The Hill’s Morning Report — Republicans probe for liberal conspiracy, corruption
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House conservatives on Wednesday tried to cast President Biden and fellow Democrats as the swaddled darlings of Twitter while also accusing the Justice Department of conspiring against former President Trump and other Republicans.
In the majority since January, House Republicans are using their sway on oversight and investigative panels to try to turn the tables on the president, his son Hunter Biden, and officials in the FBI and at the top of the Justice Department, asserting that alleged past actions were corrupt and must come to light.
The back-and-forth at GOP hearings this week and the heckling heard during Tuesday’s State of the Union portend a venomous year filled with attempts to stoke public distrust of government.
The Hill: GOP divided over whether heckling Biden hurts them.
Republican lawmakers grilled former Twitter executives on Wednesday about the company’s initial decision, later reversed more than two years ago, to limit the dissemination of a New York Post article critical of the president’s son, his business dealings and his associates. Democrats on the panel blasted their GOP colleagues for “wasting our time,” The Hill’s Rebecca Klar reports.
Twitter’s former leaders, during a combative Wednesday hearing, maintained that the company’s initial reaction to the newspaper report was not evidence of anti-conservative “censorship” but rather a mistake explained long ago, which resulted from caution about false information tied to the 2020 presidential election (The Washington Post and NBC News).
Twitter is now owned by Elon Musk, an ally of some Republicans, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) alleged that Twitter’s handling of news accounts showed a “coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence community to suppress and delegitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop” and its contents. Former Twitter executives denied a conspiracy or suppression of GOP lawmakers’ First Amendment rights.
Today’s House fireworks are expected to be similarly backward gazing under the guidance of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who plans to use a new subcommittee to assert the “weaponization” of the FBI and the Justice Department against Republicans, an accusation also favored by Trump (CNN and Fox News).
▪ The Hill: Rep. Jordan requested communications between the Biden administration and social media companies.
▪ The Hill: Twitter on Wednesday experienced widespread outages.
▪ The Hill: Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) is now a member of the House weaponization panel, replacing Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).
▪ The Hill: The House on Wednesday approved a measure that would end the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement for most international travelers to the United States.
House Republicans show no signs they want to work with Biden and Democratic colleagues on major legislation, such as raising the debt ceiling or negotiations to keep the government funded. Senate Republicans are allowing McCarthy to craft a debt ceiling strategy.
“I think he can do it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said this week, referring to McCarthy (Politico). “I’ve seen him quoted saying he doesn’t think we should default on the debt. And, you know, I believe him.”
Biden on Tuesday during his address to the nation allied himself with the majority of Americans who tell pollsters they frown on the House GOP brinkmanship over the debt ceiling.
To jeers from House Republicans as he spoke, the president said the federal debt rose every year during Trump’s presidency with little pushback from GOP lawmakers. “No president added more to the national debt in any four years than my predecessor,” Biden said, telling the naysayers to “check it out.”
▪ The Hill: Here are the spending cuts House Republicans have pitched in debt limit talks.
▪ The Hill: Here’s what Republicans have said about cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
▪ The Hill: What the pundits are saying about Biden’s State of the Union speech.
▪ Forbes: More than 23 million viewers watched the president’s address on Tuesday, compared with 38 million viewers last year across 16 broadcast and cable networks.
▪ WPVI ABC6: Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman (D), 53, who suffered a stroke and heart troubles last year, was hospitalized in Washington on Wednesday after complaining of lightheadedness.
▪ The Hill: Biden told PBS NewsHour during a Wednesday interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin “already lost Ukraine.”
▪ The Hill: South Carolina is emerging as an early battleground in the Republican presidential primary.
▪ The Hill: Following Biden’s jab Tuesday night, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) doubled down on his idea to sunset all federal programs to allow for reevaluation and defended his approach. “I’ve never advocated cutting Social Security or Medicare and never would,” Scott added.
▪ The Hill: Biden once offered a budget bill strikingly similar to the Rick Scott plan.
LEADING THE DAY
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Paris on Wednesday evening for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Macron vowed France would help Ukraine to victory against Russia, after Zelensky praised the French president for changing his stance on Putin. Macron said France is “determined to help Ukraine to victory and the re-establishment of its legitimate rights,” while Scholz assured the Ukrainian president of enduring allied support.
Zelensky is in Brussels today, where he addressed the European Parliament, emphasizing, “This is our Europe, these are our rules, this is our way of life, and for Ukraine it’s a way home, a way to home” (The Telegraph and Politico EU).
The United Kingdom is considering sending British fighter jets to Ukraine and will begin training Ukrainian pilots in coming months, a major victory for Zelensky, who made a surprise visit to European allies Wednesday to lobby Western governments to provide more air power to counter a growing Russian offensive.
Hours after Zelensky made an emotional plea to the British Parliament for more military aid, U.K. officials said that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had tasked his defense minister with analyzing which jets Britain might send, adding that no final decision had been made and that it could take a significant amount of time for pilots to be fully trained (The Hill and The Wall Street Journal).
“I’m not just speaking about weapons. We’ve proved together that the world truly helps those who are brave in defending freedom,” the Ukrainian leader said, but “evil is still around today and the battle continues.”
▪ The New York Times: Zelensky meets King Charles III in a sweatshirt. The Ukrainian president continues to weaponize his wardrobe.
▪ The Washington Post: Dutch probe implicates Putin in 2014 downing of Malaysian passenger jet.
▪ Bloomberg News: G-7 weighs sanctioning Chinese, Iranian and North Korean firms for aiding Russia’s military.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Russia throws soldiers into Ukraine’s firing line to gain inches.
▪ Reuters: U.S., UK and Australia carry out China-focused air drills.
▪ Politico: North Korea shows off largest-ever number of nuclear missiles at nighttime parade.
With hope of finding survivors fading, stretched rescue teams in Turkey and Syria searched Wednesday for signs of life in the rubble of thousands of buildings toppled by the world’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade. The death toll exceeded 16,000 early Thursday (USA Today).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the especially hard-hit Hatay province, where more than 3,300 people died and entire neighborhoods were destroyed. Residents have criticized the government’s response, saying rescuers were slow to arrive, and Erdoğan, who faces a tough battle for reelection in May, acknowledged “shortcomings” in the response to Monday’s 7.8 magnitude quake but said the winter weather had been a factor (CNBC).
▪ NPR: Search teams race to find quake survivors as the death toll climbs.
▪ The Washington Post: Among Germany’s Turkish diaspora, anguish — and a rally to help.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Fresh off his Tuesday speech, Biden on Wednesday embarked on a tour of U.S. states crucial to his expected 2024 reelection bid, appearing with union members near Madison, Wis., to crow that “it looks like we negotiated a deal last night” with Republican lawmakers to protect Social Security from spending cuts (Reuters).
Social Security and healthcare cost savings added to Medicare on his watch will be among Biden’s topics today during an event in Tampa, Fla. (Tampa Bay Times). The White House today released a collection of quotations from Republican senators who have proposed changes to reduce the budgetary obligations of Social Security and House Republicans who oppose the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act, which reduced some prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
The increasingly Republican Sunshine State, home to Trump and potential GOP presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis, is seen as ground zero for favored conservative culture war themes that Biden describes as “ultra MAGA” and divisive.
WFLA News Channel 8: Tampa Bay family says insulin relief would be life-changing as Biden pushes Congress to cap prices.
CNN: Chris Inglis, a top White House cybersecurity adviser, is retiring Feb. 15. Kemba Eneas Walden, a former Microsoft executive who joined the Office of the National Cyber Director in May, will serve as acting director until a successor is named.
The Hill: Chris Miller, Trump’s former acting Defense Secretary, wrote “Soldier Secretary,” a memoir.
➤ SUPREME COURT
Recent scrutiny of Supreme Court justices’ spouses has prompted calls for more stringent ethics rules, The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld reports. Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife, Jane Roberts, became the latest spouse to enter the spotlight when her former colleague wrote an ethics complaint that surfaced late last month. Legal ethics experts largely agreed the concerns are dwarfed by the recent scrutiny surrounding Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas who supported efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but the controversy is the latest for the court as it faces an increasingly untrustful public. Some progressives for years have demanded the justices adopt a binding code of ethics, and the proposal gained traction this week as the American Bar Association voted to support it.
▪ Vox: A federal judge mocks the Supreme Court on abortion. The Democratic federal judge suggests that banning abortion violates the 13th Amendment’s prohibition on “involuntary servitude.”
▪ CNN: The Biden administration told the Supreme Court that Title 42 immigration policy will end when the COVID-19 public health emergency expires in May.
▪ CBS News: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision, uncertainty plagues gun laws new and old.
■ Biden should cap credit card interest rates, not just late fees, by Alexis Leondis, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3I65Dbd
■ Biden presented a path of cooperation — Republicans should follow it, by
former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3DSATsQ
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at 9 a.m. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of DeAndrea Benjamin to be a U.S. Circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit. Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at 10 a.m. will question representatives of Southwest Airlines and other witnesses about recent mass cancellations by the airline. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense will question Pentagon officials during a briefing for lawmakers about Chinese surveillance balloons in U.S. airspace.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will fly to Tampa to speak at 1:30 p.m. at the University of Tampa about strengthening Social Security and Medicare. He will return to the White House tonight.
Vice President Harris is scheduled to fly to St. Cloud, Minn., for a tour by union members at a final assembly plant for New Flyer electric buses at 2:10 p.m. CT. Harris will speak at 2:55 p.m. CT at the plant about the clean energy economy and jobs. The vice president will return to Washington tonight (SC Times).
Secretary of State Antony Blinken willmeet at 11 a.m. with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein at the State Department. He will speak at the 5:45 p.m. signing of a memorandum of understanding for a Diplomatic Culinary Partnership.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will offer an update on multilateral development banks and her recent trip to Africa during remarks at 11:30 a.m. in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She will also participate in a moderated discussion.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to New York City to speak at 3 p.m. during a United Nations event focused on combating antisemitism.
The National Governors Association meets today through Saturday in Washington. The governors of North Dakota, North Carolina, Illinois, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Washington are scheduled beginning at 10 a.m. to participate in one-on-one interviews during an event hosted by Politico in the nation’s capital. Information is HERE.
➤ STATE WATCH
🙈 How did a thief steal two small monkeys from the Dallas Zoo? Texas suspect Davion Irvin says he smuggled them away to a vacant house using the city’s light commuter rail. The 24-year-old suspected tamarin snatcher said he loves animals, adding if he’s released from jail he would steal more. He is charged with six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of burglary (Dallas News and ABC News).
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) chief of staff told state agency leaders and public university administrators in a Monday memo that using diversity, equity and inclusion policies (DEI) in hiring violates federal and state employment laws and hiring cannot be based on factors “other than merit.”
The directive marks the latest effort by GOP leaders fighting back against policies and academic disciplines that Republicans nationwide have deemed “woke.” DEI, along with critical race theory, has become a target of conservatives who argue that white people are being unfairly treated in schools and workplaces (The Texas Tribune).
Democrats won three Pennsylvania House seats up for grabs in special elections on Tuesday, taking the majority in the state chamber. The state House has been effectively stalled since the new session was sworn in, with the vacancies meaning Republicans had more bodies in the chamber than Democrats, despite the blue win during the midterms.
“We elected a Democratic majority for the second time in a row. The voters in Allegheny County have elected 3 new Democrats to the House — and with that, they protected the 102 seat majority that millions of Pennsylvanians first elected almost 3 months ago,” Pennsylvania House Democrats said in an update (The Hill).
▪ Vox: Democrats build on midterm wins with new control of Pennsylvania House.
▪ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The Democratic sweep will cement a razor-thin majority for the party in the state House and end a partisan stalemate that has effectively frozen the General Assembly in place.
Twice in the last two weeks, major corporations have scored wins in their fights against progressive policies approved by California Democrats. Fast-food companies collected enough signatures to force a referendum on a state law meant to boost wages for restaurant workers, and oil companies’ effort to overturn an environmental safety law that would ban new drilling projects near homes and schools similarly qualified for the ballot. Both laws are now on hold until voters decide in November 2024 whether to uphold them (Los Angeles Times).
🏵 Meanwhile, a California “super bloom” of golden poppies, the state flower, has attracted too many thousands of nature-loving visitors, forcing closure of the area for safety reasons by Lake Elsinore city officials (SF Gate).
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
💉 The Biden administration is planning to roll out a road map as early as today on what it will mean for the country when the COVID-19 public health emergency comes to an end later this year, CNN reports. The White House announced last week that Biden intends to end the national and public health emergencies on May 11 — a decision that signals that the administration believes the pandemic is now squarely in a different stage than it has been over the past few years.
The goal of the expected roadmap, one source said, is to try to lay out for the public in a clear way what the end of the declaration “does and does not mean,” including for various stakeholders such as state health departments and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
▪ Time: We still don’t know the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19.
▪ NPR: COVID-19 test kits, treatments and vaccines won’t be free to many consumers much longer.
▪ The New York Times: Sandwiches and fruit cups sold on Amtrak are recalled over listeria risk.
🍫 Could chocolate be healthier than we think? Global chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to review the research regarding the health benefits of flavanols, which are compounds found in chocolate, and while research is still emerging, early data suggests flavanols may be associated with benefits ranging from improved cardiovascular health to cancer prevention.
The FDA, for its part, said it won’t prevent manufacturers from making qualified health claims about flavanols (VeryWell Health).
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): 1,113,236. 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.)
Take Our Morning Report Quiz
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the State of the Union, we’re eager for some smart guesses about State of the Union speeches past and present.
Be sure to email your responses to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org — please add “Quiz” to your subject line. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
Who was the first president to deliver a televised State of the Union address?
- Calvin Coolidge
- Harry S. Truman
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Until 1934, State of the Union remarks were typically delivered in which month?
When President Biden addressed the first lady during his Tuesday speech, what did he call her?
Which president began calling his “Annual Message” the “State of the Union”?
- George Washington
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Herbert Hoover
- Andrew Jackson
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