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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday, and Groundhog Day told us that we have six more weeks of winter! 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, 441,324; Tuesday, 443,355; Wednesday, 446,885.
Senate Democrats put their impatience on display Tuesday, voting to go it alone to provide up to $1.9 trillion in assistance to millions of hurting Americans rather than trim President Biden’s plan and delay momentum in search of a fig leaf of Republican support.
The Senate voted 50 to 49 to proceed with a largely partisan strategy to enact another round of coronavirus relief using budget reconciliation, which is a tool that weakens Republicans’ clout by relying on a simple majority for final passage (The Hill and Reuters).
Biden on Tuesday phoned Senate Democrats to urge their backing for an expensive COVID-19 rescue measure, tacitly rejecting as too small a $618 billion alternative that Senate Republicans presented to him on Monday night (The Hill and The Associated Press).
The Senate jujitsu over the president’s centerpiece legislation amid a prolonged national crisis will play out well into the spring. Tuesday’s action turned to procedural tools as a form of insurance, fortifying the advantages behind House and Senate Democrats’ thinnest of thin majorities.
Slate explainer: Everything you need to know about budget reconciliation.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. wields considerable clout among his more progressive colleagues. He said he supports budget reconciliation, with some caveats. He opposes inclusion in a relief measure Biden’s campaign promise to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, for example, arguing it is out of bounds under the rules of reconciliation.
West Virginia has a 6.3 percent unemployment rate and the third-lowest per capita income among the 50 states. The state’s daily percentage of positive COVID-19 tests is 5.33 percent.
“I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic,” Manchin said. “For the sake of the country, we must work together with laser focus to defeat the COVID-19 crisis, support our neighbors and communities who continue to suffer and get back to a more normal life as quickly as possible.”
Manchin later took his meet-in-the-middle message to Fox News, saying, “We’re going to make this work in a bipartisan way. My friends on the other side are going to have input. And we’re going to do something that we agree on. I’m not just going to do it just down the line of just saying party-line vote” (The Hill).
The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports that Tuesday’s vote was just the start of procedural and political headaches for senators in Biden’s party as they eye a mid-March deadline. Democrats face intraparty rifts including over the minimum wage, proposed $1,400 direct federal relief checks to millions of Americans and progressives’ opposition to a smaller bill.
Biden told 10 Republican senators on Monday that he would speak with Democratic leaders about holding off on a partisan reconciliation approach, a Senate GOP aide briefed on the meeting told The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
The Democratic budget resolution is expected to move as scheduled, but GOP senators on Monday discussed with Biden the possibility of moving a smaller bipartisan package first and then a larger bill with a party-line vote later in the year. Biden, who champions his aspirations for unity and common purpose, in some ways plays “good cop” to Senate Majority Leader ‘s (D-N.Y.) unapologetically partisan “bad cop.”
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Starting next week, some 6,500 pharmacies around the country will receive a total of 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government on top of allocations to states, the White House announced on Tuesday.
The White House also announced an increase in doses the government is shipping to states, territories and some major metropolitan areas. Those will now total 10.5 million doses across all jurisdictions, up from 10 million announced last week. A priority will be to get vaccine doses to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus (The Associated Press).
The news represents a ramp-up in distribution of vaccines in the United States. According to Bloomberg News’s vaccine tracker, the country has administered an average of 1.32 million shots per day over the past week and 33.7 million doses of the vaccine overall since mid-December.
Thankfully for the United States, the daily case total also plateaued as the calendar turned to February. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the country reported 120,00, 122,000 and 118,000 cases, respectively — the lowest numbers recorded since Nov. 9 (The Washington Post). Locally, totals reported on Sunday and Monday in Washington, D.C., were the lowest since the end of November.
> Variants: In the United Kingdom, Public Health England is investigating cases of the coronavirus found to have “worrying” new genetic changes. Tests show the variants have a mutation, called E484K, that is also detected in a South Africa strain, making the virus more transmissible (BBC). … In the United States as of Jan. 31, 32 states reported coronavirus variants, according to a tally and chart maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Biden administration says it wants to upgrade genomic sequencing efforts in this country.
STAT News: What we know, and don’t know, about coronavirus variants.
The Associated Press: Dutch lockdown extended as virus variants gain strongly.
The Associated Press: World Health Organization team visits Wuhan virus lab at center of speculation.
> NYC mayor race: , the former 2020 presidential candidate and current candidate to become mayor of New York City, announced Tuesday that he has contracted COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms from the virus.
Yang said in a statement that he “will continue to attend as many virtual events as possible, in addition to working with our incredible campaign team to continue our mission of getting New York City back on its feet” (The Hill).
The Hill: Yang leans into outsider status in run for NYC mayor while critics question experience.
MORE ADMINISTRATION: The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm to lead the Department of Homeland Security by a vote of 56 to 43 (The Hill).
Mayorkas became a target for conservative Republican senators, some of whom may seek the presidency in 2024, because they view Biden’s Cabinet choice as the designated unraveler of former ’s hard-line immigration and border wall policies. Born in Cuba to a mother who fled the Holocaust, Mayorkas is the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the department. He has joined the Biden administration after serving under former President Obama as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and later as deputy director of Homeland Security.
The six Republicans who backed Mayorkas were: Sens. (W.Va.), (R-Maine), (Alaska), (Ohio), (Utah) and (Alaska).
The Senate also confirmed , the nation’s first openly LGBTQ Cabinet secretary, by a vote of 86 to 13 on Tuesday to lead the Transportation Department (The Hill). Voting against Buttigieg: Republican Sens. (Ark.), (Texas), (La.), (Kan.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), (Ala.), (Mo.), (Tenn.), (Fla.), (S.C.), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.) and (Okla.).
Biden’s Cabinet picks for the departments of Defense, Treasury and State and director of national intelligence have also cleared Senate confirmation.
CNN: Senate confirms Mayorkas, Buttigieg.
> It used to be known as Burma: State Department officials said on Tuesday they consider the recent military takeover of Myanmar a coup, setting the stage for more U.S. sanctions (The Associated Press).
The United States will “work closely with our partners throughout the region and the world to support respect for democracy and the rule of law in Burma, as well as to promote accountability for those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic trajectory,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Burma is the former name of Myanmar. Whatever penalties the Biden administration imposes will spare direct humanitarian aid to the country’s people, the State Department said.
Reuters: Myanmar police have filed charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allegedly importing communications equipment considered illegal. She is to be detained during investigations through mid-February.
The Associated Press: People in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar are organizing to make their objections to the coup loud and clear.
> Since Jan. 20, Biden and Vice President Harris have often been seen in the same room for briefings, speeches, announcements and top-level meetings. “Biden has said all along he wanted a partner in governing,” said one source close to Harris. “He knows firsthand how valuable that supporting role can be and how critical it is for the VP to be in the room. And being a key part of this administration is exactly what she signed up for. She’s not one to embrace a ceremonial role with a few pet issues” (The Hill).
> First lady , a Ph.D. educator who continues to teach English composition at Northern Virginia Community College, is getting to work — in all her roles (The Washington Post). … The first lady joined the president on Tuesday night to pay their respects to Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries inflicted by rioters on Jan. 6 and whose ashes were brought to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Sicknick is to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery (The New York Times).
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The internet has changed a lot in 25 years. But the last time comprehensive internet regulations were passed was in 1996.
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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
IMPEACHMENT: Lawyers representing Trump on Tuesday rolled out the defense they will present at next week’s impeachment trial, arguing that it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president and that Trump’s address to insurrectionists on Jan. 6 did not directly lead to the deadly riot at the Capitol shortly later.
The brief by his defense team declares that Trump’s speech that day was protected by the First Amendment and accuses Democrats of not allowing the former president due process by rushing impeachment through the House.
“It is denied that the 45th president of the United States ever engaged in a violation of his oath of office,” the defense attorneys wrote. “To the contrary, at all times Donald J. Trump fully and faithfully executed his duties as the president of the United States and at all times acted to the best of his ability to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States while never engaging in any high crimes or misdemeanors” (The Hill).
Jonathan Easley and Mike Lillis, The Hill: Five takeaways from Trump impeachment trial briefs.
The Hill: Impeachment managers say Trump’s conduct demands conviction.
The Associated Press: House Dems make case for conviction; Trump denies charges.
With the trial looming, Sen. (D-Va.) said on Tuesday that he will withdraw his bid to censure Trump, citing a lack of support for the motion among lawmakers on either side of the aisle.
“We don’t have enough support on the Republican side because they don’t want to bar Trump from running from office and I don’t have enough support on the Democratic side because for most of my colleagues, it’s impeachment or nothing,” Kaine said (USA Today).
Seventeen Senate Republicans are needed in order to convict the president, but that is highly unlikely to occur. Only five GOP senators voted with Democrats to say that the impending trial is constitutional.
The Hill: Gulf grows between GOP’s Sen. (Ky.), Rep. (Calif.).
More in Congress: House Intelligence Committee Chairman (D-Calif.) is quietly lobbying Gov. (D) to be named attorney general, with Speaker ’s (D-Calif.) approval (Axios). … Sen. (R-S.C.) threw his support behind Rep. (Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican in the House, who has been criticized by some conservatives and Trump for voting to impeach the former president after his actions in Washington on Jan. 6. Graham has been a staunch Trump supporter, but he tweeted that Cheney is “one of the strongest and most conservative voices in the Republican Party” (The Hill). … House Republicans on Wednesday night declined to make any immediate decisions concerning Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) after she met with McCarthy amid calls that she be removed from committees or possibly jettisoned from Congress (The Hill)… A GOP Texas lawmaker is promoting a measure to remove Rep. (D-Mich.) from the House Foreign Affairs panel (The Hill). … The House voted to enact fines up to $10,000 against lawmakers who do not comply with metal detectors and take other security measures at the Capitol (The Hill).
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!
Biden is smart to pursue more than one path on a relief package, by Karen Tumulty, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/36BBJt4
Catholic schools are beating COVID-19, by William McGurn, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3oK5Tk6
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 1 p.m.
The Senate meets at 9 a.m. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. for , nominated to be secretary of Energy.
The president and the vice president have no public events as of this morning. Harris will ceremonially administer the oath of office to Secretary Buttigieg at 9:30 a.m. in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. Biden and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief in the Oval Office at 5:30 p.m.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. The White House coronavirus briefing is scheduled at 11 a.m.
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.
A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK
Internet regulations need an update
It’s been 25 years since comprehensive internet regulations were passed.
But a lot has changed since 1996. We support updated regulations to set clear guidelines for protecting people’s privacy, enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms and more.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was ordered by a Moscow court to spend 2 ½ years in prison for violating his probation by going to Germany to recuperate from a near-fatal poisoning in August. The decision was announced on Tuesday night as protesters continued to demonstrate across Moscow and St. Petersburg. It also prompted a new round of criticisms from Western nations, including from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called for the Kremlin to “immediately and unconditionally release” Navalny (The Associated Press).
➔ TECH: Amazon founder and chief executive , 57, announced on Tuesday that he will step down this summer to become executive chairman, promoting Andy Jassy, the chief of the company’s cloud computing division, to handle the day-to-day reins as CEO. Company officials described the move as a shuffling of chairs rather than a Bezos withdrawal from the company’s future. Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookseller in 1996, growing it into a $1.7 trillion behemoth with more than 1.2 million workers. Under his leadership, Amazon expanded into sales of millions of different items, became a logistics giant, upended the retail industry — and then spread further into cloud computing, streaming entertainment and artificial-intelligence-powered devices (The New York Times and The Hill). … Uber on Tuesday expanded services into alcohol delivery with its acquisition of Drizly for $1.1 billion (The Washington Post).
➔ STATE WATCH: California’s Newsom has become so embroiled in the coronavirus crisis and the target of enough political pummeling in California that some Democrats are talking about a need for a backup plan should voters decide the first-term governor needs to go. Newsom is facing a recall petition started by Republicans before the pandemic, and on Monday, former San Diego Mayor (R) entered a race to try to topple Newsom (The Associated Press).
And finally … Captain Tom Moore, the British World War II veteran who walked into the hearts of a nation in lockdown as he shuffled up and down his garden to raise money for health care workers, died after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 100.
Captain Tom, as he became known in newspaper headlines and TV interviews, set out to raise a modest amount of money for Britain’s National Health Service by walking 100 laps of his backyard. But his quest went viral and caught the imagination of millions of people stuck at home during the first wave of the pandemic. Donations poured in from across Britain and from the United States and Japan, raising the equivalent of $40 million. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July. The royal family tweeted condolences on Tuesday.
“Please always remember, tomorrow will be a good day,” Moore said during an interview last year, displaying the optimism that became his trademark (The Associated Press).
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