The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden visits Asia amid challenges at home
President Biden is in South Korea at this hour and will be in Japan this weekend, eager to demonstrate U.S. leadership among allies, send an implicit message of strength to China and North Korea and strengthen economic ties that benefit U.S. consumers and businesses.
While he’s away, the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 responses, inflation, a key immigration deadline plus policy challenges triggered by states and domestic supply problems are unresolved and seemingly unyielding.
Let’s begin with the Asia trip: The Associated Press describes how the war in Eastern Europe has created a shared sense of urgency about China among major U.S. allies in the Pacific. Many have come to see the moment as their own existential crisis — one in which it’s important to show China it should not try to seize contested territory through military action.
■ The Associated Press: Biden in Asia: New friends, old tensions, storms at home.
■ The Hill: Five things to watch as the president visits Asia.
■ Paula Hancocks, CNN analysis: South Korea and Japan just don’t get along. That’s a problem for Biden.
In a tough midterm year and with a lot happening abroad and in Washington, the president is bringing experienced Pentagon spokesman John Kirby into the White House to strengthen communications, The Washington Post reports. Biden’s new press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, has been on the job less than a week. Kirby’s exact title and role are unclear; he’s expected to work closely with the National Security Council.
While Biden is away, Monday is the date the administration set to lift immigration policy known as Title 42. The government asked a federal judge to rule on a lawsuit filed by conservative states that want to keep the Trump-era policy in place, and a decision is pending. Activists on all sides of the debate appear to believe there’s a good chance that the judge, a Trump nominee, may rule in favor of the Republicans who sued, meaning Title 42 will remain in place as the busy summer months at the border arrive, according to Fox News.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who visited the U.S. southern border on Tuesday, said the administration was prepared for Title 42 to be lifted and for an influx of migrants moving through Mexico to try to cross into this country (The Associated Press).
Thousands have waited for months for an end to pandemic restrictions in hopes of entering the United States, a situation detailed by The New York Times. Regardless of what happens to Title 42 next week or in the weeks ahead, experts believe aspirations among migrants to reach the United States will not ebb. Climate, economic and political upheaval, crime, as well as fallout from the pandemic will nudge people to flee their home countries.
“Despite who is in charge and what policies are in place, there are global and regional forces that are going to lead to a continuation of migration,” said Eileen Díaz McConnell, professor of global migration at Arizona State University.
Senate Republicans won’t relent in their demand for a floor vote to oppose the administration’s planned removal of Title 42, a policy strategically tethered by conservatives to Democrats’ interest in funding another $10 billion for ongoing COVID-19 response. The additional pandemic resources, which the White House says are critical to supply more vaccines, testing and preparations for the next pandemic, are expected to remain in limbo, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports. Options: Democratic leaders could force their Senate colleagues to take a tough immigration vote, or shelve COVID-19 relief funding until after November’s elections.
Abortion: Vice President Harris on Thursday assailed a new Oklahoma law that bars nearly all abortions and will be effective immediately if signed by the governor (The New York Times). Meeting with abortion providers, the vice president called the legislation in Oklahoma and restrictive laws in other states “outrageous” (The Hill). The Supreme Court’s recently disclosed draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade “will have real and immediate effects on women around our country,” Harris said in a virtual event from the White House. “I am here today, joined by doctors, nurses and leading advocates, who are on the front lines against this war on women’s rights.”
Under the Oklahoma bill, those who could be punished include anyone who “performs or induces” an abortion; anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” (The Washington Post). The bill defines “fertilization” as the moment a sperm meets the egg. Early this month, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) said, “I want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country.”
Infant formula shortage: Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf demurred on Thursday under some tough House Appropriations subcommittee questioning about the months that passed before the government addressed reported contamination problems at an Abbott Nutrition infant formula plant in Michigan. Califf declined to explain what transpired before Abbott voluntarily closed its plant to address sanitation problems. The FDA is now working with the company to resume manufacturing, perhaps by next week, to address a critical U.S. shortage of baby formula in stores. “I know we have an Oversight hearing next week and we’ll be prepared to go into much more detail at that point. As I’ve said, we could do better than we did,” Califf said (Politico and The Hill).
The House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday approved a change dealing with infant formula as part of a federal low-income supplemental nutrition program known as Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The measure to help families buy scarce supplies of baby formula now heads to Biden’s desk for his signature (The Associated Press).
© Associated Press / Eric Gay| Infant formula in short supply in the U.S., May 13.
■ The New York Times: White House press secretary gets a new “flak jacket” to carry on an old tradition, this one a yellow women’s blazer.
■ Yahoo Finance: Student loans: Advocates sue the Biden administration over delays for defrauded students.
■ The Hill: The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) will forge ahead on antitrust with a new Democratic majority.
LEADING THE DAY
➤ UKRAINE CRISIS
Biden was exiting Washington on Thursday as the Senate surmounted hurdles to approve an additional $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine by a vote of 86-11 (the “no” votes came from Republicans). The House previously approved the additional Ukraine funding; the White House said Biden will sign the measure during his Asia trip. On Wednesday night, the Senate confirmed Bridget Brink to be U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. The United States is reopening its embassy in Kyiv (NBC News).
In the Rose Garden earlier in the day, the president threw U.S. support behind Finland and Sweden, whose leaders stood by his side following their historic applications this week to join the NATO alliance in a pointed rebuke of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson also met Thursday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the Capitol.
“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” the president added. “And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security” (The Hill).
The New York Times: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba during a televised telethon today criticized what he called a lack of support from NATO since the start of Russia’s invasion in February. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. He praised the European Union as capable of mustering a united front. Individual nations within NATO have helped Ukraine, he said, adding, “NATO as an institution has done nothing during this time.”
The New York Times: Russian officials appear to be laying the groundwork for annexing swaths of southeast Ukraine. They have already made changes in some areas, introducing the ruble currency, installing proxy politicians and cutting the population off from Ukrainian broadcasts. Russia says more than 1,700 Ukrainian fighters surrendered from Mariupol’s steel plant where they held out for weeks. The Kremlin has used Ukraine’s defeat in the southern port city for propaganda communications.
The Hill: The Kremlin is pushing back against energy sanctions imposed on energy imports from Russia, cutting off natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria as well as electricity to Finland.
© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday.
There was disarray throughout the House Democratic ranks on Thursday as lawmakers panned Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, because of his stated interest in challenging a fellow New York Democrat in a testy primary contest triggered by new Empire State congressional districts that are set to be approved today.
The new maps have complicated matters for New York Democrats. Maloney announced he will seek reelection in the 17th District where he resides instead of in the 18th District, which he currently represents. The 17th District is represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. His district encompasses 71 percent of Jones’s current territory. Adding to the troubles, Jones’s home is in the new 16th District, which Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) currently represents.
Maloney’s move has angered a number of Democrats who argue that he should run in the 18th District, which encompasses 71 percent of his current district. That district backed Biden in 2020 by 8 percentage points compared with the 17th District, which Biden won by 10 percentage points (Politico).
“He’s the chair of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. It’s his responsibility to make sure Democrats stay in the majority. To not run in the 18th is to directly impact our ability to maintain the majority,” Bowman told The New York Times. “You’ve got one job to do and you’re literally not doing that job.”
© Associated Press / Manuel Balce Ceneta | Rep. Sean. Patrick Maloney, 2019.
Adding to the drama, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) became the first lawmaker to call for Maloney to step down from his post atop the DCCC if he primaries Jones, saying that his decision to run in the 17th District is “terrible” and “hypocritical,” adding that “creates a conflict of interest” (Politico).
It remains unclear where Jones will run.
Amid all the Maloney criticism, there was one important backer: Pelosi. The Democratic leader said during her weekly press conference that the House Democratic Caucus is “very proud” of Maloney’s work (The Hill).
■ The New York Times: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) fights New York district maps: “Enough to make Jim Crow blush.”
■ New York Post: GOP primary turnout suggests red wave in November midterms.
In Pennsylvania, the Senate Republican primary fight remains unresolved, as Mehmet Oz continues to hold a razor-thin lead over David McCormick. As of this morning Oz leads by 1,127 votes, a 0.1 percent margin.
Both camps remained bullish that they would emerge victorious as the ballot counting continues across the state (Washington Examiner). The Pennsylvania Department of State announced on Thursday that there are roughly 8,700 GOP mail-in and absentee ballots left to count. Allegheny County is set to continue counting 1,900 provisional ballots and 350 military ballots later today.
Officials need to complete counting by Tuesday, when the election must be made official. If the margin of victory is within 0.5 percent, there will be an automatic recount.
■ Politico: Oz, McCormick unleash army of lawyers in Senate race.
■ The New York Times: A Pennsylvania election storm brews again, this time in a GOP primary.
■ Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump faces critical popularity test in Georgia.
■ Politico: Democrats confront North Carolina blues.
■ Reid Wilson, The Hill: Democrats spend big in GOP governor primaries.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Former Attorney General Bill Barr is likely to appear before the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and take part in a formal transcribed interview, according to ABC News.
According to Axios, which first reported Barr’s potential involvement, the former AG is likely to cooperate with the probe, although the panel has yet to decide whether to invite him to take part in public hearings next month.
The committee has called on another House Republican to voluntarily appear. The panel on Thursday asked Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) to speak with investigators after saying he led a tour through the building the day before the deadly riot.
“Based on our review of evidence in the Select Committee’s possession, we believe you have information regarding a tour you led through parts of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021,” the panel wrote in the letter to Loudermilk.
Loudermilk fired back at the panel hours later, noting that he gave a small tour to a family with young children, adding that the group “never entered the Capitol building.”
“The Select Committee is once again pushing a verifiably false narrative that Republicans conducted ‘reconnaissance tours’ on January 5th. The facts speak for themselves; no place that the family went on the 5th was breached on the 6th, the family did not enter the Capitol grounds on the 6th, and no one in that family has been investigated or charged in connection to January 6th,” Loudermilk and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking member of the House Committee on Administration, said in a statement. “We call on Capitol Police to release the tapes.”
Loudermilk is the seventh House Republican the panel has called for testimony, including five who have been subpoenaed (The Hill).
■ The Hill: House passes gasoline price-gouging bill.
■ Emily Brooks, The Hill: GOP frustration builds with Freedom Caucus floor tactics.
■ The Hill: Flood insurance bill seeks to curb rising tide of bankruptcies.
■ Why is Congress broken? Because the other branches are doing its job, by Sarah Isgur, opinion contributor, Politico Magazine. https://politi.co/3FYWBez
■ How the West is strangling Putin’s economy Russia, by Paul Krugman, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3MzmV1b
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9:30 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The Senate convenes on Monday at 1:45 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president today is in South Korea, and also plans to visit Japan during his first trip to Asia as president. He plans to unveil an economic initiative for the Indo-Pacific (South China Morning Post). Biden meets Friday in Pyeongtaek with newly elected President Yoon Suk Yeol and they will speak at a campus of Samsung Electronics, a model for a new Samsung plant being built in Taylor, Texas. Biden will remain overnight in Seoul.
The vice president will visit Falls Church, Va., to discuss clean-energy school buses as part of the bipartisan federal infrastructure law at 3:40 p.m. She will be accompanied by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan. She will speak at 6:15 p.m. at an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Victory Power Fund event. … On Saturday, the vice president will officiate at a wedding of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and groom Manny Cordova at her official Washington residence, known as the Naval Observatory (The Associated Press).
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen today is in Bonn, Germany, to participate in the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors meeting.
First lady Jill Biden departs Quito, Ecuador, for Panama, where she will meet at the presidential palace with her counterpart, Yazmin Colón de Cortizo, in Panama City. The first ladies will visit a local school. Biden will meet with U.S. Embassy staff this evening at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City. Her trip continues in Costa Rica during the weekend.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff at 1 p.m. ET will address the 21st Annual Women’s Power Lunch in Chicago.
Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday gave the official OK on a recommendation to allow COVID-19 vaccine boosters for children between aged 5 and 11. Children will now be able to get a third shot at least five months after the first round of vaccination against the virus. Earlier in the day, a CDC advisory committee voted in favor of the booster (The Hill).
The New York Times: Why New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) is rejecting mask mandates as COVID-19 cases rise.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,001,606. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 280, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
➤ WINGS & WHEELS
An unidentified private collector on May 5 snapped up one of two 1955 Mercedes prototypes of an auto with gullwing doors, a 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe, for the equivalent of $143 million at auction in Stuttgart. Mercedes-Benz said the proceeds would be used to launch a fund providing scholarships for young people to learn about and research environmental science and decarbonization (The Associated Press). CNBC has an image HERE.
© Associated Press / Nick Ut | George W. Bush was prematurely declared the winner over Vice President Al Gore in 2000 as Florida ballots were being counted, Nov. 8, 2000.
And finally … 👏👏👏 Friday can mean only one thing: an opportunity for our Morning Report quizzers to give themselves a big pat on the back for knowing election recount trivia in honor of the almost-certain-to-happen Pennsylvania Senate GOP recount.
Here is everyone who scored 4/4 this week: Mary Anne McEnery, Ki Harvey, Richard Baznik, Pam Manges, Patrick Kavanagh, Harry Strulovici, Len Jones, Robert Bradley, Amanda Fisher, Stan Wasser, Steve James, John Donato, Luther Berg and Randall Patrick.
They knew that the only sitting U.S. senator to win a seat following a general election recount was Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
White House chief of staff Ron Klainserved as general counsel for then-Vice President Al Gore’s recount committee during the 2000 Florida recount effort.
Democrat Al Franken defeated Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) by 312 votes in their 2008 Senate contest after a recount.
Finally, Laura Dern earned a Golden Globe win for her performance as former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in “Recount,” the HBO film about the 2000 Florida recount.
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