The Hill’s Morning Report – US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning: 866,540.
As of today, 74.7 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 62.7 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 24.9.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin denies a step-by-step strategy of aggression against Ukraine, Western powers want to tell the story for him.
Eager to keep the pressure on the enigmatic Russian president, President Biden is weighing the deployment of several thousand U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, The New York Times reported late Sunday following the administration’s instructions to evacuate some U.S. personnel and embassy family members from Kyiv along with a warning to U.S. citizens to depart Ukraine immediately “due to the continued threat of Russian military action” (CNN).
The Associated Press: NATO sends ships, fighter jets to Eastern Europe as Ireland rejects Russia’s military drills off its coast.
The United Kingdom asserted over the weekend that the Kremlin was developing plans to install a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, even naming politicians — an accusation of political intrigue and meddling that Russia denounced as “disinformation” (The New York Times and The Associated Press).
More than a week ago, the United States blasted the Kremlin for allegedly sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to stir up a false flag pretext for military invasion as it flaunted 100,000 Russian troops across the border. Russia denied it.
Russia has been moving more troops, armor and advanced anti-aircraft systems toward ally Belarus, expanding a force within range of Kyiv for what Russia calls exercises.
Biden and U.S. officials have taken to publicly describing Putin, 69, as a man frozen in the past — a retrograde leader intent on reclaiming by force some of the now-sovereign territory lost by the Soviet Union. The message to the Russian people is that Putin’s version of nationalism carries a costly price for them because of promised U.S. and European sanctions should Putin order an invasion. A mano-o-mano showdown between Biden and Putin, despite private summits, diplomatic huddles and phone conversations intended by the new administration to ease tensions, has become what Western powers describe as the Russian president’s contrived drama.
Biden, who was vice president at the time, well remembers that Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 without a shot fired.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insists his countrymen, and the defense forces he commands (pictured above in Kyiv), will fight for their country rather than roll over to be swallowed by Russia.
“If we are going to protect ourselves against one of the most powerful armies in the world, then this will be war,” Zelensky told The Washington Post last week. “And if this will be war, it’s going to be a very strong war and everyone will lose. Hundreds of thousands of lives will be lost. Ukraine will suffer; Russia will suffer; European countries adjacent to Ukraine will suffer; and the ones who are further away will be impacted by a migration crisis. For us, the most important thing is to preserve our territory,” he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken (pictured below with the president) on Sunday repeated the U.S. warning, supported by allies, that any attack by Russia will be met with wounding economic punishments — without pause. “If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe,” Blinken told CNN.
Biden, who conferred over the weekend with his national security advisers at Camp David, last week said he expects Russia to attack its neighbor, based on intelligence assessments.
The United States promised after a diplomatic meeting in Geneva last week to respond to Russian demands this week in writing (The New York Times).
To prepare for Russia’s actions, the United States sent two large shipments of weapons to Ukraine in the last few days (CNN). The administration also is working with allies to develop a global strategy to increase liquified natural gas production should Russia invade (CNN).
The Hill’s Sunday shows upshot: Russia standoff over Ukraine dominates.
Here’s what else we’re watching this week:
> In Virginia today, a controversial executive order signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) goes into effect making mask wearing by students in public and private schools a parental choice. Some Virginia school districts, including Fairfax County and Arlington County near Washington, D.C., vow to defy the order for now as challenges work their way through the courts (NBC Washington).
> Will the Senate accomplish anything this year on voting rights and elections? The Hill is tracking a Zoom session today among a bipartisan group of senators who want to overhaul the 1887 Electoral Count Act. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is leading the effort (The Hill).
> Pssst, not to curdle your coffee, but tax filing season begins today, and the IRS is already bogged down (The Associated Press).
> The U.S. economy will be in headlines again this week. The Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports on how much COVID-19 remains the undertow. … The Hill’s Reid Wilson unlocks the latest data about soaring U.S. housing prices and what the trend portends. … Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell answers reporters’ questions on Wednesday following the release of a Fed policy statement at 2 p.m. … The government reports Thursday on gross domestic product for the fourth quarter and all of 2021. Economists and market analysts believe the U.S. economy has slowed. … The government on Friday reports on personal income and consumer spending in December, seen as key data.
> Vice President Harris, who has been traveling this month to help sell the administration’s domestic agenda, turns her attention to Central America with attendance Thursday in Honduras for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the country’s first female president (The Hill).
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is leading the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said on Sunday that former Attorney General William Barr has spoken with House investigators.
“We’ve had conversations with the former attorney general already. We have talked to Department of Defense individuals,” Thompson told CBS’s “Face the Nation” when asked if the panel intended to speak with Barr about a draft executive order reportedly given to former President Trump that would have directed the Pentagon to seize voting machines after he lost the 2020 election.
“We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false. So, if you are using the military to potentially seize voting machines, even though it’s a discussion, the public needs to know. We’ve never had that before,” Thompson said (transcript HERE).
Barr resigned from the Justice Department in December 2020, before the Jan. 6 insurrection and several weeks after publicly contradicting Trump to explain to The Associated Press in an interview that there was no evidence of election fraud that would have changed Biden’s victory.
The Hill: Jan. 6 probe roils Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) bid for reelection.
> Agenda agita: Congress is out of town this week, but the consternation among Democrats over the inability to get Biden’s agenda through the Senate has not subsided, with attention shifting now to the slight possibility of restarting talks on the Build Back Better package.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, there is a glimmer of hope that a scaled-down proposal remains a possibility, as lawmakers have declined to set any hard deadlines following multiple stumbles in the past four months.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said there has not been any outreach yet over a potential overhaul. In addition, Democratic leaders are also facing trouble on their left flank as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on Sunday that they cannot count on him to support “almost any” compromise bill that may come down the pike.
“Absolutely not,” Sanders told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd when asked if Biden can count on his vote “with almost any compromise” struck with Manchin. “You’re going to have to look at what that so-called compromise is. If it’s strong, if it protects the needs of working people, if it deals with climate, I’m there. But we have to look at the details of any proposal (The Hill).
However, a new Build Back Better offer would be the cherry on the loaded schedule facing lawmakers next month, which includes a deadline to fund the government by Feb. 18, passage of a defense bill and possible action to reform the Electoral College Act.
The Hill: Momentum builds for new COVID-19 relief for businesses.
Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant, The Hill: Biden seeks to save what he can from Build Back Better.
The Associated Press: Fed up with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), leaders of Arizona Democratic Party censure her.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Has the omicron variant peaked in the U.S.? That’s the question health experts and officials are trying to answer as the U.S. pines for a post-omicron universe, with some parts of the country likely on the back end of the variant’s surge.
In a number of states, including New York, Florida, California and most of the mid-Atlantic region, case totals are dropping rapidly after experiencing omicron-related struggles dating back to mid-December. However, others — particularly in the Midwest — likely have not peaked yet and are still facing a troublesome couple of weeks.
“It’s not done yet across the United States,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “There are still states that are probably in the thick of this. They have another week, maybe two weeks to go until they peak and start to come down.”
However, Gottlieb expressed confidence that with the rapid decline in case totals, businesses will be able to move back into the office in person at some point in February, noting that some companies have set their reopen date for March 1 (CBS News).
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicated on Sunday that he is optimistic that most states will peak by mid-February, adding that he is “as confident as you can be” that will be the case.
“You never want to be overconfident when you’re dealing with this virus,” Fauci told ABC’s “This Week.” “But if you look at the patterns that we’ve seen in South Africa in the U.K. and in Israel … they have peaked and starting to come down rather sharply” (The Hill).
Peter Sullivan, The Hill: Omicron could be peaking in the United States, but experts urge caution.
The New York Times: Omicron cases appear to peak in the U.S., but deaths continue to rise.
The Wall Street Journal: Schools may be open — but they’re struggling.
The New York Times: Biden’s pandemic fight: Inside the setbacks of the first year.
A new target among some conservatives is whether race as a risk factor should be considered in connection with public health decision making about COVID-19 treatments and resources. Some argue such considerations discriminate against whites (The Associated Press).
Internationally, omicron is still wreaking havoc in India, with the government reporting more than 300,000 new infections on Sunday for a fourth consecutive day, though the total dropped slightly from the day before (Reuters).
In China, the national quest for zero COVID-19 cases ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics continued on Sunday as residents of the Fengtai District in Beijing underwent COVID-19 testing after locally transmitted cases were identified in the province. Roughly 2 million people live in the district. The Beijing games are set to start on Feb. 3 (The Hill).
Israel reports that a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose increases by three times resistance to serious illness in those 60 and older who received three doses (Reuters).
Axios: The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
POLITICS: More than nine months out from the midterm elections, and the news keeps getting worse for Democrats in their quest to keep hold of power on Capitol Hill.
According to a new poll released by NBC News on Sunday, 72 percent of adults say the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction. Notably, Democrats have made no progress in reversing that trend, as 71 percent said the same thing the last time NBC polled that question in October.
The survey serves as yet another dire warning for the majority party. According to NBC, it’s the sixth time that 70 percent or more people have said the nation is on the wrong track, including back in 1992, 2008 and 2016, all years that lead to monumental political upheaval (The Hill).
NBC News: Moderate Republican governors are becoming scarce in the post-Trump political landscape.
Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant, The Hill: Biden’s year two won’t be about bipartisanship.
The problems for the party are also playing out at the state level. In the Sunshine State, Democrats are staring into the abyss as their problems continue to compound, headlined by retirements, recruitment troubles and an emerging redistricting fight ahead of the 2022 contests.
As The Hill’s Max Greenwood writes, the Democratic push to win approval of new political maps proposed by the GOP-controlled state Senate was tossed on its head after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) surprisingly submitted his own redistricting plan that would cut down on the number of Democratic districts. In addition, Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) decided against reelection bids, with Crist running for governor instead, creating more headaches for the party.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden looks for way to win back deflated Black voters.
The Associated Press: Black Democrats in South Carolina giving Biden mixed reviews.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Infrastructure week, but for the pandemic, by Matthew Yglesias, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3fOaG2b
It’s not just about Ukraine. Putin wants to evict the U.S. from Europe, by Fiona Hill, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3GVwx3G
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session. Senators will return to work on Jan. 31.
The president will return to the White House from Camp David at 10:30 a.m. He will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 11:30 a.m. Biden will meet with his advisers at 5 p.m. to discuss ways to tackle consumer prices and inflation.
The vice president will travel from Los Angeles to Milwaukee for an event with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. Harris will tour a skilled trades employment program building at 1:20 p.m. and Harris and Regan will speak at 2 p.m. local time about the federal infrastructure law enacted last year. The vice president and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will depart Wisconsin to return to Washington at 4:15 p.m.
The secretary of State at 9 a.m. participates in a virtual meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Committee. At 7 p.m., Blinken will deliver virtual remarks as part of the 33rd Annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
➜ CITY WATCH: New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) on Sunday said he is planning to reinstitute a modified plainclothes anti-gun unit after a police officer was fatally shot while responding to a 911 call in Harlem. Adams told CNN the reintroduction of the unit will be part of his plan to make the city safer. Plainclothes police units were dissolved by the city two years ago after some criticized the system for initiating use of force against Black and Latino individuals (The Hill).
➜ SOLO: Jean-Jacques Savin, 75, an experienced French adventurer, died during a solo attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean, his daughter and friends announced on Facebook, where an account of his trip appeared. He had activated two distress beacons on Thursday night into Friday morning. Portuguese maritime rescuers located Savin’s body on Saturday inside the cabin of his boat, named “Audacious,” which had overturned. Savin, a former soldier, set off from Portugal on Jan. 1 on a voyage he anticipated would take about three months. Check out a photo HERE (The Associated Press and The Washington Post).
➜ SPORTS: The NFL’s final four is set. Next Sunday’s NFC title game will feature the San Francisco 49ers, who took down the top-seeded Green Bay Packers on Saturday, and the Los Angeles Rams, who topped the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. In the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals will make their first conference championship appearance since 1988 and face the Kansas City Chiefs, who defeated the Buffalo Bills, 42-36, on Sunday in one of the exciting games in decades (ESPN).
And finally … We were soooo rooting for the monkeys on the lam. … Three primates that escaped from a group of 100 crated monkeys heading for quarantine at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab after arriving from the East African country of Mauritius were located by searchers late Saturday night in freezing temperatures after a truck in which they were transported crashed on a Pennsylvania highway on Friday. The location of the laboratory and the type of research for which the monkeys were destined were not immediately disclosed (NBC News, ABC7 Chicago).
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