The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden aims at ISIS terrorists, defends NY police
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 884,260; Tuesday, 886,687; Wednesday, 890,770; Thursday, 894,316; Friday, 897,377.
President Biden took aim at terrorists, criminals and autocrats on Thursday in a striking show of U.S. muscle at a time when his detractors at home and abroad describe the president as either too soft with adversaries or itching for conflict.
Biden began his day with his head bowed at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, asking the audience why unity is so scarce (The Washington Post). Back at the White House, he described a bloody pre-dawn raid on a house (pictured above) in Syria’s Idlib province in which he said a targeted but little-known ISIS leader blew himself up along with women and children when confronted by U.S. Special Operations commandos, all of whom survived (The New York Times and The Hill).
“This operation is testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world,” he said during brief remarks in the Roosevelt Room before telling reporters he was running late to get to New York, where his afternoon event focused on curbing crime and commending law enforcers.
“The answer is not to defund the police, it’s to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors,” he told Mayor Eric Adams (D) at the police department’s Lower Manhattan headquarters as rows of uniformed officers sat behind the two men, hands clasped (The Hill).
Criticized after August’s chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, blamed by some Republicans for rising violent crime in America and walking point for the U.S.-NATO alliance to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin over a potential invasion of Ukraine, Biden on Thursday appeared eager to tackle it all. He championed U.S. military might while vowing to crack down on illegal guns and criminals killing the innocent on America’s streets — including, he said, the police.
Politico: A frenetic 24 hours in Biden land.
The New York Times: The president described a risky Special Forces raid planned months ago and intended to minimize civilian casualties.
The New York Times: Who was Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi and why is his death seen as a victory for U.S. counterterrorism efforts?
The New York Times: In both parties, leaders in Congress praised the U.S. operation in Syria, and asked questions.
The Hill: Five key things to know about the Idlib province raid.
The Associated Press: The U.S. accused the Kremlin on Thursday of backing an elaborate plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext to take military action against its neighbor.
The Hill: House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday emerged bracing for invasion after classified briefings about Russia and Ukraine given by the secretaries of Defense and State.
Amid tensions with the West and with the Olympics as the backdrop, Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday presented a united front during a bilateral meeting in Beijing. The Russian leader brought with him a deal to increase natural gas supplies to China (Reuters).
Xi is officially throwing a powerful arm around Moscow in its dispute with the United States and NATO over Ukraine. “Some forces representing a minority on the world stage continue to advocate unilateral approaches to resolving international problems and resort to military policy,” the two leaders said in a joint statement that objected to “interference in the internal affairs” of other states (The Associated Press and The New York Times).
Russia has a history of launching attacks during or soon after the Olympics (The New York Times).
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Biden this week greenlighted an infusion of cash to the Democratic congressional political arms as the party battles what is shaping up to be a troublesome midterm election cycle.
Biden met separately on Wednesday with the party’s Senate and House leaders to inform them of the financial shot in the arm. The discussions — one with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chairman, the other with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair — also afforded Biden and the lawmakers the chance to talk shop and strategy ahead of a potentially tumultuous election year.
The $15 million total from the Democratic National Committee will be split between the Senate and House committees, with Democratic officials saying that the total is the largest midterm cash transfer in the party’s history.
“Speaker Nancy Pelosi and I had a productive meeting with the President during which he made one thing clear — he is all in on the midterms, and that starts with a significant investment in House races,” Maloney said in a statement. “If we stand together in pursuit of victory, we will hold the House in 2022.”
The move comes after the DNC reported that it raised $151 million in 2021, the largest fundraising total in the committee’s history for an off year. The DNC added that the financial might will also go towards helping to build state parties across the map, voter rights and voter registration efforts and further investments in data and technology.
Despite flexing its monetary muscle, there is still trouble brewing within the committee as Democrats fret about how to build a lasting national network to support the president’s agenda, leaving some in the party questioning the overarching plan for this year. According to The Hill’s Hanna Trudo and Amie Parnes, sources say they are befuddled and upset that the strategic vision seems to be slipping away amid new reports of personality disputes, administration overreach, communication mishaps and wasted resources.
“While the White House still hasn’t figured out how to build their outside infrastructure, they’re quickly trying to shift blame for the position to people outside the White House,” one plugged-in DNC source told The Hill on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss internal committee operations. “It’s not surprising at all. It’s really disappointing because we’re 10 months before the election. We’ve got time.”
> Republican rumblings: National Republicans backtracked from their plan to expel Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) from the House GOP conference and instead censured the two lawmakers on Thursday.
According to CNN, the resolution was watered down by Republican National Committee members at the GOP’s annual winter meeting in Salt Lake City over concerns that the punishment was too harsh. The vote by committee members was unanimous. Cheney and Kinzinger are the lone Republicans serving on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Brett Samuels, The Hill: Tensions between former Vice President Mike Pence, former President Trump rise, raising questions about a break.
NBC News: At RNC gathering, rift emerges between Trump’s interests and the GOP’s.
Robert Draper, The New York Times Magazine: Michael Flynn is still at war.
CONGRESS: Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met on Thursday to discuss a number of issues on the upper chamber’s agenda this month, however, one front-and-center item looks as though it is going nowhere only weeks before a key deadline.
Lawmakers are increasingly likely to fund the government for the foreseeable future with yet another stopgap spending bill as talks toward passing an omnibus package drag along slowly with only two weeks to go before the Feb. 18 deadline.
“I think we’re probably headed that direction anyway, whether it’s going to be a longer one or a shorter one,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Senate GOP appropriator, told Roll Call about the likelihood of another stopgap measure. “And that would depend on the leadership . . . on where we are, if we are anywhere in our negotiations.”
“We haven’t resolved anything yet,” Shelby added.
The Hill: House Democrats attempt balancing act on China competitiveness bill.
The Hill: Biden’s Federal Reserve regulatory pick faces GOP fire on climate stances.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Medicare will begin to cover the costs of at-home COVID-19 tests this spring, buttoning up a government loophole that kept many seniors from accessing a free insurance benefit available this year to Americans who have private health coverage (The Hill and Reuters). Beginning “in the early spring,” Medicare beneficiaries and people with Medicare Advantage plans can access up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month at no charge at participating pharmacies and retailers.
> Treatments: Merck says it is expecting up to $6 billion in sales of its antiviral COVID-19 pill this year (CNBC).
> Masks: Fans at this month’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in California are required to have face coverings at the game to comply with Los Angeles County rules. Guests at the Feb. 13 competition also will need to show proof they’ve been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus prior to entry, a requirement that has been in place for large outdoor events in the county since October (The Los Angeles Times). The rules remain controversial among many football fans, and officials acknowledge there is no way to constantly police 70,000 people. At the championship game last Sunday at SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles, thousands of fans openly disregarded the mask mandate (The Associated Press).
> Genomic sequencing mystery: In New York City wastewater, researchers have found an unusual coronavirus marker not found in clinical patients in the city thus far. Is it coming from animals, perhaps rats? Could it be coming from people who are clustered in some New York long-term health care facilities who have compromised immune systems? The origin has not been identified, and the story describing the search is an intriguing read (The New York Times).
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!
On inflation, we can learn from the mistakes of the past — or repeat them, by Lawrence H. Summers, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3AUEW50
A missing senator shows Congress isn’t as divided as it seems, by Jonathan Bernstein, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3L92qYN
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m.
The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden at 10:45 a.m. will speak in the State Dining Room about the government’s January jobs report, which will be released this morning. The president at 2 p.m. in Maryland at an Ironworkers’ union location will sign an executive order to protect union jobs in federal contracts, expanding on a similar order signed by former President Obama. Biden will return to the White House, then depart for Delaware, arriving in Wilmington at 6:25 p.m.
Vice President Harris will speak at 2 p.m. at the president’s executive order signing event. She will be accompanied by Labor Secretary Mary Walsh.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. will release its employment report for January, expected to show a weakening since the end of 2021. In December, the economy gained 199,000 jobs; the unemployment rate declined to 3.9 percent.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 11:45 a.m.
➜ OLYMPICS: Today’s opening ceremony in Beijing began at 6:30 a.m. ET as we wrapped up this newsletter, although many winter competitions began days ago. Here’s how to watch today’s events, plus coverage through Feb. 20, courtesy of ENews and NBC. … ⛷Don’t miss this multipart, video special report in which Olympic athletes’ describe their greatest fears, including injuries, learning new tricks, bad weather, uncertainty and skiing blind, created by The New York Times team. … The Hill’s Alex Gangitano and Laura Kelly report on five things to watch in China during the games that have more to do with politics than athletics. … The Hill’s Niall Stanage in his latest Memo describes the worries that lawmakers and human rights advocates share about the political ramifications of the Beijing influence. … Olympics chief Thomas Bach said he will meet with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. Asked whether he planned to press for an investigation of Peng’s claims of sexual assault — a suggestion sure to anger China’s government — Bach told reporters he would first speak with Peng to see whether she wanted an inquiry. “It must be her decision,” he said. “It’s her life. It’s her allegations” (The New York Times).
➜ UNIONS: In a closely watched clash between Amazon employees who want to unionize and Amazon bosses who dislike the idea, warehouse employees today in Bessemer, Ala., kick off a second election in as many years. The e-commerce giant decisively won a first round of voting, but the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which would represent the Alabama workers in the event of a union victory, swiftly challenged the initial result, alleging that the company illegally influenced the union election (The Hill). … Meanwhile, Pelosi would give “full support” to congressional staff members who might seek to unionize, her aide said (The Hill).
➜ TECH: Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook and its parent company Meta, said on Thursday that the company is putting a renewed emphasis on video products after the company’s stock plummeted in recent days. On a company-wide call, Zuckerberg pointed to an “unprecedented level of competition” the social media giant faces, particularly from video behemoths such as TikTok (Bloomberg News).
And finally … Bravo to Morning Report Quiz winners!
Here are the champions who aced our puzzle about puzzles (conundrums sprinkled through a week’s worth of headlines): Lou Tisler, Terry Pflaumer, Susan Reeves, Candi Cee, Mary Ellen Altendorfer, Jeremy Serwer, Patrick Kavanagh, Carl J. “CJ” Horn, Ron Golden, Robert Nordmeyer and John Scanlan.
They knew that a software engineer in Brooklyn this week sold Wordle, his popular word-guessing game creation, for “low seven figures” (to The New York Times).
Western nations say they are puzzled and still trying to discern Vladimir Putin’s thinking regarding Ukraine.
Researchers in Australia last week said they have not yet identified a “spooky” flashing object in the Milky Way that switches on and off every 20 minutes. Although some scientists hypothesize the object could be a never-before-seen ultra-long period magnetar, the flashing object is under study and remains a mystery (The Guardian).
“Jeopardy!” trivia puzzler Amy Schneider ended a streak of 40 consecutive victories, amassing $1.4 million in prize money.