manchin for arguing voting rights vote must be bipartisan.
The Hill: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): Republicans carrying out “legislative continuation” of Jan. 6 with election laws.
The Associated Press: Watershed moment in New York City: New law allows noncitizens to vote.
Here’s what else we’re watching this week:
> Today in Geneva, U.S. and Russian diplomats face off over Moscow’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine and its demand that Ukraine be shut out of ever joining NATO (The Hill and The Associated Press). “Ultimately, this is up to President Putin to decide which path he’s going to follow,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Sunday while repeating threats of U.S. economic sanctions. The United States also will confer with allies on the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Wednesday and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s permanent council on Thursday. The Morning Report’s International section, below, goes deeper.
> The administration’s vaccine-or-test COVID-19 rule, which covers employees at large private sector businesses (a controversial requirement weighed by the Supreme Court during an emergency hearing on Friday) officially takes effect today amid legal challenges (CNET).
> Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell appears Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee for a confirmation hearing ahead of what appears to be decisive backing for a second term. Lawmakers and investors want to hear Powell’s take on the state of the economy and central bank rate hikes expected to begin in March (Bloomberg News).
> Inflation worriers are likely to get palpitations on Wednesday morning when the government releases the consumer price index for December. Economists think inflation may have soared above 7 percent as 2021 ended (Financial Times).
> The late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who died Dec. 28 at age 82, will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday. A VIP-packed memorial service for Reid took place over the weekend in Las Vegas (pictured below) (The Hill).
> Trump takes the stage on Saturday during a rally in Florence, Ariz. He’s firing up new chatter about his 2024 presidential intentions, especially after Biden’s blame-Trump speech last week to mark a year since Jan. 6 (Deseret News).
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: If you breathe oxygen shared by any human, you are susceptible. Omicron is not just a new phase of the pandemic but almost a new disease — a viral lock picker that manages to infect cells even when swarmed by vaccine-weaponized antibodies.
Omicron, spreading at lightning speed, is killing a smaller fraction of its human hosts than delta did last year. U.S. COVID-19 fatalities, however, include 250 children ages 4 and younger as of last week’s data, the elderly, patients of all ages weakened by other diseases — and people who have for various reasons not received COVID-19 jabs and booster doses.
Daily COVID-19 case reports have roughly quintupled over the past month. About 650,000 new cases are being identified each day, more than twice as many as during last winter’s peak. It’s an undercount since the total tally does not include many results indicating the infections flagged by at-home antigen tests rather than labs (The New York Times).
Stop and think about that kind of spread: Picture every single resident of cities as large as Baltimore and Charlotte, N.C., testing positive for COVID-19 each day. That’s what January in the United States is like during the pandemic.
The Hill: Omicron fuels unprecedented spike in new U.S. infections.
The Wall Street Journal: Labs are limiting COVID-19 test access as demand soars.
The Associated Press: Where are the COVID-19 rapid home test kits Biden promised to send to households?
Public health experts who predicted the U.S. winter surge and still hope it ebbs in a matter of weeks acknowledge that omicron is very, very difficult to outrun.
Among the biggest hurdles: schools. At the moment, there are not enough rapid screening tests available to meet the test-to-stay protocol recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and embraced in some public school systems. Officials are concerned more school closures are ahead (The Hill).
“Omicron may infect 40 percent of the public on this wave; many won’t escape it,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “What’s driving the pandemic right now is the fact that we’re probably only diagnosing somewhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 actual infections, and there’s a lot of people walking around with mild illness or asymptomatic infection who don’t know it, who are spreading it.”
Many of those Americans who are getting tested regularly for their jobs or are required to show negative test results to travel or return to schools and universities are surprised when they test positive. They have socialized with friends, lived among family members and gone to work. Many got vaccinated, raced to get booster doses, upgraded from cloth masks to KN95 versions — and they still contracted the coronavirus.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is among the notables who tested positive for COVID-19, she announced Sunday (The Hill). She was at least the fourth breakthrough infection flagged among lawmakers just over the weekend. There will be more.
And speaking of COVID-19 and celebrities, an Australian judge on Monday reinstated tennis great Novak Djokovic’s visa to allow him to play in the Australian Open despite his unvaccinated status. However, the Australian government is threatening to cancel the visa once again, jeopardizing his chances to win a record 21st Grand Slam title. The tournament is set to start on Jan. 17 (The Associated Press).
Medical ethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, professor and a vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who advised Biden and former President Obama on health care policy, predicts the United States will not reach the goal of 70 percent of the population fully vaccinated without mandates to get the shots (The Hill).
The Office of Management and Budget now says it’s up to the discretion of government agencies to adopt strict measures aimed at federal employees who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19. The rate of vaccination compliance is high across the federal government and agencies say they do not expect disruptions from any suspensions or firings that result (The Hill).
The courts will decide who has authority over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for National Guard troops ahead of a looming Pentagon deadline in June requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for guardsmen. Texas and Oklahoma, which are battling vaccine mandates in court, maintain that states have authority over the guard (The Hill).
The Hill: Japan announced that U.S. troops will be required to remain on base except when necessary as a precaution to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
CONGRESS: The full Congress returns to Washington for the first time in 2022 and will be greeted by a Democratic agenda that’s become increasingly narrow as the chances of striking a Build Back Better deal grow dimmer in the eyes of the majority party.
According to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, Senate Democrats are increasingly pessimistic over the ability to ever win Manchin’s support and believe that he has little desire to make a deal with Biden on the administration’s cornerstone agenda item.
Since the Christmas recess ended, negotiations with the West Virginia centrist have stayed dormant. Adding to the trouble, repeated remarks by Manchin since then have raised serious doubts among the party faithful over the possibility of Manchin ever supporting an interaction of the mammoth social spending and climate bill. The comments have also confused his colleagues and muddied the water for future talks.
“It’s not like a normal negotiation and that’s what is frustrating Biden and frustrating everybody,” said one Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss doubts about whether Manchin is negotiating with a real end goal in mind.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters that he is “still in the dark” on Manchin’s endgame, adding that he has “no idea” if Manchin wants a deal and that he has no more clarity about whether he can get to “yes” than when talks began in late summer.
Axios: Democrats on Manchin: “Like negotiating via Etch A Sketch.”
The Associated Press: As spending bill stalls, Biden climate goals remain elusive.
No deal on a Build Back Better bill also means something else for Democrats: that the main avenue to rolling back the cap on the state and local tax deduction has been shut off, a major blow to top Democrats from the tri-state area and other high-tax regions.
Before Manchin put a dagger in the package last month, lawmakers still had yet to reach a deal on rolling back the deduction. However, its inclusion in any future iteration is very much up in the air as, with both moderates and progressives complaining that any alteration will help the wealthiest, complicating whether the provision can get consensus (The Hill).
What happens in the next month and a half will provide the backdrop to March 1, when Biden is set to deliver the State of the Union address.
The Associated Press: Biden shied away from news conferences, interviews in his first year in office.
More in Congress: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on Sunday that he will not cooperate with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol after it asked him to voluntarily comply with an interview request and answer questions about his discussions with Trump during that day.
Jordan labeled it an “unprecedented and inappropriate demand.” The Ohio lawmaker has admitted that he spoke with Trump during the day and is considered a material witness by the panel. A committee spokesperson said it would respond to Jordan more in the “coming days” and is considering appropriate next steps (Politico).
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) on Sunday said the panel already has a “powerful and substantive narrative” months into its probe of the fatal riot. Kinzinger made the comment when asked how much information the panel would report today if the investigation were to conclude (The Hill).
The Hill: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.): Stephanie Grisham told Jan. 6 panel about “a number of names that I had not heard before.”
The Washington Post: Trump’s cable Cabinet: New texts reveal the influence of Fox hosts on the previous White House.
Jordain Carney, The Hill: Democrats, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) set for showdown over Russian pipeline.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can finally exhale.
Sens. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican, and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced over the weekend plans to run for reelection in the fall, giving the party a major boost in its quest to retake the upper chamber.
Thune, who is considered a potential successor to McConnell atop the Senate GOP conference, said in a statement on Saturday that he is “uniquely positioned” to serve his home state and be “a strong and effective senator who can deliver the results they expect.” In the month prior to his announcement, there were fears in GOP circles that the 61-year-old would call it quits (The Hill).
As for Johnson, he made his reelection bid official in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
“I believe America is in peril. Much as I’d like to ease into a quiet retirement, I don’t feel I should,” Johnson wrote, adding that “countless people have encouraged me to run.”
The Hill: Alabama GOP gears for fierce Senate primary clash.
Josh Kraushaar, National Journal: Ohio Senate primary shows the limits of political trolling.
The Hill: New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) says Democratic Party has to be “radically practical” about this year’s midterms.
> Senate watch: Senate Democratic control could be upended at any time by an illness or death, just one of several unknowable hypotheticals that could occur before voters get their say later this year, writes Politico opinion columnist Jeff Greenfield. While only three senators have died while in office in the last decade, the actuarial reality — 26 senators are ages 70 or older — deserves attention. Fate, Greenfield adds, is no respecter of age.
The Hill: Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) says he would “take a hard look” at another Trump run.
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!
Why manufacturing has seen the biggest spike in workers quitting, by Heather Long, editorial writer and columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3f6EE0X
It’s time to amend the Constitution, by Sarah Isgur, contributing editor, Politico Magazine. https://politi.co/3F9JwNo
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 6:30 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Alan Davidson to be assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information.
The president returns this morning from Camp David. He will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:30 a.m. He has no other events on his public schedule.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
➜ INTERNATIONAL: The United States and Moscow remained at loggerheads on Sunday ahead of today’s peacekeeping talks about Ukraine, held in Geneva. Russia said on Sunday it would not make concessions under U.S. pressure and warned that talks might end early, while Washington said no breakthroughs were expected and progress depended on de-escalation from Moscow (Reuters). … Putin clings to nostalgia about the Soviet Union — and to a self-drawn map of Moscow’s “sphere of influence” that covers much of the former empire. Its collapse spawned pro-democracy leanings in former Soviet satellites, including Ukraine and Kazakhstan, which are under threat. Putin wants to keep the former Soviet satellites out of NATO, but the alliance insists Moscow can never dictate NATO’s future (The Washington Post). … The Hill’s Laura Kelly unpacks five things to know today about the talks, as planned. … Ukraine, feeling sidelined, has quietly pursued its own negotiating track with Moscow (The New York Times). … Kazakhstan’s health ministry said Sunday that 164 people were killed during protests that were initially sparked among demonstrators concerned about rising fuel prices. The government ministry reported that 16 police or national guard members were killed. A previous tally of civilian deaths was 26 (The Associated Press).
➜ MYANMAR: A court sentenced former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, to four more years in prison on Monday on charges of illegally importing and possessing walkie talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions. The case is among a dozen brought against her since the army seized power in Myanmar last year. If convicted of all charges, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison (The Associated Press).
➜ ORGANIZED LABOR: Rising minimum wages nationwide, inflation and COVID-19-aggravated worker shortages have boosted worker pay and helped stir unionization drives. This year’s focus is on employees’ clout inside large and small companies to bargain for better compensation, benefits and workplace conditions. But employee demands also scramble traditional political fault lines. For example, Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) on Friday vetoed a bill that would have allowed farmers and agriculture workers in the state to unionize (The Hill). … In Chicago, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot and thousands of parents of school-age children are engaged in an ugly battle with the Chicago Teachers Union to reopen schools for in-person instruction in a debate about public health risks posed by the coronavirus. Classes are canceled for a fourth day today as negotiations continue (ABC News 7 Chicago). The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports that Republicans nationally want to tie Democratic candidates to teachers’ unions ahead of midterm elections this year as a way to stoke public objections to traditional alliances between progressives and organized labor. … In Colorado, employees with the 88-store grocery chain King Soopers, who are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, say they will strike on Wednesday without a new contract with parent company Kroger (Colorado Public Radio). The company told the union Sunday it is interested in resolving the impasse with a new labor agreement (9News).
➜ TAXING ONLINE SALES: The IRS this year will tax some sellers who use online platforms such as eBay and Etsy and some users of third-party payment platforms PayPal, Venmo and Cash App at a threshold that dropped from $20,000 to $600. The online sales and third-party payment platforms are now asking some users to upload Social Security numbers, photo IDs and other personal data, which has caused a stir about security (and taxation) among individual and small-business sellers (Ecommercebytes and KIRO7 TV). IRS explanations about requirements for 2022 can be found HERE and HERE. Here’s what gig workers (and those selling used or new goods online) need to know about IRS tax form 1099-K (Bloomberg Tax).
And finally … ✰ What would you see if you watched the process of a star 10 times more massive than the sun blast apart into a supernova? You don’t have to guess.
For the first time, thanks to amazing telescopes, researchers have witnessed the giant blast, considered one of the most fascinating and large-scale events in our universe (ScienceAlert and Space.com). To observe the process (in this case, a period of 130 days) of a star’s death-to-supernova experience is considered a breakthrough.
Supernovas result when massive stars extinguish — run out of fuel and collapse in on themselves, no longer able to keep the forces of gravity and nuclear reactions in balance. A giant, super-bright explosion follows the collapse, sending shock waves through space and usually leaving a dense core surrounded by a cloud of gas called a nebula. In this case, researchers observed “supernova (SN) 2020tlf.” The blast (see the death throes HERE) took place in the “NGC 5731” galaxy, which is far, far away.