The Hill's Morning Report – Biden champions filibuster reform, but doesn't have the votes

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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 837,664; Tuesday, 839,500; Wednesday, 842,322.

American presidents like to talk about rights. Official Washington often obsesses about rules.

On Tuesday, President BidenJoe BidenMcConnell: Rounds ‘told the truth’ about 2020 election Abrams thanks Biden for Georgia speech, backs call for Senate rules change Overnight Health Care — Biden officials take heat at Senate hearing MORE tackled both during an expansive speech about voting rights and alleged voter suppression delivered against the Atlanta backdrop of the civil rights movement and what progressives describe as a 2022 campaign to thwart racism and save democracy.

After months of hedging about whether he favored jettisoning the 60-vote filibuster rule he had long defended as a senator, Biden said two bills dealing with voting rights and elections are so important to enact through the 50-50 Senate that he wants an exception to the filibuster requirement.

The Hill: Biden calls for changing Senate rules to allow voting bills to pass.

Neither the proposed filibuster exception nor the bills themselves are expected to garner sufficient support, but in a midterm year that looks increasingly grim for many Democratic candidates, the president laid down rhetorical markers. His muscular rhetoric pulls back the curtain on race-tinged and bitter partisanship during this election year and is a tacit admission that Biden’s focus on wooing his Democratic colleagues to enact the stalled $2 trillion Build Back Better agenda is on a back burner.   

The president, who was a Delaware senator for 36 years, said Tuesday that he had become a converted realist since Jan. 6, 2021, about scorched-earth political motives and the vulnerability of what he called “democracy’s threshold liberty,” which he described as the right “to vote and have that vote count.” Biden said former President TrumpDonald TrumpMcConnell: Rounds ‘told the truth’ about 2020 election Abrams thanks Biden for Georgia speech, backs call for Senate rules change Kerik to sit for ‘voluntary interview’ with Jan. 6 panel, attorney says MORE and his allies are angling for ways to “disenfranchise anyone who votes against them, simple as that. …We must be vigilant.”

“Sadly, the United States Senate, designed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body, has been rendered a shell of its former self,” he said. “As an institutionalist, I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote. Let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this” (The Washington Post).

The president’s pitch, aimed both at voters and senators, is opposed by Republicans in the upper chamber, as well as at least two Democratic senators.

Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinAbrams thanks Biden for Georgia speech, backs call for Senate rules change Biden’s Georgia speech was a call to save democracy as we know it Stacey Abrams’s shocking snub of Biden, Harris signals possible 2024 aspirations MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaAbrams thanks Biden for Georgia speech, backs call for Senate rules change Biden’s Georgia speech was a call to save democracy as we know it Stacey Abrams’s shocking snub of Biden, Harris signals possible 2024 aspirations MORE (D-Ariz.) say they want to keep the filibuster. “We need some good rules changes to make the place work better. But getting rid of the filibuster doesn’t make it work better,” Manchin repeated (The Hill).

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerClyburn on updating election law: ‘What is true today was not true then’ Biden eulogizes Reid as a fighter ‘for the America we all love’ Like it or not, all roads forward for Democrats go through Joe Manchin MORE (D-N.Y.), more eager to draw contrasts with Republicans than underscore intra-party divisions, nevertheless said a vote could happen as early as Wednesday. He previously said a vote would take place by Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “Our experts have told us moving by mid-January is the latest we can go,” he added.

Democrats, according to Schumer, are privately telling Manchin and Sinema that because of restrictive laws adopted by states, including Arizona and Georgia, colleagues will lose in November without new federal voting rights protections. They question why voters will turn out for Democratic candidates if the president and his allies in Congress don’t take a stand now, reports The Hill’s Jordain Carney.

The Hill: Biden wants midterm contests to draw contrasts with Republicans rather than be a referendum on his presidency.

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial challenger Stacey Abrams did not attend Biden’s Atlanta speech, citing a scheduling conflict. Progressive activists in Georgia boycotted the president’s remarks, assailing his events as rhetoric more than action, even as Abrams has defended Biden on voting rights (NewsOne and The Associated Press).

Offering no explanation for any scheduling issues as news media highlighted an absence interpreted as a snub, the president told reporters he spoke early in the day with Abrams by phone.We have a great relationship,” he said. “We’re all on the same page.”

The Hill: Abrams thanks Biden for Georgia speech, backs call for Senate rules change.

Trump, who has been blamed by some Republicans for the GOP’s loss of two Senate seats in Georgia a year ago, tried on Tuesday to drive a wedge between Biden and Abrams among her supporters. “He’s been so terrible she now wants nothing to do with him,” he wrote in a statement. “Even the woke, radical left realizes that Joe Biden’s Administration is an embarrassment.”

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMcConnell: Rounds ‘told the truth’ about 2020 election Romney defends Rounds following Trump rebuke Romney on Capitol attack anniversary: ‘Ignore the lessons of January 6 at our own peril’ MORE (R-Utah) scolded Biden from the Senate floor on Tuesday, likening the president’s approach to his predecessor’s tactics. ​​”President Biden goes down the same tragic road taken by President Trump, casting doubt on the reliability of American elections. This is a sad, sad day. I expected more of President Biden, who came into office with the stated goal of bringing the country together,” he added (NBC News).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Rounds ‘told the truth’ about 2020 election McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump’s attacks Top Republicans pressing Hogan to run for Senate MORE (R-Ky.), who worked to eliminate the filibuster for votes on Supreme Court nominees, warned that Democrats fail to imagine the damage a “post-nuclear Senate” creates. “If the Democratic leader tries to shut millions of Americans and entire states out of the business of governing, the operations of this body will change,” he said. “But not in a way that rewards the rule breakers. Not in ways that advantage this president, this majority or their party” (The Hill).

  

Vice President Harris, speaking in Atlanta on Tuesday ahead of the president, said, “Across our nation, anti-voter laws could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote. That’s 1 out of 6 people in our country.”

More in Congress: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome PowellJerome PowellOn the Money — Powell questioned over rising prices, response Overnight Energy & Environment — EPA takes steps to address toxic coal residue Powell: Supply side constraints aren’t seeing ‘a lot of progress,’ fueling inflation MORE said Tuesday that the U.S. economy no longer needs the central bank’s extraordinary infusion of post-pandemic stimulus and will begin to taper its accommodative monetary policy later this year. The Fed is widely expected to launch a series of interest rate hikes, perhaps beginning this spring and continuing through 2022.

“It is really time for us to move away from those emergency pandemic settings to a more normal level,” he told the Senate Banking Committee during a confirmation hearing ahead of anticipated Senate support for his nomination to a second term (The Wall Street Journal).

“As we move through this year … if things develop as expected … we’re going to end our asset purchases in March, meaning we’ll be raising rates over the course of the year,” he told committee members. “At some point perhaps later this year we will start to allow the balance sheet to run off, and that’s just the road to normalizing policy” (CNBC).

Powell defended the Fed’s initial, now-altered analysis that inflationary pressures would be short-lived in an expanding economy recovering from COVID-19 shutdowns and supply chain problems. The central bank, he said, had not anticipated the labor supply challenges resulting from unprecedented employee shifts in which workers resigned, moved out of the workforce or demanded higher wages and more flexible schedules. And supply chain constraints on demand have not ebbed, he added.

Higher interest rates put a brake on inflation by slowing down the flow of money, which has been cheap and plentiful as the Fed and Congress together injected more than $10 trillion worth of stimulus beginning in 2020.

“If we see inflation persisting at high levels longer than expected, then if we have to raise interest more over time, we will,” Powell said. “We will use our tools to get inflation back.”

The consumer price index in December, which will be reported this morning, will likely show inflation up more than 7 percent year over year, a hike in prices not seen since the 1980s. Many Americans complain their incomes are not keeping pace with soaring food and gasoline prices and rising costs for goods and services.  

Reuters: U.S. economy can withstand Fed tightening, omicron surge, Powell says.

The chairman — who fielded questions on many topics, including how climate change fits into the central bank’s twin mandates of low inflation and full employment — told senators the pandemic and its effects are far from over.

Reuters: U.S. stocks bounce, investors digest the news of rate hikes ahead.

The committee on Thursday will hold a confirmation hearing for longtime Washington policymaker Lael Brainard, Biden’s nominee to be Fed vice chair. Her testimony is expected to appeal to progressives in her perspectives on climate change and her caution about risky behavior by financial institutions (CNBC).

LEADING THE DAY

CORONAVIRUS: After weeks of dour developments surrounding the omicron variant, there was a glimmer of good news on Tuesday as New York took a turn for the better, with indications showing that it has moved past its peak from the last viral surge.

New York Gov. Kathy HochulKathy HochulStates carve out billions in budgets for electric vehicle surge Overnight Health Care — Presented by AstraZeneca and Friends of Cancer Research — Biden vaccine rules on shaky SCOTUS ground New York to mandate boosters for health care workers MORE (D) said on Tuesday that the state appears to be “cresting over that peak” as the rate of case increases has slowed down in recent days. The state reported more than 90,000 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with that total nearly halved on Tuesday to 48,000 infections. 

“Cases are slowing down, the rate of increase is slowing down, but they are still high, still high. We are not at the end, but I wanted to say that this to me is a glimmer of hope. A glimmer of hope in a time when we desperately need that,” Hochul said. 

However, some mid-Atlantic states and locations continued to raise alarms about the spread of the variant. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil MurphyPhil MurphyNew Jersey declares state of emergency over omicron variant Johnson, Thune signal GOP’s rising confidence Telehealth payment parity prevents cost savings MORE (D) on Tuesday reinstated an immediate statewide public health emergency allowing agencies and departments to tap state resources to support the strained health care system and communities struggling with the COVID-19 surge. 

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserConservatives push for boycott of GOP club over DC vaccine mandate State of emergency declared in Virginia after record COVID-19 surge Hundreds gather in Lebanon’s capital to protest COVID-19 measures MORE (D) placed the District under a public health emergency until later this month to allow hospitals to deal with a troublesome staffing situation in response to an increase in hospitalizations (The Washington Post). The moves come after Virginia and Maryland previously instituted similar emergency declarations.

The Associated Press: Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in U.S. and Britain. 

The Atlantic: Omicron is forcing us to rethink mild COVID-19.

The Associated Press: Omicron wave prompts media to rethink which data to report, including stories on case totals or records due to at-home COVID-19 tests.

On Capitol Hill, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care — Biden officials take heat at Senate hearing Biden health officials slammed at hearing for confusing pandemic messaging Hot mic catches Fauci calling GOP senator ‘a moron’ MORE, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found himself in a heated back-and-forth with multiple Senate Republicans, headlined by another go-around with Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care — Biden officials take heat at Senate hearing Hot mic catches Fauci calling GOP senator ‘a moron’ Fauci clashes with Paul, says attacks kindle ‘the crazies’ MORE (R-Ky.).

During an appearance before the Senate Health Committee, Fauci accused the Kentucky Republican of putting him and his family in danger after repeated personal attacks during previous hearings. 

“This happens all the time. You personally attack me, with absolutely not a shred of evidence of anything you say. So I would like to make something clear to the committee: You’re doing this for political reasons,” Fauci told Paul, pointing to fundraising solicitations that appear on the senator’s campaign page.

Fauci also referred to a pre-Christmas incident in Iowa, recently where police arrested an armed man who claimed he was traveling from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., in order to “kill Dr. FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care — Biden officials take heat at Senate hearing Biden health officials slammed at hearing for confusing pandemic messaging Hot mic catches Fauci calling GOP senator ‘a moron’ MORE.” He accused Paul of saying stuff that “kindles the crazies” (The Hill).

The Hill: Hot mic catches Fauci calling Sen. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallHot mic catches Fauci calling GOP senator ‘a moron’ Sunday shows preview: Omicron surge continues; anniversary of Jan. 6 attack approaches Senate GOP introduces resolution to nix Biden health worker vaccine mandate MORE (R-Kan.) “a moron.”

The Associated Press: Biden is sending more COVID-19 tests to schools to keep them open. A White House fact sheet is HERE

> More infections: Chicago Mayor Lori LightfootLori LightfootChicago mayor tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Chicago Teachers Union agrees to reopen city schools Wednesday MORE (D), who is battling the Chicago Teachers Union to keep schools open during the omicron surge, announced on Tuesday that she tested positive for COVID-19. She said she is vaccinated, boosted and experiencing cold-like symptoms.

Two more members of Congress — Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Daniel WebsterDaniel Alan WebsterLaura Loomer says she’s tested positive for COVID-19 How Donald Rumsfeld helped save the presidency Gun deaths surge in Iowa ahead of loosened handgun restrictions MORE (R-Fla.) — also announced they tested positive for the virus. Maloney, who chairs the House Democratic campaign arm, said he is “experiencing minor cold-like symptoms” following his positive test result.

The Hill: A House Democratic retreat planned for early February has been postponed due to COVID-19.

The Hill: Thousands of United Airlines employees call out sick, forcing flight cancellations.

> International: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned that more than half of Europe’s population may be infected with omicron in the coming six to eight weeks as part of “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region (The New York Times). 

“The region saw over seven million cases of COVID-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period,” said Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, at a news conference.

The Associated Press: China locks down third city, raising affected to 20 million.

Reuters: Novak Djokovic confirms error on Australian entry form, visa still in doubt ahead of Australian Open.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

MORE ADMINISTRATION: The Department of Justice is launching a unit dedicated specifically to domestic terrorism, the department’s top national security official told lawmakers Tuesday. 

Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general for national security, made the announcement to the Senate Judiciary Committee while noting the doubling of domestic terror investigations launched by the FBI since March 2020. The department already has a counterterrorism unit designed to handle both international and domestic cases. 

“I decided to establish a domestic terrorism unit to augment our existing approach,” Olsen said. “This group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are handled properly and effectively coordinated across the Department of Justice and across the country.”

The news comes days after the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and as the House select committee plows ahead with its probe of the events of that day. The panel on Tuesday rolled out three new subpoenas Tuesday to individuals in former President Trump’s orbit: Ross Worthington, an ex-White House adviser and speechwriter, as well as Andy Surabian and Arthur Schwartz, Republican strategists the committee said were involved in rally planning. 

According to the subpoenas, they were all in touch with a wide array of Trump World figures, including Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly GuilfoyleKimberly GuilfoyleJan. 6 panel subpoenas Trump allies who helped with rally Trump to attend fundraiser for midterm candidates Kimberly Guilfoyle engaged to Trump Jr. MORE and others at the White House. Surabian and Schwartz both serve as advisers to the former president’s eldest son (The Hill).

Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill: Bernard Kerik to sit for a “voluntary interview” with Jan. 6 panel, attorney says.

Politico: Jan. 6 panel crushes Trump world’s latest conspiracy theory. 

> Immigration: The Biden administration has a Trump-era problem on its hands. 

After a court order forced the administration to reimplement the “Remain in Mexico” policy allowing the U.S. to release migrants claiming asylum into Mexico to await hearings, the administration said it would enroll those affected by the policy with free legal services. However, as The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch writes, a number of national nonprofits have declined to provide legal services as they want no part in forward what they believe is an immoral policy.

The move has left the administration and migrants in a lurch, forcing the government to kick off the first round of hearings for asylum-seekers without any assurances they’ll be able to secure legal assistance for them. 

“Many at this point have real concerns that signing up to officially take part in a program that they believe violates U.S. and international law puts them in a position of potentially being complicit with human rights abuses — and I would say massive human rights abuses.” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for Refugee Protection at Human Rights First, a group that provided legal aid to those enrolled in the policy during Trump’s administration.

The Hill: Pressures aligning on Biden, Democrats to forgive student loans. 

The New York Times: Medicare proposes to sharply limit coverage of the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm.

Reuters: Federal Aviation Administration halted flights temporarily on Monday out of West Coast because of North Korea launch.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 

OPINION

On vaccine mandates, the Supreme Court is doing a job Congress should have finished long ago, by Charles Lane, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3FjeOl3 

How school closures made me question my progressive politics, by Rebecca Bodenheimer, opinion contributor, Politico Magazine. https://politi.co/3Gmllwr 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at noon.

The Senate convenes at 12:30 p.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Amitabha Bose to be administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. Former Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill’s Morning Report – Voting rights takes center stage for Democrats Biden eulogizes Reid as a fighter ‘for the America we all love’ Watch live: Funeral service for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid MORE (D-Nev.), who died last month, will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:20 a.m. He will attend the funeral of late Army Gen. Raymond Odierno in Fort Myer, Va., at 12:45 p.m. 

The vice president and the second gentleman Doug EmhoffDoug Emhoff Harris tests negative for COVID-19 after close contact with aide Staffer who had contact with Harris tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Mastercard – BBB negotiations hit tension point MORE at 11 a.m. will attend a congressional tribute ceremony for Reid at the Capitol.

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. releases a report on the consumer price index in December. The rising inflation gauge is likely to lead headlines.

The White House press briefing is scheduled at 3 p.m. The White House COVID-19 response team will brief reporters at 11 a.m.

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.

ELSEWHERE

INTERNATIONAL: As NATO opens talks with Russia about Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinTo understand Russia, read Putin Ye to meet with Putin in Russia, associate says Kazakhstan president says Russian troops will begin leaving in two days MORE’s next move on his country’s neighbor remains a mystery. It’s just the way he likes it (The New York Times). … Hungary will hold its parliamentary elections on April 3, a contest that will decide the future of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been in office for 12 years. The date is the earliest allowed by law and marks Hungary’s ninth election since transitioning from being a communist state in 1990 (The Associated Press). 

STATE WATCH: California lawmakers plan to make expansion of health care coverage a key goal this year. Legislators want to debate single payer legislation, but Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomEquilibrium/Sustainability — NASA hires climate scientist for key new role Stacey Abrams’s shocking snub of Biden, Harris signals possible 2024 aspirations Historic health care expansion to take center stage in California MORE (D) (pictured below) is stopping short; his $286 billion budget proposal would expand Medi-Cal coverage, the state’s Medicaid program, to undocumented low-income residents, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson. … In Hawaii, the Pentagon has agreed for now to comply with a Hawaii Department of Health order to address the plight of water contamination and sickened Navy families resulting from the Defense Department’s leaking jet fuel facility at Pearl Harbor on Oahu. The Pacific Fleet’s underground fuel storage complex is about 100 feet above Oahu’s only freshwater aquifer, stoking fears among environmentalists and lawmakers that continued fuel storage problems will threaten the entire island. About 93,000 people rely on water from the Navy’s wells (The Washington Post). 

SMART GUNS: After two decades of questions, personalized smart guns that can be fired only by verified users are set to become available to consumers. LodeStar Works last week rolled out a 9mm smart handgun, while SmartGunz LLC, a Kansas company, is testing a product along with law enforcement agents. Both firearms could hit the commercial market this year. Most early smart gun prototypes used either fingerprint unlocking or radio frequency identification technology that enables the gun to fire only when a chip in the gun communicates with another chip worn by the user in a ring or bracelet. LodeStar integrated both a fingerprint reader and a near-field communication chip activated by a phone app, plus a PIN pad. The gun can be authorized for more than one user. Retail price: $895 (NBC News).

THE CLOSER

And finally … We’re suckers for tales about wild birds that wander way off course. 

Some recent examples: A rare snowy owl normally home in the Arctic has been spotted in the past week soaring above the Capitol Hill area of Washington, D.C., wowing binocular-clutching birdwatchers since a major snowstorm on Jan. 3 (pictured below) (The Associated Press). … A lost Steller’s sea eagle, native to Asia and hard to miss with its 8-foot wingspan, was recently a guest in Maine and was a visitor to Massachusetts last month (The Daily Mail). … An underweight juvenile brown booby, accustomed to the tropical warmth of Mexico, California and the Caribbean, showed up on Sunday on a U.K. beach (BBC). 

No passports required.