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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! 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, 788,364; Tuesday, 789,745. Wednesday, 791,514.
Partisans on Capitol Hill made progress on Tuesday to try to avert a domestic crisis. At the White House, the sway of President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden’s Saudi arms sale MORE’s warnings to Russia to de-escalate military tensions with Ukraine — or face economic punishment — remain a bigger question mark.
Early Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer tees up key Thursday vote on debt deal House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden’s Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters he was “confident” he could secure 10 GOP senators to back a somewhat complicated maneuver to lift the U.S. debt ceiling and avert default risks this week ahead of a Dec. 15 deadline described by the Treasury Department (The Hill). Hours later, the House voted to approve a special instructional measure needed to accomplish the multi-step process (The Hill), and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBuild Back Better Is bad for the states Dole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Biden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote MORE (D-N.Y.) did his part to tee up a Thursday vote (The Hill).
“We’ll be voting on it Thursday and I’m confident that this particular procedure coupled with the avoidance of Medicare cuts will achieve enough Republican support to clear the 60 vote threshold,” Schumer said. “And then later, when the majority leader decides to have the procedure, it can all occur in one day and the actual debt ceiling vote will be done at a 51 vote threshold,” he added.
White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiAustralia joins US in diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics Biden Supreme Court study panel unanimously approves final report White House: Biden would veto GOP resolution to nix vaccine mandate MORE greeted the planned congressional two-step as a positive development.
Under the compromise, at least 10 Republicans are needed to help their Democratic colleagues advance a bill that blocks Medicare cuts and lays out the instructions for taking up another bill to raise the debt limit by a simple majority. Democrats, acting on their own because of political resistance within the GOP caucus to additional federal debt, would then have to pass the measure to raise the nation’s borrowing cap to a set amount.
It was unclear if the much-anticipated conversation between Biden and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBiden tries to tamp down tensions with Putin call Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill Biden to speak Thursday with Ukrainian president after call with Putin MORE would calm fears of invasion along the border between Russia and Ukraine, where roughly 100,000 Russian troops have massed, with equipment and personnel arriving daily. Putin gave no indication whether he was actually contemplating an invasion or using a military buildup at the border to get the West to pay attention to his demands, U.S. officials said (The New York Times).
The U.S. will impose “strong economic measures” against Russia if it moves aggressively against Ukraine, Biden told Putin, according to the White House (The Hill). The administration plans to spell out to Moscow specific options for economic punishments, drawn up by the Treasury Department and coordinated with European allies, but the White House said it would not “be profitable to lay out those measures” publicly.
The Hill: Biden to speak Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The president told Putin an invasion would end Russia’s hopes of completing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe, which would be a major source of energy revenue. Hours after the call between the two leaders, a senior State Department official told senators at a hearing, “I think if President Putin moves on Ukraine, our expectation is that the pipeline will be suspended,” The New York Times reported.
Biden also told Putin that “things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanBiden tries to tamp down tensions with Putin call Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill Biden to speak Thursday with Ukrainian president after call with Putin MORE told reporters, referring to the response by the Obama administration when Russia invaded and then annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. In April, Moscow told the Biden administration to steer clear of its standoff with Ukraine for its “own good” (CBS News).
The Washington Post: Why does the U.S. intelligence community believe Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine while it demands Washington guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO?
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LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Former White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel threatens Meadows with contempt Trump considered withdrawing Kavanaugh nomination over beer comments, being ‘too apologetic’: Meadows book Meadows reverses, won’t agree to Jan. 6 panel deposition MORE is no longer cooperating with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, one of his lawyers told the panel on Tuesday. That response set up a likely committee vote to hold the former House member from North Carolina in contempt of Congress.
The Daily Mail: Through his attorney, Meadows said he would not appear for a deposition but would respond to written questions.
Meadows previously said he would cooperate and was scheduled to testify privately before the panel today. Via his attorney, who appeared on Fox News on Tuesday morning to disclose his client’s change of heart, Meadows accused the select committee of abusing its power and undermining executive privilege authority invoked by former President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden’s Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as ‘grifters,’ ‘performance artists’ Senate confirms Biden’s nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE and a number of Trump allies. Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLanguage requiring companies to report cyberattacks left out of defense bill Jan. 6 panel threatens Meadows with contempt Meadows reverses, won’t agree to Jan. 6 panel deposition MORE (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyJan. 6 panel threatens Meadows with contempt Meadows reverses, won’t agree to Jan. 6 panel deposition We must learn from the Afghanistan experience — starting with the withdrawal MORE (R-Wyo.) vowed to charge ahead with today’s meeting “as planned.”
“If indeed Mr. Meadows refuses to appear, the Select Committee will be left no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution,” Thompson said in a statement (The Hill).
The about-face occurred a day after the committee secured cooperation from Marc Short, who was chief of staff to former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTo advance democracy, defend Taiwan and Ukraine Jan. 6 committee getting ‘significant cooperation’ from top Pence aide: CNN More voters would pick Trump over Biden if election were held today: poll MORE and accompanied Pence to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Some of the attackers that day chanted, “Hang Mike Pence” because he fulfilled his role in certifying the Electoral College tally of Biden’s victory (The Guardian).
Meadows also is promoting a new memoir, which stirred the select committee to again demand his cell-phone and email records. His book, published on Tuesday, has reportedly infuriated Trump with revelations from the West Wing. Meadows wrote that Trump tested positive for COVID-19 days before his bout with the virus was publicized and required hospitalization. Trump’s blood oxygen level was dangerously low before he was treated and recovered, Meadows wrote.
The Hill: The House on Tuesday night approved a $768 billion defense authorization bill by a vote of 363-70. The measure now heads to the Senate.
The Hill: The decision by Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesOn The Money — Schumer, McConnell clear path to debt deal Nunes resignation sets off GOP scramble on Ways and Means The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown MORE (R-Calif.) this week to quit Congress and pass up a chance to be chairman of a top House committee to become the chief executive of Trump’s new media and technology company is a sign of the GOP’s new power center.
The Hill: The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Biden’s nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection — Tucson, Ariz., police chief Chris Magnus — by a vote of 50-47. The sole Republican to back the nominee in the vote was Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Biden’s nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection Hillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Incident reporting language left out of package Language requiring companies to report cyberattacks left out of defense bill MORE of Maine.
> Mandate troubles: Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance White House: Biden would veto GOP resolution to nix vaccine mandate Second Senate Democrat to back vote against Biden vaccine mandate MORE (D-Mont.) announced on Tuesday that he is planning to vote for a GOP resolution that would block the president’s vaccine mandate for large employers, becoming the second Senate Democrat to do so.
Tester’s vote to halt Biden’s employer vaccine mandate rulemaking under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) could take place as early as today, with Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin warns about inflation as Democrats pursue Biden spending bill Overnight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance Exporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families MORE (D-W.Va.) saying last week that he would also support the resolution.
“I’m not crazy about mandates,” Tester said on Tuesday. A spokesperson confirmed later in the day that the Montana Democrat is “inclined to vote for the CRA resolution.”
The resolution is not expected to pack a punch, however. The House is not required to act on it and Biden, if necessary, would veto it, according to Psaki.
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Senate poised to pass resolution to nullify Biden vaccine mandate.
The Wall Street Journal: Manchin withholds support for Biden’s Build Back Better spending bill.
The Washington Post: In the face of near-unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans and skepticism from some moderate Democrats, Cornell University law professor Saule Omarova on Tuesday withdrew her nomination as Biden’s choice to be comptroller of the currency. Some senators assailed Omarova’s views as outside the mainstream when it comes to potential banking system reforms.
CORONAVIRUS: The good news is that 60 percent of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against COVID-19 with medications effective against the delta variant, which dominates from coast to coast, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At a time of a winter surge of infections and the omicron variant, demand for vaccinations at pharmacies remains on the rise (The Hill), but perhaps more slowly for eligible children in certain parts of the country (The New York Times).
The bad news is that COVID-19 has killed more than 790,000 people in the United States while the number of reported infections in this country now exceeds 50 million (The Washington Post).
The uncertain news is that the omicron variant is spreading so rapidly that public health experts around the world are urging a speed-up of vaccinations, despite challenges in the developing world and the absence of firm scientific data about omicron’s capabilities (The New York Times).
Scientists say available vaccines and boosters remain key weapons against serious illness and hospitalizations in people infected with COVID-19. Omicron has been detected in test results in at least 19 states. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance First study of omicron shows Pfizer vaccine may be less effective Edie Falco join PETA in pitching animal experimentation reforms MORE said Tuesday that omicron appears in preliminary assessments to cause less severe illness (The Hill).
Nevertheless, the Biden administration’s requirement that federal contractors be vaccinated was temporarily blocked on Tuesday by a federal judge, who said the plaintiffs “will likely succeed” in their argument that the president exceeded his authority with his September executive order aimed at protecting federal workers and workplaces (The Washington Post).
In the United Kingdom, the communicable spread of the new variant has alarmed officials; the number of confirmed cases more than doubled there between Saturday and Monday.
Britain moved on Tuesday to enforce broader travel restrictions on people entering from countries that are not included on its COVID-19 “red list.” Vaccinated travelers ages 12 and up entering the country must now show proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow test before their trip. Previously, these vaccinated travelers were required only to self-isolate and take a coronavirus test by the second day after arrival. Travelers from red list countries now are required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days at their own expense, where they will be required to take two PCR tests (The New York Times).
The Hill: The World Health Organization strongly advises against the use of convalescent plasma to try to treat COVID-19 infections because there is no research-supported evidence of increased survival.
The New York Times: Amid push to vaccinate children, other challenges deluge pediatricians.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: With 2022 only weeks away, Biden is not in a position of political strength, according to a new poll released on Tuesday.
A survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal shows that only 41 percent approve of the president’s job in office, compared with 57 percent who disapprove, with those numbers trickling down to the 2022 midterm scene as 44 percent would back a Republican and 41 percent would back a Democrat on a generic ballot.
The driving force behind those numbers, according to the poll, is the economy. Forty-six percent of respondents said that the Republican Party is better able to deal with the economic state of the nation, compared with only 35 percent for Democrats. Sixty-three percent added that the U.S. is on the wrong track, while only 27 percent said it was on the right track forward.
Also notable, Biden is in a statistical tie with Trump in a hypothetical rematch of last year’s presidential election. Forty-six percent of voters back Biden, with 45 percent supporting the former president. Biden defeated Trump by a 4.4 percentage point margin.
One area where Americans have felt the economic pinch is at the gas station, as high prices have plagued the administration for months. However, as The Hill’s Rachel Frazin writes, falling oil prices could give Biden a reprieve, as the price of gasoline is expected to fall in the coming weeks.
The price of crude oil has fallen since late October, with that effect being seen at the pump as the U.S. averages $3.35 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association, down from $3.39 a week ago and $3.42 a month ago.
Scott Wong, The Hill: Trump’s feud with his GOP critics on Capitol Hill is extending to the campaign trail.
The Hill: GOP braces for brutal primary in Georgia governor’s election.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Conservative state lawmakers plan to try to call a constitutional convention aimed at creating a balanced budget amendment and establishing term limits for members of Congress in an effort to rein in what they see as a runaway federal government.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Where have all the grown-ups gone? by Paul Krugman, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3Gl10Yb
Yes, the 2017 tax cuts helped working-class Americans. But conservatives should be honest about how, by Henry Olsen, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3lIWx9S
Was George W. Bush a 2007 victim of Russia-induced “Havana Syndrome”? by Tom Rogan, national security writer and contributors editor, Washington Examiner. https://washex.am/32Zn7Vy
A MESSAGE FROM UBER
Whether it’s because of the freedom to pick their hours, pick their rides, or
simply pick their kids up on time, 86% of drivers say they need flexibility.*
*From a Benenson Strategy Group survey.
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Embarrassment’ that Democratic leaders are delaying Boebert punishment Overnight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance MORE (D-Calif.) will hold her weekly press conference at 11:30 a.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will travel to Kansas City, Mo., to deliver a speech at 2:30 p.m. about the infrastructure law enacted last month. He will return to the White House tonight.
INVITATION to The Hill’s Virtually Live event TODAY at 1 p.m.: “The Great Rebuild: The Hill’s Infrastructure Summit,” featuring expertise from Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems seek to preserve climate provisions MORE (D-Del.) and Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Only two Republicans expected to back censuring Gosar MORE (R-Mich.), plus other federal and municipal officials and advocates (information is HERE).
➜ IMMIGRATION: A court-ordered reimplementation of the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy has revived immigration advocates’ frustration with the Biden administration as it expands the policy to additional countries (The Hill).
➔ TECH: Lawmakers are preparing to grill Instagram chief Adam Mosseri on Wednesday on the effect of social media on teens and children, a subject that inspires bipartisan ire (The Hill). … Amazon faced attacks from all fronts at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing on Tuesday about competition and data privacy (The Hill). … Residents in the small community of Boca Chica, Texas, home of Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskHillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Incident reporting language left out of package Equilibrium/Sustainability — Volcanic eruption triggered by heavy rains Elon Musk: Declining birth rate one of ‘biggest’ threats to civilization MORE’s expanding SpaceX commercial spaceport, are unhappy with living conditions and environmental impacts in a blast zone that is being reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration for expansion to enable the company to send the largest known rockets into space (NBC News).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: A Saudi citizen suspected of being involved in the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been arrested in France. Khaled Aedh Al-Otaibi, 33, one of the 26 Saudi nationals wanted in the Khashoggi killing, was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport on Tuesday. When arrested, Al-Otaibi was traveling under his own name and was set to fly from Paris to Riyadh (The Hill). … Australia on Wednesday joined the U.S. in announcing a diplomatic boycott against the Winter Olympics in Beijing due to China’s record on human rights (Reuters).
➔ 2022 TRENDS TO WATCH: NASA’s future is in the hands of private space companies (Axios). … Apple’s iPhone successor comes into focus with augmented reality (The Wall Street Journal). … U.S. housing markets expected next year to be most competitive are largely tech hubs in the Midwest and Mountain West, where remote workers are flocking (Realtor.com). … Job changes have multiplied during the average career span of younger baby boomers (average 11 career changes), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (GoErie).
And finally … Maine in red and white is not feeling blue, thanks to skiing Santas.
On Sunday, Santa look-alikes took to the slopes once again in Newry, Maine, to raise more than $4,600 for the Sunday River Community Fund, a local charity, after last year’s event was canceled because of COVID-19.
All Santas arrived appropriately attired and donated a minimum of $20 to support local education and recreation programs (The Associated Press).
Don’t miss the weekend photo essay, courtesy of the Lewisboro, Maine, Sun Journal.