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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths each morning this week: Monday, 498,901; Tuesday, 500,310; Wednesday, 502,660; Thursday, 505,890; Friday, 508,307.
House Democrats today are expected to pass legislation that would spend nearly $2 trillion to tackle the coronavirus crisis with direct payments to Americans and money for schools to reopen, small business loans and extended unemployment benefits for some of the 10 million people who are struggling without paychecks.
Passage will give ’s 100-day agenda a significant, but short-lived boost as the narrowly divided Senate next week will start to wrestle with the mammoth measure.
Most if not all House Republicans are expected to oppose the Democrats’ bill today.
The White House has approached Biden’s ambition to enact a stimulus sized to the national emergency as a public relations and lobbying challenge, fast-tracked with a budgetary tool that clears a path for Senate passage with 50 votes, plus support from Vice President Harris. Bloomberg News describes the administration’s focus on building public support for the relief bill in 13 targeted states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Georgia and Arizona.
Biden, through a spokeswoman, said he was “disappointed” that the Senate parliamentarian on Thursday ruled that a proposed increase in the current federal minimum wage cannot be included in the budget reconciliation relief bill expected to be sent across the Capitol from the House. House Speaker (D-Calif.) said the House bill will include a higher minimum wage, which means any Senate-passed version with modifications must come back to the lower chamber for another vote.
Senate Majority Leader (D-N.Y.) joined Biden in saying his party will continue working to raise the federal wage floor.
“We are deeply disappointed in this decision,” he said in a statement. “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality.”
Schumer has long pushed to boost the minimum wage, but had the parliamentarian ruled the other way, he would have been challenged to strike a compromise on the issue between progressives such as Sen. (I-Vt.) and centrists such as Sen. (D-W.Va.). Sanders said he “strongly disagreed” with the parliamentarian’s verdict but said “the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour continues.”
The Hill and The Wall Street Journal: Senate parliamentarian rules against inclusion of the minimum wage.
The Associated Press: House to vote on virus bill; arbiter says wage hike a no-go.
The New York Times: A sizable number of voters who support former back Biden’s stimulus plan, according to polling.
Biden and House Democrats want the government to move the minimum wage gradually from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. Some Democratic lawmakers believe Republicans are willing to compromise.
“I have heard literally every member of the Democratic caucus say that we need to raise the minimum wage, myself included,” Sen. (D-Del.) told NBC News, “so that suggests a path.” He also wants an increase indexed to inflation.
Many larger companies back the idea of raising the minimum wage or have gone that route already. Lawmakers, however, lament the impact on smaller employers, especially in low-cost-of-living and rural regions.
Costco announced it will raise its minimum wage next week for hourly workers in the United States to $16 an hour, chief executive Craig Jelinek said Thursday during a Senate Budget Committee hearing about worker pay at large companies. Costco has close to 180,000 U.S. employees and 90 percent of them earn hourly compensation (CNN).
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: A panel of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisers is set to meet today to determine whether to officially recommend Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, likely paving the way for the shot to be granted emergency use authorization and shots to be rolled out to the masses next month.
The committee is composed of physicians, academics and others involved in the world of infectious diseases and vaccines. The meeting is expected to last eight hours, with members voting at the end on whether to recommend the shot for use on Americans (Forbes).
Approval of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine would give the U.S. a third shot to distribute and use as a weapon in the battle against the coronavirus. The shot has a 66 percent efficacy in preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 and is considered very safe. It is also 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease, according to analysis.
CNBC: 5 things to know before key FDA panel votes on Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine today.
The Hill: Vaccine distribution to jump 40 percent next week, UPS executive says.
The New York Times: As coronavirus infection numbers drop, governors ease restrictions.
Elsewhere on the vaccine front, more good news for the U.S. emerged as the FDA approved a request by Pfizer to store its COVID-19 vaccine at standard freezer temperatures, helping ease storage requirements that could make delivery of the vaccine easier.
The Pfizer vaccine had previously been required to be stored in ultra-cold freezers at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. That posed a challenge for distribution of the vaccine in places like rural areas or lower income countries that do not have widespread ultra-cold storage capability.
The latest directive will allow the shot to be sorted at “conventional temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers for a period of up to two weeks” (The Hill).
The Washington Post: Dozens of people contracted COVID-19 from high-intensity workouts in gyms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that masks and better ventilation are necessary.
CNN: Researchers find a worrying new coronavirus variant in New York City.
The Associated Press: First vaccines reach arms in South Korea, Hong Kong.
The Washington Post: Queen Elizabeth II endorses vaccine, urges doubters to “think about other people.”
The Associated Press: Vaccination “passports” may open society, but inequity looms.
MORE CONGRESS: Plans for a 9/11-style commission to probe the Capitol riots have run into a rut in Congress because the House majority wants representation to tip toward Democrats rather than an even number of commissioners appointed from each party. Republicans are crying foul (The Hill). House Democratic leaders hope to vote before a mid-March recess on legislation that would establish the panel. Democrat Coons broke with Pelosi during a CNN interview on Thursday, arguing the makeup of the commission should be evenly shared with Republicans.
> Capitol threats persist: Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told frustrated lawmakers on Thursday that police were not prepared for the Jan. 6 attacks and that Capitol Police protocols broke down. Pittman revealed that some militia groups involved in last month’s insurrection have threatened to “blow up the Capitol” and “kill as many members as possible” when Biden delivers a joint address to Congress. “Based on that information, we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities,” Pittman told a House appropriations subcommittee. Biden’s speech, initially anticipated this week, has yet to be scheduled (The Hill).
The New York Times: Black officers who defended the Capitol against rioters tell of confronting racism as well as a mob.
ADMINISTRATION: Biden will visit Houston today to meet with local leaders following frigid weather in Texas that left dozens of people dead and millions without power. It’s Biden’s third official trip as president and will be his first to a disaster-stricken area. While he will address the federal storm response, Biden is also expected to visit a COVID-19 vaccine distribution facility. It’s his way of comforting residents in a red state while also cheerleading the need for coronavirus inoculations (The Hill).
Ahead of his trip, a federal judge in Texas ruled on Thursday that an order instituted by the Trump administration and Congress and supported by Biden that halts evictions amid the pandemic is unconstitutional (The Hill). In a 21-page ruling, U.S. District Judge John Barker sided with a group of landlords and property managers who alleged in a lawsuit that the eviction moratorium ordered by the CDC exceeded the federal government’s constitutional authority.
The Senate on Thursday confirmed former Michigan Gov. (D) to be Energy secretary by a vote of 64-35. Fourteen Republicans, including GOP leader of Kentucky, joined all the Democrats and independents in voting for Granholm (The Associated Press). Although a majority of Republicans opposed Biden’s nominee because of disagreements about climate change and alternatives to fossil fuels, the Energy Department includes responsibility for defense, basic research and nuclear security issues.
> Surgeon General: Biden nominee , a physician who previously served as surgeon general, said at his confirmation hearing on Thursday that Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Murthy has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel concerns that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. (R-Ind.) that while he wants the government to study the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder” (The Associated Press).
> USTR: , the president’s nominee to be U.S. trade representative, told senators on Thursday during her confirmation hearing that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as “reengaging with international institutions″ to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.″ Tai, who served as the chief trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee, promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies. She did not say whether the new administration would jettison Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or say whether Biden would try to revive the Asia-Pacific trade deal negotiated with the Obama administration and later rejected by Trump (The Associated Press and The Hill).
The New York Times: USTR nominee Tai pledged to work with allies and enforce the terms of the trade deal that Trump signed with Beijing last year, while working to develop a more “strategic and coherent plan” for competing with China’s state-directed economy.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: ‘s nomination to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget is on the verge of collapse as the political world waits for Sen. (R-Alaska) to determine how she would vote. The Hill’s Amie Parnes asks a top question rumbling through Washington: Do mean tweets matter in the post-Trump world?
“For a long time what was rewarded on Twitter was snark and Neera was a gladiator in the sport,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.
Tanden’s nomination is hanging by a thread. Murkowski is likely the only senator who could tilt the outcome, but even that seems unlikely. The White House is publicly sticking with the president’s choice, for now.
While it is mostly Republicans complaining about Tanden’s years of bruising Twitter and television commentary, they’ve been joined by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who said she would not be a unifying force on behalf of the administration. Budget Committee Chairman Sanders, formerly on the receiving end of Tanden’s criticisms when he ran for president, has not been a vocal defender.
It is not in dispute that Tanden, a longtime adviser to and president of the Center for American Progress, has been a prolific participant in political warfare. The megaphone that made her a major player could now be her undoing among senators who have long memories.
Mark Leibovich, The New York Times: Neera Tanden: First Cabinet-level casualty of the Twitter age?
As The Hill’s Niall Stanage writes in his latest memo, there will be tough questions about how someone who made enemies galore on both the sides of the aisle was nominated to a usually low-key and supposedly nonpartisan post.
However, Tanden’s case may be enough of a one-off not to harm Biden too much. The odds for confirmation among other controversial nominees appear to be strengthening, as is the case with Rep. ’s (D-N.M.) bid for Interior secretary and ’s push for Senate approval to serve as secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.
The Associated Press: Native American nominee Haaland’s grilling raises questions of bias.
The Hill: Trump reemerges to legacy being erased by Biden.
The Washington Post: At conservative gathering, ideas fall to an airing of Trump grievances.
The Hill: Five things to watch at CPAC.
The Hill: McConnell says he’d back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee.
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!
Go ahead and fail, by Arthur C. Brooks, opinion contributor, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/2ZUDTAg
The clock is ticking on North Korea. Biden should make the first move, by Josh Rogin, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3srKBKl
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m. and votes on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. House Minority Leader (R-Calif.) will hold his weekly press conference at noon.
The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nominations of to be Education secretary and Rhode Island Gov. (D) to serve as Commerce secretary
The president and first lady depart at 9:40 a.m. from the White House for Houston, arriving at noon. Dr. Biden will visit a Houston Food Bank and the president will tour the Harris County Emergency Operations Center at 12:55 p.m. Biden and the first lady will meet with food bank volunteers at 2:20 p.m. At the NRG stadium in Houston at 5 p.m., Biden will speak about COVID-19 vaccinations, which are administered at that location. Dr. Biden will join the president and they will leave Houston at 6 p.m. for their return to the White House.
The vice president is in Washington and has no public events today.
The White House COVID-19 response team will brief journalists at 11 a.m.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. will report on consumer spending in January. Analysts expect to see a boost in spending from federal stimulus checks enacted in late December.
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.
➔ CORPORATIONS & RACIAL EQUITY: Companies of all kinds are wrestling with management changes, recruiting overhauls and executive training to improve racial diversity, equity and excellence within their operations. Here are two recent reports that highlight evident corporate problems centered on race and some recommended repairs: Deloitte’s “Equity Imperative,” and The New York Times’s “A Call to Action” (CNN). “We must change our culture and systems. And we must be bolder in making The Times more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Doing so will improve the experience not just for our colleagues of color, but for everyone at The Times,” the news company wrote in the introduction to findings following an eight-month internal study.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: The United States military struck facilities on Thursday used by Iranian backed militants in eastern Syria as a “proportionate military response” to recent rocket attacks in Iraq targeting U.S. interests. One militiaman was killed and several wounded (The Associated Press). The Biden administration had been refraining from attributing the attacks to a particular group, leading to speculation it was attempting to keep temperatures with Tehran low as it seeks to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
Administration officials have said they were waiting for Iraq to finish its investigation into the attacks before blaming a group or taking action (The Hill).
Facebook banned Myanmar’s military and state media entities that are controlled by the military from its platform, the company said on Wednesday. The news follows restrictions the social media giant put in place to reduce distribution of content from pages run by Myanmar’s military following the coup earlier this month (The Hill). … India on Thursday announced new rules to regulate Facebook and Twitter, requiring them to set up fresh avenues to address complaints (The Hill). … Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was moved to a prison outside of Moscow. According to Russian news outlets, Navalny was likely moved to a prison in western Russia to serve his sentence, having been imprisoned in a maximum-security jail in the Russian capital city (The Associated Press). … Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia’s 85-year-old King Salman on Thursday. The White House has said it is “recalibrating” its relationship with the kingdom. During his presidential campaign, Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” with a government that would be made to “pay a price” (The Washington Post).
➔ TOY STORY: Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, movie stars with a 70-year-old toy history, got a brief Thursday rebranding that spawned news coverage about gender neutrality. Toy maker Hasbro initially said the renamed “Potato Head” needed a cultural makeover for today’s marketplace (The Associated Press). But after some outcry, Hasbro tweeted a confusing mashup about the popular spud couple: “While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD.” Got it?
And finally … Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! Here’s who aced our puzzle about vehicular and transportation-related headlines of the past week: Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Anne McEnery, Pam Manges, Joe Erdmann, Terry Pflaumer, Daniel Bachhuber, Lou Tisler, Chuck Schoenenberger, Candi Cee, Lesa Davis, Luther Berg, Jack Barshay and Phil Kirstein.
Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and signed an executive order dealing with a shortage of semiconductor chips, a manufacturing issue of concern, especially among car makers.
While a charge of driving under the influence was dropped, Bruce Springsteen was fined $540 for drinking tequila in a national park.
The “jaws of life” were NOT used to extract golfer Tiger Woods after his horrific car accident in Southern California on Tuesday.
Finally, Tesla CEO tweeted a one-word statement that sent prices of dogecoin upward on Wednesday.
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