The Hill’s Morning Report — COVID-19 sidelines Harris, scraps Senate votes
COVID-19 reared its head in Washington again on Tuesday as Vice President Harris and two Senate Democrats tested positive for the virus, upending the upper chamber’s plans for the week as case totals tick upward nationwide.
A Harris spokeswoman announced that the vice president tested positive for the virus on Tuesday morning, adding that she is not experiencing symptoms and will continue to work from her residence at the Naval Observatory. Harris, now the senior-most U.S. official to test positive for the coronavirus, had been scheduled to receive the President’s Daily Brief with President Biden on Tuesday morning, but she did not attend (The Hill).
Notably, Harris is not considered a close contact of Biden given that she was in Los Angeles and San Francisco for much of the past week before returning to Washington on Monday. The last time the two saw each other was the Easter Egg Roll on April 18 (Politico).
COVID-19 was also a problem on Capitol Hill as Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tested positive for the virus. Given the 50-50 nature of the Senate, the absence of two Democratic lawmakers forced Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to push back floor votes on several Biden nominations.
Wyden said his positive COVID-19 result came “as part of routine testing.” Murphy announced around lunchtime that he experienced “mild symptoms overnight” and tested positive for the virus Tuesday morning.
“We’ve done the contact tracing and let people know. It’s a bummer, but I’m sure if I wasn’t fully vaccinated I would be feeling a lot worse. So remember to get your booster!” Murphy tweeted.
The nomination of Lisa Cook to sit on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors and Alvaro Bedoya, a privacy expert, to join the Federal Trade Commission have been put on ice for the time being. However, as The Hill’s Alexander Bolton details, Republicans are objecting to postponing the Cook vote, meaning her nomination will come to the floor and is expected to fail. Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, says he believes Cook is not sufficiently committed to fighting inflation.
According to one Senate Democratic aide, the majority party is pushing to delay a vote on Bedoya’s nomination until Wyden and Murphy return. However, if the GOP objects, his nomination could also fail on the floor. Schumer has already filed a cloture motion on the Bedoya nomination.
In the meantime, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed Lael Brainard to serve as vice chairwoman of the Fed, cementing her spot as the deputy to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. She was confirmed by a 52-43 margin, including seven Republicans (CNBC). Brainard has served on the Federal Reserve board of governors since 2014.
Elsewhere on the virus front, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday estimated that 58 percent of people in the U.S. currently have antibodies from a previous COVID-19 infection. The agency added that the total is even higher among children, owing to how widespread cases were over the winter due to the omicron variant (CNBC).
The CDC said that those with COVID-19 antibodies (excluding from vaccination) increased from 34 percent in December to roughly 58 percent in February. Among children, that total rose from 45 percent to about 75 percent over the same period of time.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 991,959. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 330, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
■ The Associated Press: What do we know about the new omicron mutant?
■ The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer asks FDA to authorize COVID-19 booster for 5- to 11-year-olds.
■ The New York Times: Vaccines for young children are being delayed by incomplete data, a top FDA official suggests.
■ The Associated Press: Shanghai seeks “societal zero COVID” with rounds of testing.
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LEADING THE DAY
Senate Republicans are issuing a warning to Democrats: Do not tie Ukraine aid to any other package, including the $10 billion the Biden administration is seeking in COVID-19 relief, saying that they will not be on board if they do.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, Schumer has said he wants to package the Ukraine assistance with a separate $5 billion in global COVID-19 vaccinations. However, Republicans are refusing to go along as they continue their battle over the future of the Title 42 policy that blocks migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of COVID-19 restrictions.
“I hope the Democrats will separate those two. I don’t think they ought to try and conflate the COVID money and the … Ukraine money,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “In order to get the 60 votes they need, I think the strategy for the Democrats should be to split them. … If they want to get 10 Republicans, the best way to do that is to separate them.”
Another item that is expected to be attached to the Ukraine bill is a global food aid request that the Biden administration is pushing based on rising concerns that the Ukraine invasion by Russia is creating a hunger crisis (Bloomberg News)
Elsewhere at the Capitol, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on Tuesday that any new Democratic effort to pass a budget reconciliation package should squarely focus on combating inflation and reducing the deficit.
Manchin, who single-handedly killed the administration’s Build Back Better proposal in December, outlined his idea of what a future bill could look like to a group of reporters following his inflation-focused meeting with Schumer.
“Reconciliation to me is about getting inflation under control, paying down this debt, getting a handle on what’s going on,” Manchin said, adding that would involve making changes to the tax code.
© Associated Press / Jacquelyn Martin | Sens. Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski in March.
The West Virginia centrist said that such as increasing the corporate rate to 25 percent, putting capital gains at 28 percent, getting rid of “loopholes” and “making sure everyone pays their fair share” could do the trick for him.
But that kind of bill can’t pass because all Republican lawmakers oppose it and so does Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) (The Hill).
Memorial Day is considered a key deadline for Democrats to make progress in reviving reconciliation talks that have been virtually dormant since Manchin came out against the multi-trillion-dollar proposal last year (The Hill).
Manchin’s comments also come as he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) launched a separate group in an effort to score a deal on energy and climate change legislation that could garner 60 votes instead of the Democratic-only path of reconciliation. That group met on Monday night (Axios).
Across the aisle, it was a banner day for Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), even by his standards. He was caught by the Transportation Security Administration at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport with a loaded gun on his person.
The incident marked the second time Cawthorn tried to fly while carrying. In February 2021, TSA found a 9 mm handgun in his carry-on bag at the Asheville Regional Airport (ABC News).
Cawthorn on Tuesday was also accused of violating federal insider trading laws. Multiple watchdog groups told the Washington Examiner that Cawthorn may have violated the law when his Instagram account voiced support for what turned out to be an alleged pump-and-dump cryptocurrency scheme. Cawthorn reportedly posed at a party with James Koutoulas, a hedge fund manager and head of the Let’s Go Brandon cryptocurrency.
“LGB legends. … Tomorrow we go to the moon!” Cawthorn, a known cryptocurrency owner, posted. One day later, the coin set saw its value increase by 75 percent.
The two developments came only days after Politico reported that Cawthorn was pictured at a party in lingerie. Cawthorn is currently facing an eight-way primary on May 17.
The New York Times: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) feared GOP lawmakers put “people in jeopardy” after Jan. 6.
The Washington Post: Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), former House Freedom Caucus leader, says McCarthy’s comments on Trump, Jan. 6 are ‘huge trust issue.”
The Hill: House panel to explore impeachment, judicial ethics in wake of Ginni Thomas texts.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➤ UKRAINE CRISIS
Russia’s war against Ukraine — already long, bloody and apocalyptic — is expanding. Here are the latest indicators:
To punish Poland and Bulgaria for supporting Ukraine and NATO, Russia said it will cut off natural gas supplied to both countries as of today, flipping the sanctions script to turn energy into its own weapon (Bloomberg News). Russia’s state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, says it wants payment in rubles (The Washington Post). In response, Ukraine accused Russia of blackmail (Reuters).
Moldova is a new worry. Ukraine accused Moscow on Tuesday of trying to drag the independent nation’s breakaway region of Transnistria into its war on Kyiv after authorities in the Moscow-backed region said they had been targeted by a series of attacks (Reuters). A pair of antennas broadcasting Russian radio in the pro-Moscow region were blown up and Ukraine blamed Russia for what it described as a provocation (Bloomberg News and CNN).
Western allies are stepping up arms supplies to Ukraine amid renewed references by Russian officials to their country’s nuclear capabilities. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who conferred with international counterparts at a meeting in Germany about supplying more weapons to Ukraine, said he “does not” believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will result in a nuclear war despite remarks from Russia’s foreign minister that the threat of nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated” (Fox News interview). Germany, once wary of supplying offensive weapons to Ukraine, has changed its stance (The Wall Street Journal).
Russia is preparing for what could be significant cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in countries that have sanctioned Russia or otherwise supported Ukraine, according to intelligence experts in the United States, the United Kingdom and the rest of what’s known as the Five Eyes nations. These countries recently issued a joint cybersecurity advisory pointing to Moscow’s preparations and ambitions (CyberWire). On Wednesday, the State Department offered a reward of up to $10 million to those who can help the U.S. identify or locate “any person, who while acting at the direction or under the control of a foreign government, participates in malicious cyber activities against U.S. critical infrastructure.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators on Tuesday on Capitol Hill that there has been no credible indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking for a diplomatic off-ramp to war. In Moscow on Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said after meeting with Putin that Russia agreed in principle to evacuations from a steel plant in Mariupol in which Ukrainian forces and civilians have been pinned down by Russian troops for days (The Hill and The Associated Press). Guterres indicated Russia’s war was not near an end because of fundamental differences over “what is happening in Ukraine.” Guterres will meet today in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
© Associated Press / Emilio Morenatti | Artist Roberto Marquez, atop a bombed bridge in Irpin, Ukraine, paints a version of Pablo Picasso’s anti-war painting, Guernica.
Biden and Democrats unabashedly champion LGBTQ issues and rights. Republicans turn that advocacy against the majority party to fire up the conservative base. The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant report that while Democrats assail the GOP “culture wars” as not representative of American values or of majority opinion in the United States, Republicans in red states are embracing laws they describe as shields for parental rights when it comes to students, schools, and discussions with children about gender and sexual orientation. Democrats are trying to figure out whether (and how) to address the culture wars and anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric.
Biden’s net job approval rating has dropped by more than 20 points over the past year in all of the states hosting hotly contested Senate races or competitive House races this fall that are also set to feature prominently in 2024, according to a Morning Consult poll released on Tuesday. Biden has net positive approval ratings in just 10 states and Washington, D.C. In some of those states, including his home state of Delaware, he’s barely above water.
‘Tis the season: The Hill’s Max Greenwood dissects seven primaries to watch next month, including Georgia’s GOP gubernatorial primary, North Carolina’s GOP Senate primary, Ohio’s GOP Senate primary, Pennsylvania’s GOP and Democratic Senate primaries, Alabama’s GOP Senate primary, and the Texas GOP runoff for attorney general.
The Hill: Conservative governors have embarked on their own era of big government, applying their executive edicts to everything from medical care to speech rights.
■ China’s economic slowdown is everyone’s problem, by Mark Gongloff, editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/38onJH2
■ Democrats need to stand up for themselves, by Molly Jong-Fast, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3ENK90A
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 2 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Sherilyn Peace Garnett to be a U.S. district court judge for the Central District of California.
The president receives the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden is scheduled to attend the funeral of Madeleine Albright, former secretary of State, at Washington National Cathedral at 11 a.m. The president and first lady Jill Biden are to host Teachers of the Year from states and territories in the East Room at 4 p.m., accompanied by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
The vice president this weekis in isolation at her official Naval Observatory residence in Washington after testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 3 p.m.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un held a massive military parade, flaunting an ICBM missile while vowing on Monday to ramp up his country’s development of nuclear arms (CNN). … Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plans to visit Saudi Arabia this week with the intention of trying to end a long-running rift over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 killing inside the Saudi Consulate located in Istanbul (Middle East Eye). … A court in Myanmar sentenced Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s former leader, to five years in prison for alleged corruption on Wednesday. Following a takeover by the army last year, the military-controlled nation has sought to sideline Myanmar’s most prominent political leader. Suu Kyi has denied allegations that she accepted gold and hundreds of thousands of dollars as part of a political bribe (The Associated Press).
U.S. oil production is on the rise — but the change may not have the near-term impact on gasoline prices that lawmakers in both parties had hoped, reports The Hill’s Rachel Frazin. … Did the U.S. fiscal response to the coronavirus crisis trade one set of woes for another, namely buoy households and businesses but contribute to a labor shortage and high inflation? Economists examining the data and U.S. responses to the pandemic abroad are posing that question. “I’m worried that we traded a temporary growth gain for permanently higher inflation,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and a former top economic adviser to former President Obama. His concern, he said, is that “inflation could stay higher, or the Fed could control it by lowering output in the future” (The New York Times). … Delta Air Lines is set to become the first U.S. airline to pay flight attendants beyond when the airplane doors close, compensating them for the time they work as passengers are boarding, the company announced on Tuesday. Delta revealed that the update will take place in June and will be on top of pay raises for employees (The Associated Press).
© Associated Press / Nam Y. Huh |Schaumburg, Ill., restaurant this month.
➤ REDRESSING SLAVERY
Harvard University, founded in 1636, announced on Tuesday it will spend $100 million to study and redress its ties to slavery, joining other universities confronting their complicity with the institution of slavery. Harvard’s wealth gives it outsize influence and resources to dedicate to the cause. The university’s endowment soared to $53 billion in 2021, up 27 percent from the year before, and it had a $283 million operating surplus despite the pandemic (The New York Times).
And finally … 🏄 Will visitors flock to faux surf in the parched California desert? (You can guess the answer if you’ve seen Las Vegas or Dubai.)
In a classic debate pitting potential tourism dollars against scarce water resources and the environment, at least four large surf lagoons are proposed for the desert region around Palm Springs, hours away from any natural waves. Some environmentalists and residents say it isn’t water-wise to build large resorts in one of the driest spots in California during one of its driest periods in recent memory. Proponents argue the endless summer waves will boost tourism, ramp up recreation and use less water than golf courses (The Associated Press).
© Associated Press / REM Public Relations via AP |Proposed Coral Mountain Resort envisioned in the Palm Springs, Calif., desert.
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