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The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote

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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 reported each day this week: Monday, 850,605; Tuesday, 851,730; Wednesday, 854,074.

Senate Democrats have their game plan to deal with voting rights and election reform this week. Unfortunately for them, it still isn’t going to do the trick.

 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed to the Senate Democratic Conference on Tuesday evening that they will employ a “talking filibuster” as part of their push to ram through the party priority. In recent days, members have rallied around the idea, which would require a simple majority to advance any bill toward final passage following extended debate.

 

“Win, lose or draw, we’re gonna vote,” Schumer said after the meeting. “If the Senate cannot protect the right to vote, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, then the Senate rules must be reformed” (The Hill).

 

However, it won’t work. Shortly before the caucus meeting, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) shot it down, telling reporters that while he supports the “talking filibuster” in theory, he does not back it to circumvent the 60-vote threshold. 

 

“There’s never been a simple majority vote to basically get off a debate,” Manchin said. “I don’t know how you break a rule to make a rule. … I’ve never changed my mind on the filibuster.”

 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has also made clear that she will not support any weakening of the filibuster, leaving Democrats empty-handed legislatively. The bill Democrats will bring forward will include both the Freedom to Vote Act with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

 

Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema.

 

The New York Times: Senate opens voting rights debate, with legislative defeat looming.

 

With Schumer teeing up a vote in the near future, the political winds also started to swirl as top progressives and outside groups indicated that they would support challenges to Sinema and Manchin in 2024. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters on Tuesday night that he would consider endorsing primary challengers against both lawmakers (The Hill).

 

EMILY’s List, an outside group supportive of Democratic female candidates and abortion rights, added in a statement of its own that if Sinema does not move to weaken the filibuster, the group “will be unable to endorse her moving forward” (HuffPost).

 

Notably, Schumer declined to wade into those waters.

 

“I’m not getting into the politics,” Schumer said of efforts to primary the two centrists.

 

Manchin indicated that he is not all that concerned with progressives pushing for a progressive to challenge him.

 

“I’ve been primaried my entire life. That would not be anything new for me. … Bring it on,” he said (The Hill).

 

Politico: Manchin: Primary me if you want, I won’t go “nuclear.”

 

 

 

 

The latest upper chamber machinations come as President Biden prepares to face the press for his first press conference of the year amid a period of tumult for his administration, headlined by the inability to pass voting rights reforms, a multi trillion-dollar social spending and climate bill or quell the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Although Biden has earned some political victories — the $1.9 COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and the bipartisan infrastructure law — the negative headlines are far outpacing the positive ones, with the administration struggling mightily in recent months to notch a win. 

 

Inside the White House, there is a strong sentiment that a shift in strategy is needed. Sources close to the White House say Biden will find ways to speak directly to the people to more effectively communicate their work that is being done.

 

“I think there is a recognition that some things have to change and change quickly,” said one Democratic source who speaks directly with White House officials. “Some of the things they have done haven’t worked.” (The Hill). 

 

The Washington Post: A year ago, Biden unveiled a 200-page plan to defeat COVID-19. He has struggled to deliver on some key promises.

 

Mike Lillis and Scott Wong, The Hill: Desperate Dems signal support for cutting Build Back Better bill down in size.

 

 

 

 

More in Congress: The House select committee on Jan. 6 on Tuesday subpoenaed former Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani along with former campaign attorneys Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn. “You actively promoted claims of election fraud on behalf of former President Trump and sought to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results,” the committee wrote to Giuliani (The Hill). … A congressional effort to bar lawmakers from trading stocks gained momentum because of bipartisan public outcry. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) introduced a bill to block members of Congress and their immediate family members from trading stocks. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced his own proposal on the same day (The Hill).   

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LEADING THE DAY

ADMINISTRATION: The White House is increasingly certain Russia soon will launch an invasion of Ukraine, press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, warning that an “extremely dangerous situation” is building along the Ukrainian border. “We believe we’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine. I would say that’s more stark than we have been,” she told reporters during her daily briefing (NBC News).

 

Her warning was echoed during a separate White House conference call with reporters. Biden will be asked during his press conference this afternoon about options other than sanctions to respond to any invasion of Ukraine. 

 

The president on Tuesday spoke by phone with Sauli Niinistö, president of Finland, about the situation on Ukraine’s border and Finland’s defense partnership with the United States and NATO impacting northern Europe, according to a White House statement. 

 

The Associated Press: U.S. and its allies pledge unity to take tough measures against Russia if it rolls troops into Ukraine. What those tough measure would be remains a question mark.

 

The Hill: Poland raised its terror threat level in response to a Russian cybersecurity attack on Ukraine’s government last week. 

 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday will try to break a deadlock during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva following the secretary’s high-level meetings in Ukraine today and in Germany tomorrow focused on Russia’s ominous military preparations along Ukraine’s border. 

 

Russia, during failed diplomatic talks this month in Switzerland, pushed for a NATO pledge not to expand eastward, a condition the United States and Western Europe rejected. Ukraine is not a NATO member (The New York Times).

 

Russia on Tuesday moved troops westward into Belarus, which will beef up its assets near Ukraine (The Associated Press). 

 

Great Britain on Monday announced it is sending anti-tank weapons to Ukraine (Politico). 

 

Many analysts expect Russia to invade its neighbor within weeks, likely in February. Few appear to believe repeated U.S. threats of tough economic consequences if Russia decides to invade Ukraine will deter President Vladimir Putin. Former White House national security adviser Alexander Vindman recently told NPR that sanctions are not persuasive because Russia since 2014 has shown it can ride out punishments and rely on other economic partners, including China. 

 

“Frankly, I don’t know if there is much that we can do that could work,” Vindman said. “I could definitely see a merit to some U.S. presence in Ukraine, but I think that’s unpalatable to this administration. So, what I think should be palatable is positioning troops in Europe, in Poland, in Romania, in Bulgaria, in the Baltic states, to reassure them that the U.S. will be there and live up to its obligations under NATO Article 5.” 

 

 

 

 

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CORONAVIRUS: The administration launched a new website one day early on Tuesday to allow Americans to order up to four rapid COVID-19 test kits at no cost to be sent to their addresses through the U.S. Postal Service (WTOP). The website is COVIDtests.gov

 

The administration will distribute 400 million N95 masks for free to “tens of thousands” of locations nationwide, including pharmacies and community health centers, a White House official said today. The administration expects the first shipments of nonsurgical masks from the Strategic National Stockpile to be delivered next week, as many people struggle to get their hands on high-quality face coverings. Administration and public health officials are urging vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans to upgrade the quality of their face coverings to move toward better protection against the highly transmissible omicron variant (NBC News and The Wall Street Journal). 

 

The Associated Press: Total U.S. deaths from COVID-19 could exceed 1 million by early spring.

 

The Hill: Omicron has not peaked in the United States, says U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

 

> The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request to block a federal mask mandate for air travel. The emergency application was filed by a father on behalf of himself and his 4-year-old autistic son, both of whom claim to be medically incapable of wearing masks for extended periods. Their request was filed to Justice Neil Gorsuch, who handles emergency applications arising in several Western states, and he referred the matter to the full court. The justices denied the request without comment or noted dissent (The Hill).

 

NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports that COVID-19 is just one of the irritants that has roiled comity and professional goodwill among justices on the high court. Conservative Gorsuch refuses to wear a mask while on the bench, although he is aware that his liberal colleague, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 67, who has diabetes and wears medical-grade face coverings in public, will be forced to participate from her office or by phone to maintain social distancing and workplace precautions recommended for her age and health risks.

 

 

 

 

Jabs & treatments: Health care workers in facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding in 24 states covered by a Supreme Court decision last week must have proof of at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Feb. 14 and be “fully vaccinated” by March 15, the government said on Tuesday. Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. The latest guidance does not affect the time frame for complying in 25 other states, territories and the District of Columbia where the vaccine rule had not been halted by lower courts (The Washington Post). … Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, speaking during the virtual World Economic Forum’s Davos gathering this week, said his company is working on a single annual booster shot that would combine protection against the flu and COVID-19 and could be available by fall of next year (The Hill). … Pfizer said on Tuesday that its COVID-19 antiviral pill, called Paxlovid, is effective against the omicron variant, which had been a question mark. The Food and Drug Administration last month authorized Paxlovid for use in high-risk patients. The fact that Paxlovid is a pill rather than an injection, as in previous treatments, is expected to make it more accessible and easier to take (The Hill). 

 

> Americans are advised against travel to 22 nations and territories because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases. The list includes Israel, Australia, Egypt, Albania, Argentina and Uruguay, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday (Reuters).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: New York Attorney General Letitia James late Tuesday in court papers outlined a pattern of possible fraud at former President Trump’s business, including misleading banks.

 

The new remarks represented the most direct ones aimed at Trump by James as part of the probe amid a battle over Trump’s refusal to be questioned as part of a civil investigation of the Trump Organization. James’s filing argued that a number of the company’s statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

 

“We have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit,” James said in a statement (The New York Times).

 

> 2022 watch: House Democrats were dealt two more political blows on Tuesday as Reps. Jim Langevin (R.I.) and Jerry McNerney (Calif.) announced that they will not seek reelection to the lower chamber.

 

The news brings the total number of House Democrats deciding against another term to 28 as Republicans sit comfortably in the driver’s seat to retake the House in November (The Hill).

 

Langevin, an 11-term veteran of the House, said in a video announcement that it’s “time for me to chart a new course, which I hope will keep me closer to home and allow me to spend more time with family and friends.” A top voice on cybersecurity matters, Langevin (pictured below) is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House. 

 

McNerney, who has served in the House since 2007, said he would not seek reelection to a newly drawn district. His departure gives an opening for Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) to run in the district instead, which is expected to be a relatively safe one for Democrats.

 

Julia Manchester, The Hill: Democrats eye prime pickup chance in retirement of Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.).

 

> GOP politics: It’s been just about a full year since Trump departed Washington and the ex-commander in chief finds himself in an odd spot. The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest Memo that while Trump remains the dominant force in the GOP and the favorite for the party’s 2024 nomination, there are signs that his influence isn’t what it was. 

 

Along with some dissension among the Senate GOP ranks, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is also emerging as a rival, something Trump has not seen within the party in years. In addition, Trump’s control over the media isn’t where it once was as Fox News decided against carrying Trump’s Saturday rally in Arizona live. One of his top news boosters, One America News Network, was also chopped from DirecTV’s lineup, harming an avenue for Trump to get his message through to his supporters. 

 

CNN: Former Trump administration officials hold call to strategize against former boss’ efforts in 2022 and 2024.

 

The Associated Press: In an unusual move, DeSantis has submitted a congressional redistricting map.

 

Reuters: Texas election officials have rejected hundreds of mail-in ballot requests from voters ahead of a March 1 primary.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 

OPINION

A memo on saving the Biden presidency, by William A. Galston, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/34QzBQf 

 

Are Republicans becoming the country’s majority party? By Henry Olsen, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3GK4Xq2 

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Why Facebook supports updated internet regulations

Rochelle is one of many experts working on privacy at Facebook—to give you more control over your information.

 

Hear more from Rochelle on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet’s most pressing challenges, including federal privacy legislation.

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 10 a.m.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will consider voting rights and election reform legislation. 

 

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Biden will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. to mark a year in office.

 

Vice President Harris will ceremonially swear in Mark Brzezinski to become the U.S. ambassador to Poland at 1:50 p.m.

 

Secretary Blinken will be in Ukraine today to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky (CNBC).

 

INVITATION: TOMORROW join The Hill’s Virtually Live discussion “The Future of Cities Summit” at 1 p.m., featuring seven experienced mayors from six states. Information is HERE.

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.

 

 

ELSEWHERE

INTERNATIONAL: United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces mounting pressure to resign. He continued today to try to shore up his political standing amid a revolt among lawmakers who are angry about a series of parties at Downing Street during a COVID-19 lockdown, and Johnson’s statements trying to distance himself from events (Reuters). The Guardian reports on possible scenarios for Johnson in coming days: a vote of no confidence, resignation, survival. 

 

SUPREME COURT: A majority of the justices appeared skeptical of Boston’s refusal to permit a religiously affiliated group called Camp Constitution to fly a Christian flag bearing the Latin cross to commemorate Constitution Day and honor the Christian community’s civic contribution (The Hill). … Justices on Tuesday also heard arguments in a decades-long legal saga involving an 1897 Impressionist painting, “Rue Saint-Honoré, Apres Midi, Effet de Pluie,” valued at more than $30 million, which was traded to the Nazis in 1939 by a Jewish collector and owner to escape the Holocaust. The Supreme Court is being asked to decide the case on technical legal grounds about which laws should be applied to the fate of the painting by Camille Pissarro, which the collector’s grandson sued a Spanish art museum to recover in 2005 (The Hill). Lower courts sided with Spain (Forward).

 

 

 

 

CYBERSECURITY & TECH: The launch of some 5G services by AT&T and Verizon on Tuesday at midnight was delayed near airports because of concerns raised by airlines about potential flight chaos that could occur because 5G uses radio spectrum that could interfere with altimeters that guide pilots close to the ground at airports (The New York Times). Biden commended the companies in a statement Tuesday, saying the agreement will “avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled” and “bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans” (Fox Business). Airlines worldwide rushed today to change or cancel flights because of 5G issues, particularly impacting the Boeing 777 (The Associated Press). … The administration is reviewing e-commerce giant Alibaba‘s cloud business to determine whether it poses a risk to U.S. national security as the government ramps up scrutiny of Chinese technology companies’ dealings with U.S. firms (Reuters). … Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday called for a parliamentary inquiry into the police’s alleged use of sophisticated spyware on Israeli citizens, including protesters (The Associated Press).

THE CLOSER

And finally …  Are we sure former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is funny? We’re wondering the same thing. 

 

In a traditional parting gift for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) (pictured below), the commonwealth’s former chief executive left behind a number of gag gifts for his successor. Among them: a blue fleece vest with the phrase “Top State For Business” inscribed where his usual “Youngkin” campaign logo was featured, a lifesize cardboard cutout of Trump in the governor’s office, and pictures of Northam scattered throughout the governor’s mansion. 

 

The pranks were part of a long line of those left behind by previous governors for their replacements. As Tucker Martin, who served as former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) spokesman, put it: “The prank is the last bipartisan thing we have left” (The Washington Post).

 

 

 

Morning Report