The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden, NATO eye ‘all scenarios’ with Russia
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 866,540; Tuesday, 868,512.
President Biden, who had been wary about challenging Russia’s military mobilization against Ukraine beyond urgent diplomacy and threats of slow-motion international economic sanctions, unveiled a more muscular military defense posture with Europe to be prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move.
The Pentagon said it placed 8,500 U.S. troops on “heightened alert” for possible deployment to Eastern Europe to defend NATO allies, and the White House confirmed on Monday that the president is considering deploying more troops to be ready should Russia invade Ukraine and thereby threaten NATO partners (The New York Times and NBC News).
Reuters: The Kremlin said today it is watching the U.S. military actions with great concern.
Following a Monday video conference with his NATO counterparts, Biden said there was “total unanimity with all the European leaders.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it is “clear” Russia has “no intention right now of de-escalating” its mobilization of 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border and military deployments near Belarus. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said before Biden’s call that the president was coordinating with allies on “plans for all scenarios. We’ve always said we would reinforce our allies on the eastern flank.”
The Hill: Biden ratchets up pressure on Russia.
The Associated Press: A Belarusian hacking group hostile to Moscow’s aims said Monday it launched a limited cyberattack on the Belarus national railway company aimed at impeding the movement of Russian troops and freight inside the Moscow-allied country. It said it encrypted some servers, databases and workstations. “Mostly commercial (freight) trains are affected,” Yuliana Shemetovets, New York-based spokeswoman for the Belarusian Cyber Partisans, said of the sabotage effort. “We hope it will indirectly affect Russian troops as well but we can’t know for sure. … At this point it’s too early to say.”
A brief White House statement issued following Biden’s video outreach to NATO allies is HERE.
French President Emmanuel Macron today will discuss Russia while in Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (Reuters).
Der Spiegel: Germany has little maneuvering room in the Ukraine conflict. The Germans’ wavering course weakens the strategy of Berlin’s Western allies — a strategy aimed at driving the price of a military attack “as high as possible,” as one European Union official put it. The message from Washington is that deterrence only works if you don’t take any options off the table.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said war was not a fait accompli and that Russia invading Ukraine would be “disastrous” and a “painful, violent and bloody business.” He said the United Kingdom was working with allies on readying a sanctions package. The U.K., like the United States, has shipped weapons to Ukraine, has ordered some British personnel out of Kyiv and is weighing troop deployments (BBC).
The New York Times, David Sanger: There are still diplomatic options.
On Monday, a spokesman for Ukraine complained on Twitter that it was “premature” for the United States, the U.K., Australia and Germany to evacuate international family members and some personnel from diplomatic missions in Kyiv. The State Department on Sunday encouraged U.S. citizens in Ukraine to depart immediately using commercial or other private transit.
In Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sought a classified briefing by the administration for all lawmakers about the Ukraine situation. Psaki said Monday there were no plans for such a briefing (The Hill).
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee continued its focus on a Russia sanctions bill that has 41 Democratic co-sponsors. But with senators out of Washington this week and international events racing ahead, the odds of crafting a legislative deterrent effective against a Russian invasion appeared to dim (Roll Call).
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: A new study shows recipients of a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine have high levels of antibodies to fight the omicron variant at least four months after the third dose, representing good news for the effectiveness of the jab.
The study from researchers at Pfizer, BioNTech and the University of Texas Medical Branch helps to give an initial answer for how long the third dose endures and protects those who receive it. Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, tweeted in response to the study that antibody levels were “unexpectedly still quite high” after four months.
As The Hill’s Peter Sullivan notes, there was still some decline in antibody levels between one and four months after the third dose, but that drop was not dissimilar to the protection level against the original COVID-19 strain.
The positive news follows a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study last week that showed that a booster shot was 90 percent effective against hospitalization, compared to just 57 percent effectiveness against omicron for someone who is six months past their second shot.
According to the CDC’s latest figures, only 43.2 percent of Americans 18 and older have received booster doses. In total, 40.1 percent of the total population has gotten a booster jab.
The Associated Press: Hope seen once the omicron wave increases global immunity.
Axios: Poll: Wide support among Americans for Biden initiatives to mail at-home tests and to make N95 masks available for free.
> ℞ Treatments: The Food and Drug Administration on Monday moved to restrict monoclonal antibody treatments by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, saying they should not be used at the moment because they are not effective against the omicron variant.
The Department of Health and Human Services notified state health officials of the decision. According to the CDC, 99 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are omicron (The Washington Post).
> Masks: A New York state Supreme Court justice struck down the Empire State’s indoor mask mandate on Monday, saying that the state’s health commissioner lacked the authority to issue the emergency regulation in November and should have instead been dealt with legislatively (The Wall Street Journal). … Seven school boards on Monday sued to stop Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) order making masks for students optional. The suit, led by Fairfax County Public Schools, argues that the governor’s order violates the Virginia Constitution (The Washington Post). … One Michigan school decided to put to a public vote whether to mandate masks in the classroom. Fifty-eight percent of parents and staff in the Pennfield district voted to do so, with the effect going into effect through Feb. 18 (The Associated Press).
> Hospitals: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday signed an executive order to boost state hospitals and nursing homes in response to the virus. Hogan said the new initiative would provide more licensing flexibility for pharmacists and technicians to help support the pharmacy workforce (The Hill).
> Learning: U.S. high school graduation rates dipped in 20 states during the pandemic, according to data drawn from 26 states. Experts and analysts worry that upcoming graduating classes could be impacted even further, harming the two-decade trend of U.S. progress in secondary education pre-virus (The Associated Press).
> International: In France, unvaccinated individuals are now barred from restaurants, sporting venues, bars and tourist sites unless they have recovered from a COVID-19 infection. To enter those locales, one must have a vaccine pass (The Associated Press). … The United Kingdom announced it will scrap its COVID-19 testing requirements for vaccinated air travelers. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Monday the new changes will take effect on Feb. 11, coinciding with school children returning from the midterm holiday break. Previously, fully vaccinated travelers were required to take a rapid COVID-19 test within two days of arrival (The Associated Press).
Infections: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, has tested positive for COVID-19, delaying until Feb. 3 her libel trial against The New York Times.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS: The Capitol Police examined backgrounds and social media feeds of some people who meet with lawmakers, a change following the events of Jan. 6, 2021, Politico reported on Monday.
Examining the social media feeds of people who aren’t suspected of crimes, however, is a controversial move for law enforcement and intelligence officials given the civil liberties concerns it raises. Several Capitol Police intelligence analysts have already raised concerns about the practice to the department’s inspector general.
The U.S. Capitol Police, in a statement, defended the practice of searching for public information about people meeting with lawmakers and said the department coordinates the work with members’ offices.
“The more public information we have, the better we can understand what kind and how much security is necessary,” the Capitol Police said.
> Election reform: A bipartisan group of senators met over Zoom on Monday to discuss potential changes to the Electoral Count Act, which lays out how Electoral College results are counted. The call, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), included 15 senators and lasted for about an hour.
In addition to the 1887 law, lawmakers also “touched briefly on many other topics,” a person familiar with the discussion confirmed to The Hill. The discussion took place after staff-level talks were held last week.
The changes being looked at include clarifying that the vice president’s role is ceremonial, and increasing the number of lawmakers who must sign on to an objection challenging a state’s Electoral College slate before the House and Senate are forced to vote on that challenge (The Hill).
The Hill: House lawmakers urge Pelosi to bring stock trading ban to the floor.
POLITICS: Senate aides and Democratic strategists say reform of the filibuster has now become the consensus position of the Democratic Party, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) narrowly lost a vote he called last week that put 48 members of the Democratic caucus on the record in support of one specific exemption to the filibuster for voting rights legislation.
A weekend censure by the Arizona Democratic Party of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who says she supports maintaining the filibuster as is, illustrates an evolving litmus test
inside the Democrats’ big tent.
The Senate’s internal upheavals over the filibuster have occurred since the adoption of the cloture rule in 1917. Between 1969 and 2014, the Senate adopted 161 exceptions to the filibuster’s supermajority requirement.
> From censure to out-and-out political targeting, progressives want to challenge fellow Democrats they believe stand in the way of their agenda in Congress, reports The Hill’s Hanna Trudo, who offers five 2022 examples: Jessica Cisneros is challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas); Rana Abdelhamid wants to defeat Rep. Carolyn Maloney (New York); Kina Collins is targeting Rep. Danny K. Davis (Illinois); Odessa Kelly is taking aim at Rep. Jim Cooper (Tennessee); and Ohio underdog Morgan Harper would like to best Rep. Tim Ryan for contention in the state’s Senate primary in May (she will face off during a debate on Thursday against Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel in Columbus) (Cleveland.com).
> 2020 election investigation: A request by a Georgia prosecutor was approved on Monday for a special purpose grand jury to be seated May 2 in a criminal investigation into whether former President Trump and others broke the law by trying to pressure Georgia officials to throw out Biden’s presidential victory (The Boston Globe and The Washington Post).
> State Watch: Legislators are taking steps in states to limit the powers governors can flex during emergencies, including pandemics, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson. The phenomenon is bipartisan; Washington state Democrats recently held an initial hearing on a bill that would limit Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) executive authority. … Three states — Vermont, Maine and Washington — have proposed legislation to make it easier to prosecute those who threaten or harm election workers. Some election employees have received death threats (Reuters).
> Biden un-bleeped: The president was caught Monday on a hot mic muttering that Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Doocy, who asked him a political question about rising inflation as the president exited the East Room, was a “stupid son of a b—-.” The comment, which ricocheted through social media, was memorialized in the official White House transcript of the event. Biden later phoned the journalist to clear the air and told Doocy, “it’s nothing personal, pal” (The Hill and Fox News).
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!
Sinema’s censure is yet another ideological purity test poisoning U.S. politics, by Henry Olsen, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3HaxtB2
Stocks realize they’re alone in an uncaring universe, by Mark Gongloff, editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3qYme9x
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes on Thursday at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session. Senators will return to work on Jan. 31.
The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. The White House will livestream the remarks HERE.
The vice president at 2 p.m. will deliver remarks to the president’s Interagency Task Force To Monitor and Combat Trafficking In Persons.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 2 p.m. convenes a virtual meeting of the president’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 12:15 p.m.
➜ SUPREME COURT: Justices agreed Monday to hear two cases that put affirmative action and race-based considerations back in the spotlight when it comes to admissions in higher education (The New York Times). … The high court declined on Monday to take up House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) lawsuit challenging House proxy voting rules. The decision means a lower court ruling stands, ending the GOP challenge to the voting system widely used during the pandemic (Politico).
➜ INTERNATIONAL: China flew 39 warplanes near Taiwan on Sunday (CNN). … The United Arab Emirates intercepted two ballistic missiles early Monday claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, allied with Iran (The Associated Press and Reuters).
➜ TECH: The attorneys general of three states and Washington, D.C., filed lawsuits against Google on Monday alleging that the search giant deceived consumers into giving up their location data. The suits allege that Google made misleading promises dating back to at least 2014 about how much privacy it guaranteed users. The attorneys general also claim that Google used user interface tricks to inadvertently make consumers share more data (The Hill).
➜ UPDATE (DISAPPEARED): Late Sunday, the Portuguese navy corrected previous information to say that French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin, 75, who was attempting to row single-handed across the Atlantic before he activated distress alerts last week, is officially missing at sea and that his body was not located with his capsized boat, as had been previously described by his family and support team in France (The Washington Post).
And finally … An incredible journey … A 22-year-old Kenyan man described by Danish authorities as a stowaway was found alive early Sunday in the wheel bay of a cargo plane that flew from South Africa to Amsterdam. After flying in frigid, high-elevation temperatures, he was discovered, revived and stabilized at the airport where he was able to answer some basic questions before being hospitalized in Amsterdam. Freight carrier Cargolux confirmed the incident and said it was under investigation.
On Monday, the military police said the man had applied for asylum. Authorities emphasized how rare it is to survive such an ordeal. “We’re investigating the man’s travel route, as well as whether it’s a case of migrant smuggling,” a spokeswoman for the policy told reporters (NBC News).
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