Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – More blue states let mask mandates expire

A sign asks shoppers to wear masks in New York
Associated Press/Seth Wenig

                                 Presented by Facebook

 

A sign asks shoppers to wear masks in New York

 

 

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday! 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 morning this week: Monday 902,624; Tuesday, 905,544; Wednesday, 909,016; Thursday, 912,255.

Democratic governors on Wednesday continued to abandon COVID-19 mask requirements, even as the White House admonished Americans to wear high-quality masks indoors and in schools just a little longer as omicron lingers.

 

New York and Massachusetts turned deaf ears to Washington and said they are guided by improved infection and hospitalization rates within their borders as well as vaccination rates, testing options, reopened workplaces and the controversial challenges faced by schools.

 

Democratic governors in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon and California, with Nevada expected today, are among a growing list of states opting to move forward without declarations of out-and-out victory over COVID-19 and while conceding the U.S. death toll is approaching 1 million people.

 

New York today drops its “mask or proof-of-vaccination” indoor mandate for businesses, while Massachusetts will end its statewide school mask mandate on Feb. 28 (The Washington Post). New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) (pictured below) said the state’s mask requirement for schools will remain in place and be re-examined in early March (The New York Times).

  

In California, San Francisco will lift its indoor mask requirement on Wednesday. Only one Bay Area county, Santa Clara, will not follow suit next week because it believes the community transmission rate with omicron remains too high.

 

The Denver Post: Face coverings will no longer be required in Denver schools beginning Feb. 25.

 

The Providence Journal: Rhode Island will lift its indoor mask-or-proof-of-vaccination requirement on Friday, and possibly its school mask mandate on March 4.

 

Axios: Maryland and Washington, D.C., currently have the lowest COVID-19 case counts in the country, each with fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 people, on average.

 

 

Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting

 

 

Anthony Fauci hinted at the political pressure and community-based exasperation afoot. “As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, there will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus,” he told the Financial Times.

 

The Associated Press: Under pressure to ease up, President Biden weighs new virus response.

 

As state mask rules end, school leaders are in the middle, caught in one of the most combustible issues of the pandemic (The Associated Press).

 

School superintendents generally prefer flexibility to make their own decisions on mask requirements based on infection numbers and vaccination rates, said Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association. “What we’ve seen in this country is that the pandemic and the level of infections is very much dependent on where you are,” he said. “If you create a blanket situation that says everyone is going to have to do this, wear a mask or not wear a mask, you’re not taking into consideration the differences that exist within your own region.” The complaints, however, come from all sides. “That’s why superintendents are leaving the profession in numbers because they’re caught in the middle. They’re damned if they do, they’re damned if they don’t,” Domenech said.

 

The Hill: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky says there is no specific benchmark of COVID-19 case rates that warrants a change in its guidance.

 

The New York Times: The Biden administration remains cautious about easing masks and other COVID-19 safety measures.

 

The Washington Post: White House press secretary Jen Psaki (pictured below) said the White House respects local governments’ decisions to issue guidance and mandates but backs experts’ advice and encourages Americans to do the same. Behind the scenes, the administration is working on new guidance for the next phase of life amid an ever-evolving, highly transmissible hazard that won’t be gone anytime soon.

 

The Washington Post: Norwegian Cruise Line announced that on March 1, it will drop its mask requirement from COVID-19 protocols.

  

At the outset of the pandemic, state and local officials had to invent coronavirus safety measures and restrictions on the fly while they pleaded with Washington to share expert guidance. It is no surprise that states, now years into a crisis, have antennae finely tuned to what markets will bear.

 

States have long histories of either launching or navigating initially controversial safety requirements imposed on freedom-loving, often skeptical citizens. Federal and state mandates have survived decades of protests and adaptations before finding grudging acceptance. Examples: seatbelts, child safety car seats, inoculation requirements to attend school, motorcycle helmets, smoking bans in public spaces and dog leash laws. Connecticut in 1901 was the first state to impose a motor vehicle speed limit (12 mph in cities and 15 mph on rural roads). By 1930, most states had followed with speed limits of their own.

 

> Vaccines: The Food and Drug Administration this month will make its recommendation on emergency-use authorization of COVID-19 vaccine doses for children younger than 5. If the government approves, an initial 10 million doses are expected to be ready for shipment, with the first batch available on Feb. 21 and the second on Feb. 25 (The Washington Post). … Congressional Democrats are calling for $17 billion in a pending federal funding package for fiscal 2022 specifically for global COVID-19 vaccine assistance, arguing that help now can constrain new variants from emerging worldwide. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) points to “extensive” conversations with the administration, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) back additional global vaccine support (The Hill). … North Korea has not accepted any deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine doses through COVAX, so the country’s allotment has been cut (Reuters). 

 

The United States has pledged to donate at least 1.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine for global use before 2023. Of that total, 396 million doses have been delivered and 19.5 million have been shipped but not yet delivered as of Wednesday, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracker

 

> Global infections: Omicron is so rapidly and slyly infectious that the number of global confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeded 400 million this week just a month after hitting 300 million. That astonishing surge, likely an undercount, is but one of the challenges faced by world leaders who are contemplating how to “live with” COVID-19 at the same time that public health officials warn of the inevitability of new variants. The race is still on worldwide to hike vaccination and booster rates among adults and children (The New York Times). 

 

The New York Times: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said he will soon present plans for lifting all COVID-19 restrictions in England, possibly weeks before an anticipated March 24 expiration date for restrictions. It was unclear whether or when such changes would apply to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which make their own coronavirus rules.

 

 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing

 

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.

LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the chamber’s top GOP appropriator, announced Wednesday that negotiators have struck a “breakthrough” agreement on the framework for a long-term spending package that could lead to a final deal in the near future. 

 

Shelby (pictured below) told reporters on Capitol Hill that the framework will help lawmakers reach a final deal on spending totals for defense and nondefense discretionary programs, which has proved elusive thus far in talks.

 

“We have reached an agreement on framework,” Shelby told The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. “We have reached an understanding on the framework, which lets us go to the next step. … I believe this is a breakthrough in a bipartisan way.” 

 

The Alabama Republican declined to go into specifics or mention any figures. Once the Senate passes the stopgap funding bill that was advanced by the House on Tuesday, negotiators will have until March 11 to reach a deal on the omnibus spending package (The Hill). 

 

Politico: Democrats’ social spending dreams stuck in winter purgatory.

 

Axios: Inside Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) frayed relationship with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

 

 

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, speaks to reporters

 

 

> Stock up, stock down: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday that she expects House Democrats to unveil a bill to bar lawmakers from making stock trades “pretty soon”; however there are signs of discontent among some lawmakers over how far a final bill would reach (Reuters). 

 

Pelosi, who was initially frosty to supporting any bill before acquiescing to many in her caucus, argued that a proposal is needed in order to maintain “the integrity of people in public service.”

 

“We have to do this to deter something that we see as a problem, but it is a confidence issue. And if that’s what the members want to do, then that’s what we will do,” Pelosi said during her weekly press conference. “But it’s complicated, and members will figure it out.  And then we’ll go forward with what the consensus is.” 

 

Right on cue, lawmakers are showing how complicated a process this will be. As Bloomberg News reports, the issue is hitting resistance with some lawmakers who are worried about how far any bill would reach into their family businesses. 

 

“It’s easy to say yes, the complexities are spouses and families and others. … “I have to take a look at all that,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who is one of the richest members of Congress. Warner uses a blind trust and does not make individual stock trades. 

 

The Hill: Stock trading ban gains steam but splits Senate GOP.

 

The New York Times: Stock trading ban for lawmakers gains momentum on Capitol Hill.

 

> Jan. 6 action: The House select committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol issued a subpoena to Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to former President Trump, pointing to passages from his own book in arguing he appears to have been involved in plans to delay certification of the presidential election. 

 

The subpoena notes that Navarro discussed working with Stephen Bannon and others to “delay Congress’s certification of, and ultimately change the outcome of, the November 2020 election.” It also referred to him calling his plan the “Green Bay Sweep.”

 

Navarro on Wednesday afternoon indicated that he would not be able to discuss matters with the panel because of purported executive privilege concerns from Trump. However, Trump has not made such a claim in regard to Navarro and has been unable to block the release of his presidential records on such grounds (The Hill).

 

The Hill: Former Trump press aide Sarah Matthews appears before the Jan. 6 panel.

 

Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos, The Hill: Questions loom over how to form congressional staff union. 

 

The Hill: Sanders calls on Democrats to bring up a drug pricing bill in the Senate. 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

ADMINISTRATION: Truckers are using social media to plan protests in Washington next month to express their opposition to vaccine mandates, similar to the traffic and bridge bottlenecks organized in Canada, The Hill’s Alex Gangitano reports

 

Such protests could occur as the Biden administration combats supply chain disruptions and encourages more Americans to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has been challenged to respond to major demonstrations in Ottawa organized by truckers who object to the requirement put in place on Jan. 15 that says they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter Canada. It’s also a U.S. requirement.

 

Some Canadian provinces have already moved to lift COVID-19 restrictions, but Trudeau is standing firm at the federal level. He defended the measures imposed by the Canadian government, including the one that has angered many truck drivers (The Associated Press).

 

Reuters: The U.S. and Canada fear economic damages stemming from the border crossing protests.

 

The Associated Press: Ford said late Wednesday that parts shortages forced it to shut down its engine plant in Windsor, Ontario in Canada, and to run an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, on a reduced schedule because of protesting truck drivers who are blocking a transit route between Detroit and Canada.

 

The New York Times: Plans for a convoy-style protest in the U.S. gain supporters online.

 

 

Protestors show their support for the Freedom Convoy of truck drivers who are making their way to Ottawa

 

 

> Disasters: More than a dozen U.S. regions face increasing wildfire risks, according to a new study. The administration has launched a 10-year, multibillion-dollar investment in reducing wildfire hazards (The Hill).

 

******

 

POLITICS: Kansas House Republicans on Wednesday voted to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D) veto and to codify a new set of congressional maps that puts the lone Democratic-held seat in peril ahead of the midterm elections in November. 

 

The House vote, which arrived a day after the state Senate did the same thing, garnered 85 votes, one more than lawmakers needed for a veto override. As The Hill’s Reid Wilson details, the new maps will make substantial changes to district lines in Wyandotte County, the state’s largest and home of Kansas City.

 

At the moment, Rep. Sharice Davids (D) represents a district that contains most of Wyandotte County. However, the new map would divide the county along Interstate 70 and push a large number of those in the current district into a neighboring one held by Rep. Jake LaTurner (R). In turn, Davids’s district would pick up conservative areas to the south and east, putting her reelection prospects in jeopardy. She was first elected in 2018. 

 

Julia Manchester, The Hill: GOP falters in effort to recruit star governors for Senate.

 

The Hill: States consider a record wave of voting bills.

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

Russia thrived as it integrated with the West — a new Cold War is unraveling that, by Greg Ip, chief economics commentator, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3oAI2Gx 

 

What Biden learned from Afghanistan, by James Hohmann, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/33afDPZ

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 on Friday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session. 

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. to begin consideration of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021.

 

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will travel to Culpeper, Va., in the swing district of Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) and speak at 12:30 p.m. about the administration’s pending legislative push to lower health care costs (Axios). The president, while in Virginia, will be interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt ahead of the network’s Sunday broadcast of the Super Bowl. Portions of the president’s remarks will air tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET. Back at the White House at 4:45 p.m., Biden and Vice President Harris will host Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to seek advice regarding a pending Supreme Court nomination.

 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Australia for meetings and will head next to Fiji. 

 

U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, special representative for North Korea, will be in Hawaii to host a trilateral meeting with Japanese Director-General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Funakoshi Takehiro and Republic of Korea Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Noh Kyu-duk to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

 

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. will release the consumer price index for January. The year-over-year inflation rate could be the highest since 1982 (CNBC).

 

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: Four years after failing to deliver in Pyeongchang, Nathan Chen did just that on Thursday by taking gold in the men’s figure skating singles competition, posting a 332.60 after a stunning free skate routine for the U.S. (ESPN) … In snowboarding, American Chloe Kim became a back-to-back gold medalist in the halfpipe and cemented her status in the process. Kim fell on her second and third runs, but it didn’t matter. Her her first run was nearly flawless and enough for her second consecutive gold medal in the event (NBC News).

 

ROAD SHOW: The Smithsonian’s famous portraits of former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will remain on tour through October, the National Portrait Gallery announced Wednesday. The former president’s portrait, painted by Kehinde Wiley, and the former first lady’s portrait, painted by Amy Sherald, were originally scheduled to return to Washington this summer. Now they’ll make a summer stop at San Francisco’s de Young Museum and an autumn visit to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The Portrait Gallery has events planned when the popular works return to the nation’s capital after a long stretch on the road since their 2018 unveiling (Washingtonian and The Hill). 

 

 

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama stand on stage together as their official portraits are unveiled

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the beginning of Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee last weekend, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the history of the queen’s 70 years atop the throne.

 

Email your responses to asimendinger@thehill.com and/or aweaver@thehill.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.

 

Fourteen U.S. presidents have been in power during Elizabeth’s reign. Who is the only sitting president during that time not to meet her?

  1. Richard Nixon
  2. Lyndon Johnson
  3. Harry Truman
  4. Gerald Ford

Which of the following is not true about Elizabeth?

  1. First female member of the royal family to join the armed services as a full-time active member
  2. Has 15 grandchildren and great-grandchildren combined
  3. Her favorite breed of dog is a Welsh corgi
  4. All of the above 

In October 1957, Elizabeth made her first state visit to the U.S., visiting New York City, Washington, D.C., and what other city? 

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Boston
  4. None of the above 

When Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, Prince Charles of Wales became first in line, a position he of course still holds. Princess Anne of Edinburgh was second in line at the time. What number in the line of succession is Princess Anne now?

  1. Eighth
  2. 13th
  3. 17th
  4. 20th

 

Britain's Queen Elizabeth arrives for a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace

 

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