Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden on Russia: Distrust and verify

President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House
Associated Press/Alex Brandon

 

President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House

 

 

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 919,697; Tuesday, 922,473; Wednesday, 925,560.

President Biden on Tuesday said the United States has “not yet verified” Russia’s claim that some of its forces have withdrawn from the Ukraine border and said an invasion of Ukraine remains “distinctly possible.” He made no predictions about timing (The Associated Press). 

 

The president spoke in the East Room hours after Russia announced that some military units participating in exercises near Ukraine’s borders would begin returning to their bases. 

 

The Associated Press: Today, Russia’s Defense Ministry released a video showing a trainload of armored vehicles moving across a bridge away from Crimea as evidence of a drawdown. Putin did not commit to a full withdrawal, saying Russia’s next moves in the standoff will depend on how the situation evolves. Moscow has not identified the number of forces or weapons being withdrawn from Ukraine’s border.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Tuesday said Russia was ready for talks with the United States and NATO on military transparency, missile deployment limits and other security issues. While Biden embraced continued diplomatic talks, he expressed skepticism about Russia’s intentions. He warned again that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. “will rally the world to oppose its aggression.”

 

Putin, speaking with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow on Tuesday, said Russia’s military leadership “made a decision about partial withdrawal of troops” from the areas where military exercises were taking place. But those assertions of a pullback were not confirmed by U.S. intelligence or by NATO.

 

Putin continued his by-now familiar complaints about Ukraine, arguing it breached a 2015 agreement to bring peace to the region. U.S. and European officials say Russia has not honored its commitments under the deal (The Washington Post).

 

Der Spiegel: Is Putin right that the West cheated Russia by expanding NATO eastward following the end of the Cold War? The short answer: It’s complicated.

 

The swirl of back-and-forth diplomacy continued as world leaders issued carefully framed public statements. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke again with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by phone and Biden conferred again with French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. officials said. Lavrov urged “pragmatic dialogue” focused on Russia’s “range of issues,” according to a statement released by the Russian foreign ministry.

 

Biden repeated U.S. and NATO vows of immediate and crippling economic and trade sanctions if Russia moves against Ukraine, but he noted that the Kremlin said it favored  continued discussions. “I agree. We should give the diplomacy every chance to succeed,” he said. “And I believe there are real ways to address our respective security concerns.” He was not specific.

 

The Hill: Biden seeks to keep NATO allies united.

 

The New York Times: It is too early to tell if a possible Russian troop withdrawal is meaningful, according to military analysts.

 

The Hill: Experts portend a protracted conflict and European destabilization that includes consequences for the United States — if Russia invades Ukraine.

 

 

A Ukrainian serviceman fires an NLAW anti-tank weapon during an exercise

 

LEADING THE DAY

CORONAVIRUS: The U.S. is fortunate to have assembled a tool kit since 2020 that makes living with COVID-19 possible. Here’s a detailed refresher on how vaccinations and boosters, self-testing and treatments, plus precautionary practices work hand-in-hand (The Washington Post explainer).

 

Before America learned to “live with” the coronavirus and its variants, the death toll was already catastrophic in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measures what it calls “excess deaths” during the pandemic, and this week recorded more than 1 million as the country enters its third year of catastrophe. Although a majority of excess deaths are due to the virus, the CDC mortality records also expose fatalities from heart disease, hypertension, dementia and other ailments across two years of pandemic misery. Deaths are a lagging indicator behind COVID-19 infection rates, and U.S. average daily fatalities remain high (The Washington Post).

 

> U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy understands COVID-19 infection in young children from his own family: his 4-year-old daughter tested positive for the virus over the weekend and is recovering at home under her parents’ watchful gaze, he tweeted on Tuesday. “Staring at my daughter’s positive test, I asked myself the same questions many parents have asked: Will my child be ok? Could I have done more to protect her? Was this my fault?” Murthy wrote. “In these moments, it doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or Surgeon General. We are parents first” (The Washington Post).

 

The CDC on Tuesday said COVID-19 vaccines during pregnancy can protect babies after they’re born and lead to fewer hospitalized infants, according to a study that showed potential benefits to infants born to people who received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines during pregnancy (The Associated Press).

 

 

A nurse gives a shot of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 to a pregnant woman

 

 

Vaccine production Innovation: The Wall Street Journal reports that Pfizer BioNTech unveiled mobile COVID-19 vaccine factories encased in shipping containers for use around the developing world. The units could produce 50 million shots a year.

 

⚖️ Courts: The U.S. government said it faces “significant harm” if an appeals court fails to reverse an injunction barring enforcement of Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for government workers. The administration estimated that testing unvaccinated employees as a COVID-19 workplace option could cost up to $22 million a month (Reuters).

 

Travel: Who hasn’t seen advertisements with the enticing message, “Want to get away?” As COVID-19 infections decline, travel rules are adjusting. Canada says it will ease its travel requirements beginning on Feb. 28, allowing a negative antigen test result rather than a result from a molecular test (Reuters). … The CDC has designated 140 international destinations “very high” Level 4 risk for travelers because of the spread of the omicron variant. The government’s warning map tied to COVID-19 has expanded, not contracted. The CDC places a destination at Level 4 when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days (CNN).

COMING SOON

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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: House Republicans are making an ambitious policy play in anticipation of success in the November midterm election, setting up a number of likely clashes with the president on COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, border security and Big Tech, among other items. 

 

As The Hill’s Mike Lillis writes, Biden’s low approval ratings and the continued rise of inflation have opened the door wide open to opportunity for the minority party. The GOP believes it is ready to seize the moment as it puts together a list of policy priorities to serve as the nexus of the party’s arguments heading into November. 

 

“I assume it will be rolled out, probably by early summer, in time for members to go home and talk about it in town halls and run on it,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), the vice chair of the House GOP conference. “It’s all coming together.”

 

> Retirements: House Democrats were dealt another blow on Tuesday as Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), a moderate lawmaker who has sparred with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in years past, announced on her 57th birthday that she will not run for reelection in November, becoming the 30th Democratic member to decide to leave Congress.

 

Rice, a former prosecutor and district attorney, said in a statement that it has been an “honor” to serve in office, but that lawmakers “must give all we have and then know when it is time to allow others to serve.”

 

“Though I will not be running for re-election to Congress this year, I will remain focused on protecting our democracy and serving my constituents throughout the rest of my term,” she said.

 

Rice, a fourth-term lawmaker, won reelection by about 13 points in 2020. Unlike some House Democrats, her district was not significantly altered in the redistricting process (The Hill).

 

Politico: Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) torches Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) over Senate endorsement.

 

Julia Manchester, The Hill: Democrats seek midterm course-correct in suburbs.

 

> Total Recall: The political winds swirled in San Francisco on Tuesday as voters recalled three members of the city’s school board in a referendum on how it handled education during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

According to the San Francisco Department of Elections, 79 percent of voters backed a recall of Alison Collins, 75 percent to oust Gabriela López and 72 percent supporting the removal of Faauuga Moliga. San Francisco Mayor London Breed is now tasked with appointing replacements to serve on the board until the November election (SFGate). 

 

Reuters: School boards get death threats amid rage over race, gender, mask policies.

 

Alexander Bolton, The Hill: GOP scrambles to figure out what Trump legal drama means for the future. 

 

Washington Examiner: Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary candidates Mehmet Oz and David McCormick wage a pitched battle for Trump’s endorsement. 

 

> State Watch: Several states are moving anti-transgender bills this week as the culture wars continue to target a population described by researchers as prone to depression and suicide (The Hill). … Two former Hawaii lawmakers, Ty Cullen and J. Kalani English, accused of taking bribes in exchange for shaping legislation while in office, pleaded guilty and face potentially lengthy prison sentences (The Associated Press).

 

*****

 

CONGRESS: For the first time in more than a year, the Food and Drug Administration has a new permanent commissioner after the Senate confirmed Robert Califf to the post in a 50-46 vote.

 

Califf’s nomination was surprisingly contentious after he was confirmed to the same position six years ago, 89-4. Five senators on the Democratic side — Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — voted against him on Tuesday, with most of the criticisms aimed at Califf’s ties to pharmaceutical companies and the FDA’s record on opioid approvals. 

 

However, six Senate Republicans crossed over to back Califf to head the agency: Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Patrick Toomey (Pa.). 

 

Burr dubbed Califf a “supremely qualified nominee with bipartisan support,” though anti-abortion groups pressured GOP senators to vote against his confirmation.  

 

“The FDA has an opportunity to be forever changed for the better, but it needs effective leadership to get there,” he said prior to the vote (The Hill). 

 

The Associated Press: Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 6 more in fake GOP electors scheme.

 

> Funding fight: The Senate drew closer to a vote on a stopgap bill to fund the federal government through March 11 after Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) withdrew her hold on the bill after receiving assurances from the Department of Health and Human Services that no taxpayer funds will be used to fund crack pipes (The Hill).

 

The news from Blackburn’s came hours after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that the country is in “no danger” of a government shutdown going into effect later this week.

 

“As is often the case, we’ll process a few amendments before doing the short-term CR. I think it’ll all be worked out,” McConnell said, using the shorthand moniker for a continuing resolution. “There’s no danger of a government shutdown” (C-SPAN).

 

The Hill: Senate seeks offramp as funding deadline nears.

 

Politico: A ban on federal abortion funds is likely to remain despite Democratic promises to expand access. 

 

The Washington Post: White House, congressional Democrats eye pause of federal gas tax as prices remain high, election looms.

 

The Hill: Judiciary under microscope as Congress weighs stock trade ban.

 

> Fed up: Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee erected a blockade on Tuesday, holding up five of Biden’s nominees to positions at the Federal Reserve over their continued opposition to Sarah Bloom Raskin to serve as the Fed’s regulatory chief.

 

All 12 GOP members on the panel boycotted a Tuesday meeting where the committee was set to advance the five nominations, including Jerome Powell to a second term as Fed chair, because Raskin was not taken off the slate for the day. Chief among the Republican complaints is that she provided insufficient and misleading answers about her history on the board of a payments company that obtained access to the Fed’s payment processing system. 

 

Toomey (pictured below) maintained that the blockade was not related to her policy views (which he says are disqualifying), but rather questions about her work history (The Hill).

 

The Hill: White House brushing off Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) handicapping of high court choice.

 

Axios: How much members of Congress are spending on personal security. 

 

 

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee

 

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

Parents of little kids might be disappointed, but the FDA was right to delay vaccine authorization, by Leana S. Wen, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3gM61OP 

 

Kids have no place in a liberal democracy, by Elizabeth Bruenig, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3JuIXjJ 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets on Friday at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session. The House returns to work Feb. 28 following the Presidents Day recess.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Celeste Wallander to be an assistant secretary of Defense.

 

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m.

 

The vice president at 1:15 p.m. will ceremonially swear in Cynthia Telles to be U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica. Harris will ceremonially swear in Reta Jo Lewis at 1:40 p.m. to be president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

 

The secretary of State hosts a virtual Summit for Democracy civil society roundtable at 10 a.m. He will meet at the department with Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets at 1:30 p.m.

 

First lady Jill Biden, in New York City today, will tape segments of “Sesame Street” for the upcoming season and for Sesame Workshop’s social impact and military family initiatives. 

 

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m. The White House COVID-19 response team will brief journalists at 11 a.m. 

 

INVITATION TODAY: The Hill’s Virtually LiveFood Security Summit” at 2 p.m. ET, with House Hunger Caucus Co-Chairs Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and more for a wide-ranging discussion moderated by The Hill’s Steve Clemons (details and registration HERE).

 

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

LEGAL CORNER: Prince Andrew on Tuesday reached a settlement with Virginia Giuffre, who accused him of rape, according to a new court filing. The terms of the settlement are confidential, with Andrew and Giuffre saying in a joint statement that the prince “intends to make a substantial donation” to a charity “in support of victims’ rights.” Without a deal, Andrew was set to be deposed by Giuffre’s lawyers. He did not admit to any allegations of wrongdoing (The New York Times). … Remington, a firearms company, and families of nine victims from the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting agreed to a $73 million settlement, marking a historic deal. Remington was the maker of the rifle used to kill 20 first graders and six educators in 2012 (The Associated Press). Biden issued a written statement on Tuesday commending the settlement, saying, “Congress must repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act so we can fully hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable. But, in the meantime, I will continue to urge state and local lawmakers, lawyers, and survivors of gun violence to pursue efforts to replicate the success of the Sandy Hook families.”

 

CURED: A novel treatment for HIV using a transplant of umbilical cord blood has cured a third known infected person, a woman of mixed race, offering hope to others who contracted the virus and struggle to locate close transplant matches, researchers say. Infection with HIV is thought to progress differently in women than in men, but while women account for more than half of HIV cases in the world, they make up only 11 percent of participants in cure trials (The New York Times).

 

 

The White House in Washington is decorated to commemorate World AIDS Day

 

 

NAVALNY: A new trial against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny opened Tuesday at the penal colony where he faces another lengthy prison term, a further step in a yearlong, multi-pronged crackdown on Russia’s most ardent Kremlin critic, his allies and other dissenting voices. Navalny, Putin’s longtime foe, is charged with fraud and contempt of court. His allies denounced the case as an effort by the Kremlin to keep the anti-corruption crusader in prison for as long as possible (The Associated Press).

THE CLOSER

And finally …  ⛷Olympic skier Sofia Goggia of Italy captured a women’s downhill silver medal on Tuesday with a fractured fibula and torn knee ligament, overcoming pain and long odds following a January accident to fulfill a dream she’s nurtured since she was 9 (Yahoo Sports).  

 

 

Sofia Goggia, of Italy speeds down the course during the women's downhill at the 2022 Winter Olympics

 

 

The Atlantic put together 25 standout photos from the Olympics HERE.

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