The Hill’s Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 837,664; Tuesday, 839,500; Wednesday, 842,322; Thursday, 844,562; Friday, 846,488.
Can things get worse for President Biden?
It is tough to imagine how, as the president sounded a defeated note during an appearance on Capitol Hill on Thursday after Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) dealt a death blow to his push to enact sweeping voter rights and election reform proposals.
“I hope we can get this done. The honest to God answer is I don’t know if we can get this done,” Biden told reporters while exiting a Senate Democratic luncheon, delivering a similar line three times before finally departing the Capitol (The Hill).
Roughly an hour before Biden delivered a plea to Senate Democrats, it was Sinema who put to rest any speculation that Democrats will be able to move on the pair of packages that would overhaul American elections. Speaking on the Senate floor, the Arizona Democrat — who picks and chooses when she speaks on subjects incredibly carefully — attempted to thread a needle, reiterating her support for the twin bills, but not at the cost of doing away with protections for the minority.
“I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” Sinema said, adding that she has had “long-standing support” for the 60-vote threshold. “It is the view I continue to hold. It is the belief I have shared many times in public settings and in private settings.”
“Eliminating the 60-vote threshold will simply guarantee that we lose a critical tool that we need to safeguard our democracy,” she added (The Hill).
According to Politico, a number of Senate Democrats were wholly unaware of Sinema’s speech when Biden greeted them during his rendezvous to the upper chamber. At one point during the 90-minute meeting, Manchin asked Biden if the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) ever broke Senate rules to change them, to which Biden responded: “We are in different times now.”
Hours later, Manchin himself followed Sinema’s lead and issued a statement citing Byrd, vowing that he will not “vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” putting the cherry on the rank-tasting sundae for Biden (The Hill).
Nevertheless, Biden hosted the pair at the White House on Thursday night for a discussion that lasted 75 minutes (CNN). The White House called their discussion “a candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights.”
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Sinema, Manchin curb Biden’s agenda.
Carl Hulse, The New York Times: Sinema rejects changing filibuster, dealing Biden a setback.
The Hill: Democrats’ filibuster gambit unravels.
The Associated Press analysis: Biden overshoots on what’s possible in divided Washington.
Also playing a role in the Democratic debate over the rules are external forces that are truly outside their control. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday night said that Democrats will take up the voting rights and election reform proposals on Tuesday, missing his deadline of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the process. Schumer was forced to postpone his plan due to the snow that is expected to hit the nation’s capital and much of the Northeast on Sunday.
Adding to the complications, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tested positive for COVID-19, putting Democrats one vote down until Sunday at least.
Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Georgia speech is a break point.
As The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest Memo, Thursday’s one-two punch of the voting rights effort going down and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the White House’s vaccine directive for large employers compounds issues for Biden. The president was already facing trouble from the omicron variant, rising inflation and the inability to pass the Build Back Better agenda.
No matter, the party still sees the voting rights fight as a worthwhile battle and one that could pay political dividends when all is said and done. In his remarks to reporters, Biden noted that every other civil rights bill that ultimately passed took time to get across the finish line.
“If we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time. We missed this time,” Biden said. “As long as I have a breath in me, as long as I’m in the White House, as long as I’m engaged at all, I’m going to be fighting to change the way these legislatures have moving.”
Politico: Democrats start building their 2022 case assuming Build Back Better will fail.
The Washington Post: Senate rejects Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) bill to impose sanctions over Russian pipeline project.
The Hill: On Saturday, the expanded Child Tax Credit expires, and millions of families will stop receiving monthly payments intended to benefit them during the pandemic and beyond.
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Thursday’s big headlines: defeat of the administration’s vaccine mandate for big companies but a victory for its requirement that health care workers in facilities that receive federal funds must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The conservative majority of the Supreme Court blocked the administration’s vaccine-or-test rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) covering employees at large companies, backing states and companies that argued the government overstepped OSHA’s statutory sway.
“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most,” the Supreme Court opinion reads. “COVID-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization” (The Hill and Crain’s Detroit).
Justices, however, upheld the administration’s separate vaccine mandate covering workers at health care facilities that receive government funds, including resources through Medicare and Medicaid (The Associated Press).
CNN published text of the rulings HERE.
Despite the court’s rejection of the November OSHA requirement, the administration believes its effort resulted in the inoculations of millions more employees while employers formulated policies during the pandemic’s omicron surge, effectively protecting most fully vaccinated and boosted workers from severe illness. The rule would have applied to 84 million people (The New York Times).
Should the world anticipate annual COVID-19 booster shots? Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday it remains an open question because even if humans get vaccine doses every year or two, the shots need to be effective against the ever-mutating coronavirus. The hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine that could block all future variants is underway (NBC News).
> Tests, masks: More COVID-19 tests and high-quality masks will be available to Americans, Biden said on Thursday. The government purchased an additional 500 million tests for distribution to the public when the first tranche of 500 million are gone (The Hill), he said. The administration next week will announce how free high-quality masks will be available to help protect against the highly transmissible omicron variant, he added (The Hill).
> D.C.’s proof of vaccination: Washington’s requirement for proof of at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 12 and older to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, conference centers and sports venues takes effect Saturday morning. Proof of a second dose will be required in the nation’s capital beginning Feb. 15, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has ordered. The Washington Post reviews what residents, workers and visitors need to know.
The Hill: Nearly 3,000 unvaccinated U.S. Army soldiers received written reprimands for not following Pentagon requirements, the Army disclosed on Wednesday.
The Associated Press: Delta Air Lines Inc. reported Thursday that approximately 8,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the past month. The carrier sustained $408 million in losses in the final quarter of 2021 but predicts recovery later this year.
Australia on Friday canceled a visa for the second time for tennis star Novak Djokovic, who is preparing to compete in the Australian Open with a bid for a record 21st major title. The tournament begins on Monday. The decision made in “the public interest” by the country’s immigration minister could result in deportation. Djokovic, who previously contracted COVID-19, is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, in violation of Australian requirements. He is expected to appeal (NBC News and ESPN).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: The Justice Department on Thursday arrested and charged Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes with seditious conspiracy, a rarely used part of the law, in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. Ten other members or associates were similarly charged, authorities said (The Associated Press). Rhodes is scheduled to appear this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District. He is accused of guiding a months-long effort to unleash politically motivated violence to prevent the swearing-in of Biden, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol (The Washington Post and The Hill). Rhodes has told right-wing interviewers that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that the members who did so went rogue.
The House select panel investigating the Jan. 6 events and what led to the insurrection issued subpoenas to Google through parent Alphabet; Facebook, now Meta; Twitter; and Reddit. The committee is reportedly interested in social media posts and messages that could disclose who was in contact with the Trump White House before, during and after the Jan. 6 attacks (The Guardian).
> Redistricting: A recent decision by the Ohio Supreme Court to strike down legislative district maps hints at the relevance of state courts in the future of the nation’s political trajectory, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling virtually excised the federal judiciary from the redistricting process, both Democrats and Republicans are turning to the state level to make their case — and change the shape of Congress in the decade ahead.
> Debating debates: The Republican National Committee is preparing to change its rules to require presidential candidates seeking the party’s nomination to sign a pledge to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, it informed the commission on Thursday. The nonprofit, founded by the two parties in 1987 to codify the debates as a permanent part of presidential elections, describes itself as nonpartisan. But Republicans have complained for nearly a decade that its processes, formats and decision making favor Democrats (The New York Times).
The Hill: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson extends his GOP influence.
Axios: Former President Trump invited guest speakers to his Saturday rally in Arizona. They share a common trait: adherence to Trump’s false claims that he won Arizona and the election in 2020. It’s part of the former president’s broader political strategy to sideline, muzzle or defeat GOP candidates who challenge his falsehoods and to keep grassroots supporters in his camp.
The Hill: Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said it is “past time” Sinema and the Senate protect voting rights. He has not ruled out challenging Sinema in 2024.
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Omicron’s impact in China may finally give us a supply-chain crisis, by David Fickling and Anjani Trivedi, columnists, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3trmoaX
America is falling apart at the seams, by David Brooks, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/33u36Xw
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 11 a.m.
The Senate convenes for a pro forma session at 11:20 a.m. Members will return to Washington on Tuesday.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden will deliver remarks about the bipartisan infrastructure law at 12:30 p.m. He will depart for Wilmington, Del., at 6 p.m.
Vice President Harris at 10:20 a.m. will ceremonially swear in Rufus Gifford to be U.S. chief of protocol at the State Department. He was confirmed by the Senate in December (Washington Blade).
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 11:45 a.m. and will include Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell.
➜ NORTH KOREA: Pyongyang fired at least two ballistic missiles on Friday, its third test in less than two weeks, just hours after warning of a strong reaction to the “provocation” of a U.S. push for new sanctions as punishment for the previous missile tests (Reuters).
➜ FEDERAL RESERVE: Biden will nominate former Fed governor Sarah Bloom Raskin to be the central bank’s top banking regulator (The Wall Street Journal). … “Difficult to thread the needle” was the phrase repeated this week by analysts and news media to describe the central bank’s 2022 challenge to tighten the spigot on its stimulative monetary policy (without choking off economic growth) while raising rates in an attempt to tame inflation (without crushing demand). On Thursday, market-watchers said there is plenty of uncertainty about whether the central bank has what it takes. “The Fed recently acknowledged that inflation is unlikely to be transitory, and it will now attempt to engineer a soft landing, one in which inflation moderates to acceptable levels and economic growth decelerates but doesn’t contract,” Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Doug Duncan said. “Whether the Fed is able to thread this historically difficult policy needle is shaping up to be one of the most consequential economic storylines of 2022” (Fox 5 Atlanta). … Lael Brainard, nominated by Biden to become the Federal Reserve vice chair and currently the sole Democrat on the Fed board, told the Senate Banking Committee that if she is confirmed, the central bank would not cut off financing to the fossil fuel industry or penalize banks while weighing climate change risks to financial institutions and climate repercussions for the U.S. economy. “We would not tell banks which sectors to lend to or which sectors to not lend to, but we do want to make sure that they are measuring, monitoring and managing their material risks in many large financial institutions,” Brainard (pictured below) said Thursday (The Hill).
➜ JUSTICE: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday denied parole to Sirhan Sirhan, 71, who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 in Los Angeles as the senator campaigned for the presidency. Sirhan, who is serving a life sentence in prison in San Diego, was granted parole in August by a two-person panel of the California parole board after years of denials. Prosecutors had declined to weigh in (The Associated Press).
➜ Tech: Executives from Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon met Thursday with White House officials to discuss recent open-source software security vulnerabilities (Verge and US News & World Report).
➜ EDUCATION: College enrollment dropped by 3.1 percent in 2021, with a total loss of 465,300 students, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Enrollment has fallen by more than a million students since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020. During the fall 2021 semester, enrollment at public four-year colleges fell by 3.8 percent (251,400 students). Private for-profit, four-year college enrollment dropped by 11.1 percent (65,500 students) (The Hill).
➜ BRITISH ROYALS: Queen Elizabeth II removed honorary military titles and royal patronages from Prince Andrew, Buckingham Palace said on Thursday. The queen was urged in a letter to take such action by more than 150 army and navy veterans. A U.S. judge said Wednesday that a civil lawsuit can proceed alleging the royal’s sexual assault of a then-17-year-old girl. “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen,” the palace statement added. Andrew’s lawyers have said their client, 61, never sexually abused or assaulted accuser Virginia Giuffre and that he “unequivocally denies Giuffre’s false allegations against him” (The Associated Press).
And finally … A rousing standing ovation for this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! With downbeat headlines about disputes, grievances and losses in mind, we formulated a few puzzle questions as January gets underway.
Here’s everyone who went 4/4 as 2022 begins: Jeremy Serwer, Patrick Kavanagh, David E. Letostak, Steven Abern, Nick Favorito, Leslie Wustack, Marc Luca, Michael Fessenden, Tom Wingfield, Terry Pflaumer, Len Jones, Mary Anne McEnery, Tom Oshe, Tim Burrack, Mark Roeddiger, Steve James, Chris Guarino, Shaun Donnelly, Lori Benso, Allen Reishtein, Candi Cee, Mary Wright, Michael Romage, Ken Sparks, Michael Bingham, Randall Patrick, Ki Harvey, John Donato and Lou Tisler.
They knew that a hot mic caught a fed-up Anthony Fauci referring to Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) as a “moron” during a committee hearing.
Much of the NFL universe was heartbroken after Sunday night’s Los Angeles Chargers-Las Vegas Raiders game did not end in a tie.
Before his sudden death at age 65, former “Full House” star Bob Saget headlined a stand-up comedy show in Orlando.
Finally, tennis star Novak Djokovic was described as “Spartacus of the new world” by his father, Srdjan Djokovic (pictured below), who came to his son’s public defense during a still unresolved visa and COVID-19 vaccination dispute ahead of this month’s Australian Open in Melbourne.
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