The Hill’s Morning Report — Biden to GOP: ‘Let’s finish the job’
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President Biden on Tuesday night said the next two years under his leadership, and by implication a second term, can deliver on big promises, bold ideas and a better world.
During a lively 73 minutes in the Capitol, Biden credited bipartisan problem-solving for economic strides and told Americans that other benefits — lower costs for insulin under Medicare and investments in clean energy, for instance — happened on his watch “when Democrats had to go it alone.”
Appearing relaxed and in command, the president’s refrain was “let’s finish the job.” In hushed tones speaking directly into the camera, Biden allied himself with working families who worry about medical bills, teachers who deserve raises, seniors who are trying to afford home health services, and “Black and brown families” who worry about losing their children “at the hands of the law.”
The foes he described included “Big Pharma,” “Big Oil,” the “Big Lie” of the 2020 election, big corporations that pay no taxes, and big banks that “play us for suckers” with exorbitant fees.
The president began the evening by politely recognizing Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and referring to “my Republican friends.” Minutes later he asserted that “some” in the other party “want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” assuring Americans, “I won’t let that happen.”
McCarthy, seated behind the president, shook his head in disagreement, saying, “Come on,” amid a crescendo of heckling from GOP lawmakers, which forced Biden to pause. Seated in the House chamber, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) repeatedly yelled “liar.”
▪ SF Gate: McCarthy shushed Greene.
▪ Politico: The state of Biden’s union with a GOP Congress: It’s tense.
The president responded to the rebukes, repeating in a mild tone that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are “being proposed by some of you.” He seized on Republican denials he heard in the chamber to cast the reactions as bipartisan commitments, negotiated live in front of millions of viewers.
“So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now, right? Biden said. “All right. We got unanimity.”
The president will visit a union training center in DeForest, Wis., today to reinforce the economic themes of his speech. He’ll be in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday to describe Democrats’ defenses of Social Security and Medicare.
▪ Roll Call: Biden attracts GOP jeers over debt limit while pushing unity.
▪ CNN: Transcript of the president’s speech, annotated.
In a speech heavy on explanations about the innards of new laws that polls suggest most Americans don’t fully understand, the president offered few new proposals and bookended his talk of collaboration between “Democrats and Republicans” with veto threats. House GOP proposals, in fact, are unlikely to reach his desk under the Democrat-controlled Senate. Nevertheless, Biden vowed to block any efforts by Republicans to “raise the costs of prescription drugs” or pass a national abortion ban.
Biden has been engaged for weeks in a simmering faceoff with McCarthy and House conservatives over federal spending and the debt ceiling. While asserting that inflation is easing and that Republicans have been hypocritical about this year’s discomfort with debt, he pledged to “sit down together” to discuss GOP ideas to cut spending after he sends his budget blueprint to Congress on March 9.
McCarthy stood and applauded the president’s pledge to resume discussions the two began this month in the Oval Office.
▪ The Hill: Biden, GOP battle at raucous State of the Union.
▪ The Hill’s Niall Stanage: Five big takeaways from the State of the Union speech.
▪ Politico: The debt moment when Biden’s State of the Union turned spicy.
Biden boasted that his budget lowers the federal deficit by $2 trillion over a decade, would not raise taxes on individuals earning less than $400,000 per year and would extend the Medicare Trust Fund “by at least two decades.”
Americans believe federal spending cuts and the partisan wrangling over the nation’s debt ceiling should be separate debates in Washington, as Biden argues. But Republican lawmakers are lining up behind linking the two for potential leverage. Public disapproval of the GOP’s strategy poses a significant challenge for McCarthy and McConnell, explains The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday repeated his warning that the central bank cannot rescue Congress from its legislative need to raise the $31.4 trillion debt limit, now nearly depleted under law, to pay bills and stave off potential default. “This really can only end one way, and that is with Congress raising the debt ceiling in a timely fashion,” he said.
▪ The Hill: Fact-checking Biden’s claims on the economy in the State of the Union.
▪ Vox: Five winners and two losers from Biden’s 2023 State of the Union.
▪ Axios: Biden urges Congress to “do something” on police reform.
▪ The Washington Post: Three takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union address.
Biden made brief mentions of foreign affairs, turning to an unsettled world late in his remarks.
The president referred only indirectly to the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over the coast of South Carolina over the weekend, saying “if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”
Biden during his speech noted that his last State of the Union address occurred days after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, which presented a “test for the ages” for the U.S. and the world.
“Would we stand for the defense of democracy?” Biden asked. “Yes, we would. And yes, we did. Together, we did what America always does at our best. We led. We united NATO, we built a global coalition. We stood against Putin’s aggression. We stood with the Ukrainian people.”
Addressing Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, a guest in the first lady’s box who put her hand over her heart, Biden pledged to stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes.”The White House is expected to announce more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that will likely include longer-range rockets as well as other munitions and weapons (Reuters).
▪ The Hill: Congress unites behind Ukraine as Biden calls war “test for the ages.”
▪ The New York Times: For a president who spends his days confronting Russia and China, a domestic focus.
▪ The Hill: State of the Union shouting: What lawmakers yelled out.
▪ The Hill: U2’s Bono, founder of the ONE campaign, joined a rich tradition on Tuesday night as one of the president’s State of the Union guests to mark 20 years and 25 million lives saved thanks to PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, established under former President George W. Bush.
▪ Bloomberg Law: Retired Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy attended the State of the Union speech (and chatted amiably with Biden afterward).
▪ The Hill: What messages are Congress members sending with their buttons?
▪ Reuters: The Biden economy: waning inflation, record jobs, lingering uncertainty.
▪ The Hill: In order for the Fed to achieve its goal of “price stability” at 2 percent inflation, continued Fed interest rate hikes are likely through this year and into 2024, Powell said.
▪ Axios: Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for a “new generation of Republican leadership” during the GOP response to Biden’s speech.
▪ The Hill: Former President Trump tears into Biden in pre-taped State of the Union response.
LEADING THE DAY
➤ MORE POLITICS
New Hampshire’s nickname is the Granite State, and not just because of its quarries. Democrats in the state are so displeased with the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) decision last week to move the state’s traditional first-in-the-nation primary behind South Carolina’s — and schedule it on the same day as Nevada’s primary on Feb. 3 — that mutiny looms.
The state’s Democrats, citing a New Hampshire law, say they will continue to go first despite Biden’s view (and the DNC’s vote) that South Carolina is a more representative starting point for Democratic primary candidates, despite South Carolina’s Republican leanings and the fact that the state has rarely been predictive of eventual Democratic presidential nominees, reports The Hill’s Julia Manchester. The risks: Some non-New Hampshire Democratic party stalwarts, otherwise eager to display party unity to contrast with the GOP heading into 2024, have called for penalties if the Granite State flouts the new primary calendar.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the coming weeks will hold events in Iowa and his home state as part of a listening tour that is expected to springboard him into the 2024 Republican presidential primary, making him the first senator to seek the presidency this cycle from either party.
There’s also a chance he could be the last during this cycle, The Hill’s Al Weaver reports. Over decades, the Senate has nurtured many who harbored presidential aspirations. But in contemporary politics, just two men succeeded in making the direct leap from the upper chamber to the Oval Office: former Sens. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Scott’s early status as the lone senator in 2024 who may run is a measure of the upcoming presidential contest and Trump’s candidacy. Scott is the only Republican senator who is Black and he could also gain traction as a vice presidential pick.
“There’s a lane out there, and it’ll start probably getting occupied more as time goes on,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told The Hill, acknowledging that the power dynamic in the Republican Party is forcing senators who would otherwise dive into the presidential waters to recalibrate. “With Trump in, that affects, probably, some folks’ decisions.”
🍊Tampa Bay Times: Disney’s Reedy Creek special taxing district in central Florida would be renamed within two years and get a new board of directors selected by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as part of a legislative change pending in a special spring session called by the governor. The legislation is the latest twist in DeSantis’s clash with The Walt Disney Co. after the company opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation last year, called the “don’t say gay” bill by critics. Initially, the governor, who is buffing up his conservative bona fides for an expected 2024 presidential bid, had wanted to dissolve the board, according to the Times.
▪ The Hill: Democratic centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is weighing a White House bid in 2024 as a third-party candidate. “I don’t like the direction we’re going,” he said Tuesday.
▪ The Hill: Trump is upset. He ripped the conservative Club for Growth on Tuesday after he was not invited to its annual donor retreat. The former president also groused that the group initially opposed his candidacy in 2016.
➤ JOBS & ECONOMY
When a president’s Labor secretary elects to leave for a new job in professional sports (The Boston Globe), it says something about Bostonians’ love of hockey (and compensation reported to be in the neighborhood of $3 million a year). Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a former mayor of Beantown, will soon depart Biden’s Cabinet to become executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, news first reported last week by TSN’s Hockey Insider. Walsh introduced himself to the union’s search committee last week via Zoom while still serving in the Cabinet (Daily Faceoff). It’s an unusual sequence for a top federal official while he’s still employed by the taxpayers.
Walsh was Tuesday night’s “designated survivor,” the Cabinet member not in attendance for the president’s speech. It’s a holdover tradition that began in the 1950s (CNN).
And speaking of Zoom, despite current data indicating a strong U.S. labor market, headline-leading layoffs in the tech sector continue. Zoom, which experienced a huge boost during the pandemic lockdown, announced on Tuesday that it plans to jettison 1,300 employees, or about 15 percent of its workforce (CNBC).
USA Today, explaining why tech layoffs might not be as dire as they look, reports that 297 tech companies have laid off nearly 95,000 workers since the year began, according to data compiled by Layoffs.fyi, a website that’s been tracking tech layoffs since March 2020. If that rate continues, the industry could cut more than 900,000 jobs in 2023. That’s nearly six times the total for the industry in 2022, according to the site.
Dell Technologies announced 6,650 layoffs on Monday, or 5 percent of a 133,000-employee workforce, in a memo to employees filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission titled “Preparing for the Road Ahead” (CRN TV).
Tech hiring trends are shifting geographically — just ask Washington, D.C., and New York City. Those metro areas now have more job openings for software developers than do California markets. Nontechnology companies are loading up on engineering talent while startups and tech behemoths cut back (The Wall Street Journal). Here’s a Journal graphic published last month illustrating the downshifting in tech.
If you’ve lost track of major tech behemoths stampeding to purge employees, Forbes rounded up the publicly disclosed reasoning (plus analyses from independent experts) for recent announcements by Meta, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce, Spotify and Coinbase, to name a few.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Rescue teams in Turkey and Syria are racing to save people still trapped in the rubble amid freezing temperatures after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ripped through the region in the early morning hours on Monday, killing more than 9,600. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces Tuesday as residents in some cities dug for loved ones with their bare hands. In neighboring Syria, the disaster is compounding an already dire humanitarian crisis made worse by more than a decade of sanctions and war (The Washington Post, Al Jazeera and Bloomberg News). Many of the nearly 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey live in areas devastated by the quake (CBS News).
▪ The Washington Post: See the earthquake’s total devastation through before and after images.
▪ The New York Times: How Turkey’s Anatolian fault system causes devastating earthquakes.
▪ Slate: The grim reality about saving people trapped by an earthquake.
▪ The Washington Post: Want to donate to help earthquake victims? Here’s what to know.
Ukraine will join dozens of countries in sending aid to fellow NATO member Turkey in the aftermath of the deadly earthquakes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed off on an executive order ordering humanitarian assistance to be sent on Tuesday “to help overcome the consequences of the emergency situation” (The Wall Street Journal).
The Department of Defense on Monday revealed the size of the suspected Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. shot down over the Atlantic Ocean this weekend — and it turns out it was bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The balloon is believed to have been up to 200 feet tall, officials said, and was carrying surveillance equipment the size of two to three school buses (CBS News). The U.S. intelligence community, meanwhile, has linked the balloon to a vast surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army, and U.S. officials have begun to brief allies and partners who have been similarly targeted.
The surveillance balloon effort, which has operated for several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, has collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest — including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines (The Washington Post).
▪ The Hill: Spy balloon offers a worrying trial run for a bigger U.S.-China crisis.
▪ CNN: “Total miscalculation”: China goes into crisis management mode on balloon fallout.
▪ CNBC: New photos show the Navy recovering a downed Chinese spy balloon off the U.S. coast.
▪ Axios: The Chinese spy balloon drama from inside China.
Zelensky will make a surprise visit to London today, officials said, at a time when Kyiv is urging the West to send more weapons and military support to counter Russian advances. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said Zelenskiy would visit troops training in Britain and address the British parliament (CNN and Reuters).
“President Zelensky’s visit to the U.K. is a testament to his country’s courage, determination and fight, and a testament to the unbreakable friendship between our two countries,” Sunak said.
Meanwhile, Tanks are arriving in Ukraine ahead of a predicted surge in attacks from Russia. The first of the Leopard 2 tanks Canada is donating to Ukrainian forces arrived in Poland late last week, which Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand announced in a Sunday tweet, accompanied by a photo of a tank rolling out of the belly of a plane (CTV News).
“Alongside our allies, we’ll soon be training the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the use of this equipment,” she said.
Ukraine is set to receive at least 100 restored Leopard 1 tanks from industry stocks using pooled funds from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, according to a joint statement published on Tuesday. The countries said Ukraine would receive the tanks as well as training, logistical support, spare parts and an ammunition package. Dutch Defense Minister Kasja Ollongren said despite being an older model, the Leopard 1 was “definitely still suitable” for combat use (Reuters).
“It’s really a tested tank,” she said on Dutch television. “They’re being fixed up and made battle-ready, so they will definitely be useful for the Ukrainians, and also better than a number of Russian tanks.”
German arms maker Rheinmetall, meanwhile, expects to supply 20 to 25 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine this year, CEO Armin Papperger said Tuesday (Yahoo Finance).
▪ Time: Why Russia is so determined to capture Bakhmut.
▪ Forbes: A brigade of Ukrainian moms, dads, bloggers and retirees is resisting Russia’s human wave attacks in Bakhmut.
▪ CNBC: Biden expected to visit Poland near the end of this month; Moscow seen moving troops into east Ukraine ahead of expected offensive.
Coal power plants are a major contributor to climate disruption — but current policies give just a 1 in 20 chance of phasing them out by 2050. Growing calls for an end to the use of coal — and widespread global agreements to stop burning the fuel for electricity — won’t be enough to keep the world from burning coal through the midcentury, according to a study in Nature Climate Change. As The Hill’s Saul Elbein reports, doing so will require more hands-on regulation and policies, the scientists found. The study sheds light on why exiting coal — an agreed-upon goal of the international community since the 2021 United Nations climate change conference — is such a heavy lift.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) he shouldn’t have attended the State of the Union address, much less positioned himself near the center of the House aisle to shake hands with the president. Romney, who appeared to have a heated encounter with the disgraced freshman lawmaker as he walked down the aisle to take his seat, told reporters “he’s a sick puppy. He shouldn’t have been there” (The Hill).
“I don’t think he ought to be in Congress and he certainly shouldn’t be in the aisle trying to shake the hand of the president of the United States and dignitaries coming in,” he continued. “It’s an embarrassment.”
NBC News: Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) after the State of the Union: Santos showing up was “questionable.”
Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee traded barbs Tuesday at a hearing over the Biden administration’s policies at the southern border, as Democrats accused their Republican colleagues of fueling inflammatory rhetoric against migrants. Two U.S. Border Patrol chiefs from sectors in Texas and Arizona testified, the second House hearing on the border this month.
Comer, the chairman of the committee, said the aim of the hearing was “to gather facts about the border crisis from career law enforcement officials.” But congressional Democrats on the committee argued again that the new GOP House majority held the hearing as a political opportunity to hammer the administration on high migration levels (Roll Call).
▪ The Hill: Partisan rift widens on immigration policy, as seen in two House hearings.
▪ CNN: White House looks to undercut GOP arguments ahead of border security hearing.
▪ The New York Times: Caught in the GOP’s crosshairs, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faces a political showdown over the border crisis.
🛬 Congress is digging into the recent air travel mess following high-profile meltdowns from the Federal Aviation Administration and Southwest Airlines, writes The Hill’s Karl Evers-Hillstrom. Lawmakers on Tuesday held their first hearing on aviation safety since last month’s FAA system outage that forced the U.S. to ground all flights for the first time in decades. The hearing kicks off a series of investigations into recent disruptions as the FAA seeks a five-year funding package from Congress this year.
“Our aviation system is clearly in need of some urgent attention,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
▪ The Washington Post: As Southwest, FAA probes begin, fallout could shape flying for years.
▪ ABC News: United Airlines faces a possible $1.15 million fine from the FAA over pre-flight system check.
■ The state of the union could be a lot worse, by The Washington Post Editorial Board. https://wapo.st/40FoTEH
■ Why China doesn’t need balloons to spy on U.S. companies, by Jeremy Hurewitz, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3I7J4Uy
WHERE AND WHEN
📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. and consider legislation that would end a federal order last year that requires most foreign travelers arriving by air to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The administration opposes the bill (Reuters). The House Oversight and Accountability Committee will hear testimony beginning at 10 a.m. from former Twitter executives about the platform’s handling of a 2020 article published by the New York Post about Hunter Biden’s laptop (USA Today). The House Intelligence Committee will hear from former national security officials at 10 a.m. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, along with Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health officials, will testify about the COVID-19 pandemic response at 10 a.m. before the House Energy and Commerce Committee (The Hill).
The Senate meets at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of DeAndrea Benjamin to be a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the 4th Circuit.
The president will travel to DeForest, Wis., to discuss jobs and the economy at a union training center at 1 p.m. Biden will return to the White House tonight.
Vice President Harris will appear live on “CBS Mornings” between 7 and 9 a.m. ET to discuss the administration’s agenda and Biden’s Tuesday night speech. She will fly to Atlanta to join a moderated conversation about climate change at the Georgia Institute of Technology at 1:10 p.m. She will return to Washington this evening.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates virtually in the COVID-19 Global Action Plan Ministerial at 8 a.m. from the State Department. He will speak at 11:15 a.m. during the Gender Champion Award ceremony at the department. Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will share a working lunch at noon and hold a joint press conference at 1:20 p.m. The secretary, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet at 5 p.m. with Stoltenberg.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will travel to Spring Hill, Tenn., to visit the Ultium Cells battery plant to discuss clean energy manufacturing.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to Dallas for events at Baylor, Scott and White Health and Wellness Center (Juanita J. Craft Recreation Center)and at Friendship-West Baptist Church for a roundtable discussion, in both locations to tout the administration’s efforts to lower health care costs.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
😷 Respiratory viruses — including the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19 – are not a serious concern for most of the U.S. public, even though they’re still affecting many, new survey data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found. Nearly 4 out of 10 households reported a recent case of one of the three viruses but most are not worried about getting seriously ill, according to the survey conducted in mid-January. About half of adults surveyed said they took some precautionary measures to avoid getting sick amid the winter cold season, including nearly a third who said they were more likely to wear a mask in public (CNN).
▪ The Los Angeles Times: The loneliness of being immunocompromised in the age of COVID-19.
▪ The Washington Post: Charles Silverstein, who helped declassify homosexuality as an illness, dies at 87. An activist and psychologist, he helped achieve “the single most important event in the history of gay liberation after the Stonewall riots.”
▪ The New York Times: “Miracle” cystic fibrosis drug kept out of reach in developing countries.
▪ The New York Times: Do gel manicures (and the ultraviolet lamps used with customers) pose a cancer risk? What to know.
💵 Advances in science and immense investments by the federal government and drug companies have completely altered prospects for people with conditions that seemed untreatable in almost every area of medicine — cancers, allergies, skin diseases, genetic afflictions, neurological disorders, obesity. But, as The New York Times reports, when the costs are too much, even for the insured, patients hunt for other ways to pay.
“This is the golden age of drug discovery,” said Daniel Skovronsky, chief scientific and medical officer of Eli Lilly and Company. But the prices reflect the inherently costly and fundamentally different way drugs are developed and tested today. Skovronsky said the burden on patients who cannot afford life-changing new drugs weighs heavily on him and others who work for drug companies.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,112,152. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,452 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … 💗 It’s almost Valentine’s Day, which means supermarket shelves are stocked with boxes of chocolate, teddy bears and red roses — and pastel-colored conversation hearts. But the chalky seasonal treat requires annual tending. Months before each Valentine’s Day, candy companies begin pondering new messages and editing out the dated ones. The fresh sayings have to be current and inoffensive, charming and clever. Most importantly, they can’t overshadow classic expressions of romantic love, such as “Kiss Me,” which have been mainstays on such candy hearts for more than a century.
As The New York Times reports, for 2023, the Spangler Candy Company — one of two major manufacturers — has chosen an animal theme for its Sweethearts line, with a nod to all the people who acquired pets during the pandemic. Sweet new phrases include “Big Dog,” “Love Birds” and “Purr Fect.” According to Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and the author of six books on love, sex and the brain, the less amorous messages mark a cultural turning point.
“These candy hearts are yet another expression of this huge societal change since the pandemic,” she said. “It’s this theme of attachment. Much of the world is going to settle down and along with that, they’re looking not only for romantic love but also for deep, long-term attachment.”
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