Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by Facebook — Mask-free travelers allowed, TSA says

A federal judge in Florida appointed by former President Trump on Monday struck down the U.S. mask mandate for travelers, which had been extended by the federal government into May but is no longer in force. 

The ruling sparked confusion as flight attendants asked Americans air travelers for patience, the White House urged public passengers to continue wearing face coverings even as the Transportation Security Administration said mask wearing won’t be enforced for the time being and a legal appeal remained possible (The Hill). 

The five largest U.S. carriers — American Airlines Group Inc., Alaska Air Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. — said they dropped their mandates effective immediately. Use of masks will be optional for both passengers and staff, they said (The Boston Globe).

The Metro subway system in the nation’s capital also went mask-optional on Monday for passengers and employees. “Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” said Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wiedefeld in a statement. “We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”  

The United States is indisputably a patchwork of COVID-19 risk evaluation and attention to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority, which has been issued, reevaluated and modified since 2020 to reduce the spread of the highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus, including during this year’s spring surge of infections caused by omicron’s viral cousins. President Biden’s federal say-so amid a public health crisis has been challenged in court for federal employees, private businesses and public transportation. 

Monday’s judicial decision hinged on the CDC’s federal authority under existing law to require individual behavior during a public health emergency. It’s a legal arena that will play an important role during the next pandemic. And public health experts predict there will be more. 

The Associated Press: Cheers, fear greet judge’s ruling on masks for U.S. travel. Directives could still vary from city to city. 

Late on Monday, the Biden administration said the judge’s ruling was under review. But for now, “public transportation masking” is no longer in force.

The New York Times: Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle voided the mandate applied to airplanes, airports, trains, train stations and other public transit and transportation hubs on several grounds, including an argument that the government exceeded its power under the Public Health Services Act of 1944.

The business community — which early in the pandemic begged the government to impose some nationwide requirements rather than bow to the whims of 50 states and various cities — gradually yielded to the idea that federal mandates, masks included, were deeply unpopular among many Americans. The U.S. travel industry has been arguing this year that declining COVID-19 infection rates and fatalities, the benefits of available vaccines and treatments, market pressures and common sense now shape traveler choices.

Minutes before the judge’s ruling was announced, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he wanted the mask mandate to end. “We’re all hoping coming May 3 the mandate expires and the government puts it on individuals,” he said at a Washington Post Live event. “In other sectors of the economy, there are no masks. It just doesn’t make sense” (Politico).

The Wall Street Journal: Currently, the U.S. has no countries on its “do not travel” list warning of high COVID-19 infection risks.

The Hill: The White House will co-host a virtual global COVID-19 summit on May 12.

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 988,912. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 373, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS: He’s running again (probably). 

Biden has told former President Obama that he is planning to run for reelection in 2024, two sources tell The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant, marking the latest indicator that he will seek a second term.

His confirmation to the 44th president is the latest signal that Biden, who will be 81 on Election Day in 2024, will run for a second term. Previously, the president weighed into the “will he or won’t he” discussions during a press conference in Brussels last month, having told reporters that he would be “very fortunate” to run against Trump once again.

“[Biden] wants to run and he’s clearly letting everyone know,” said one of the two sources familiar with the conversations between the two-time running mates. 

© Associated Press / Bill Sikes | 2020 election.

The source added that Biden, despite his tumbling approval ratings, remains the most likely candidate on the Democratic side to defeat Trump. 

“I believe he thinks he’s the only one who can beat Trump. I don’t think he thinks there’s anyone in the Democratic Party who can beat Trump and that’s the biggest factor,” the source familiar with the talks said.   

The Washington Post: In New York, a mayor and a governor who actually try to get along.

2022 watch: Trump on Monday made his latest foray into midterm election fight on Monday by issuing a statement torching Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for a perceived lack of action in imbibing his false claims that there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. 

Trump claimed Brnovich had received “massive information on the fraud and so-called ‘irregularities’” surrounding the election but “seems to be doing nothing about it.” He added that Brnovich’s report “recites some of the many horrible things that happened in that very dark period of American history but, rather than go after the people that committed these election crimes, it looks like he is just going to ‘kick the can down the road’ and stay in that middle path of non-controversy.” 

“What a shame for the Great State of Arizona,” Trump added (The Hill).

According to an OH Predictive Insights poll conducted in early April, Brnovich leads with 21 percent over businessman Jim Lamon, who has massively outspent the state’s attorney general. Blake Masters, who is backed by Peter Thiel, raked in 9 percent. Forth-four percent said they are undecided. 

Reid Wilson, The Hill: Senate landscape comes into focus as outside groups lock in ad time.

The New York Times: Trump allies continue legal drive to erase his loss, stoking election doubts.

The Hill: J.D. Vance rolls out a statewide ad in Ohio touting his Trump endorsement.

The Associated Press: Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) undeterred by abuse allegations in Senate GOP primary race.

******

UKRAINE CRISIS: Russia’s intense new attacks against Ukraine Monday and today struck targets around the country, including near the Polish border in Lviv as well as in the east (The Associated Press). 

Biden will hold a virtual call this morning with Western allies about Ukraine’s situation and “efforts to hold Russia accountable.” 

Russia’s military repositioning follows two months of determined Ukraine fighting that prevented President Vladimir Putin from declaring a Kremlin victory over cities and towns otherwise pounded into rubble as civilians fled. Ukraine said Monday that Russian forces had launched a ground assault along a nearly 300-mile front in the east after hitting the country with one of the most intense missile barrages in weeks (The New York Times).

Putin, who is trying to annex or capture Ukrainian territory and place it under Russia’s flag, awarded an honorary title to the brigade of Russian soldiers accused by Ukraine of committing mass atrocities against civilians in Bucha. He commended the unit’s “skillful and resolute actions” in Ukraine as an example of “high professionalism,” the Times reported.

In the southern port city of Mariupol, Russia on Tuesday repeated its demand for the surrender of Ukraine’s remaining holdouts (The Washington Post). Fighting continued around a large steel factory in what could turn out to be one of the last stands of Ukrainian forces in the besieged city. Pyotr Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko, said Monday that some 2,000 civilians were trapped along with the soldiers inside the Azovstal steel plant, one of Europe’s largest metal factories. Ukrainian forces and civilians in Mariupol on Sunday refused Russian warnings to surrender.

The Hill: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that Russia had begun its battle for Donbas region. 

The Washington Post: Ukrainian military pilots are using a catchy online appeal aimed at the world’s wealthiest individuals: “Buy me a fighter jet.”

The Hill: Here are five deadly weapons Russia is using in Ukraine. 

© Associated Press / Philip Crowther | Destruction in Lviv on Monday.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CONGRESS: House Republicans on Monday threatened to upend the dynamics of the House writ large with a plan to implement term limits for committee leaders of both parties if the GOP retakes the lower chamber next year (The Hill). 

Traditionally, Republicans limit members of their conference to three consecutive terms atop any committee, a move implemented in 1994. However, Democrats have not implemented any limits, and such an action would have a major impact on the composition of the House for the foreseeable future. The proposed change would cap the terms atop a committee to three in the 118th Congress’s rules package.

Unsurprisingly, Democratic leaders panned the idea. However, their opposition by no means trickled down to rank-and-file members who itch for a chance to lead a key panel at some point and want new blood injected at the top levels of the House Democratic Caucus. 

“If [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)] was looking for a way to really stick it to Dem leadership, then this is a brilliant idea,” one House Democrat told the Morning Report.

Seven House Democrats who are expected to remain for the upcoming 118th Congress would be barred from serving as ranking member of their respective committee, as Punchbowl News points out: Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) on Financial Services, Bennie Thompson (Miss.) on Homeland Security, Frank Pallone (N.J.) on Energy and Commerce, Adam Smith (Wash.) on Armed Services, Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.) on Small Business, Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) on Judiciary and Richard Neal (Mass.) on Ways and Means.

As The Hill’s Mike Lillis writes, the debate highlights a recurring predicament for Democratic leaders, caught between the push and pull of those who want power and those who have it and do not want to relinquish it. 

The Associated Press: Congress seeks compromise to boost computer chip industry.

The Wall Street Journal: Small businesses object to rerouting of COVID-19 aid.

OPINION

Trump is gambling with his political future in Ohio and Pennsylvania, by Henry Olsen, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3jNsYT5 

Living with long-term high inflation feels like this, by Allison Schrager, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3JTKOOM 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets for a pro forma session on Thursday at 9 a.m. Votes are not scheduled until after April 26.

The Senate convenes for a pro forma session on Thursday at noon. Senators are in recess until Monday.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden at 9:45 a.m. will hold a secure video call with allies and partners to discuss Western support for Ukraine. The president will travel to Portsmouth, N.H., where he will speak at 2:45 p.m. about infrastructure improvements for ports and waterways with the state’s Port Authority as the backdrop. He will return to the White House this evening.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Panama City, where today and Wednesday he leads a U.S. delegation during a ministerial conference co-hosted with the government of Panama. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is also on the trip. The secretary plans to meet with Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo and Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes, as well as with civil society organizations.

First lady Jill Biden will deliver remarks at DC NewsBash at 8 p.m. in Washington to benefit breast cancer awareness (Georgetowner).

📺 Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv, on YouTube and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.

ELSEWHERE  

COURTS: The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a challenge to the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction, a provision that became law in 2017. The court’s move effectively brings to an end a legal challenge by a number of high-tax, Democratic-led states (The Hill). … Justices on Monday also turned back an appeal by Spire Inc., a St. Louis-based natural gas company, effectively leaving in place an appeals court decision to close the Spire STL pipeline that runs through parts of Illinois to carry natural gas to the St. Louis region. The court rejected the appeal without comment. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the pipeline in 2018, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled two years later that FERC did not adequately demonstrate a need for the project (The Associated Press). 

U.S. AND CHINA: The Biden administration is sending two top officials to the Solomon Islands following a visit last week by an Australian senator over concerns that China could establish a military presence in the South Pacific island nation. Later this week, Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator, and Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will lead a delegation of U.S. government officials to the Solomons, and will also visit Fiji and Papua New Guinea (The Associated Press). 

➤ ECONOMY: Build with American steel and iron: Biden on Monday said construction made possible by the infrastructure law that bears his signature will require that the material purchased — whether it’s for a bridge, a highway, a water pipe or broadband internet — be produced in the United States. Nonetheless, the rules can be waived in cases when there are not enough domestic producers or the materials cost too much. The administration’s overall goal is to issue fewer waivers over time as U.S. manufacturing capacity increases (The Associated Press). … Wall Street analysts predict that corporate profits will fall as higher inflation remains an economic headwind. Consumers are reacting to inflation pressures with purchasing behavior (Forbes).

© Associated Press / Jim Mone | Minnesota steel rods, 2019.

THE CLOSER

And finally … In bright Monday sunshine, the winners of the famed 126th Boston Marathon were Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir and Evans Chebet. Jepchirchir won the women’s division in 2:21:01 in a dramatic race that changed leads eight times in the final mile, while Chebet, who took the lead with about five miles remaining, captured the trophy in the men’s race in 2:06:51 (The Washington Post).

Jepchirchir’s time was the third fastest in Boston Marathon history. In the men’s pro division, Kenyan runners finished 1-2-3. 

© Associated Press / Winslow Townson | Boston Marathon winners Peres Jepchirchir (left) and Evans Chebet, Monday.


Morning Report journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver can be reached at asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. Send us a message and/or SUBSCRIBE!

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