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The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden clarifies his remarks on Russia

 

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Friday! 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; Thursday, 857,778; Friday, 860,248.

A question in Washington and world capitals this morning is not whether Russia will soon attack Ukraine, but what kind of assault President Vladimir Putin will order and whether public disagreements within NATO and at the White House strengthen Putin’s strategy. 

As Secretary of State Antony Blinken embarks today on last-ditch diplomatic appeals made to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, allies are still searching for a united and forceful front. Forging a consensus among allies, a work in progress for months, looked rockier in the wake of President Biden’s press conference remarks on Wednesday that coordination of international punishment could depend on how Putin assaults Ukraine, either head-on with military troops or with a more hidden hand.    

Biden tried to publicly clean up his candor for the second time in two days, emphasizing that any Russian movement into Ukraine would be interpreted as an invasion. The president said that in addition to any military troop movement, a possible Russian cyberattack or paramilitary action against Ukraine would trigger a tough, coordinated response from the United States and its allies (The Hill). 

Despite tremors over rhetoric, the diplomatic heavy-lifting in Europe — developing a package of sanctions that the West would impose on Moscow in the event of a new attack — continued apace Thursday (Politico).   

The Associated Press: Biden again warned Russia of a “heavy price” if it invades Ukraine. That price, he and allies have clarified, would be economic sanctions and in some cases weapons supplied to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. 

“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He has no misunderstanding: Any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.” Such action would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response,” the president repeated. 

Reuters: Blinken and Lavrov both indicated they expect no breakthroughs in their talks today. 

The White House said the U.S. and allies are not waiting for Putin to begin additional aggressive moves before coming to Ukraine’s aid. “We are not waiting to take action to counter Russia. We see what they’re doing. We’re disrupting it,” Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. 

“Nothing on the economic side is off the table,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain told CBS News when asked about potential U.S. punishment of Russia. 

The United States sanctioned four Ukrainians, including two members of parliament, accused of helping Russia foster pretexts to invade Ukraine (The Associated Press). “These actions are … separate and distinct from the broad range of high-impact, severe measures we and our allies are prepared to impose in order to inflict significant costs should they invade,” Psaki added. 

The New York Times reported that while European diplomats said Biden had been merely stating the obvious about the situation, his comment that “to what extent we’re going to be able to get total unity” among NATO allies would depend on the precise nature of Putin’s actions managed to rattle European capitals, including Kyiv. 

On Thursday, Blinken called for “global action” against Russia in a speech delivered in Berlin (The Hill) — a message the new German government weighs with the wariness of a nation dependent on Russian-supplied natural gas and petroleum (The Washington Post). The speech followed meetings among the United States and top diplomats from Germany, the U.K. and France. On Wednesday, Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. 

Russia on Thursday announced naval drills in several parts of the world this month and claimed the West is plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Moscow said warships are taking part in joint exercises with China and Iran in the Gulf of Oman that began Tuesday and will last until the weekend (The Associated Press). 

The crisis in Ukraine, which could seriously roil the geopolitics of Europe, poses challenges for the Biden administration at a time when nuclear powers North Korea, Iran and China are testing the United States and its alliances, and Americans have plenty of other worries at home.   

North Korea on Thursday said it will consider restarting “all temporally-suspended activities” paused during Kim Jong Un’s diplomacy with the Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles (The Associated Press).

The Washington Post analysis: How far would the United States go to back Ukraine?

 

 

More first-year headlines: U.S. stock markets performed worse during the first year of Biden’s presidency than during the first year of his predecessor’s term, Axios reported with graphics. … Six White House broadcast correspondents shared observations about Biden after covering his first year in office. “My sense is that he views his presidency as happening in the corridors of decision making. … He is not conducting his presidency in front of the cameras,” said NBC News senior White House correspondent Kelly O’Donnell (Deadline).

 

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

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.

 

LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has begun to receive requested documents from former President Trump’s White House and the National Archives as the panel assembles an evidentiary picture of events and players in the hours leading up to and following the deadly riot. 

According to Politico, among the notable items the committee received since the Supreme Court rejected the former president’s bid to withhold documents are two tweets Trump drafted and ultimately sent on Jan. 5, a legal memo and a note that was penned on White House stationery. The committee expects to receive additional troves of requested documents. 

In addition to materials, the panel continues to seek interviews with witnesses who had been close to or in contact with the former president at the time. On Thursday, the panel asked Ivanka Trump, a former White House adviser, to voluntarily meet with committee members, marking the first such request to a Trump family member.  

The committee noted that the former president’s daughter spent time with her father in the days leading up to Jan. 6 and was a witness to a conversation between the former president and former Vice President Mike Pence ahead of the congressional certification of the 2020 election (The Hill).

The interview request follows information received from witness Stephanie Grisham, a former top aide to then-first lady Melania Trump and later the White House press secretary and communications director, who told the panel that the former president hosted secret meetings in the White House residence in the days leading up to the breach of the Capitol (The Guardian). 

The New York Times: After Jan. 6, Sean Hannity advised Trump: “No more stolen election talk.”

The Hill: A former Trump spokesman failed in a lawsuit to try to compel Congress to return bank records subpoenaed as part of the House probe. 

Rebecca Beitsch and Harper Neidig, The Hill: Oath Keeper charges renew attention on Trump orbit.

The Washington Post: Former Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani coordinated a plan to assemble alternative slates of Trump electors in states Biden won, although some of them balked. Understanding the origins of the rival slates has now become a focus of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

The New York Times: Atlanta’s district attorney requested a special grand jury in a criminal investigation into possible election interference by the former president and his allies based on alleged efforts to overturn the outcome in Georgia.

 

 

> Build Back something? Anything?: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) conceded Thursday that Democrats will need to scale back and potentially rebrand the administration’s Build Back Better package in order to pass any version in the coming months. 

“‘Chunks’ is an interesting word,” Pelosi joked at her weekly news conference, referring to Biden’s comment to reporters on Wednesday. “So what the president calls ‘chunks’ I would hope would be a major bill going forward. It may be more limited, but it is still significant.”  

The California Democrat argued that of any provisions, the billions of dollars included in the original proposal to combat climate change should remain, in addition to those aimed at expanding health care coverage and lowering prescription drug prices. She added that she remained hopeful that universal pre-K and an expansion of the child tax credit would stick too, though that seems much less likely (The Hill). Funding for child care and elder care remain priorities for the White House too as chief of staff Ron Klain told progressives on Thursday that Biden still wants to include them in any revised proposal (Axios).

Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Democrats hope to salvage Biden’s agenda on Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) terms. 

The Hill: Manchin: Biden spending plan talks would start “from scratch.”  

> What now on voting rights?: With the Democratic effort to jettison the filibuster in the rearview mirror, attention has now shifted to a bipartisan effort to make changes to the Electoral Count Act.  

As The Hill’s Jordain Carney details, multiple groups of lawmakers are working on reforms to the act, which lays out how the Electoral College results are counted. And in a rare area of overlap, Biden and GOP leaders in both chambers are opening the door to changes to the 1887 law.  

“It’s a good win there, I mean my goodness, that’s what caused the insurrection. That’s exactly what we should be doing,” said Manchin. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Manchin are leading the group’s discussions, with members expecting to meet via Zoom over the upcoming weeklong recess. Talks are still in the early stages, with staff-level talks also taking place.  

The Washington Post: Why Democrats spent a year on a failed voting rights push.

Newsweek: Pelosi says no “upside” to infighting as Democrats rip Manchin, Sinema on filibuster: “We are a giant kaleidoscope here. … We have to be respectful.” 

Julia Manchester, The Hill: Filibuster becomes new litmus test for Democrats. 

 

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CORONAVIRUS: The rise of the omicron variant has also brought a hefty number of cases among children, with nearly 1 million kids infected just in the last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel notes, the total is four times the rate of last winter’s peak. More than 981,000 COVID-19 cases among school children were reported during the week ending Jan. 13, a 69 percent increase over the 580,000 cases reported the week ending Jan. 6, and a tripling of case counts from the two weeks prior.  

Ten percent of all COVID-19 cases for children have come in the past week alone.  

Politico: “Please, Daddy, no more Zoom school”: California leaders reject distance learning. 

The Associated Press: Preteens may be vaccinated without parents under California bill.  

The Hill: Michigan nursing homes required to offer COVID-19 booster shots on-site.

The Wall Street Journal: Some U.S. hospitals see COVID-19 patient counts fall. 

> Lockdown latest: Ontario, Canada, announced on Thursday that its lockdown of dining rooms, gyms and movie theaters will come to an end at the end of the month as the omicron variant is expected to peak in the region.  

Doug Ford, the province’s premier, said that those since-shuttered businesses will be able to reopen on Jan. 31 at 50 percent capacity. Sporting venues and concert halls will be able to hold 500 spectators by then, with those capacity limits likely being lifted three weeks later. Unlike most of the U.S., the province went into lockdown on Jan. 5. 

“We can be confident the worst is behind us,” Ford said. “We’re going to very cautiously open up” (The Associated Press). 

Across the Atlantic, France announced on Thursday it will lift most of its COVID-19 restrictions on Feb. 2. The requirement for a special pass showing proof of vaccination will replace the opportunity to show negative test results in public spaces beginning on Monday, and indoor mask-wearing as a mandate will remain (Politico).  

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the nation would not be reverting to a national lockdown once an omicron outbreak hits the country. New Zealand is one of the few nations to avoid an omicron surge. 

According to Ardern, within 24 to 48 hours of omicron being detected in the community, the country will move into the “red” setting to allow businesses to remain open and domestic travel to continue. However, it will require schoolchildren to don masks and for crowd sizes to be limited to 100 people (The Associated Press). 

The Associated Press: Austrian parliament approves vaccine mandate for adults.

 

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

Biden’s woes seem like old times, by Peggy Noonan, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3nJTiA6  

With “Havana Syndrome” whitewash, CIA puts bureaucracy before officers, by Tom Rogan, national security writer and contributors editor, Washington Examiner. https://washex.am/3nIe2YE

 

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

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 9 a.m. 

The Senate convenes at 1 p.m. Monday for a pro forma session. Senators will return to work on Jan. 31.  

The president will meet virtually at 8 a.m. with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (Japan Today). Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. The president at 11 a.m. will speak about federal responses to supply chain bottlenecks and announce that Intel will invest $20 billion to build two semiconductor facilities outside Columbus, Ohio, creating an estimated 3,000 company jobs and 7,000 construction jobs over the course of the build (The New York Times). He will address mayors in person at 1:50 p.m. during the U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Washington. Biden will depart for Camp David at 4 p.m. 

Vice President Harris will travel to San Bernardino, Calif., and at 1:45 p.m. local time and receive a briefing about wildfire prevention, along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (The Los Angeles Times). She will speak at 1:55 p.m. about federal fundingfor wildfire resilience in the recently enacted infrastructure law. Harris will depart San Bernardino for Los Angeles at 4:15 p.m.  

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will depart Washington with the vice president. In Los Angeles, he will help AmeriCorps volunteers at a local food pantry at 2 p.m. At a separate event at 4:15 p.m., Emhoff will speak with Los Angeles legal aid providers.  

Secretary Blinken will meet with Russia’s Lavrov at 11 a.m. local time in Geneva. The secretary will hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. followed by an afternoon meeting with Swiss President and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.  

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at noon. The administration’s coronavirus response task force will brief journalists at 1 p.m. 

The March for Life anti-abortion demonstrators hold a noon rally in the nation’s capital (The Washington Post).  

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

BRAIN TECH: Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink is recruiting a clinical trial director, an indication that the company is edging closer to its long-standing goal of implanting chips in human brains. Neuralink’s brain implant — which Musk has said already allows monkeys to play video games using their thoughts — is intended to help treat a variety of neurological disorders, such as paralysis (BusinessLive).  

JUSTICE: Federal prosecutors moved Thursday to drop the government’s charges against Gang Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was arrested on Jan. 14, 2021 and charged with a form of grant fraud, allegedly hiding affiliations with Chinese government institutions in applications for $2.7 million in grants from the Department of Energy in 2017. He pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors submitted a motion to dismiss those charges on Thursday, stating that the government “can no longer meet its burden of proof at trial.” Energy Department officials have told prosecutors that the department would have awarded the grant money to Chen even if he had disclosed the Chinese ties, calling into question the basis of the charges (The New York Times). 

K STREET: Top lobbying firms raked in record amounts of revenue last year as K Street worked overtime to influence Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda, according to new figures shared with The Hill on Thursday.

➜ AROUND THE WORLD IN 155 DAYS: Belgian-British pilot Zara Rutherford, 19, set a record on Thursday as the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, touching her small airplane down in western Belgium on Thursday, more than five months after she departed (The Associated Press). “It is incredible,” she said after her adventure — including frozen tundra in Siberia, typhoons in the Philippines and the beauty of the Arabian desert. Rutherford will land in the Guinness World Records book after beating a record held since 2017 by 30-year-old American aviator Shaesta Waiz.

 

 

THE CLOSER

And finally …  Hail all masters of the Morning Report Quiz! We were inspired by announcements of new online services attached to otherwise familiar consumer products, and readers were paying attention, too. 

Here’s who aced the puzzle: Tim Mazanec, Karen Daniel, Terry Pflaumer, Pam Manges, Richard Baznik, Ki Harvey, John Donato and Candi Cee. 

They knew that the Girl Scouts announced a DoorDash (contactless) purchase option for cookie sales, plus a new sweet treat called Adventurefuls. It’s apparently like a crunchy brownie.

Americans this week can use online ordering at COVIDtests.gov to obtain free coronavirus test kits that come in the mail.  

To help tax filers at no cost and online, the Internal Revenue Service unveiled IRS Free File Online; Free File: Do Your Federal Taxes for Free; and Free Fillable Forms. Thus, the correct answer was “all of the above.” 

General Motors on Tuesday announced new online options for car buyers, including a parts store, electric vehicle car-buying and financing online, and internet purchases of vehicle feature upgrades and subscriptions. We looked for “all of the above” as the answer.

 

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