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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 513,091; Tuesday, 514,657; Wednesday, 516,608.
The Senate will officially kick off consideration of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package as party leaders urge Senate Democrats to stick together and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicts that they will have the votes to pass the massive bill.
The Senate Democratic Conference on Tuesday met virtually with , who pushed them to remain “united” in the coming days, with Biden and Schumer needing every Democrat on board to get the blueprint through a 50-50 upper chamber.
“President Biden made his pitch today to our entire caucus. And he said we need to pass this bill and pass it soon,” Schumer told reporters after the call.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, the rest of the week will be a test of will for the conference as it will take an initial vote to proceed to the House-passed coronavirus bill. The real challenge will come later in the week when the Senate endures a wide-ranging vote-a-rama, forcing Democrats to fend off challenges from GOP senators who will need to win over a single Democratic senator to alter the bill. The tight margin also gives leverage to any Senate Democrat who wants to make changes to the massive package.
“It means many long nights and many amendments that, frankly, don’t go to the heart of the issue but are attempts to divert to some other political question,” said Senate Majority Whip (D-Ill.) about the upcoming vote-a-rama and lead-up to a vote on the final bill.
Schumer, however, expressed confidence about the conference’s ability to weather the coming storm. Speaking on the Senate floor, the New York Democrat insisted that Democrats will “have the votes we need to pass this bill.”
The Hill: Despite vows of unity and boasts of resolve, Democrats are sniping with one another about policy while Republican lawmakers brawl over Trump.
Meanwhile, the looming inability to pass the broader Democratic agenda is threatening to create problems for the president and party lawmakers after they vowed to enact a bold set of proposals if handed the keys to government. The political world on Capitol Hill post-COVID-19 package could be blown to smithereens, with Democratic bills on immigration, election reform and voting and gun rights set to join the legislative graveyard that Democrats derided throughout the 116th Congress (The Hill).
This potential Democratic nightmare is bringing another discussion to the forefront: a renewed effort to eliminate the legislative filibuster. Progressives are clamoring for the 60-vote threshold to be nixed, but the likelihood of that becoming reality is slim to none because Sen. (D-W.Va.) maintains that he will not support its undoing. Biden has also indicated that he wants the filibuster to remain, but the possibility of getting none of those priorities passed could force the hand of the president (The Hill).
The Hill: House Democrats’ ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade.
Reuters: Senators refine Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill, pushing pet projects.
NBC News: Obamacare would get a big (and quiet) overhaul in the COVID-19 relief bill.
As Biden navigated what he anticipates will be the first major legislative win of his presidency, he suffered his first Cabinet stumble after weeks of fruitless lobbying among senators to clear the nomination of to lead the Office of Management and Budget (The Washington Post). The president was forced to concede he could not muster sufficient votes for a nominee criticized for denigrating Republican and some Democratic senators for years on Twitter and during television commentary.
Biden is expected to appoint Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, to a position that does not require Senate confirmation. “I have the utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel, and I look forward to having her serve in a role in my administration,” Biden said in a statement.
The Hill: Tanden withdraws her nomination.
Tanden would have needed the support of at least one Republican to overcome the “no” vote promised by Manchin, who said he believed Tanden could not be a unifying influence in that role. After Tanden met privately on Monday with Sen. (R-Alaska), the senator said on Tuesday that she remained undecided. She later said the White House never asked her how she’d vote and that she was surprised Tanden’s nomination was pulled (The Hill).
Elsewhere in the Senate on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray (pictured below) testified that officials classified the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as domestic terrorism perpetrated by extremists. “That attack, that siege, was criminal behavior, plain and simple, and it’s behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism,” Wray told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee (The Hill).
Under questioning from lawmakers, Wray resisted pinning the Capitol breach on a single extremist ideology, saying the group of attackers “included a variety of backgrounds.”
“The attackers on Jan. 6 included a number — and the number keeps growing as we build out our investigations — of what we would call militia violent extremism,” said Wray, who is a holdover from the Trump administration.
“We have had some already arrested who we would put in the category of racially motivated violent extremism, white as well,” he continued.
Wray clarified that the FBI has no evidence of antifa or left-wing, anti-fascist involvement in the siege (The Hill).
The Hill: Capitol Police are beefing up security this week amid “concerning information and intelligence” about March 4, a date cloaked in false, convoluted importance by QAnon conspiracists, who believe former will be reinstated in office on Thursday.
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LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Biden on Tuesday announced that the administration has struck a deal with Merck & Co. to help produce doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, boosting the U.S.’s vaccine production to allow every American to receive a shot by the end of May.
The president pointed to a “stepped-up process” under his administration that will bump up the vaccine production and distribution timeline by two months.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said in remarks from the White House on Tuesday afternoon. “When we came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”
Biden said that he has invoked the Defense Production Act to equip Merck facilities to safely manufacture the vaccine. Johnson & Johnson plans to operate its facilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to meet the increased supply in the expedited time frame (The Hill).
It was not immediately clear how many more doses Merck will be able to make or when they will be available (The Hill).
The Wall Street Journal: Stock futures rise on vaccine, stimulus hopes.
> State Watch, COVID-19 edition: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced on Tuesday that the Lone Star State is lifting most of its restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate, and will allow all businesses to reopen at 100 percent capacity starting on March 10.
“Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID,” Abbott said. “Make no mistake, COVID has not suddenly disappeared. COVID still exists in Texas, in the United States and across the globe. … But it is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalizations and the safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
The two-term governor also pointed to increasing vaccination rates — Texas has vaccinated 5.7 million people, nearly 20 percent of the state population — and a low statewide positivity rate as additional justification (The Hill).
The Texas Tribune: Abbott says he’s rescinding statewide mask mandate and capacity limits on businesses.
The Associated Press: Texas and other states ease COVID-19 rules despite warnings.
Shortly after the announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) revealed that his state will follow suit, with restrictions and mask mandates being rescinded starting today.
“Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules. Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed,” Reeves tweeted. “It is time!”
NPR: Mississippi today will lift its mask requirement and its business capacity limits.
In Philadelphia, health officials announced on Tuesday that the city is easing restrictions to allow fans to attend indoor and outdoor sporting events. Indoor events will be capped at 15 percent capacity, and outdoor events will be capped at 20 percent capacity. The Wells Fargo Center, home to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, will reopen to fans on Sunday (CBS Philly).
The Hill: New York lawmakers agree to strip the governor of pandemic-related emergency powers.
CBS News: The COVID-19 baby boom is looking more like a baby bust.
Alex Gangitano, The Hill: Pressure builds for companies to incentivize vaccines for workers.
The Associated Press: Chinese vaccines sweep much of the world, despite concerns.
POLITICS: It’s never too early to ponder who the next Republican presidential nominee will be, and governors are in the pandemic spotlight.
Although the Sunshine State is suffering heavy COVID-19 losses, Florida Gov. (R) has seen his star rise after syncing his no-lockdowns responses to COVID-19 to Trump’s insistence that businesses, schools and commerce must be open. DeSantis’s approach earned him broad support among conservatives now in search of a 2024 standard-bearer and possible Trump successor, reports The Hill’s Julia Manchester. Trump easily won Florida and its 29 electoral votes in November, but Biden captured the White House with key victories in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. GOP support for DeSantis was on full view at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando.
And speaking of Trump, only 68 percent of CPAC respondents said in a straw poll that they want Trump to run again for president, despite their strong support for his policies. The Hill’s Niall Stanage asks whether the 45th president, as Trump likes to be called, is experiencing a slow fade from national relevance.
> Newcomer: The Hill’s Reid Wilson offers readers a closeup look at Sen. (D-Calif.), who says he has “big Chuck Taylors to fill.”
> RIP: Vernon Jordan Jr., a civil rights leader, power broker, businessman, Democratic Party donor and adviser to presidents, including former President Clinton, died on Monday at his home in Washington at age 85 (The New York Times). More than two decades ago at a White House gathering, Clinton paid tribute to civil rights leaders and icons in the legal community who helped “mend” what he called America’s “social fabric.” Gazing around the East Room at pathbreakers he admired, Clinton said the challenge in 1999 remained “just as real as it was when Vernon Jordan started with the Urban League as a young man or before he was working in the South on registering voters.”
One of the men in the room that afternoon was then-Rep. (D) of California, now nominated by the 46th president to lead the Health and Human Services Department.
Al Hunt, opinion contributor to The Hill: Vernon Jordan: an American legend, and a good friend.
> New York Gov. (D), accused of sexual harassment and offensive behavior by three young women, two of whom are former aides, is taking stock of prominent Democrats urging him to resign. On Tuesday, Sen. (D-N.Y.) was not one of them. Gillibrand, who hastened Democrat ’s departure from the Senate when he faced harassment complaints in 2017, stopped short of seeking Cuomo’s resignation, saying in a statement that she awaits results of an independent inquiry and believes the behavior attributed to Cuomo is “completely unacceptable.”
> The Washington Post reports on the trend of high-margin donor fees charged by consultants and promotional firms in lucrative contracts that bind candidates and vacuum up their campaign donations.
> In Texas, Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, who previously served in the White House as Trump’s physician before retiring from the Navy, is facing scathing allegations in a report drawn from a Defense Department inspector general investigation initiated in 2018. The report, reflecting information from 78 witnesses and White House documents, says Jackson made “sexual and denigrating” comments about a female subordinate, violated the policy for drinking alcohol while on a presidential trip and took prescription-strength sleeping medication that prompted concerns from his colleagues about his ability to provide proper care (CNN). Jackson briefly was Trump’s choice to lead the Veterans Affairs Department before his nomination was withdrawn. The Washington Post in 2018 compiled an annotated list of allegations documented against Jackson when he was considered for a Cabinet post. … Also in Texas on Tuesday, Republican Kristina Pierson, a former Trump campaign aide who had been exploring a possible run for a House seat in the Dallas area, decided against it (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
MORE ADMINISTRATION: Second-term Rhode Island Gov. (D) was confirmed on Tuesday to lead the Commerce Department by an overwhelming Senate vote of 84 to 15. Raimondo will be responsible for promoting the nation’s economic growth domestically and overseas. Republican opposition to her confirmation focused on concerns that she would not be forceful enough in confronting the Chinese government’s efforts to gain an economic and technological edge through espionage (The Associated Press).
, Biden’s experienced choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), told Congress on Tuesday that the agency should address how to protect investors who use online stock-trading platforms with flashy tech gimmicks that entice them to trade more (The Associated Press).
Gensler is known on Wall Street as a tough regular who previously chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If confirmed to the SEC post, he told senators he would work to strengthen transparency and accountability in the markets. That will enable people “to invest with confidence and be protected from fraud and manipulation,” he said. “It means promoting efficiency and competition so our markets operate with lower costs to companies and higher returns to investors. … And above all, it means making sure our markets serve the needs of working families.”
Democratic senators urged Gensler to take up requiring corporations to fully disclose their climate change risks and political spending and punishing companies for violations of securities laws.
The Hill: Gensler and , Biden’s choice to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gave senators a preview of the Biden administration’s regulatory agenda.
Separately, the Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly confirmed to chair the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). The vote was 95 to 4. She was most recently dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and was a CEA member during the Obama administration (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!
Raid the Republican Party to save the party, by Martin Skladany, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/37ZsSCr
Democrats must prepare now for a contested 2024 election, by B.J. Rudell, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3b7Rsmq
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WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m.
The president and Vice President Harris will receive the Presidential Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden, who during the Obama administration helped lead a federal effort to combat cancer, will hold a meeting about cancer legislation at 1:45 p.m. Biden will participate in a virtual event with the House Democratic Caucus at 5 p.m.
First lady will travel to Meriden, Conn., and Waterford, Pa., with Education Secretary (The Hill) to focus on school operations and safety during the pandemic (Meriden is Cardona’s home-town, and he formally served as Connecticut’s education commissioner) (Axios). The Washington Post reports the first lady favors unannounced drop-bys at Black- or immigrant-owned small businesses as she travels.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:15 p.m. A briefing by the White House coronavirus response team will take place at 11 a.m.
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 Trump are revealed with deep reporting, analysis and new anecdotes in “Lucky,” which is in bookstores and available for order with Penguin Random House HERE and on Amazon HERE. The Washington Post’s book critic Carlos Lozado has a review HERE. The Hill published four brief excerpts (1, 2, 3, 4).
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.
➔ IN THE STATES: Legislation targeting transgender people is advancing in about half the states as Republican lawmakers seek to exclude the community from women’s sports (The Hill). … State lawmakers are barreling ahead with major rollbacks of early voting, mail voting and other state provisions that Republicans oppose (The Washington Post).
➔ SUPREME COURT: Justices on Tuesday heard debate in a dispute over GOP-backed Arizona voting restrictions that could see the high court weaken federal safeguards for minority voters. The justices posed tough questions to both sides during a two-hour telephone argument that pitted Democrats who allege the voting curbs are racially discriminatory against Arizona Republicans who defended the rules as important anti-fraud measures (The Hill). The New York Times’s Adam Liptak reports that justices seemed ready in the most important voting right case in almost a decade to uphold two election restrictions in Arizona and to make it harder to challenge all sorts of limits on voting around the nation.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: In Myanmar today, at least nine people are dead after security forces opened fire with little warning on several towns in an effort to halt protests against military rule. The military have been in charge since a Feb. 1 coup. Neighboring countries have called for restraint and seek an end to the crisis (Reuters). … The Biden administration on Tuesday declassified an intelligence finding that the F.S.B., one of Russia’s leading intelligence agencies, orchestrated the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and announced its first sanctions against the Russian government for the attack and Navalny’s imprisonment (The New York Times). Moscow today vows retaliation for U.S. sanctions (Reuters). … In Iraq, at least 10 rockets landed today at Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces. It’s the second rocket attack in Iraq this month and occurred two days before is scheduled to visit the country (Reuters).
And finally … One owner of a 2020 Flying Spur W12 Bentley has been encouraged to bring his vehicle in for a new fuel tank after the British company flagged the possibility of a leak problem covered by a U.S. recall. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the fuel tank flaw was discovered during a review of supplier production records. The Flying Spur W12 boasts a 12-cylinder, six-liter engine that can supposedly leap to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds (Bloomberg News and (Hindustan Times). The luxury ride for the ultra rich gets 12 miles to the gallon. A rear-seat mini fridge is an extra.
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