Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It 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, and 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, 299,181; Tuesday, 300,482; Wednesday, 303,849; Thursday, 307,501.
The number of confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases will crash through 17 million today. New cases are averaging 212,000 per day in this country. Hospitalizations for the virus set a U.S. record on Tuesday.
Lawmakers project an air of confidence they will soon be able to pass a monstrous COVID-19 relief and omnibus funding package, but 11th-hour snags could send Congress into a weekend session as it looks to complete its year-end business.
After hours of discussions on Tuesday, negotiators indicated a day later that they are moving toward a deal that would provide roughly $900 billion in COVID-19 relief. The stimulus bill is expected to be packaged with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending measure that would expire Sept. 30.
“We’re still talking and I think we’re gonna get there,” Senate Majority Leader (R-Ky.) told reporters.
However, as The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports, the gargantuan package is hitting some last-minute snags, with lawmakers across the board attempting to attach pet projects to the end-of-the-year must-pass bill
“It’s still a ways off, I think. They’ve still got some things they’re negotiating. … It’s been a slow roll so far,” (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Among unsettled and high-profile items in the relief bill are direct checks and unemployment insurance. According to Thune, the current plan would give payments to Americans of around $600 or $700 — nearly half of the $1,200 checks that went out after the CARES Act in March. Whether the checks would have the same $75,000 income cap for individuals and $150,000 for married couples included in the CARES Act remained under discussion.
Progressives, headlined by Sen. (I-Vt.), expressed their dismay at the smaller direct payments. Sanders — who earlier in the day got into a heated back-and-forth with Sen. (D-W.Va.) on the topic during a Senate Democratic conference call — panned Democratic negotiators for relenting on a larger bill and likely settling on a bill that is less than a third the size of the HEROES Act approved by the House in May.
“I don’t know how Democrats started accepting a framework of only $900 billion,” Sanders told reporters (The Washington Post).
The Washington Post: Congressional leaders add stimulus checks to $900 billion relief package as they near deal.
Reuters: Lawmakers haggle over details as Congress closes in on $900 billion COVID-19 aid bill.
CNBC: Stock futures rise, with stimulus negotiations in focus.
Timing of a potential deal remains very much up in the air. McConnell told the Senate GOP to be prepared to be at the Capitol for a rare weekend session as they work toward an agreement.
The political impetus for a deal is also at the forefront for the GOP leader. According to one Senate Republican aide, McConnell told lawmakers on a conference-wide call Wednesday that Georgia Sens. (R) and (R) are getting hammered by the lack of a deal weeks ahead of their runoffs on Jan. 5 that will determine the Senate majority. For weeks, GOP sources have told The Morning Report that as the Georgia races go, so will the posturing for a deal.
“McConnell’s one abiding priority is keeping the majority. So if a deal gets the Georgia seats, he’s going to walk across burning coals to get a deal,” a second Senate GOP aide told The Morning Report late Wednesday.
The Hill: Republicans hold slight edge in Georgia Senate runoffs: poll.
The Hill: McConnell getting much of what he wants in emerging relief deal.
Failure to weave together two major bills by this weekend could result in a government shutdown unless lawmakers pass a second stopgap funding measure to provide more time to wrap up details. According to The Hill’s Mike Lillis, leading lawmakers in both parties, including House Majority Leader (D-Md.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman (R-Ala.) support another short-term extension if needed.
“I’m against shutting down government,” Hoyer told reporters on a press call. “I think it is a stark admission of failure.”
The Hill: Experts say stimulus deal could head off double-dip recession.
> Rep. (D-N.Y.) said on Wednesday that she is “not ready” to be Speaker but lamented that the Democratic Party desperately needs new leadership and that Speaker (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader (D-N.Y.) need to go. In an interview with The Intercept’s podcast, the progressive hero and firebrand said that Democrats have failed to create a succession plan once Pelosi and her generation of longtime leaders — many of them now in their eighties — step aside. Pelosi has indicated that this upcoming two-year term will be her last as Speaker (The Hill).
The Hill’s Maggie Miller reports that Christopher Krebs, the nation’s former top cybersecurity official, told lawmakers Wednesday that he stood by his statements that the 2020 election was safe from interference. “While elections are sometimes messy, this was a secure election, of that I have no doubt,” Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Trump fired Krebs last month for contradicting his false assertions of a fraudulent presidential election. Trump challenged Krebs as he testified, tweeting that the cybersecurity authority “was totally excoriated and proven wrong at the Senate Hearing on the Fraudulent 2020 Election. Massive FRAUD took place with machines, people voting from out of state, illegals, dead people, no signatures—and so much more!”
More in Congress … Republican Sens. of Wisconsin and of Utah don’t plan to challenge the Electoral College results in Congress (The Hill).
LEADING THE DAY
NEW ADMINISTRATION: Smart, humble, steeped in policy and a former presidential primary rival: “He’s able to walk into any room and leave people inspired with his ability to describe an America that’s the best of us,” President-elect added while describing , 38, his choice to lead the Transportation Department.
The president-elect on Wednesday introduced the former South Bend, Ind., mayor at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del. (pictured below). Biden is assembling a diverse Cabinet that with Buttigieg’s confirmation by the Senate would make history with the first openly LGBTQ member (The Hill).
The Hill: LGBTQ organizations hail choice of Buttigieg.
Biden envisions Transportation as part of his administration’s overall team to tackle climate change. He’s also expected to name former Michigan Gov. (D) as secretary of Energy and former Environmental Protection Agency chief to take on a new role as coordinator of domestic climate policy. Biden campaigned on a U.S. goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and a net-zero power sector by 2035 (The Hill).
Biden is expected to name Brenda Mallory to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). She is an environmental lawyer who worked as general counsel for the CEQ under former President Obama (Bloomberg News).
During a videoconference with 31 governors on Wednesday, Biden and Vice President-elect , joined by incoming White House coronavirus coordinator and others, emphasized planning was underway to partner with states for a pandemic response in little more than a month.
“What we’re looking at is — I think we can in our first 100 days get out 100 million shots out there in people’s arms. Now that’s probably going to mean 50 million people” because each person needs to get two doses, Biden said.
Zients called the planning “one of the greatest operational challenges our country has ever faced.”
> Biden’s potential candidates for secretary of Commerce to work with the business community sparked much conversation among advocacy groups and lobbyists. Two notable women with corporate track records, Mellody Hobson and Meg Whitman, are among names floated (The Hill).
> Interior Department: Rep. (D-N.M.), who is Native American, has the blessing of Democratic leaders to depart the narrow House majority for Biden’s Cabinet, if she’s the president-elect’s choice to be secretary of the Interior, according to Pelosi and Hoyer (The Hill and Bloomberg News).
> Education Department: Educators Leslie Fenwick and Miguel Cardona have emerged as top contenders to be Biden’s choice as Education secretary (The Washington Post). Also mentioned: Lily Eskelsen García,, former president of the National Education Association from 2014 until the end of her term earlier this year. If confirmed, she would be the first Latina to lead the department (The Hill).
> California donors and U.S. ambassadors-in-waiting? Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, who once toyed with the idea of a 2020 presidential run, is at the top of Biden’s wish list for a key ambassador post, perhaps China or the plum post as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Film producer and media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, a major Democratic donor and bundler, also is in the Biden mix for an ambassadorship, according to the publication. Producer Matt Walden, husband of Walt Disney Television chairman Dana Walden, is being eyed for an ambassador post for a European country. (Matt Walden is a longtime friend of Douglas Emhoff, husband of Harris.)
> Seven little letters got Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon into some trouble on Wednesday because of comments she made during an interview with Glamour magazine. She called GOP lawmakers “a bunch of f—ers” and said McConnell is “terrible” (Axios and The Hill). Her remarks were seen as an unforced error as Biden seeks to repair the breach and restore the “soul of the nation.” Dillon, who is to be deputy White House chief of staff in January, did not comment on the dust-up.
> Inauguration update: In-person, ticketed attendance by lawmakers at the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony for the 46th president and the new vice president at the Capitol will be limited to members of Congress and one guest, or 1,070 people (about the petite size of a customary State of the Union address), because of COVID-19 health risks, the organizing committee announced on Wednesday (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Beginning on Friday, Vice President Pence and other administration officials and relatives will publicly receive the COVID-19 vaccine in an attempt to build trust and allay fears. Pence, second lady and Surgeon General will be inoculated in public in order “to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people” (The Hill).
Appearing in Delaware on Wednesday, Biden, 78, told reporters that he will receive the vaccine in public soon. The former vice president is expected to be inoculated early next week as part of national security precautions before he is sworn in (CNN and The Hill).
“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden said. “When I do it, I’ll do it publicly, so you can all witness my getting it done.”
The news for Biden and Pence came amid another record-breaking day for the virus in the U.S., which set new single-day marks for cases (232,086) and deaths (3,293) (NBC News).
> California is in crisis with rising cases of COVID-19. Vaccine doses reached some nursing homes there, as well as in Florida, West Virginia and other states (The Associated Press).
> Cabinet: Secretary of State went into self-isolation on Wednesday after being in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 (The Hill). The news comes a day after the State Department hosted a holiday party that was attended by 70 people of roughly 900 invitees. Pompeo canceled an in-person speech at the event, according to The Washington Post. Following the news, the State Department canceled a separate holiday party set for Wednesday night (The Hill). … Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday (The Washington Post).
Politico: Food and Drug Administration says Pfizer vaccine vials hold extra doses, expanding supply.
The Hill: says he won’t be seeing his children for Christmas for the first time since they were born. His 80th birthday is Christmas Eve.
ABC News: on her relationship with Trump: “Respectful in public but very clear in private.”
The Hill: U.S. officials had to return Pfizer vaccine doses after they became too cold. Pfizer says it is having some manufacturing issues (Reuters).
The Washington Post: Alaska health care worker suffers allergic reaction after vaccine, hospitalized.
> Poll: According to a new survey by Ipsos and the American Edge Project, 89 percent of respondents believe American tech companies have played a crucial role in helping the economy during the pandemic, with 83 percent saying that they strengthen the U.S. economy.
International: In France, President tested positive for COVID-19 after developing symptoms of illness and is working from quarantine, according to a government statement today. As Axios notes, Macron attended a European Council summit in Brussels last week with his fellow European Union leaders. … Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who met with Macron on Monday, is now in self-quarantine as a precaution (Reuters). … European Council President Charles Michel entered quarantine, as well (Axios). … Sweden was faulted this week by an appointed commission for failing to protect the country’s elderly against COVID-19 beginning in the spring when the virus mitigation policy shunned lockdowns and mask-wearing. Just under half of Sweden’s almost 7,700 coronavirus fatalities have been nursing home residents (Reuters). … United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that Brits should plan only for a “merry little Christmas” and exercise extreme caution but he refused to outlaw festive family gatherings as COVID-19 cases soared across swathes of the country (Reuters). … On Wednesday, COVID-19 cases in Great Britain rose to the highest daily number since mid-November (Reuters). … Asia-Pacific countries are unlikely to receive large shipments of COVID-19 vaccines until mid- to late-2021, later than Western nations, the World Health Organization warned today (The Associated Press).
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!
Russia’s massive hack demands a reckoning for U.S. cyber defenses, by The Washington Post editorial board. https://wapo.st/3ahTbFL
A crisis that unites veterans, by and Lou Celli, opinion contributors, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3h1lI3N
Democrats’ House majority is razor-thin. Any glitch could spell disaster, by Norman Ornstein, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3nqasAk
As the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of electronic payments, Mastercard has also been working with businesses and consumers to deliver innovative solutions that extend beyond the card, and we are working tirelessly to ensure our financial system is inclusive. Learn More.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at noon.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m.
The president and first lady will take part in a signing ceremony to authorize a monument to commemorate women’s suffrage.
Pence travels to Georgia this morning to campaign for GOP senators at a rally in Columbus at noon and another in Macon this afternoon before returning to Washington.
Biden and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief and meet with transition advisers.
The Food and Drug Administration meets at 9 a.m. to discuss an application for emergency approval for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. C-SPAN covers the meeting HERE.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. reports on claims for unemployment benefits filed during the week ending Dec. 12.
INVITATION TODAY: The Hill Virtually Live event at 1 p.m., “Meet the New Members,” with Reps.-elect Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), (R-Calif.), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) and Nikema Williams (D-Ga.). The Hill’s and Steve Clemons talk with some of the new (and new-to-their-district) members who will shape the next House term. Information 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.
➔ PRESIDENTIAL PARDONS & PURGES: Trump administration officials say they are prepared for the president to go on a firing spree before leaving office next month. “I wouldn’t take anything off the table in coming weeks,” a senior administration official told NBC News of possible personnel changes as well as presidential pardons. The official advised to expect “some more fairly significant terminations in the national security or intelligence community.” White House lawyers have warned Trump not to follow through on his preference to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray because of the storm he created by firing former FBI Director (NBC News).
➔ CYBER ATTACK: The Pentagon and the State Department were breached along with the Treasury and Commerce departments during a sweeping hack of U.S. government agencies, believed to be a sophisticated project masterminded by the Russian government (The Hill). Senate Minority Whip (D-Ill.), who for years has labeled Russia’s cyber breaches attacks by a sovereign nation against another, called the recent theft of secrets and data “virtually a declaration of war” (The Hill). House Intelligence Committee Chairman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday called on Congress to undertake “urgent work” to defend critical networks in the wake of the cyber attack (The Hill).
➔ COURTS: Supreme Court justices on Wednesday agreed to decide whether the National Collegiate Athletic Association violated federal antitrust laws by restricting what college athletes could be paid. In May, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the NCAA was not free to limit compensation and benefits tied to education for Division I football and basketball players.The court rejected the NCAA’s argument that compensating athletes would alienate sports fans (The New York Times). … Texas and nine other U.S. states sued Google on Wednesday, accusing it of breaking antitrust law with practices in its online advertising business (Reuters). Google is expected to be sued under antitrust law today by another group of state attorneys general (Reuters).
➔ STATE WATCH: The nation’s suburbs are ballooning in size and evolving in composition, thanks to an outflow of people from urban centers, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau (The Hill).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for 2020’s final Morning Report Quiz! We want to thank all the faithful and savvy puzzlers and readers who played along this year! Our next ripped-from-the-headlines quiz will hit inboxes on Jan. 7 following a brief holiday hiatus. This week, we were inspired by news involving “Drs.”
Email your responses to [email protected] and/or [email protected], and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who close out this crazy year with four correct answers will earn some special newsletter fame on Friday.
Fox News personality said this week that the credentials of this “Dr.” are akin to those of Dr. Pepper. He was attacking ______?
- Jill Biden
- Dr. Phil
- Sanjay Gupta
A top federal official came under intense pressure from the White House on Friday to speed up an important determination. Which official reportedly received an ultimatum?
- Dr. Jerome Adams
Which “Dr.” who has advised advocated on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that Trump should be among the first Americans to be inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine, although the president previously contracted the novel coronavirus.
- Anthony Fauci, M.D.
- , M.D.
- Tyler Goodspeed, Ph.D.
- Kelvin Droegemeier, Ph.D.
This “Dr.” was in the news this week when a gazillion Americans turned to Netflix and became irate when they couldn’t find him. Who? (And that’s a hint!)
- Doctor Zhivago
- Dr. Dolittle
- Dr. Seuss
- Dr. Strangelove
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