The Hill’s Morning Report — Debt ceiling looms over Biden, McCarthy meeting
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President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will sit down today for a high stakes meeting on the debt ceiling, putting to the test a fairly new and uncertain partnership. As The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Alex Gangitano report, Biden and McCarthy have had few in-person interactions since McCarthy became Speaker, and while the White House has issued frequent statements criticizing him and his members, McCarthy’s conference has moved ahead with investigations into Biden and his family. But Wednesday’s meeting will serve as a starting point in debt ceiling talks as the two aim to avoid economic disaster, and it may signal whether they can form a working relationship for the next couple of years.
“Both men are obviously demanding that the other make the first move, so we’ll see how it plays out,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), adding he expects “very little of substance to come out of this meeting.”
The two lawmakers do share a history; when Biden was vice president, he and McCarthy would have breakfast at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s residence, where they were often joined by other Republican leaders. In a Tuesday interview, McCarthy said that as vice president, Biden was “always eager to sit down and talk” and “a person who would like to try to find solutions, work together.”
But Biden hasn’t signaled similar open-ended hospitality as newly emboldened House Republicans court a risky debt ceiling showdown — led in part by the very hard-right detractors who forced McCarthy to accept several concessions in exchange for the Speakership vote. Biden told reporters Tuesday that McCarthy is “a decent man” but “he made commitments that are just absolutely off the wall” to win the gavel (ABC News).
Ahead of today’s meeting, Biden has drawn a hard line against entertaining spending cuts pushed by House Republicans amid their brinkmanship on raising the country’s borrowing allowance, though congressional leaders are in general agreement that the nation won’t reach the point of defaulting. But the debt ceiling’s horizon is rapidly approaching, and Congress is facing about seven weeks’ worth of breaks between now and June, when the Treasury Department forecasts the “extraordinary measures” it is employing to avoid a default will expire.
Biden’s strict opposition to spending cuts reflects a broader administration strategy. When GOP lawmakers reveal the domestic programs they’re looking to cut, the White House is counting on the move proving so unpopular that House Republicans will abandon their demands for Congress to act (USA Today).
▪ The Washington Post: Biden to press McCarthy on debt default threat, spending cuts.
▪ The New York Times: In debt limit fight, Republicans won’t say what spending cuts they want.
▪ Politico: House GOP sets its expectations low for McCarthy-Biden debt meeting.
House Blue Dog Democrats want Biden and McCarthy to negotiate on the debt ceiling impasse. “It is our hope that these conversations result in good faith negotiations that avoid the partisan standoffs of the past,” the group, led by Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.), wrote in a letter shared first with Politico. “Such political brinkmanship has proven to rattle markets, damage the economy, and hurt the American people.”
Meanwhile, the White House will release its budget proposal for next fiscal year on March 9, officials said Tuesday, as they urged McCarthy to release a detailed budget of his own outlining House Republicans’ spending plans. “Show me his budget,” Biden told reporters Tuesday (The Hill). In response, McCarthy called the White House memo “political games” (The Hill).
As the debt ceiling fight heats up at the White House and on Capitol Hill, House Democrats are eyeing an end-around strategy to bypass McCarthy — and the conservative budget hawks driving his agenda — to avoid a federal default later in the year. The Hill’s Mike Lillis writes that Democratic leaders have already begun discussions about using a discharge petition to force a debt limit hike to the floor without the steep cuts McCarthy is demanding — the same “clean” bill Biden is urging. The discharge petition — an obscure procedural gambit empowering House lawmakers to pass bills the Speaker refuses to consider — is almost never successful, but this year may be different.
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) is gaining a profile as the new leader of a panel consumed with hot-button investigations of the Biden administration and the Biden family, writes The Hill’s Emily Brooks. But he has a delicate task ahead of him to find substance in the spectacle, particularly with a committee stacked with firebrand GOP personalities. Even as he becomes a frequent face on Fox News, Comer has warned the committee will work to back its facts up. The grandson of local political leaders has had a long career in Kentucky politics since his youth and is brushing off barbs from left-wing groups with a “bless-your-heart” attitude.
▪ Roll Call: McCarthy names GOP members to House Ethics Committee.
▪ Politico: Democrats name new members to combat GOP investigations — including Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.).
▪ Roll Call: House Democrats cry foul over elimination of civil rights panel.
▪ The Hill: These members of the 117th Congress left for gigs at lobbying firms and advocacy groups. It’s common these days for lawmakers to leverage their connections and experience to earn a payday from corporate clients once they leave office.
Truth & Consequences? Another day, another headline about Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.).
On Tuesday, he recused himself from business on two committees during his ongoing controversies, which involve campaign finance reporting issues. One source told The Hill that Santos called himself a “distraction.” The House Republican Steering Committee, the panel of GOP leaders who assign committees, had assigned Santos to the Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee earlier this month. Santos declined to comment on Tuesday, telling reporters that “what happens in conference stays in conference” (The Hill).
▪ The New York Times: Santos’s treasurer has resigned. So, who’s handling the money?
▪ Politico: Sixteen hours with Santos: Dunkin’ Donuts, 27,000 steps and a scolding.
House Republican leaders are prepared to hold a vote as soon as Wednesday to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee. McCarthy has vowed to keep her off the panel — though he may not have the votes to do so (The Hill).
The Hill: GOP’s Santos, Omar battles collide.
The U.S. farm bill — a sweeping piece of legislation that contains provisions for food stamps, disaster aid and agricultural subsidies — is up for renewal this year. Farm bills cover a variety of programs affecting agriculture, rural development and conservation, impacting not only the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers but also how economically viable it is to produce food in the U.S. NPR outlines what’s at stake.
The Biden administration is committed to shoring up small and midsize farm operations, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday, laying out a vision for a more competitive agriculture economy as Congress begins debate over the nation’s largest farm spending bill. Since 1987, the percentage of cropland managed by large farms, those with 2,000 or more acres, has risen to 41 percent from 15 percent, according to Department of Agriculture data. “We believe there’s a better alternative than go big or go out,” Vilsack said, speaking to members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, an advocacy group (Reuters).
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Arkansas lawmakers, including Sen. John Boozman (R), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, are confident they can pass a farm bill amid a split Congress.
▪ The Hill: Wage growth slows as the Federal Reserve gets set to ease up on rate hikes.
▪ The Hill: Americans see a brighter economy ahead as the Fed shrinks rate hikes.
▪ The Hill: The Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes by the numbers.
▪ The Hill: Seven ex-lawmakers make quick shifts to the private sector.
LEADING THE DAY
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely seen as organizing a campaign-in-waiting for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, has tangled with targets large and small to gain national attention: Disney World, COVID-19 restrictions, asylum-seekers, “wokeness” in public K-12 curricula and he’s about to pull off what his detractors describe as a “hostile takeover” of Florida’s respected honors liberal arts college.
Notably, the governor has not publicly brawled with former President Trump (The Hill). He has acknowledged Trump’s attacks by pointing to his own reelection — a strategy that many Republicans say is intended to cast the governor as the more even-keeled alternative in a possible head-to-head primary contest.
Republican senators rallied to DeSantis’s defense after Trump said a presidential bid by his rival would be “a great act of disloyalty.” The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that GOP senators are disposed to heed former President Reagan’s maxim as the 2024 field shakes out: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
The instinct to wait is notable among prominent Republicans in early voting states, such as Iowa and South Carolina, The Hill’s Julia Manchester adds.
DeSantis at a Tuesday press conference called for diversity programs to be dismantled at Florida’s colleges and universities, escalating efforts by the governor and many conservatives to root out what they see as liberalism and indoctrination in higher education (The Washington Post).
▪ The New York Times: DeSantis takes on the education establishment, and builds his own brand.
▪ CNN: DeSantis says he will work with the state legislature to ban university spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in hopes they will “wither on the vine.”
Hours later, trustees at New College of Florida, six of whom DeSantis recently appointed, replaced the school’s president and directed staff to draft a policy that would shutter diversity offices at the respected liberal arts honors college in Sarasota.
The college’s new trustees also moved forward to replace the general counsel with a DeSantis loyalist. The governor wants $15 million in recurring funds to remake faculty recruitment and student admissions at the college, originally founded in 1960 as a private institution modeled after New College of Oxford.
The board at its Tuesday meeting terminated New College President Patricia Okker —a scholar in 19th-century American literature and women’s writing — who was hired in 2021. They voted to replace her with DeSantis ally Richard Corcoran, the former Florida GOP House Speaker and former state education commissioner, who will become “interim” president beginning in March. Trustees also took steps to name Bill Galvano, a former GOP state Senate president from Bradenton, Fla., as the college’s new general counsel (Sarasota Herald-Tribune and ABC7).
▪ NBC News: DeSantis-picked trustees seek to change progressive New College of Florida.
▪ The Atlantic: Florida has a right to destroy its universities. If DeSantis wants to gut Florida’s public colleges, that’s up to Floridians.
Under DeSantis’s state university plan, which he will ask the Florida legislature to take up in March, Florida would defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs, which are common in higher education. The governor also wants more stringent statewide faculty reviews, saying at his press conference that tenured professors should be subject to employment scrutiny at any time, a proposal that stirred immediate concerns about academic freedom, the Post reported.
Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist and writer appointed by DeSantis early last month as a New College of Florida trustee, accompanied the governor during his Tuesday announcements. Rufo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in New York. He lives and works in Washington state.
▪ NBC News: Candidate Trump is strapped for campaign cash following the mid-November launch of his 2024 presidential campaign. Trump pulled in about $9.5 million over the final six weeks of last year through his campaign and a joint fundraising committee, according to NBC. In a sign that Trump understands he’ll need to raise more money faster for what promises to be a competitive GOP primary race, his campaign is revamping its fundraising operation.
▪ The Washington Post and The Charleston Post and Courier: Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who served as Trump’s United Nations ambassador, will signal her upcoming campaign for president in a video release, possibly as early as this week. Haley plans to officially announce her run in Charleston on Feb. 15.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, endorsed Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) on Tuesday, marking an official departure from the committee’s policy in the 2022 cycle and making clear that the committee will play in primary contests in an attempt to win back the upper chamber, reports The Hill’s Al Weaver.
The Hill: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) this week said he is seriously considering a 2024 bid for a Senate seat as centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) mulls whether he will seek reelection. “I’m probably leaning that way,” Justice told WTRF 7News.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
After the U.S. and its partners reached a major breakthrough in delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine, Kyiv’s top law enforcement official is pushing allies to show similar determination to punish Russia in the courtroom.
“The instruments of delivering justice should be as strong as weapons we receive in order to fight for our independence,” Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin told The Hill. He is visiting Washington this week for meetings with his counterpart, Attorney General Merrick Garland, other administration officials and lawmakers to push for further U.S. support in Ukraine’s legal battles against Russia.
▪ Mediaite: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praises enthusiastic “bipartisan support” from U.S. leaders for Ukraine.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Ukraine braces for a major Russian offensive.
▪ Reuters: U.S. readies $2 billion-plus Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons.
Spiraling violence between Israelis and Palestinians and fierce opposition on the Israeli street to proposed judicial reforms are overshadowing a unique moment of alignment between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Iran. As The Hill’s Laura Kelly writes, the administration has effectively ceased diplomacy with Tehran to rein in its nuclear program, making coordination between the U.S. and Israel — which could include a military option — to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon more urgent. Netanyahu is also pushing for the U.S. to be at the center of opening relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the pathway to which is increasingly clear as the Biden administration has toned down criticism of the kingdom over its positions on oil production and human rights concerns.
▪ The New York Times: U.S. and India launch high-level defense and tech initiative.
▪ The New York Times: “Terrorism has returned”: Pakistan grapples with attack that left 101 dead.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Iran’s deadly street protests are replaced by quiet acts of rebellion.
▪ CNN: Missing radioactive capsule found on remote road in Australia.
Pope Francis arrived Tuesday in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the most populous and most Catholic nations in Africa, it has extensive natural riches and conflict (The New York Times). The pontiff will spend three days there and then visit South Sudan later this week (The New York Times).
■ DeSantis wants to erase Black history. Why? by Janai Nelson, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3jopUjN
■ Why free speech advocates should be rooting for Google, by Paul M. Barrett, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3WU4hW0
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. The House Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. will hold a hearing focused on immigration and security of the U.S. southern border, as well as GOP arguments to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will meet with the administration’s Competition Council at 1:15 p.m. in the East Room and announce a proposed rule to reduce credit card late fees and app fees, among other consumer-focused initiatives (The Hill and Reuters). Biden will meet in the Oval Office with the Speaker at 3:15 p.m. The president will host a 5 p.m. reception in the East Room to thank outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain and to welcome his successor, Jeff Zients.
The vice president will head to Memphis, Tenn., where she will attend the funeral of Tyre Nichols at 10:30 a.m. CT. Also representing the administration will be White House aides Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mitch Landrieu, Tara Murray and Erica Loewe.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet at 1 p.m. with Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval at the State Department.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will answer news media questions about interest rates, inflation and the economy at 2:30 p.m. at the conclusion of the central bank’s two-day meeting.
“News Shapers” who are scheduled to speak between 8 and 9 a.m. today during Axios’s live (and live streamed) event in Washington: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.); House Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.); Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Information HERE.
🛬 More than a thousand domestic flights were canceled on Tuesday morning as the South braced for a significant ice storm. According to the flight tracker FlightAware, about 1,200 flights had been canceled and an additional 1,600 flights were delayed.
Three Texas airports are bearing the brunt of the impact, as more than 500 departing flights and more than 400 arriving flights have been canceled so far at Dallas-Fort Worth International, Austin-Bergstrom International and Dallas Love Field.
The cancellations come as a winter storm sweeps across the South, bringing ice, sleet and freezing rain, affecting portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. The storm is expected to continue through at least Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service (Dallas News and The Hill).
▪ CNN: More than 1,000 U.S. flights canceled as winter weather snarls travel.
▪ The Hill: Winter weather cancels flights, leads to death in Texas.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Americans after May 11 are likely to face costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment as a result of Biden’s decision to end emergency health declarations at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. The government’s declared emergency was backed by federally funded COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines in an effort to slow the spread of the virus beginning in 2020.
“People will have to start paying some money for things they didn’t have to pay for during the emergency,” Jen Kates, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNN. “That’s the main thing people will start to notice.”
CNN rounded up pandemic benefits expected to end as part of the conclusion of emergency declarations.
▪ Politico: Pfizer reports record revenue, expects COVID-19 vaccines to be commercialized later this year.
▪ Forbes: Three modest COVID-19 policies to help high-risk people.
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): 1,107,646. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,756 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.)
Barbara Stanley, an influential suicide researcher, died at 73. As The New York Times reports, her simple idea for patients to write down a plan that would help them weather a suicidal crisis was widely adopted in clinical settings.
And finally … Today marks the first day of Black History Month and the anniversary of former President Lincoln’s 1865 signature on the Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Barring the ownership of enslaved people was among a trio of Civil War amendments that expanded Americans’ civil rights (National Archives).
Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent Black Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month (History). In this year’s proclamation, Biden said part of celebrating the legacy of Black Americans means acknowledging that the U.S. has never lived up to its promise that all people should be treated equally.
“The struggles and challenges of the Black American story to make a way out of no way have been the crucible where our resolve to fulfill this vision has most often been tested,” Biden said in a statement on Tuesday (The Hill).
The National Museum of African American History & Culture: Celebrate Black History Month 2023.
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