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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 486,106; Tuesday, 486,325; Wednesday, 488,081; Thursday, 490,540; Friday, 493,098.
Disaster politics led headlines on Thursday as Republican Sen. (Texas) tried to deny he abandoned his frigid state for R&R in sunny Mexico, while New York Gov. (D) faced accusations on all sides that he failed seniors who died during the pandemic.
Cruz, the most recent political target, has been under siege after he fled the Lone Star State, where many continue to be buried by the storm. Back in Houston on Thursday less than 24 hours after departing for Cancun, the senator admitted his travel was tone deaf.
“It was obviously a mistake. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” Cruz told reporters. He initially said he was “trying to be a dad” by accompanying his daughters across the border to a balmy resort. “From the moment I sat on the plane, I began really second guessing that decision and saying, `look, I know why we’re doing this but I’ve also got responsibilities. … I needed to be here,’ and that’s why I came back” (ABC News).
The winter storms that slammed Texas and other southern states could have an outsize effect on the political scene, as The Hill’s Reid Wilson writes. Cruz is not alone in inviting criticism for failure to assist citizens he represents. He will not face voters until 2024, either for reelection or as a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) remains under fire, including for misleadingly placing blame on renewable energy sources that represent only a portion of Texas’s power portfolio. called the governor Thursday night to offer federal assistance during the emergency. The Lone Star fallout — financial, medical and political — will be felt long after the snows melt. Abbott is expected to seek a third term in the governor’s mansion in 2022.
“If Texas mishandles the snowfall, which is likely because they have so little snow experience, it could cause [Republicans] to lose some races in 2022,” said Dick Simpson, a Texas native who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports on the pounding Cruz has taken from all sides over the past 36 hours, which has been heavy from progressives. In an ad to be heard on 147 Texas radio stations, the No Excuses PAC quickly targeted “Cancun Cruz” (The Hill).
Politico: Top Texas Republicans on the ropes after tone-deaf storm response.
The New York Times: Family text messages reveal Cruz’s political blunder. …The senator had been acutely aware of the possible crisis in advance. In a radio interview on Monday, he said the state could see up to 100 deaths this week. “So don’t risk it,” he said. “Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids.”
The Atlantic opinion by David A. Graham: Cruz is no hypocrite. He’s worse.
The Washington Post: In Texas, power was restored to 2 million homes.
The Associated Press: A water crisis persists in Texas.
While the left hits Cruz, the right has trained its attention on Cuomo. Some Washington Republican operatives insisted on Thursday that Cruz critics sought a distraction from the more ominous troubles in Albany.
The governor is caught in a serious controversy about his administration’s handling of deaths of seniors in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic. Fatalities of the elderly and decisions tied to an undercount of deaths are under scrutiny by the FBI and by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, who have reportedly opened an investigation (The Hill).
The governor, who basked in the political limelight of crisis command during his public briefings and in a book he released last year, admitted some responsibility in his administration’s withholding of data, a problem officially reported on Jan. 30 by the Democratic New York attorney general.
State lawmakers want to strip Cuomo of emergency executive powers that grant him control over nearly every aspect of his state’s coronavirus response. Cuomo is responding by hurling insults at critics, including fellow Democrats. During a Wednesday press briefing, he alleged corruption by Democratic state Assemblyman Ron Kim, who was among several state lawmakers to accuse Cuomo of “obstruction of justice” in a letter published by the New York Post.
New York Mayor (D), who has often tangled with the governor, on Thursday weighed in during an interview to say Cuomo’s “bullying is nothing new” (NBC News).
Just weeks ago, Cuomo’s name was floated as a potential candidate to be attorney general. The governor said in 2019 he planned to seek reelection for a fourth term in 2022.
New York Post: State Assembly Republicans are moving to form an impeachment commission “to gather facts and evidence” surrounding the governor’s “handling and subsequent cover-up of the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes,” they announced Thursday.
House Minority Whip (R-La.) has used TV interviews and taken to Twitter during the last month to assert Cuomo’s culpability in the nursing home deaths while accusing him of a “coverup.” Scalise is trying to pressure the new Biden administration while casting Cuomo as another “radical left” member of the Democratic Party. It’s part of the House Republican strategy to climb out of the minority after next year’s midterms.
More in politics: will not challenge Florida Republican Sen. in a primary next year, she told him several weeks ago (The Associated Press). … Follow the money, including contributions from Republican donors who are caught in a battle between MAGA adherents and Trump’s GOP detractors, who warn the party must return to its “roots” (The Hill).
LEADING THE DAY
ADMINISTRATION: Biden’s immigration plan, unveiled by Democrats on Thursday, was greeted with immediate pushback from some quarters, underscoring why the White House may be willing to move separate bills to attract bipartisan support for an overhaul. The reform plan provides an eight-year path to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living, working and studying in the United States (The Hill and The New York Times).
Pelosi embraced a strategy of moving pieces of the plan through the House on separate votes (The Hill).
The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest memo that Biden’s immigration effort poses significant risks in a crowded political and judicial graveyard filled with shelved reform ideas. The dynamics of internal GOP politics in 2022 and 2024 work against compromise.
History: U.S. immigration timeline.
Politico: Biden privately tells governors that a $15 per hour federal minimum wage hike is unlikely to clear Congress.
> Saudi Arabia: Biden (pictured in 2011 in the Saudi capital) wants to change the U.S. approach to the Saudis adopted by his predecessor, who granted the House of Saud a prominent role in U.S.-Middle East policy (The Hill and The New York Times). Former liked the idea that the Kingdom bought U.S. weapons worth hundreds of billions of dollars and he offered cover for Saudi Arabia’s bloody civil war with Yemen. He also favored Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 35, the heir apparent to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The Biden administration has made its intentions clear, using the word “recalibrate” with a focus on the king (CNBC and CNN).
As early as next week, the new administration will release a long-awaited, declassified U.S. intelligence report, which concludes the crown prince ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The report is expected to further erode U.S.-Saudi relations (The Washington Post).
The Associated Press: Biden administration repudiates Trump on Iran and on Thursday signaled U.S. readiness for talks with Tehran about a return to a nuclear deal.
MORE IN CONGRESS: Members of the House Financial Services Committee sparred Thursday over what, if anything, Congress should do in response to the recent GameStop trading frenzy and the technology platforms that fueled the rapid rise — and sudden spiral — in stock valuations. Lawmakers disagreed over whether stock trading applications such as Robinhood need to be better regulated following a Reddit-orchestrated short squeeze on struggling companies in January. Democrats believe the GameStop episode exposes risks faced by amateur stock market traders (The Hill).
CNBC: Congress questions Robinhood, Roaring Kitty and hedge funds over GameStop frenzy.
> Commission on the Jan. 6 Capitol riots: The independent 9/11-style commission that will investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill should have subpoena power, Pelosi says (The Hill). Such a panel has not been appointed, its mandate remains broadly described and without a timeline, and appropriations for its work have not been enacted.
> Former Senate GOP leader Robert Dole, 97, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, announced he will begin treatment Monday for late-stage lung cancer. “While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” he said on Thursday (NBC News).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: , the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday that an updated vaccine to deal with a number of COVID-19 variants “likely will take several months,” with officials cautioning the public to remain stringent against the virus (MSNBC).
Despite the spread of the variants, the foremost infectious diseases specialist in the U.S. pointed to positive news emerging from studies, which show that the shots by Pfizer and Moderna are both effective against the emerging strains out of South Africa and Brazil, albeit less effective than against the main COVID-19 strain.
“So if we roll out the vaccine … and get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can while we maintain the public health measures, we should be in good stead,” Fauci said (CNN).
The Washington Post: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown reduced effectiveness against the South African variant of the coronavirus, according to new studies. This worries experts, and the drugmakers are trying to develop a booster shot or updated vaccine, which could take months.
The Associated Press: Experts warn against COVID-19 variants as states reopen.
NBC News: The United States will send $2 billion to a global vaccine program to fight COVID-19 and in the next two years, send another $2 billion to a World Health Organization-backed program called COVAX that supports access to vaccines for 92 countries.
The Wall Street Journal: Behind America’s botched vaccination rollout: Fragmented communication, misallocated supply.
The New York Times: Short of vaccine, states find hidden stashes in their own backyards.
Elsewhere on the vaccination front, Pfizer and vaccine partner BioNTech kicked off a new study across nine countries to test the efficacy and safety of their COVID-19 shot in pregnant women.
The first round of volunteers in what is expected to be a 4,000-subject study have already received their first shots, according to the companies. Women from the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mozambique, South Africa, Spain and Great Britain are being enrolled in the study.
“Pregnant women have an increased risk of complications and developing severe COVID-19,” said William Gruber, head of vaccine clinical research and development at Pfizer, in a statement. “It is critical that we develop a vaccine that is safe and effective [for them]” (The Associated Press).
The Associated Press: Anti-vax at the Vatican? You might lose your job.
Bloomberg: Ivy League schools cancel all spring sports.
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!
Our students fell way behind this year. It’s time to start talking summer school, by Catherine Rampell, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/37uA0Gu
Trump smears don’t diminish McConnell, by , columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3axM6kj
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Monday at 11:30 a.m. for a pro forma session and returns to legislative work on Tuesday.
The Senate convenes at 10:15 a.m. for a pro forma session. No votes are scheduled this week.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8 a.m. Biden will participate in a 9 a.m. virtual meeting from the White House to talk with Group of Seven leaders. From the East Room, he will address the Munich Security Conference in a virtual speech about the importance of transatlantic alliances. The president will travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., to tour a Pfizer manufacturing site at 2:25 p.m. and meet with the workers who are producing COVID-19 vaccine doses. He will speak at 3:10 p.m. and return to Washington.
Vice President Harris and husband will fly to Los Angeles, where they will remain over the weekend with no public schedule.
The White House press briefing by the COVID-19 response team is scheduled at 11:45 a.m.
Economic indicator: The National Association of Realtors at 10 a.m. will report on existing home sales in January.
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.
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.
➔ SPACE: NASA’s “Perseverance” rover landed without mishap on the surface of Mars on Thursday and sent live pictures back to Earth immediately. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory team responsible for the mission cheered loudly, leaped to their feet and high-fived as the rover navigated safely to its dusty target inside a crater on the Red Planet. “Dare Mighty Things” was the message on the wall behind them. Perseverance is looking for microscopic evidence of ancient life on Mars and will leave specially prepared samples on the planet for future scientists to locate. “I don’t think we’ve had a mission that is going to contribute so much to both science and technology,” NASA acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said this week. “It’s going to be truly amazing” (Space.com).
➔ SENTENCED: Two journalists in Belarus — Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, 27, and Daria Chultsova, 23 — were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison Thursday after they covered a protest against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. The journalists who work for the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel were arrested three months ago in their Minsk apartment in the midst of a livestream of a demonstration in the nation’s capital city (The Associated Press).
➔ FREED: U.S. journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., was released on Thursday by an al Qaeda linked group in Syria six months after his capture. He has lived in Syria since 2012, reporting on the Syrian government military campaigns against areas in opposition hands (ABC News).
➔ COURTS: The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom today dealt a major blow to Uber and its business model by unanimously declaring its drivers are “workers” and are not self-employed. The ruling stems from a lawsuit by two drivers who said they were “workers” and should receive employment benefits, such as paid holidays and minimum wage. Uber shares were down nearly three percent this morning in financial markets (The Associated Press).
And finally … Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners!
Here’s who aced our puzzle about headlines (and trivia) of note: Lesa Davis, Eric Truax, Jack Barshay, Judy Kulczycki, Jeanne Field, Stewart Baker, Donna Minter, Terry Pflaumer, Cheryl Gibson, Rich Papeika, Tom Hess, Joel M. Shaw, Sara Hall Phillips, Luke Charpentier, Norm Roberts, Andrew Celwyn, William Chittam, Daniel McLellan, Rocky Macy, Jeff Gelski, John van Santen, Robert Craig, Richard E. Baznik, Donna Nackers, Candi Cee, Daniel Bachhuber, Mary Anne McEnery, Karen Chabot, Lou Tisler, Chuck Schoenenberger, Patrick Kavanagh, Ki Harvey, Mary Frances Trucco, Harvey Salinger, Rich Davis, Pam Manges, Rachel A. Tyree, Lisa Love, John Donato, Leon Burzynski, Joe Erdmann, Luther Berg, Elizabeth Murphy, Sandy Walters, Victoria Gasaway and Sharon Banitt.
They knew that irate Texans are blaming winter weather, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and wind turbines (among a roundup of favorite targets) for their woes with rolling blackouts. Thus, the correct answer was “all of the above.”
Former President Trump, who had been uncharacteristically silent since Jan. 20, on Tuesday skewered Senate Minority Leader (R-Ky.) in a statement, calling him “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”
Biden’s new baseball cap, a gift from his grandchildren, says “Pop” on the back.
We referred to members of the British royal family, specifically the Duchess of Sussex and the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, when we noted news that Meghan is pregnant and Philip is in the hospital.
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