Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Today is Thursday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators. Readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 486,106; Tuesday, 486,325; Wednesday, 488,081; Thursday, 490,540.
President Biden and Democratic lawmakers have choreographed a legislative battle to “crush” the coronavirus, as Speaker (D-Calif.) likes to say, and to pour nearly $2 trillion into an economy that will turn on whether hundreds of millions of effective vaccine doses make it into Americans’ arms.
The Federal Reserve repeated in minutes of its January meeting released on Wednesday that fiscal and monetary policy in a pandemic cannot by themselves throttle a pathogen. It will take ample supplies of vaccines and herd immunity to return to the “before” times. Vaccines, masks and social distancing, mixed with aid from Congress, could improve the economic outlook, according to the nation’s central bank (The Washington Post).
Ahead is a fast-moving legislative timeline as the House returns to Washington next week eager to adopt by the end of February a relief blueprint that mirrors the president’s plan. Racing to get ahead of expiring unemployment relief programs, Democrats hope to clear a mammoth bill by mid-March in the Senate without losing a single Democratic vote. Easier said than done.
Bloomberg News: Democrats put the Biden stimulus on a 10-day fast track for a House vote.
As The Hill’s Niv Elis reports, Republicans in Congress have misgivings about Biden’s approach: too big, too wasteful, too scattershot and too partisan. They insist that funding enacted as part of earlier COVID-19 response measures has not yet been tapped out.
The details of the House legislation revealed to lawmakers and the public in the next two weeks will expose rifts within the Democratic ranks and ripe political targets for Republican opponents.
The Hill: Biden faces backlash from the left about his rejection, during a Tuesday town hall discussion in Wisconsin, of a pitch from the audience to erase up to $50,000 in college loan debt acquired by students and their parents.
“I will not make that happen,” Biden said.
He repeated his support for up to $10,000 in debt relief per borrower but said he worried that a higher total forgiven through executive action would disproportionately aid the well-off and potentially violate the law. There is no consensus about a level of debt relief a president could impose using executive fiat and without Congress. Most analysts believe such executive action would stir controversy and land immediately in court (CNBC).
Another ongoing fight: proposed federal aid to cities and states (The Associated Press).
Republicans are also drafting messages this month noting that voters in both parties are eager to reopen schools, particularly for students in lower grades. They say Biden and Democrats are beholden to teachers unions and are taking their cues from teachers, administrators and other school personnel who want to be vaccinated before states revive in-person instruction during the COVID-19 crisis (The Hill and The Washington Post).
More Biden actions: The president and congressional Democrats are poised today to unveil an immigration bill that includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States without legal status (The Associated Press). …The president and Israeli Prime Minister spoke on Wednesday for the first time since the inauguration about the continuation of peace agreements, the Iranian threat and the challenges in the Middle East, according to a statement released in Israel. Nearly a month of silence raised concerns in Israel about a frostier relationship between the two allies. Biden held off calling Netanyahu, in part, because he first wanted to speak with key European allies as he weighs his next steps with Iran, according to a senior administration official (The Associated Press). … The White House says it is open to a bipartisan study of proposed reparations to Black Americans for slavery (The Associated Press). Congress is weighing how to approach the issue and a House committee debated a bill on Wednesday that would direct more than a dozen experts to examine how the U.S. government supported slavery from 1619 to 1865 and created laws that discriminated against formerly enslaved people and their descendants (USA Today). Supporters of reparations legislation have more work to do. The House measure, sponsored by Rep. (D-Texas) has 162 co-sponsors while the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. (D-N.J.), has 17. No Republicans have backed the effort.
LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Rush Limbaugh, 70 (pictured below in January 2020 days after a lung cancer diagnosis), the scion of conservative talk radio who was one of the most influential figures on the right of the last 30 years, died on Wednesday in Palm Beach, Fla.
Limbaugh’s death was announced by his wife, who appeared at the top of his radio show on Wednesday and told listeners that the host had died early Wednesday morning. His hold over audiences that numbered in the millions and his famously sharp-edged patter made his show a destination for aspiring Republican political candidates, including former (Fox News).
The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest memo that Limbaugh invented the template for conservative talk radio, having delighted millions of listeners all-the-while appalling millions of others for more than three decades before his death. Along the way, he could be seen as a cause, symptom and beneficiary of America’s deepening divisions during that time that made him a conservative institution.
Limbaugh’s death also brought Trump into public view for one of the first times since he became a former president last month. Trump appeared on Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network for a series of interviews about Limbaugh’s legacy, his first public comments since leaving office.
“He is a legend. He really is. There aren’t too many legends around. But he is a legend,” Trump told “Outnumbered.” “And those people who listen to him every day, it was like a religious experience for a lot of people.”
Trump also returned to his false claim that he won the November election, saying that Limbaugh agreed (The Hill).
The Hill: Trump “won’t say yet” if he intends to run in 2024.
Fox News: Trump hails Limbaugh on “Hannity’: “They all respected Rush.”
The Hill: Trump faces legal troubles despite Senate acquittal.
Trump’s reemergence on the cable news scene comes amid a simmering feud with Senate Minority Leader (R-Ky.). The former president has grown hellbent on making life as difficult as possible for the Kentucky Republican.
Trump’s political apparatus, fueled by $60 million in a super PAC and a grassroots fundraising ability unmatched on the right, is vowing to go aggressively after GOP lawmakers in primaries in the wake of the back-and-forth between the two most prominent GOP figures. One question that Trump and his allies will surely ask GOP candidates who want the former president’s endorsement: Who really won the 2020 presidential election?
As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley writes, sources indicate that Trump was prepared to give McConnell a pass after he gave a blistering post-impeachment floor speech saying the ex-president was “practically and morally” responsible for the deadly Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was McConnell’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, setting the stage for Trump’s insult-laden response on Tuesday night that included a threat of primaries for Senate candidates.
“Our goal is to win back the House and Senate,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump. “We’ll be looking at open seats, Democratic-held seats, and maybe there are places where we look for upgrades and more MAGA-friendly voices. I have no idea why McConnell decided to lash out at the president this way, but when you do, you can expect to get hit back.”
Josh Kraushaar: McConnell’s cynical play was his only option.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Trump threatens a Tea Party redux.
The Washington Post: Trump-McConnell clash threatens to settle into a cold war as GOP eyes midterms.
Politico: 9/11 commissioners warn Democrats: 1/6 commission won’t be easy.
> PAC problems: The Lincoln Project, the group formed a little more than a year ago by a band of anti-Trump Republicans, is facing calls to shut down amid allegations of a toxic and abusive culture at the organization.
So far, two former top officials at the organization have backed the idea of shuttering the group, including one of its co-founders, , who stepped away from the project last summer.
“Just shut it down already.… It’s over,” Kurt Bardella, who left his role as a senior adviser for the Lincoln Project last week, tweeted on Tuesday (The Hill).
The Hill: Senate Democrats unveil health care proposal with a public option.
The New York Times: New York Gov. (D) faces a revolt from his own party as legislators move to strip him of his pandemic powers.
The New York Times: Texas state Democrats see an opening in the GOP oversight of the state’s electricity grid. “Now it’s coming back to bite them.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Locally, the news is getting better as COVID-19 cases continue to fall across the Washington, D.C. region, including dropping case positivity rates and numbers unseen in three months.
According to The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia have reported a seven-day average of 3,819 new cases, a total not seen in the area since November, with test positivity rates dropping below five percent in the district and Maryland.
On Wednesday, Washington, D.C., reported only 49 new infections and has a seven-day average of 121 new cases, also the lowest figures since November.
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. life expectancy fell in first half of 2020 as COVID-19 deaths surged.
> Vaccines: Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director for operations at the Pentagon, said on Wednesday that roughly a third of service members have declined to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
“I think our initial look — and this is of course very early data — is acceptance rates are somewhere in the two-thirds territory, and of course it varies by different groups,”
Vaccines have not been mandated for members of the military, and the Department of Defense has not yet disclosed how many service members have been vaccinated. In early February, Military Times reported that the DoD has made it a policy to not report branch affiliations of those who have received the vaccine (The Hill).
ESPN: Many top NBA players are hesitant when asked to help promote coronavirus vaccines.
The Hill: Three-quarters of Americans confident COVID-19 vaccines will be available by end of summer: poll.
The Hill: U.S. govt seizes roughly 10M phony N95 masks in COVID-19 probe.
> International: More than two months after the United States began its vaccination effort, Japan launched a campaign of its own on Wednesday as questions mount over whether the nation will be able to vaccinate enough people in time for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Japan delayed its disbursement of shots because it asked Pfizer to conduct trials to include Japanese people in an effort to convince the nation to receive the vaccine (The Associated Press).
The Washington Post: The United Kingdom got approval to infect healthy volunteers in world’s first coronavirus “challenge trial.”
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: [email protected] and [email protected] We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
COVID-19 pork or more shots? by Terry L. Anderson and Richard Sousa, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3dkUFk3
The moral case for remaining in Afghanistan, by Ronald E. Neumann, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3dkUSUn
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 12:30 p.m. for a pro forma session and returns to legislative work on Tuesday. The Financial Services Committee at noon today will question witnesses during what could be a lively oversight hearing focused on recent investor trading activities involving GameStop, Robinhood and social media (The Hill). … Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.
The Senate convenes Friday at 10:15 a.m. for a pro forma session. No votes are scheduled this week.
The president and Vice President Harris receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:45 a.m. and participate in a COVID-19 briefing with advisers at 10:30 a.m. Harris at 11:15 a.m. will convene a virtual roundtable with Sen. (Wash.), Sen. (Nev.), Rep. (Conn.), Rep. (Calif.), all Democrats, together with women leaders from advocacy organizations to discuss the proposed American Rescue Plan.
The White House press briefing is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department will report at 8:30 a.m. on filings for unemployment benefits during the week ending Feb. 13. Analysts expect to see a drop since last week, but a continued high level of layoffs.
The Hill’s senior correspondent Amie Parnes and co-author Jonathan Allen of NBC News have written a political book to follow their 2017 best-seller, “Shattered.” Biden’s roller-coaster 2020 campaign and nail-biting victory against a crowded primary field and then former President Trump are revealed with deep reporting, analysis and new anecdotes in “Lucky,” which is in bookstores March 2 and available for pre-order with Penguin Random House HERE and on Amazon HERE.
INVITATION to The Hill’s Virtually Live event: TODAY at 1 p.m., “Prioritizing the Patient.” Rep. (D-Ill.), vice chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust; Rep. (R-Ind.); former Del. (D-Virgin Islands), board chairwoman of Consumers for Quality Care; and a panel of experts will convene for a discussion about moving the needle on quality, affordable healthcare and addressing inequities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. RSVP HERE.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. EST at Rising on YouTube.
➔ POWER GRID WOES: More than 30 deaths have been blamed on the winter weather while nearly 3.4 million customers around the country are still without electricity this morning, and some also lost water service (The Associated Press). … The widespread failure in Texas and, to a lesser extent, Oklahoma and Louisiana in the face of a winter cold snap shines a light on what some see as the derelict state of America’s power infrastructure. What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans (wind is responsible for a fraction of the state’s power). It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter, reports The Washington Post’s Will Englund, who covers energy. Experts point out that similar failures and outages occurred (and were studied) just a decade ago, and outages in recent months have cost lives. … The Hill’s environmental and energy reporting team lines up at least five things to know about the Lone Star grid debacle HERE.
➔ STICK THE LANDING: The U.S. rover named Perseverance is set to arrive today on Mars during the first leg in a decade long U.S.-European project to bring rocks from the red planet back to Earth to be examined for evidence of microscopic life. NASA anticipates touchdown at approximately 3:55 p.m. EST (Space.com). CBS News explains how to watch the landing.
➔ SPORTS: Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager joined an investment group and are now backing Washington Spirit soccer. The group also includes Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and former U.S. World Cup goalkeeper Briana Scurry (The Wall Street Journal).
➔ NEWS MEDIA & TECH: The United States is under pressure to allow newspapers to bargain with tech platforms over the distribution of their content as Australia weighs a proposal that would force the Silicon Valley giants to pay publishers for content. Legislation that gained bipartisan support last year is expected to be reintroduced, but media advocates say it may not adequately curb concerns raised by the market power of companies such as Facebook and Google (The Hill). … Today Facebook “unfriended” Australia and news pages went dark in a test for global publishing. Australians were not happy at the escalation (Reuters). … News Corp. and Google announced on Wednesday that they reached a global partnership in which News Corp. will sell content for Google’s News Showcase (MarketWatch). … The Baltimore Sun, owned by the Tribune Publishing Company, will be acquired by the Sunlight for All Institute, a new nonprofit organization created by Montgomery County, Md., businessman Stewart Bainum Jr. (Patch).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Ripped from the headlines, today’s puzzle explores news nuggets that are no more than a few days old.
Texans are suffering through rolling blackouts. What or who do they blame?
- Greg Abbott
- Wind turbines
- All of the above
Who did Trump describe on Tuesday as “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack”?
- Nancy Pelosi
- Mitch McConnell
President Biden returned from a weekend at Camp David on Monday wearing a new baseball cap given to him by his grandchildren. What does it say on the back?
Meghan is pregnant and Philip is in the hospital. We’re talking about ___ this week?
- “The Bachelorette” cast
- British royal family
- K-pop group BTS
- San Diego Zoo gorillas
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