Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Anticipating an invasion of Ukraine ‘any day’

A U.S. Air Force plane landing at the Rzeszow-Jasionka airport in southeastern Poland
Associated Press/Czarek Sokolowski

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A U.S. Air Force plane landing at the Rzeszow-Jasionka airport in southeastern Poland

 

 

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths surpassed another dismal milestone late Friday. This morning the number of lives lost is 902,624. President Biden again told Americans that vaccinations, including for eligible children, and booster doses “can save your life and the lives of those you love.” 

 

As of today, 74.9 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 63.5 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 26.8.

Russia could invade Ukraine “any day,” according to President Biden’s national security adviser, who spoke Sunday during television interviews to point to intelligence assessments of Russia’s preparations for an all-out conflict.

 

“Madness and scaremongering,” responded Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, in a tweet dismissing information the Biden administration reportedly briefed to members of Congress warning that a full-fledged Russian invasion could lead to the quick capture of Kyiv in Ukraine and potentially result in as many as 50,000 casualties (The Washington Post).

 

U.S. National Security Council Director Jake Sullivan said, “If war breaks out, it will come at an enormous human cost to Ukraine, but we believe that based on our preparations and our response, it will come at a strategic cost to Russia as well” (The Associated Press).

  

Western governments assess that Russia has assembled at least 70 percent of the military firepower it likely intends to have in place by mid-month to give President Vladimir Putin the option of invading Ukraine (frontline in the Luhansk region pictured below).

 

 

A bullet riddled effigy of Russian President Vladimir Putin

 

 

Alarmed and determined to keep diplomacy alive amid speculation that Putin is looking to gain something tangible from NATO while perhaps averting a punishing clash, European leaders plan this week to keep up a parade of meetings and conversations with the inscrutable Russian leader.

 

The Hill: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the administration is “still working to discourage the Russians from making the wrong choice and choosing confrontation.

 

A U.S. Air Force plane carrying U.S. troops and equipment from Fort Bragg, N.C., arrived in Poland on Sunday (pictured above), part of Biden’s deployment of 1,700 soldiers to Poland to support NATO, in addition to the 4,000 troops already there.

 

The president today meets at the White House with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is drawing sharp criticism at home and abroad for his hesitant leadership during one of the most serious security crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War (The New York Times). Scholz, who has not spoken to his Russian counterpart since taking office two months ago, will next week meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, followed by Putin in Moscow on Feb. 15 (Politico).

 

The New York Times: Biden will press Scholz on Russia sanctions and likely discuss the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline being built between Germany and Russia.

 

While Biden is with Scholz today, French President Emmanuel Macron will take his shuttle diplomacy to Moscow to meet with Putin before traveling to Kyiv in an effort to avert a potentially imminent war that threatens security in Europe. Ahead of French elections in two months, events have handed Macron an opportunity to step into a larger leadership role for all of Europe and to define his at times grandiose visions for a Europe allied with, but more independent of, the United States (The New York Times).

 

Bloomberg News: Beijing Olympics may impact Putin’s thinking (or timing).

 

The New York Times: The crisis that defined Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first year.

 

CNN: Biden, during a Sunday phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, said he looks forward to visiting Israel later this year.

 

 

A Marine Honor Guard stands watch at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House

 

 

Here’s what else we’re watching this week:

 

> Can the House fund the government in the next four days? If lawmakers do not, alarm bells will be loud. The federal government will shutter on Feb. 18 without new funding, and lawmakers are scheduled to be out of Washington beginning next week. 

 

> Will more COVID-19 restrictions get lifted this week in some states? The answer in New York, for instance, may ride on whether infection rates continue to plummet (New York Post).

 

> Tuned out? U.S. viewership for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, televised by NBC, hit a record low (Yahoo Sports). NBC is also carrying the Super Bowl on Sunday, which for the first time overlaps with the Winter Olympics. Ratings and ad revenues are iffy for the network’s two major winter sporting extravaganzas this year (Forbes).

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LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS: Top Republicans on Sunday came to the defense of former Vice President Mike Pence amid his escalating feud with former President Trump over his refusal to participate in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021.

 

Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff at the end of the Trump administration, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the former VP gave a more direct rebuke of Trump’s election claims because the continued comments “merited response.” In that response, Pence said in a speech on Friday that Trump was “wrong” and that he had no authority to reject the 2020 electoral results. 

 

“Of course there’s nothing in the 12th Amendment or the Electoral Count Act that would afford a vice president that authority. It’s why no vice president in 200 years has ever used that authority,” Short said (The Hill).

 

High-profile GOP figures also provided backup for the former vice president. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “vice presidents can’t simply decide not to certify an election” (The Hill) Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of Senate GOP leadership, added that Pence had a “constitutional duty” to follow through with electoral certification (The Hill). 

 

The Sunday Shows: Trump-Pence division in the spotlight. 

 

The Hill: Jan. 6 panel hesitates in asking Pence to testify.

 

The Associated Press: What does Ivanka Trump know about Jan. 6? Congress is asking.

 

The Hill: Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) tensions shadow this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

 

 

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence listen during an announcement in the Oval Office

 

 

Trump was not the only GOP figure or entity under the microscope on Sunday. The Republican National Committee continued to receive criticism for adopting a resolution on Friday that censures GOP Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) for their roles on the House select committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The RNC said the panel is involved in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” 

 

The RNC sought to recast rioters who breached the Capitol, sought to halt the certification of an election and injured police. At least 725 of the insurrectionists have been charged with serious crimes, including seditious conspiracy.

 

Former Trump adviser and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has increasingly aired criticism of the ex-president and is eyeing a possible 2024 presidential run, called the resolution a mistake (The Hill). He added that RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is “carrying water” for Trump in the process (The Hill).

 

The New York Times: In scrutinizing Trump and his allies, Jan. 6 panel adopts prosecution tactics.

 

Axios: GOP’s shadow Jan. 6 committee targets Capitol Police “negligence.”

 

The New York Times: Republicans, wooing Trump voters, make Anthony Fauci their boogeyman. 

 

Reid Wilson, The Hill: On The Trail: The new American malaise.

 

*****

 

CONGRESS: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Sunday said that lawmakers will likely have to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund the government by Feb. 18 in bid to give them more time to reach a larger, long-term funding agreement. 

 

“Well, we’ll get something done. It will probably be a short-term CR and it will be this coming week to give us a little more time,” Hoyer told MSNBC’s “Sunday Show,” using the shorthand phrase for a continuing resolution. “Negotiations are very vigorous and I think we’re going to get agreement on the topline and how it will be spent, but it’s not there yet.” 

 

According to Punchbowl News, the short-term bill is likely to keep the current spending levels through mid-March. Lawmakers in both congressional chambers have four working days to nail down a deal, with the House and Senate both out of town next week for the President’s Day recess. 

 

As The Hill’s Aris Folley writes, a number of sticking points stand between members and a final deal, including the topline total, the disparity between defense and nondefense spending, and the timing. Negotiators have been eyeing an omnibus spending package to fund the government through late September when fiscal 2022 ends. 

 

Politico: Retiring Senate spending chiefs go for broke.

 

The Hill: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Va.): Social spending bill elements must go through time-consuming committee process​​. 

 

 

Just off the floor of the Senate, the hands on the famous Ohio Clock point to 12 midnight

 

 

> Election reform: Manchin was adamant on Sunday that a legislative overhaul to the Electoral Count Act of 1887 will pass through Congress as bipartisan support for the change grows. 

 

“Absolutely, it will pass,” Manchin told CNN’s “State of the Union” during a joint interview alongside Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

 

The legislation would do away with a law that Trump and his supporters used in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Among other things, the proposal would make clear that the vice president has zero power to reject a state’s slate of electors, make clear that state legislatures are unable to appoint electors post-Election Day and allow states to have more time to carry out recounts (The New York Times). 

 

Jordain Carney, The Hill: Trump, hurdles loom for Senate election reform talks. 

 

Bloomberg News: Manchin endorses Murkowski in Alaska Senate race.

 

> Dem doldrums: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) may be focused on 2022, but the Democratic leader already has himself a 2024 problem as progressives and Democratic activists grow louder with calls to primary Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Manchin next cycle. 

 

As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton notes, Schumer has twice been asked about supporting primaries against the foremost centrist members in his caucus, having dodged the question both times. His decision not to weigh in reflects a balancing act: not wanting to upset the left-wing of the party while also not trying not to alienate the two centrists who remain crucial to passing Biden’s agenda for the rest of this year. 

 

However, Manchin gave Schumer cover on Sunday, telling CNN that he’s talked to the Democratic leader in recent days “about that and everything,” referring to whether the New York Democrat would support him in 2024 against a primary opponent.

 

“No way, shape or form will Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer not support their caucus. It just doesn’t happen,” Manchin said.

 

The Washington Post. GOP rivals seize on Stacey Abrams’s maskless classroom photo.

 

The Hill: Fighting for relief for Black farmers.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CORONAVIRUS: Mid-February is almost here — a predicted spring before spring when omicron is anticipated by public health soothsayers to recede and life amid a pandemic is projected to bloom.

 

The Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports on the intense push public officials are feeling to lift mandates and restrictions as omicron infections continue to ebb in 49 of 50 states. COVID-fatigue risks lulling Americans into apathy — or worse — when a future coronavirus variant of concern might revive mask mandates, quarantine periods and orders to restrict the size of indoor gatherings.

 

“If we don’t take the off-ramps, nobody will listen when we need to have an on-ramp,” said Jeremy Faust, a professor at Harvard Medical School. Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wary of jumping the gun, points to record deaths and high hospitalization rates as rationales for continued public caution.

 

 

A discarded face mask lies in the street in San Francisco

 

 

Declining community COVID-19 infection rates may encourage schools in some locations to lift mask requirements based on improved public health data, former Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb told CBS News on Sunday (The Hill).

 

Meanwhile, lower court judges are weighing Biden administration COVID-19 mandates including those applied to federal contractors and government workers. The Wall Street Journal has a roundup report.

 

Citing ample supplies, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies this week are no longer limiting the number of at-home COVID-19 test kits customers may purchase at one time (The New York Times).

  

Canada: Protests against vaccine mandates continued to cripple Ottawa on Sunday as police were outnumbered and gridlock clogged parts of the city for a 10th day (Reuters).

 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday signaled that reopening his country’s borders to tourists is “not far away” (Reuters).

 

In South Africa, an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine produced at the World Health Organization-backed vaccine hub could take up to three years to get approval if companies do not share their technology and data, a WHO official said on Friday (Reuters).

 

Russia is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections in which positive rates are 10 times higher than reported a month ago (The Associated Press). 

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

Mike Pence’s Constitution, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/332ZnAp 

 

The COVID-19 policy that really mattered wasn’t a policy, by Ezra Klein, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/34FkHMz 

 

After crypto’s cold winter, expect springtime for web 3.0, by Niall Ferguson, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/34Ep1eZ 

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

Why Facebook supports updated internet regulations, including Section 230

Aaron is one of 40,000 people working on safety and security issues at Facebook.

Hear more from Aaron on why Facebook supports updating regulations on the internet’s most pressing challenges, including reforming Section 230 to set clear guidelines for all large tech companies.

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at noon. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Schumer, congressional leaders and lawmakers will hold a moment of silence on the East Front Steps of the Capitol at 7 p.m. for the more than 900,000 people who’ve died in the United States due to COVID-19.

 

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m.

 

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Biden will meet with the German chancellor at 1:30 p.m. in the Oval Office. They will hold a joint news conference in the East Room at 3:15 p.m.

 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 8:45 a.m. meets with Josep Borrell, vice president of the European Commission. Blinken and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will host Borrell and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson at 9:30 a.m. during a U.S.-EU Energy Council ministerial. Blinken and Borrell will hold a joint news conference at noon at the State Department. The secretary at 3:30 p.m. will meet virtually with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Blinken will embark on a trip to confer with officials in Australia, Fiji, and in Hawaii for a trilateral conference with Japanese and South Korean counterparts before a Sunday return to Washington. 

 

First lady Jill Biden at 9:15 a.m. will deliver remarks at the 2022 Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.

 

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:45 p.m.

 

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

OLYMPICS: At the Beijing Winter Olympic games, Russian Olympic Committee athletes have an early lead in the medal count, winning six (two golds) thus far. Five nations (Netherlands, Canada, Japan, Italy and Austria) have collected four medals, with the U.S. trailing with three total (and no gold). Sweden, which knows its way around winter sports, leads with three gold medals (NBC Sports).

 

INTERNATIONAL: Queen Elizabeth II, 95, on Sunday quietly marked 70 years on the British throne. … The monarch expressed a “sincere wish” that Prince Charles’s wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, should be known as “Queen Consort” when her 73-year-old son one day succeeds her, as expected. With those words, Elizabeth sought to answer once and for all public questions about the status of Camilla, 74, who was initially shunned by fans of the late Princess Diana, Charles’s first wife (The Associated Press).

 

 

The screen in Piccadilly Circus is lit to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Britain's Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne

 

 

STATE WATCH & CLIMATE: In California, economic justice advocates are pitted against the state’s solar industry over a postponed state proposal that would lower the incentives that homeowners receive for generating their own solar power and charge them to connect to the electric grid (The Hill). … In Northeast states, a recent “bomb cyclone” caught everyone’s attention with record snow accumulation, power outages, travel and transit disruptions and at least four deaths in New York. Climate change experts believe warming oceans can lead to more intense such weather conditions (The Hill).

 

POLICING: Controversy simmered over the weekend about no-knock warrants issued by judges and used by police to enter properties without first announcing police presence. The practice has ended in controversial shooting deaths of Black people inside their homes, often when they are or have been asleep, and some federal and state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would curtail no-knock warrants by adding restrictions and detailed requirements (Congressional Research Service report). Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) announced Friday the city would suspend the use of no-knock warrants after an officer on Wednesday fatally shot Amir Locke, 22, who was not named in the warrant and was asleep on a sofa with a gun he was licensed to possess. A police raid under a similar no-knock warrant in Louisville two years ago resulted in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Some legal experts continue to argue that no-knock warrants issued by judges and used by police occur under little regulation, supervision or civil rights oversight.

THE CLOSER

And finally … “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and its sponsor surprised Washington-D.C.-area Uber driver Davante Williams with a $10,000 check a few days ago as a reward for kindness after learning he got stuck for more than five hours in the Jan. 4 traffic jam that stretched for many miles on Interstate 95 in Virginia. 

 

Williams went above and beyond for a teenage passenger, whom he had picked up at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station to transport to Williamsburg, Va. Williams got lucky and found a way to turn around amid the icy gridlock to head back to the nation’s capital, where he paid the cost of a hotel room for his passenger after making sure she phoned her parents to explain the predicament (WTOP). 

 

“Oh, gosh, I’m just overwhelmed,” Williams said when handed a check on TV.

 

 

Cars and trucks are stranded on sections of Interstate 95

 

Tags Adam Kinzinger Anthony Fauci Antony Blinken Charles Schumer Chris Christie Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron Ivanka Trump Jacob Frey Jake Sullivan Jennifer Granholm Jill Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Kyrsten Sinema Linda Thomas-Greenfield Lisa Murkowski Liz Cheney Marco Rubio Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Ron DeSantis Ronna McDaniel Steny Hoyer Vladimir Putin

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