Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! Inauguration Day! 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, 397,600; Tuesday, 399,003; Wednesday, 401,730.
The U.S. death toll is about to exceed World War II fatalities. By comparison, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic killed 675,000 Americans.
In a few hours, President-elect will ask Americans, Congress and U.S. allies to band together to end a pandemic, restore prosperity and protect the peace while conquering intolerance, inequality and bigotry. Joined by Vice President-elect and a new administration, Biden will try to shift America’s ambitions beyond during one of the most strained transfers of power in history.
That eagerness to turn the page is not shared by millions of Trump supporters, but Senate Majority Leader (R-Ky.) on Tuesday indicated he is more than ready to move away from the 45th president, whom he accused of provoking a mob to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump will be in Florida before lawmakers, Vice President Pence and three former presidents sit in the noon sunshine at the Capitol to listen as Biden recites a 35-word oath of office familiar since 1884.
The Hill’s editor-in-chief, Bob Cusack, writes that Biden, leaning on lengthy relationships with key Republicans on Capitol Hill, believes he can defy history to enact major legislation in his first year with bipartisan support. His recent predecessors in the Oval Office struggled to fulfill similar ambitions.
The 46th president will begin his term with a 50-50 Senate and the smallest House majority Democrats have experienced in nearly a century and a half (221-211). Just 65,009 votes in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District made Biden the Electoral College winner, even with 81 million votes overall, or 51.3 percent of the total popular vote.
Biden arrived in Washington on Tuesday afternoon after a misty-eyed departure from Delaware, which he represented as a senator for 36 years (The Associated Press). In the evening, he presided over a somber inaugural event Tuesday (pictured below) at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the more than 400,000 Americans who have died after contracting COVID-19. Other iconic landmarks, cities and communities joined the event simultaneously (The Washington Post).
Before dawn today, Biden published in the Federal Register a collection of executive actions to take effect immediately after noon in which agencies and departments will review and revise Trump policies on COVID-19, climate change and the economy, among other issues (The Hill). They include resuming membership in the World Health Organization, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and revoking the Keystone XL permit, and extensions of the eviction moratorium and student loan forbearance enacted last year in response to the pandemic and the sagging economy.
Meanwhile, Trump executed some of the final actions of his presidency on Tuesday and issued a farewell video message to Americans in which he touted his accomplishments and wished the incoming administration luck without mentioning Biden by name.
“We did what we came here to do and so much more,” Trump said in the 20-minute address, which was recorded Monday and released by the White House on Tuesday afternoon. “This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous. We extend our best wishes and we also want them to have luck — a very important word” (The Hill).
Trump also issued 143 pardons and commutations overnight, lashing out at the criminal justice system to benefit a collection of officials and business associates ensnared in corruption cases ahead of his own Senate impeachment trial.
The president had not pardoned himself or his family members as part of his wave of overnight mercy. He has until noon today to use the powers of his office (Reuters).
The Washington Post: Trump pardons former White House adviser Stephen Bannon, who was indicted for misusing money he helped raise for a group backing Trump’s border wall. He has pleaded not guilty.
The New York Times: Trump uses his power to grant clemency to supporters, including Bannon, and one of his top 2016 fundraisers, Elliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty to charges he violated lobbying laws. Both received full pardons. (The Times has a list of some of Trump’s clemency actions HERE.)
As The Hill’s Brett Samuels details, Trump and his administration also have issued a wave of executive orders and proclamations hours before he departs Washington. Among the ones the incoming administration will have a difficult time reversing: the State Department’s addition of Cuba to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and designating the Houthis in Yemen as a terrorist group. Adding to the list, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a last-minute rule limiting the types of studies the agency can weigh when forming policies, while the Department of Labor released a rule that affects tip pooling for restaurant workers.
> Drain the Swamp?: Trump on Wednesday night also revoked a rule barring administration officials and staffers from lobbying for five years. The ban was part of an ethics pledge Trump put into effect from the outset of his administration, which also included a provision banning political appointees from officially registering as a foreign agent following their time in government (The Associated Press).
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Trump leaves changed nation in his wake.
Reuters: YouTube bans Trump for another week “in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence.”
NBC News: Facebook has no plans to lift Trump ban, sources say.
The Wall Street Journal: The “Patriot Party”? Trump has talked to associates recently about starting a new political party.
On the eve of his presidential departure, Trump continued to face criticism for his role in inciting the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago. McConnell said in a floor speech on Tuesday that the rioters were “fed lies” about the push to overturn the election and that the fault lies at the feet of the president and other “powerful people,” marking the first time the Kentucky Republican has blamed Trump directly for what happened. Notably, Sen. (R-Texas) presided over the Senate as McConnell spoke (The Hill).
The comments come as the upper chamber prepares for the looming second impeachment trial of Trump, which McConnell will play a central role in as questions swirl about whether the Senate will convict him and ultimately bar him from running for president again. As The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports, the GOP leader told at least one GOP senator that a vote on Trump’s conviction will be a matter of conscience, a potential sign that he won’t lean on Republican members to vote one way or another as he keeps his strategy close to the vest.
Across the aisle, Senate Minority Leader (D-N.Y.) told reporters that the Senate has three priorities in the immediate future: nominations, COVID-19 and the trial, indicating that it will not be a drawn-out affair featuring witnesses and testimony like last year’s Senate trial (NBC News).
The Washington Post: Uncertainty reigns in Senate as Schumer pushes fast agenda and McConnell calls out Trump.
The Hill: More than half of House GOP commits to vote for resolution calling for Rep. (R-Wyo.) to step down from leadership.
NBC News: Georgia certifies victories for Democratic Sens.-elect and .
HuffPost: Sen. (D-Mich.) emerges as a key prospect to run Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
> More Capitol siege repercussions: The 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election this month have lost the support of many of their largest corporate backers — but not all of them (The Washington Post).
> More Congress: McConnell accepted Biden’s invitation to attend church with the president-elect and other congressional leaders from both parties at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington today before the swearing-in ceremony. Other attendees for the worship service will include House Speaker (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader (R-Calif.) and Schumer, who will become Senate majority leader today.
> Investigations: Sen. (R-N.C.) said in a statement that he has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Justice Department after allegations of insider trading. The North Carolina Republican was accused of receiving information at a classified briefing on COVID-19 last January and using it to make a series of transactions to benefit him financially before the stock market tanked.
“Tonight, the Department of Justice informed me that it has concluded its review of my personal financial transactions conducted early last year,” Burr said. “The case is now closed. I’m glad to hear it” (The Hill).
LEADING THE DAY
NEW ADMINISTRATION: During a period in which the United States is recovering from a massive cyber-attack believed to be launched from Russia, is beseeched by other nations to show leadership during the pandemic, and is worried about numerous threats abroad and domestically, most of Biden’s Cabinet picks will not be in place for weeks. Why the delays? Trump’s refusal to concede the election, some Republican senators’ opposition to the certified Electoral College results, an attack on the Capitol and Trump’s second impeachment, to name a few.
Between 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. tonight, Biden is expected to sign executive orders and other documents and participate in a virtual swearing-in of appointees to his administration. At 9:55 p.m., the president and first lady will appear on the Blue Room balcony.
Marking a changing of the guard with the press corps, White House press secretary will hold a briefing at 7 p.m.
> Treasury Department: , Biden’s choice as Treasury secretary, said Tuesday that the incoming administration would focus on winning quick passage of its $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, rejecting Republican arguments that the measure is too big given the size of U.S. budget deficits. “More must be done,” Yellen told the Senate Finance Committee during her confirmation hearing. “Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now — and long-term scarring of the economy later.” Democrats voiced support for the Biden proposal, while Republicans questioned spending nearly $2 trillion more on top of nearly $3 trillion that Congress passed in various packages last year (The Associated Press and The Hill). Soon-to-be Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. (D-Ore.) said he hopes Yellen’s nomination can receive a floor vote on Thursday.
The New York Times Dealbook: CEOs, former officials make a case for a post-Trump “reset” and call for the business community to engage with policymakers “from the point-of-view of the public interest, not simply narrow business interests.”
> DHS: Sen. (R-Mo.) on Tuesday placed a delaying hold on what Democrats had hoped would be the quick confirmation of , Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate will require days of floor time to overcome the maneuver Hawley made just hours after the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wrapped up its questioning of the nominee. The Missouri senator, who is under fire for his effort to object to electoral tallies of Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania, said he needs more information from Mayorkas about how he would enforce federal law and secure the southern border in light of Biden’s promise to halt Trump’s border wall construction and to overhaul Trump’s immigration policies (The Hill).
> ODNI: Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee to lead U.S. national intelligence, joined Mayorkas in warning of a need to secure the federal government against cyber threats following the recently discovered Russian hack of IT group SolarWinds, which compromised many key federal agencies and potentially thousands of businesses. Haines also told senators she would work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to produce a public report about extremist conspiracy group QAnon and any foreign influence behind its activities if confirmed (The Hill). Haines pledged to keep politics out of the job (The Hill) and said she would order the release of an unclassified report about the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi if confirmed (The Hill).
> Defense Department: Retired Gen. , Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, told senators on Tuesday that if confirmed he would “fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity. The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.” Military Times reported that Austin, who requires a waiver from Congress to lead the Pentagon because he has been out of uniform for only four years rather than the required seven, offered scant details about how he would root out racism, extremism and sexism in the armed forces.
> State Department: , a longtime Biden aide, said if he is confirmed to be the nation’s top diplomat he wants to help restore American leadership on the world stage and work for the “greater good” (NPR). Blinken told senators during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that it remains important to approach China — which “poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States” — “from a position of strength, not weakness.” Trump was right in taking “a tougher approach to China,” he added, although he disagreed with the outgoing president’s approach. “But the basic principle was the right one.”
> Nominations: Biden selected Rachel Levine, a pediatrician, professor and transgender official from Pennsylvania, to be deputy secretary at the Health and Human Services Department (The Hill).
The Hill’s Cristina Marcos outlines everything you need to know about today’s inaugural events, which will be carried live by ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC and PBS. The program will be streamed at https://BidenInaugural.org/watch; PIC social media channels, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch; and Amazon Prime Video, Microsoft Bing, NewsNOW from Fox and AT&T U-verse (Channel 212/1212 in SD/HD) and DIRECTV (Channel 201).
CBS News video: Sens. (R-Mo.) and (D-Minn.) spoke with anchor Norah O’Donnell about security and precautions planned by the inaugural committee for today’s events and the rapid repairs made at the Capitol following the mob siege on Jan. 6. “I think the president should have been here and I’m disappointed,” Blunt said.
Today’s program includes:
✓ For young Americans, live stream special entertainment and presentations, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
✓ Oath of office, inaugural address from the West Front of the Capitol, noon ET.
✓ Pass in review ceremony in which the new president reviews the readiness of military troops. Every branch of the military will be represented at the East Front of the Capitol.
✓ Arlington National Cemetery wreath laying at 2:25 p.m.: Biden and his wife, the first lady, and Harris and her husband, , will visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor America’s war dead. They will be joined by former President Obama and , former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and former President Clinton and former Secretary of State .
✓ Presidential escort at 3:15 p.m.: The Bidens and Harris and Emhoff will walk one long block to the White House escorted by representatives of every branch of the military, including the U.S. Army Band, a Joint Service Honor Guard and the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard and Fife and Drum Corps.
✓ Parade Across America: The program features Americans coast to coast for pre recorded performances and tributes.
✓ “Celebrating America” will be a primetime TV special from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET. It will include remarks by Biden and Harris. Tom Hanks hosts appearances by celebrities, entertainers and renowned musical artists. ( ♬ If music has the power to unite and heal, there’s plenty on tap today, according to Variety.)
The inaugural program will celebrate a number of everyday Americans who have earned applause during the pandemic for doing their jobs and serving their communities, including Anthony Gaskin, a UPS driver from Chester County, Va., (heralded by residents on his route for his kindness and dedication, according to ABC News), and Mackenzie Adams, a kindergarten teacher from Washington state whose teaching prowess during the pandemic appeared on TikTok (Bellevue Reporter), went viral and landed her on NBC’s “Today Show.”
The New York Times: Biden, fit at 78, is bringing his posh Peloton bike to the White House. Believe it or not, cyber security is an issue. The camera and the microphone in the bike’s tablet should be removed, said Richard Ledgett, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, who offered some other suggestions as a Peloton user himself.
SECURITY: Twelve members of the U.S. Army National Guard have been removed from the thousands-strong security team brought into Washington for the inauguration after they were found to have ties to right-wing militia groups or exhibited extremist views on social media.
Officials told The Associated Press that the dozen Guard members were removed due to “security liabilities.”
In total, 25,000 National Guard members have descended on the nation’s capital for today’s event — roughly two and a half times as many as have been on site for previous inaugurations, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of people.
The changes come as another individual involved in the Jan. 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol was arrested. Thomas Edward Caldwell of Virginia was arrested on Tuesday with the first federal charge of conspiracy against the United States, allegedly tied to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Caldwell is a leader of the extremist group Oath Keepers, which claims 35,000 members.
A charging affidavit says he helped organize a group of eight to 10 individuals, including self-styled Ohio militia members apprehended Sunday, who wore helmets and military-style gear and were seen moving purposefully toward the top of the Capitol steps and leading the move against police lines (The Washington Post).
The New York Times: ‘This kettle is set to boil’: New evidence points to riot conspiracy.
> Terrorism: In Georgia, U.S. Army soldier Cole Bridges of Ohio was also arrested and faces terrorism charges on Tuesday for supporting plans to blow up the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and other high-profile U.S. locales. Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for Manhattan federal prosecutors, told The Associated Press that Bridges was in custody on charges of attempted material support of a terrorist organization, the Islamic State.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: , the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed that he considered resigning and was “disgusted” after rioters overtook the Capitol on Jan. 6 but held off due to the ongoing pandemic.
Hahn told Bloomberg News in an interview published Tuesday that he thought about “making a statement with a resignation” but ultimately decided against it. A number of other top administration officials, including Cabinet members, resigned due to what took place and the president’s lack of reaction.
“Now, with respect to January 6 — I was horrified and I was disgusted by what happened. We live in a democracy. There is no place for what we saw and those who are responsible for the actions that took place on the physical grounds of the Capitol should be held accountable,” Hahn said.
Hahn’s comments come amid grim times for the nation on the COVID-19 front, headlined by the more than 400,000 deaths attributed to the virus. However, there are positive indicators that the spread could be dropping following the holiday travel season. On Monday and Tuesday, the U.S. posted the two lowest daily COVID-19 case totals since late November (151,000 and 149,000, respectively), with vaccine distribution and use starting to pick up. According to The Washington Post, more than 14.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, while more than 1.7 million people have received both doses.
On Capitol Hill, at least 19 Capitol Police officers have tested positive for COVID-19 dating back to Jan. 8 and in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol (Roll Call).
> States: Doses of COVID-19 vaccines will run out by Friday in New York City, forcing cancellations of appointments already scheduled by eligible front-line workers and residents 65 and older, Mayor (D) said on Tuesday. He and New York Gov. (D) are both complaining about what they see as slow federal distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses. The governor said on Monday he was seeking to learn whether New York could buy doses directly from manufacturer Pfizer (NewYork1). … Michigan Gov. (D) on Tuesday proposed a $5.6 billion plan to combat and recover from the coronavirus pandemic, including the use of billions in federal relief and $575 million in surplus state funds. A major facet of the governor’s proposal would allocate $2 billion — $300 million of state dollars — to help K-12 schools offer the option of in-person instruction by March 1 and to address pandemic-related learning loss (The Associated Press).
> Masks: U.S. airlines have banned 2,000 passengers from traveling because of their refusal to wear masks (CNBC).
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!
Joe Biden may have only two years to get things done. Democrats must kill the filibuster and make the Senate great again, by Adam Jentleson, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3sFRnx6
COVID-19 control will make or break Biden, by William A. Galston, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3p3VW1W
Trump turned Republicans into losers, by Ramesh Ponnuru, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3qz4lL7
WHERE AND WHEN
The House and the Senate will focus today on the inauguration of the 46th president. Leaders from both chambers and both parties will attend a morning worship service at St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington at Biden’s invitation before the swearing-in ceremonies at the Capitol.
The president and first lady will depart the White House at 8 a.m. to begin their post-White House lives in Florida, landing in West Palm Beach at 11 a.m. At Joint Base Andrews in Maryland ahead of his final flight aboard Air Force One, Trump will be feted by outgoing staff and admirers.
Vice President Pence and second lady will attend Biden’s inauguration at noon.
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.
➔ CLIMATE REGULATION: A federal court on Tuesday struck down the Trump administration’s scaled-down replacement of the Obama administration’s signature climate change regulation for power plants, a final blow to its environmental deregulatory agenda on Trump’s last day in office. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided unanimously to toss the Environmental Protection Agency’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, which constrained how carbon emissions from power plants are regulated, and remanded it to the agency, which will prioritize climate change under the incoming Biden administration (Reuters).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: Calls are growing for Biden to reverse the eleventh hour decision by the Trump administration to label Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthis a terrorist organization, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, experts and aid groups warning of mass starvation on top of the already deadly humanitarian crisis. The designation took effect on Tuesday, but the calls for opposition say a quick reversal by Biden could avert a mass crisis (The Hill).
And finally … A first! Sarah Thomas was named on Tuesday to the Super Bowl LV officiating crew, becoming the first woman in NFL history to officiate a Super Bowl. Thomas will serve as the down judge during the Feb. 7 championship, with Carl Cheffers as the crew’s referee. In 2015, Thomas became the first full-time female official in league history (ESPN).
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