Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Thankfully, today is Friday! 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, 562,066; Tuesday, 562,533; Wednesday, 563,446; Thursday, 564,402; Friday, 565,289.
“We want a stable, predictable relationship,” said of the United States and Russia hours after sanctioning the Kremlin for hacking into U.S. agencies and interfering with the 2020 election.
Where Russia’s behavior warrants retaliation and punishment, the United States will not hesitate to defend its interests, Biden said. But where the two nations’ interests intersect, they should work together, he added.
To that end, the president said he recently told President he wants to meet at a summit in Europe this summer to discuss shared interests, including arms control and security (including the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea), the pandemic and climate change.
“My hope and expectation is that we can work out a modus vivendi,” Biden said, using the term for an interim agreement to try to work out differences.
The Hill: New U.S. sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations.
The Hill: Biden calls for dialogue with Russia amid a raft of sanctions.
The New York Times: After years of wrist slaps under the previous administration, new sanctions on Russia are intended to have a noticeable effect on its economy.
The Biden administration acted on Thursday to expel 10 Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions against dozens of companies and other people as punishment for Russia’s breach of at least nine U.S. government agencies and interference in the election, based on U.S. intelligence findings (The Associated Press).
As he did on Wednesday with his announcement of a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Biden framed his posture toward Russia as the unsurprising follow-through on promises he made during his presidential campaign and remarks he’s made since his election.
In March, Biden called Putin a “killer” during an ABC News interview (transcript), promising that Russia would “pay a price” for its cyber and election intrusions in this country. Putin reacted by challenging Biden to a debate, complete with needling taunts (ABC News).
Flashback: When Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly in 2017 called Putin a killer, former ’s reply: “Well, you think our country’s so innocent?” (The Washington Post).
The Associated Press: How the Kremlin provides a safe harbor for ransomware: “Mother Russia will help.”
Meanwhile, Biden will play host to his first foreign leader today as Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide visits the White House. Talks between the two heads of government are expected to center on Japan’s role in dealing with China and climate change
“This will be the precursor to a series of meetings among like-minded countries to send the right signal to Beijing,” Kunihiko Miyake, an adviser to Suga, told Reuters.
The two will also hold a press conference — Biden’s first joint press event as president — with the upcoming Olympics expected to be a hot topic. The notion that the Tokyo games could be canceled amid the pandemic has been a worry for months in Japan. A top Japanese official on Thursday indicated that if the current coronavirus surge cannot be stemmed, the only suitable, safe option is no competitions.
“If it seems impossible to go on with the games, they must be definitely canceled,” said Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (ABC News).
The New York Times: Will Japan confront China? A visit to Washington may offer a clue.
The Associated Press: Officials say Olympic cancellation, no fans still an option.
Bloomberg News: Prime Minister Suga, before leaving for his U.S. trip, says he wants to build a trusting relationship with Biden, help lead the way to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and contain coronavirus infections, and stage the Tokyo Olympics.
The Associated Press: Secretary of State was in Afghanistan to help sell plans for Biden’s troop withdrawal.
The Hill: Former Speaker (R-Ohio) says he supports Biden’s decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan.
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday that it has documented about 5,800 COVID-19 cases among more than 66 million Americans who are fully vaccinated, totaling far less than 1 percent of fully vaccinated individuals.
“Vaccine breakthrough infections make up a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated,” the CDC told The Hill in a statement, adding that all eligible people should get a vaccine as soon as possible.
The 5,800 infections represent less than 0.0008 percent of the fully vaccinated population. The CDC added that about 7 percent of the recorded breakthrough cases resulted in hospitalization, while about 1 percent died.
The Hill: believes Johnson & Johnson vaccine will get back on track “quickly.”
The Washington Post: AstraZeneca is the “workhorse” for vaccinating the world. Now, the world is uneasy over clot risks.
The Associated Press: U.S. jobless claims plunge to 576,000, lowest since pandemic.
Elsewhere on the vaccine front, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Thursday that individuals will “likely” need to receive booster vaccinations against COVID-19 within 12 months of being fully vaccinated and that people may need annual shots against the virus.
“It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus,” Bourla told CNBC, adding that jabs will help combat emerging contagious variants.
According to data released earlier this month, Pfizer’s vaccine is highly effective for six months after receiving the second dose. Pfizer and BioNTech said two months ago that testing of a third dose was underway and aimed at combating variants.
The latest news out of Pfizer comes as they take on an outsize role in vaccinating Americans days after the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration paused use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot, putting another obstacle in the Biden administration’s way. As The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels note, several states have seen an uptick in cases as they lift restrictions on masking and businesses, even as millions of Americans are vaccinated each day.
The Mercury News: Stanford University begins testing Pfizer vaccine in babies and young children.
The Wall Street Journal: Blood clots more likely after COVID-19 than after vaccination, study finds.
Peter Sullivan, The Hill: Johnson & Johnson delay prompts criticism of CDC panel.
The Associated Press: A $1.2 billion loss for Delta, but recovery is on the radar.
> State Watch: New York bars and restaurants on Monday can begin to stay open until midnight, an hour later than an initial (and unpopular) curfew set by the governor. Bars and restaurants across the state, including in Central New York, complained about the mandatory closing time (NBCNewYork).
The Associated Press: New York Philharmonic gives 1st concert with audience in 13 months.
WMUR: New Hampshire’s mask mandate to end Friday, won’t be renewed, governor says.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: The progressive push to expand the Supreme Court was doused with cold water on Thursday as Speaker (D-Calif.) said that she has “no plans” to bring a bill supported by left-wing lawmakers to the House floor that would add four members to the court. The measure does not have the votes to pass the House.
When pressed if she supports the bill backed by House Judiciary Chairman (D-N.Y.) and Sen. (D-Mass.), Pelosi said that she does not, but does back the commission Biden has put together to look into the possibility.
“No. I support the president’s commission to study such a proposal, but frankly I’m not — right now, we’re back, our members, our committees are working. We’re putting together the infrastructure bill and the rest,” Pelosi said.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea or a bad idea. I think it’s an idea that should be considered and I think the president’s taking the right approach to have a commission to study such a thing. It’s a big step,” Pelosi continued. “I have no plans to bring it to the floor,” she added (The Hill).
The comments came as Nadler, Markey and a number of other progressive members unveiled their proposal in front of the Supreme Court. They argued that their bill would restore “balance” to the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority (The Hill).
Following the press event, conservatives were quick to highlight Markey’s support for the Democratic effort ahead of the 2016 election to keep the court at nine seats. At the time, the seat held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia was open and there were only eight justices on the bench. Some tweeted out side-by-side photos of Markey behind placards that read “#WeNeedNine” from a 2016 event and “Expand The Court” from Thursday’s press conference.
The Hill: House Republican proposes constitutional amendment to prevent Supreme Court expansion.
Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post: I feel Democrats’ fury over the Supreme Court. Adding justices is the wrong fix.
Amie Parnes, The Hill: Biden wins over skeptical progressives.
> Health: Former Vice President , 61, underwent successful surgery on Wednesday to implant a pacemaker after experiencing symptoms associated with a slow heart rate, his office said Thursday.
Pence was previously diagnosed with an asymptomatic left bundle branch block, which he disclosed prior to campaigning for the vice presidency. He experienced symptoms in the past two weeks associated with a slow heart rate, according to his office, and he had the surgery done at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Va. The former VP is expected to “return to normal activity in the coming days,” his office said (The Hill).
CONGRESS: On Jan. 6 when rioters overran the U.S. Capitol, police officers on the scene were ill-prepared, were unaware of intelligence warnings their leaders had failed to communicate to them and were not equipped with effective weapons to try to stop or subdue the violent mob in order to protect the building and its occupants, The Hill’s Cristina Marcos reports.
In testimony before a House committee on Thursday, Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton said his team’s investigation found numerous failures by the top brass. He called for a major overhaul of training and operations on the force.
Bolton told members of the House Administration Committee that the Capitol Police leadership opted against using stronger weapons such as sting balls because they worried about life-altering injuries or death amid the attack.
“It would be very difficult to say it would’ve absolutely turned the tide, but it certainly would’ve given them a better chance at doing what they needed to do,” Bolton said.
His report recommends requiring all Capitol Police employees to obtain security clearances and receive classified briefings on emerging threats and tactics.
But Bolton confirmed in response to questioning from Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) that the Capitol Police inspector general’s office recommended that change before, including in 2019. The Capitol Police did not act on it, he said.
The New York Times: Key findings from the Capitol Police IG reports.
> Infrastructure: To turn Biden’s $2.3 trillion proposal into legislation that senators in both parties might be willing to adopt could be a long process. Discussions will take weeks and could fall apart in the narrowly divided upper chamber. Nevertheless, senators from both sides of the aisle exchanged ideas on Thursday about a potential infrastructure framework worth close to $800 billion, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. That figure is far short of what Biden and most Democrats want, and tax changes to support a smaller package roil moderate Republicans as well as conservatives.
Politico: Democrats agonize over game theory on Biden’s $2 trillion-plus spending plan.
Transport Topics: Sen. (R-Utah) held a call with about 20 senators on Thursday. His approach: focus on traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports, airports and broadband, aim for $600 billion to $800 billion and pay for that investment with user fees such as a higher federal gas tax, a fee for vehicle miles traveled by electric cars, and airport fees.
> House Republicans will do nothing at the moment to punish Florida Rep. , a Trump ally who is under Justice Department investigation for allegations that include sex trafficking, sex with a minor and use of an illegal drug. Gaetz has asserted his innocence and says he won’t resign. Under those circumstances, House Minority Leader (R-Calif.) said Thursday that Gaetz (according to GOP conference rules) will only see punitive intervention by House Republicans if he is indicted (The Hill).
The Washington Post: How the Justice Department came to investigate Gaetz beginning with events in 2019.
The Hill: McCarthy says he and the president have not spoken since Biden’s election. “Just as I’ve sat down with President Trump, I’d like to sit down with President Biden. I’ve actually requested meetings on the border crisis. Never had a meeting, never spoken to President Biden since he’s been elected. I’ve spoken to him many times when he was vice president,” McCarthy volunteered to reporters in the Capitol on Thursday.
Note: On Inauguration Day, McCarthy presented photographs to the president and at the Capitol during a public ceremony and warmly congratulated them.
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’s Afghanistan withdrawal is a blow for China, by Bobby Ghosh, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3dnke3S
How to buy happiness, by Arthur C. Brooks, contributing writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/32hyHrv
A MESSAGE FROM TAX MARCH
FedEx made $1.2 BILLION in profits last year but paid NOTHING in federal income taxes. Now FedEx is trying to protect their tax breaks by lobbying against President Biden’s plan to create millions of jobs and rebuild America. Tell Congress: it’s time corporations like FedEx pay their fair share.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. on Monday and resume consideration of the nomination of Lisa Monaco to become deputy attorney general, and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide at the White House, marking his first meetings with a foreign leader at the White House since his inauguration. Harris will host the prime minister in her office at 11 a.m. Biden and his guest will hold a joint news conference at 4:15 p.m. The president will depart for Delaware at 5:30 p.m. to spend the weekend.
The White House press briefing will take place at 11 a.m. The administration’s coronavirus press briefing is scheduled at 10:30 a.m.
INVITATIONS: TODAY at 12:15 p.m. join the conclusion of The Hill’s Virtually Live program “The Sustainability Imperative” with notable experts, leaders and stakeholders. Information is HERE. And on TUESDAY at 1:30 p.m., sign up for “Policy Prescriptions for Cost & Coverage,” a program with lawmakers and experts about rising medical and drug costs. Information is HERE.
Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.
➔ COURTS, MASS SHOOTING: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, facing murder and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd last year, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights on Thursday and declined to testify (The Hill). Chauvin’s defense team rested the defendant’s case and the trial testimony ended. Closing arguments will take place on Monday, and then jury deliberations will begin (NPR). … In Indiana, at least eight people were killed late Thursday after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. The gunman was a ninth fatality after killing himself, police said. Multiple other people were transported to hospital with gunshot injuries (NBC News). … ✦ The Gun Violence Archive says 147 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2021. The archive’s definition of mass shooting is a minimum of four gunshot victims.
➔ CUBA: For the first time in more than 60 years, Cuba is poised to have a government without a single Castro on its roster. Cuba is holding its once-every-five years party congress beginning Friday, a chance for those born after Cuba’s 1959 revolution to take a greater role in leading the government. “We all expect the old generation to step down from all of its functions within the party, including Raul as first secretary,” said Ricardo Torres Perez, a professor of economics at University of Havana. “That in itself is important. It marks the end of an era in my opinion.” But not all are convinced the leadership shift will lead to sweeping change for the island nation or its relationship with the United States (The Hill).
➔ NOTRE DAME: French President on Thursday visited the Notre Dame site exactly two years after a devastating fire. Macron promised the cathedral would be rebuilt by 2024, yet officials acknowledge the work won’t be fully completed by then. The pandemic is slowing the pace of restoration and the blaze distributed vast amounts of toxic lead onto the cathedral and the surrounding area, complicating the cleanup phase (The Associated Press).
And finally … Congratulations to all the puzzle masters who aced the Morning Report Quiz!
These savvy readers recognized headlines this week about endings and beginnings: Daniel Bachhuber, Richard Baznik, Lou Tisler, Dan Mattoon, Mary Anne McEnery, Patrick Kavanagh, Ki Harvey, Candi Cee, Michael Romage, Tom Miller, Joel M. Shaw, Susan Reeves, Terry Pflaumer, Pam Manges, Quintin Reed, Joe Erdmann, Sandy Walters, David Anderson, Joseph Webster, Trevor Zack, Jack Barshay, Gary Breakfield, Randall S. Patrick, John Donato, Luther Berg, Hanim Samara, Lesa Davis, D. McHenry, Joseph Webster, Mary Ann Ullrich and Lori Benso.
They knew, of course, that former President George W. Bush in 2001 launched the Afghanistan invasion that evolved into a “forever war.
Coinbase, the first major cryptocurrency company to list its shares on a U.S. stock exchange, went public on Wednesday, an event described in a New York Times headline as “a coming-out party.”
Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.), pictured below, was sworn in this week to begin a congressional career that resulted from a family tragedy — her husband’s death at age 41 from COVID-19 complications.
this week described his late grandfather, Prince Philip, 99, whose funeral takes place on Saturday, as “cheeky.”
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