Presented by The AIDS Institute
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Today 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. 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 each morning this week: Monday, 498,901; Tuesday, 500,310; Wednesday, 502,660; Thursday, 505,890.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is effective at preventing moderate and severe cases of COVID-19, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday, paving the way for the shot to potentially be approved for emergency use this week and for shots to be administered to Americans next week.
According to the FDA’s analysis, the single-dose vaccine is 66 percent effective, well within the agency’s standards, and safe to use. The vaccination is also more than 85 percent effective at preventing severe COVID-19 cases and completely prevents hospitalizations and deaths (The Hill).
Wednesday’s news was a major boost for the U.S.’s efforts to ramp up vaccinations across the country as it will hand it a third shot to use to inoculate Americans against the virus that has ravaged the country over the past year.
’s COVID-19 response coordinator (pictured below) said Wednesday that 3 million to 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are expected to be rolled out next week. The FDA could approve the shot for emergency use authorization this week, with the timeline being expedited after what the White House described as a rocky manufacturing of the company’s vaccine.
“It was disappointing when we arrived. I think the progress is real and we look forward to continuing to work with the company to accelerate … their delivery and their capacity,” Zients said (Reuters).
Twenty million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are set to become available to Americans by the end of March. Vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have been approved for emergency use since mid-December.
As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel writes, the pending authorization is a major moment for the country’s bout with the vaccine. Case totals and hospitalizations have dropped dramatically in the course of the last month, providing Americans with a glimmer light at the end of the tunnel.
“The data are very strong,” Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, said about the FDA’s analysis of the new vaccine. “The [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine provides robust efficacy across all demographics and variants; and shows rising protection over time.”
The Wall Street Journal: Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine for South Africa strain is ready for human testing.
CNBC: says new data suggests “long” symptoms of COVID-19 can last up to nine months.
NPR: Biden administration to deliver 25 million masks to health centers and food banks.
The Wall Street Journal: Ad campaigns aim to counter COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
> State watch: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Wednesday that the state will loosen restrictions on March 1, with capacities for outdoor gatherings and events increasing substantially. Bars, restaurants and other locales serving alcohol will be able to do so until midnight, pushed back from 10 p.m. (The Virginian Pilot).
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) also announced the easing of restrictions, including that businesses may now operate at 50 percent capacity and that curfew has been lifted completely (NBC-Winston Salem).
In somber news, Washington, D.C. Mayor said on Wednesday that her older sister, Mercia Bowser, 64, died of complications from COVID-19 early Wednesday morning (Fox 5).
The Hill: Pennsylvania health network prioritized vaccines for employees’ relatives.
The Hill: Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) tests positive for COVID-19.
NBC News: Why some states have fared better than others with vaccine distribution (plus chart).
The Associated Press: A tale of two Northeastern U.S. cities about 50 miles apart, both hit hard by COVID-19 but with diverging approaches to vaccine rollout.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Red-hot housing market lifts even struggling metros.
CONGRESS: If Biden gets his way, the House on Friday will approve nearly $2 trillion in spending to respond to the coronavirus crisis and its effects, on top of multiple laws since last year that support families, workers, businesses and the economy.
- Direct payments of $1,400 for individuals earning up to $75,000 a year (couples $150,000); additional $1,400 per dependent;
- Public health: $7.5 billion for vaccine administration; $46 billion for COVID-19 testing and tracing; $2 billion for personal protective equipment and supplies; $10 billion for Defense Production Act supply needs;
- Reopen schools: $128 billion in grants;
- Child care: $15 billion grants; $1 billion for Head Start;
- Extended unemployment benefits: $400 per week through the end of August
- Rental assistance: $25 billion;
- Child tax credit hike: $300 per child, per month, from July through the end of 2021 for families eligible for the full credit;
- Earned Income Tax Credit expansion for low-income workers without children;
- $15 per hour federal minimum wage for 27 million workers by 2025;
- Elderly: $1.4 billion;
- Small businesses: $25 billion for restaurants and bars; $1.25 billion for Small Business Association grants;
- Paycheck Protection Program loans: $7.25 billion;
- Transportation: $30 billion; $8 billion through 2024 for airports;
- FEMA disaster relief: $50 billion for reimbursement to state, local, tribal and territorial governments.
LEADING THE DAY
ADMINISTRATION: This week serves as a reminder to the president that policy progress, as he defines it, appears weighed down at every level, from state legislatures and the courts, to opposition among House and Senate Republicans and some Democrats, plus conservative governors and industry lobbyists who have different aims.
Some examples: On immigration, a federal judge in Texas imposed an indefinite halt to Biden’s 100-day ban on deportations late on Tuesday. The ban is nationwide and is in place as the case continues to play out in courts. The ruling is a victory for the state’s attorney general, who sued to block Biden’s order just three days into the new administration (The Texas Tribune).
Biden’s nominees to lead at least three domestic agencies have run into hurdles, testing the new administration’s skills at navigating a tenuous Senate majority. , the president’s embattled choice to be budget director, is in limbo in two committees that opted to delay business meetings on Wednesday that would have called for votes on her nomination. The Budget Committee was one, and its chairman is Sen. (I-Vt.) (pictured below), who chafed at Tanden’s barbed commentary aimed at him during his unsuccessful presidential bids (The Hill and Fox News).
Bottom line: There is no recent example during a president’s early days in office of a Cabinet nominee prevailing after the kind of resistance Tanden sparked among key senators.
White House chief of staff told MSNBC that he respectfully disagrees with Manchin’s objections that Tanden is too partisan to lead the Office of Management and Budget. “He answers to the people of West Virginia. He believes this is the right vote for him,” Klain said (The Hill). “I respect ’s right to cast these votes. He’s an independent-minded senator, that’s what he’s going to do. We at the White House, we’re going to make our case to him and all the other Democrats and Republicans in the Senate on these key votes.”
Republicans have also solidified opposition to Interior Department nominee Rep. (D-N.M.), assailed as too liberal on climate and energy issues, and California Attorney General , Biden’s pick to lead the mammoth Health and Human Services Department.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key vote in the 50-50 Senate for any nominee, bill or caucus decision, said on Wednesday that he will vote for Haaland. On the same committee, however, Montana Republican Sen. , a former corporate executive, said through his office that he will work to “block and defeat” her (The Hill).
Other nominees: , Biden’s choice to be U.S. Trade Representative, will be grilled today about Biden’s trade policies (The Hill). … Experienced diplomat , nominated to be CIA director, talked tough about China during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday and received a warm reception on his way to what is expected to be quick Senate approval (The Washington Post).
The Hill: Relying on his executive authority, Biden reversed a number of Trump actions on Wednesday in one swoop.
> International: The Biden administration today will publicly release a declassified report prepared in 2018 by the U.S. intelligence community, including the CIA, that concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi (Reuters and NBC News). Release of the assessment will mark a new chapter in the U.S.-Saudi relationship and a break from the Trump administration’s purposeful equivocation about the culpability of bin Salman in the killing. Biden said he read the report and expects to speak soon by phone with Saudi King Salman, 85.
MORE CONGRESS: Democratic leaders are focused on enacting $1,400 stimulus payments by the middle of next month and following up with a jobs and infrastructure measure that could have a price tag of as much as $3 trillion.
There is no consensus, however, about whether to seek to raise revenues this year or next to try to offset some of the spending, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
While some in the Democratic caucus are willing to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, passage would be a challenge in the Senate. If Democrats wait on revenue-raising decisions, they run into the 2022 election year, when both chambers of Congress will be up for grabs.
The Hill’s Scott Wong and Mike Lillis report on the mood between House Democrats and Republicans seven weeks after the Capitol riots and following an impeachment trial and former ’s acquittal. No surprise: They find bitter clashes between the two parties.
Out of Trump’s second impeachment trial, one little-known Democratic House member ascended to national prominence, reports The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda. Del. (D-Virgin Islands) said in an interview that she wants to seize the passing attention to help the territory she represents.
“The attention that I’ve gotten from it is something I completely was not expecting,” Plaskett said, adding serving on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee will help her constituents.
The Hill: The news media’s role in spreading misinformation was debated with partisan zeal on Wednesday by lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Two suggestions raised to improve TV news reporting: Don’t book guests known to be fabricators and fantacists, and don’t approach all news events and issues with equivalency or superficial “balance” if doing so bypasses truth, facts and substance (Deadline).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: This weekend will see the full-fledged return of Trump to the political scene with his public reemergence at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will likely showcase Trump as the unquestioned leader of the GOP and conservatives.
As The Hill’s Jonathan Easley reports, the right’s annual imitation of Comic Con is expected to put the 45th president, Trump allies and the “MAGA” movement front-and-center, all-the-while giving a Heisman stiff arm to dissenting voices from within the GOP. Among those who are not among the slated speakers are Senate Minority Leader (R-Ky.), Rep. (R-Wyo.) and Sen. (R-Utah).
The chasm between the two sides was more evident than ever when a reporter asked House Minority Leader (R-Calif.) whether Trump should be present at the event. McCarthy responded, “Yes, he should.” The reporter then directed the same question in Cheney’s direction.
“That’s up to CPAC. I’ve been clear about my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following Jan. 6, I don’t think he should be playing a role in the future of party,” the House GOP conference chair said. In the background House Minority Whip (R-La.) visibly shook his head in disagreement.
“On that high note, thank you very much,” McCarthy quipped to wrap up the press conference (The Hill).
Another notable omission from the event is former United Nations Ambassador , who is viewed as a top tier 2024 candidate for the GOP nod. As The Hill’s Max Greenwood writes, she is among the only prominent 2024 potentials who will be absent from the event (former Vice President reportedly declined an invitation).
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, has found herself isolated from Trump’s universe after a scathing interview with Politico in which she denounced her former boss and wrote off his future influence in Republican politics. The fallout from Haley’s remarks underscores the risks associated with her strategy of criticizing Trump’s actions while at the same time appealing to his base of supporters.
The weekend event will culminate with a straw poll that will almost certainly show Trump as the heavy favorite among conservative activists. The confab will include panels and speakers on some of Trump World’s favorite topics, including a six-part series focused on election integrity, providing a prominent megaphone to the false and uncorroborated claims of widespread voter fraud in the November election.
The New York Times: What to watch for at CPAC: Trump, Sen. (R-Texas), former Secretary of State and more.
The Hill: Senate GOP works to avoid having ’22 war with Trump.
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Pa. Republicans met Wednesday night to censure Sen. (R-Pa.), but came away with nothing.
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!
School closures have failed America’s children, by Nicholas Kristof, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3uuEVRP
Peril and opportunity for Trump at CPAC, by , columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3ki8cuk
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 11 a.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of to be Energy secretary. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a 10 a.m. confirmation hearing for to be U.S. surgeon general. The Finance Committee will hold a 10 a.m. confirmation hearing for Katherine Tai to be U.S. Trade Representative.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. in the Situation Room, along with Vice President Harris. The president and vice president will have lunch at 12:30 p.m. in the White House private dining room, followed by a COVID-19 response briefing in the Oval Office at 1:45 p.m. Biden will mark the 50 millionth COVID-19 shot at 2:30 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium accompanied by Harris. Biden will deliver remarks virtually to the National Governors Association at 4:30 p.m.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at noon.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department will report at 8:30 a.m. on filings for unemployment benefits during the week ending Feb. 20. The Census Bureau will report on durable goods orders in January at 8:30 a.m.
The National Governors Association holds its annual winter meeting today with virtual events. Information is HERE.
INVITATION to The Hill’s Virtually Live “Race and Justice Imperative” event TODAY for two blocks of conversation beginning at 11:30 a.m. Participants from government, civil rights and social justice organizations who work to end systemic racism will include Martin Luther King III, Rep. (D-Calif.), Rep. (D-Calif.), Michael Eric Dyson, CNN commentator and Dream Corps founder Van Jones, and many others. Information and registration HERE.
Ballotpedia hosts a webinar at noon ET, “Incumbency and 2020 state legislative elections,” to discuss 227 state legislative defeats of incumbents in 2020 general elections, which was the lowest number since 2010, and what findings mean for state legislatures. Registration is HERE.
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.
➔ POSTAL SERVICE: Postmaster General on Wednesday acknowledged that mail delivery delays during the holidays were pronounced and acknowledged, “we fell far short of meeting our service targets.” DeJoy, a Republican businessman who was appointed less than a year ago by the Postal Service Board of Governors, apologized to members of a House oversight panel who have been inundated with complaints from constituents and businesses about Postal Service cost-cutting measures and unreliable service. DeJoy said he expects to unveil a U.S. Postal Service plan within the next few weeks and confirmed it may include controversial changes to first-class mail, including transporting less of it by airplanes and lengthening the current two-day delivery standard (The Hill). … Biden on Wednesday said he will nominate former deputy postmaster general Ron Stroman, former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union Anton Hajjar, and CEO of the non-partisan National Vote at Home Institute Amber McReynolds to fill vacancies on the postal board, a step Democrats believe is a precursor to new and better management (The Hill).
➔ TECH: Facebook announced on Wednesday that it will invest $1 billion in the news industry over the next three years, a week after a standoff with Australia over new laws that would require it to pay publishers to share their content. The social media giant appeared to acknowledge that there are issues that need to be addressed regarding the “size and power of tech companies” and their effect on the news industry. “We absolutely recognize quality journalism is at the heart of how open societies function — informing and empowering citizens and holding the powerful to account,” Facebook said in a statement (The Hill).
➔ HIDDEN FIGURES: On its descent to Mars, NASA’s rover parachute sported a coded message created by systems engineer Ian Clark, a crossword puzzle enthusiast who found that brainy space fans almost immediately figured it out. The design actually had a scientific purpose (The Associated Press).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by a number of vehicular or transportation-related news this week, we’re eager for some smart guesses about current events on the subject.
Email your responses to [email protected] and/or [email protected], and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
President Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and signed an executive order on which topic on Wednesday?
- The production increase of electric cars
- Gas and oil prices
- A shortage of semiconductor chips
- All of the above
Charges that Bruce Springsteen operated his motorcycle under the influence were dropped on Wednesday. He was, however, fined $540 for drinking ___ in a national park.
Tiger Woods was involved in a horrific car accident in Southern California on Tuesday. Which is FALSE about the accident, according to news accounts?
- He suffered a compound fracture and shattered ankle
- No alcohol was found in his system
- The “jaws of life” were used to extract him
- He was driving a 2021 Genesis midsize SUV
Tesla CEO made a one-word statement on Wednesday that sent prices of ___ soaring?
- SpaceX stock
- None of the above
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