The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by National Industries for the Blind – US reeling from omicron; Manchin-Biden aftershocks

                    Presented by National Industries for the Blind



Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! 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, 806,438; Tuesday, 807,952.

The gist of President BidenJoe BidenFederal class action lawsuit filed over treatment of Haitian migrants Staffer who had contact with Biden tests positive for COVID-19 Overnight Defense & National Security — New rules try to tackle extremism in the ranks MORE’s speech this afternoon about COVID-19 is that the United States faces an uncertain new phase of the pandemic. In a matter of weeks, the omicron variant became the dominant U.S. strain, responsible for nearly three-quarters of new COVID-19 infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (The Associated Press).


Biden knows the precariousness of the situation firsthand: He tested negative on Monday after close weekend contact with a mid-level aide who tested positive for the virus. The president will be tested again on Wednesday (CNBC), and he will tell Americans that the government wants all Americans to be able to get tested more often, both when they have symptoms and when they want reassurances through screening. As part of that goal, the president will announce the federal purchase and free distribution of 500 million at-home rapid test kits for COVID-19 beginning next month and additional in-person testing sites in areas such as New York City that need them (The Hill). 


Omicron has proved to be much more transmissible than delta and is upending the holidays for many people who had hoped to travel with relative ease and peace of mind. No more.


Members of Congress, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), professional athletes (including 47 NFL players added to the COVID-19/reserve list), news anchors and tens of thousands of others in the United States tested positive since the weekend, triggering quarantines, cancellations, precautions for planned activities indoors, and a frantic scramble to locate COVID-19 test kits, which are becoming scarce in hard-hit cities. Many people have been inspired in the last week to get booster doses (former President TrumpDonald TrumpBill O’Reilly says Trump will run again Iran’s Revolutionary Guard stages massive exercise amid heightened tensions DC police officer beaten during Jan. 6 attack resigns MORE, who previously contracted COVID-19 and has been vaccinated, said on Sunday that he received a booster shot. He was booed by some of his fans).  


The threats of hospitalization and death are real, especially for the 40 million people in the United States who remain unvaccinated. Omicron, which has emerged in at least 46 states, is straining hospitals, doctors, nurses and exhausted staff members. Worries about the impact on the economy sent financial markets into a swoon on Monday, and businesses are again postponing plans to bring workers back to offices (The Associated Press).


The Associated Press: Here’s what the scientific community knows about omicron.


Reuters: Here’s a summary of scientific studies of omicron, including one assessment that infections with the variant are no less severe than delta.


Reuters: Moderna’s CEO says the company could be ready within weeks to develop an omicron booster. (In the United States, officials have said an omicron-specific booster won’t be necessary.)


City officials, governors and hospitals have asked for additional federal help. New York City saw its fourth consecutive day of record COVID-19 cases, even as the Empire State’s new Democratic governor tried to reassure people that things are not as bad as they were last winter, before vaccines and booster doses were available (The Washington Post and Politico). Biden will assent to a recommendation by New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioBiden speech to focus on vaccinations and testing, not ‘lockdowns’ Los Angeles New Year’s Eve celebration going online as cases rise New York City mayor urges Biden administration to send help as omicron cases rise MORE (D) to use the Defense Production Act to accelerate private-sector production of tests (The New York Times).


In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserOvernight Health Care — Presented by AstraZenca and Friends of Cancer Research — Biden’s speech to focus on testing, vaccines Houston-area officials raise COVID-19 threat level, urge testing before holiday gatherings DC to reimpose indoor mask mandate after COVID infections rise MORE (D), who lifted the city’s indoor mask requirement on Nov. 22, reversed course and put it back in place today, calling the situation an emergency. She also ordered city public employees to be vaccinated and boosted, removing any fallback option to “test out” (WTOP).


Boston will require proof of vaccination beginning Jan. 15 at restaurants and gyms (The Hill). 





The White House, previewing Biden’s upcoming remarks and sensitive to his plummeting job approval numbers, described what the president is not contemplating. “This is not a speech about locking the country down,” press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiStaffer who had contact with Biden tests positive for COVID-19 McConnell: Manchin’s opposition to Biden plan ‘great shot in the arm for the country’ Harris says ‘stakes are too high’ for Build Back Better to be about Manchin MORE told reporters on Monday. The president’s spokeswoman said Biden will instead “issue a stark warning” about the risks of being unvaccinated, noting that those who have not yet received a coronavirus vaccine “will continue to drive hospitalizations and deaths.”


“This is a speech outlining and being direct and clear with the American people about the benefits of being vaccinated, the steps we’re going to take to increase access and to increase testing and the risks posed to unvaccinated individuals,” she added.


CNN’s Barbara Starr reported that the Defense Department is sending medical teams to states to help hospital workers. Ten teams are positioned nationwide and more will go to Indiana and Wisconsin. More than 200 million soldiers will now spend holidays away from home.


Among events suddenly canceled or postponed because of COVID-19’s winter surge: The annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, now slides to next summer; the Los Angeles New Year’s celebration will go online; Queen Elizabeth II canceled her family Christmas gathering for a second year because of COVID-19; and London’s New Year’s festivities in Trafalgar Square are scratched.






CONGRESS: Democrats were still feeling the aftershocks on Monday from Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Dems lay blame for Build Back Better blowup McConnell: Manchin’s opposition to Biden plan ‘great shot in the arm for the country’ Harris says ‘stakes are too high’ for Build Back Better to be about Manchin MORE (D-W.Va.), who effectively killed the current iteration of the Build Back Better Act. Questions swirled about how to proceed in the new year with the president’s agenda. 


The West Virginia centrist issued his first public retort to the White House on Monday, criticizing Biden’s team for thinking he’d be “submissive” to its efforts and laying blame specifically with the president’s staff for the current status of their agenda. 


“They figured surely to God we can move one person. We surely can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough that they’ll just say, ‘OK I’ll vote for anything.’ Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period,” Manchin said in a local radio interview. 


“It’s staff-driven. I understand it’s staff. It is not the president. This is staff. And they drove some things, and they put some things out, that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is,” Manchin said (The Hill).





Steve Clemons, The Hill’s editor at large, expounded on what led Manchin to drive a stake through the heart of Biden’s top domestic priority over the weekend. According to his report, the White House’s announcement delaying the proposal until 2022 and laying blame at Manchin’s feet late last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 


In addition, The Washington Post reported that the West Virginia senator issued a Build Back Better counteroffer last week worth $1.8 trillion that included universal prekindergarten for a decade, expansion of the Affordable Care Act and monies to fight climate change. However, what wasn’t included was a bitter pill for the White House to swallow; there was no extension of the child tax credit. 


How to proceed is front and center for the party. Senate Democrats are slated to hold a virtual caucus meeting later tonight, with discussion likely to center on what to do next. 


Alexander Bolton and Alex Gangitano, The Hill: Biden’s relationship with “Joe-Joe” Manchin hits the rocks.


The Hill: Democrats face tough choices on Biden plan after Manchin setback.


Also under the microscope is the White House’s ruthless statement criticizing Manchin following his Sunday announcement, with some other top Democrats declining to follow suit in hopes of securing an eventual deal on a package. Headlining those was Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJan. 6 panel asks GOP Rep. Scott Perry to turn over info Alex Jones suing Pelosi and Jan. 6 panel, planning to plead the Fifth Pelosi says ‘solemn observance’ planned on Jan. 6 MORE (D-Calif.), who said during an appearance back home that she still has “confidence” in the Senate Democrat. 


“We will continue to fight. … This will happen. It must happen, and we will do it as soon as we can. There are conversations that are ongoing, but we cannot walk away from our commitment,” Pelosi said. “I have confidence Sen. Manchin cares about our country” (PBS News).


The Hill: Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOn The Money — Dems lay blame for Build Back Better blowup Progressive leader calls on Biden to unilaterally act on agenda House Democrats call on Biden to unfreeze Afghan central bank reserves MORE (D-Wash.), Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwoman, calls on Biden to unilaterally act on agenda.


Politico: Reeling liberals ready to ditch Manchin as rest of Dems hope for a deal.


Gerald F. Seib, The Wall Street Journal: Having sought a home run, Democrats now may settle for singles and doubles.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Manchin’s opposition to Biden plan ‘great shot in the arm for the country’ Ocasio-Cortez: Democrats need to to ‘crack down’ on ‘old boys club’ in Senate The day democracy almost died MORE (R-Ky.) expressed his astonishment at the White House’s statement, which he noted multiple times effectively described Manchin as a liar. 


“In the time I’ve been Republican leader I never get angry about losing a vote because, you know, the most important vote is always the next vote. So I was shocked at the vitriol, and (it) basically seemed to me that they were calling Sen. Manchin a liar,” McConnell told conservative radio host Guy Benson. “I think that was not smart. This is a 50-50 Senate. It’s going to be 50-50 for another year.”


According to Politico, Biden and Manchin spoke on Sunday night for the first time following the bombshell announcement. 


Fox News: McConnell said he would welcome Manchin to the GOP, if he were so “inclined.” (The West Virginia centrist has said that Republicans, including McConnell, have tried to get him to switch parties “many times.” He said it could never happen because of where he stands on taxes and health care. Recall that in 2019, he supported Republican Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Rahm Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan Democrats push Manchin on ‘nuclear option’ for voting rights  Manchin convenes bipartisan group to talk Senate rules reform MORE of Maine for reelection.)


The Hill: Democrats descend into finger-pointing after Build Back Better implodes.


The New York Times: Biden tries to salvage domestic policy bill after rift with Manchin.


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Democrats and Biden face tough choices as they try to figure out a path forward for their sweeping climate and social spending bill. 


Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant, The Hill: Democratic critics link party problems to bad messaging (see the Morning Report closer for more on messaging bark bark).





> Jan. 6: The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol requested an interview and a trove of documents from Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryJan. 6 panel asks GOP Rep. Scott Perry to turn over info House Democrats pass bill to combat Islamophobia in support of Omar House Republican announces positive COVID-19 test hours after managing floor debate MORE (R-Pa.), a leading member of the House Freedom Caucus, in the panel’s first push to meet with a sitting member of Congress. Notably, the committee did not serve a subpoena to Perry, who attempted to pressure the Department of Justice to overturn the election and met with Trump ahead of Jan. 6 (The Associated Press). 


ADMINISTRATION: The president on Monday announced an ambitious new auto mileage rule for 2026 to help curb planet-warming greenhouse gasses (The Hill). … White House national economic adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanOvernight Defense & National Security — New rules try to tackle extremism in the ranks Biden national security adviser to travel to Israel, West Bank Sullivan urges Russia to de-escalate MORE on Monday again urged Russia to de-escalate its aggressive stance against Ukraine (The Hill). … The Pentagon on Monday issued rules aimed at stopping the rise of extremism within its ranks (The Associated Press).


One good read this morning: The Wall Street Journal produced a deep dive to explain what NASA has learned thus far about Mars from the Perseverance Rover after 10 months on the red planet. For example, red-hot magma likely formed the bedrock of Mars.


NASA on Friday is also expected to launch the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built. It represents new eyes peering into the farthest reaches of the universe, and the telescope is the size of a tennis court (The Wall Street Journal).




POLITICS: Two more House Democrats are set to retire at the end of the 2022 campaign cycle, bringing the total to decide against reelection to 23 members as their midterm outlook grows increasingly bleak. 


Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 On The Money — Dems lay blame for Build Back Better blowup Powerful House Democratic appropriator not seeking reelection MORE (D-Fla.), a leading centrist lawmaker, announced plans to retire at the end of her current term, citing her family as the primary reason, as she has two young children she spends a lot of time away from due to work in Washington. 


“These last few years have been some of the most rewarding moments of my life, but also some of the most challenging. Public service is not without personal sacrifice, and as a mom of two young children, my time away from them has been hard. For them. For me. And for our family,” said Murphy, who co-chairs the Blue Dog Coalition.


Murphy, 43, is in her third term, having defeated former Rep. John MicaJohn Luigi MicaKey centrist Democrat Stephanie Murphy won’t seek reelection Rep. Stephanie Murphy says she’s ‘seriously considering’ 2022 challenge to Rubio Media barred from bringing bulletproof vests, gas masks and helmets to inauguration MORE (R-Fla.) in 2016, becoming one of only six Democrats to unseat a House GOP incumbent that year (The Hill).


Elsewhere, The Hill’s Scott Wong and Rafael Bernal exclusively reported that Rep. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by National Industries for the Blind – US reeling from omicron; Manchin-Biden aftershocks Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 On The Money — Dems lay blame for Build Back Better blowup MORE (D-Calif.), a 15-term lawmaker, is set to depart Congress at the end of the cycle. Roybal-Allard, the chairwoman of an Appropriations subcommittee that oversees immigration issues, has begun calling Democratic allies and friends about her decision, two sources told The Hill. The congresswoman announced her decision shortly after.


The longtime California Democrat became the first Mexican American woman and the first Latina Democrat elected to Congress in 1993.


Politico: California’s new congressional map boosts Democrats.





Across the Capitol complex, decision time is nearing for a pair of key Senate Republicans as the GOP pushes to retake the majority in the fall. 


Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThune, Johnson say decisions on reelection bids expected soon Sunday shows – Manchin says he cannot back Biden spending plan GOP senators slam Democrats over inflation: Party agenda ‘hurting the poorest families’ MORE (R-Wis.) told Fox 11 News in Green Bay, Wis., over the weekend that a decision will come “shortly.” According to one Wisconsin Republican, Johnson is legitimately undecided on what he will do, though signs point to him angling toward a third Senate run. 


“It’s essentially a battle between who he hates more: the Democrats in power or politics in general,” the source told the Morning Report, adding that the answer changes often and that he continues to mull over the decision with advisers. “It’s final when he says it, but he’s heading toward it. I’d bet on him running. … He’s not in any kind of immense rush.”


The Wisconsin race will be one of the most hotly contested on the 2022 map, especially if Johnson runs once again. Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination. 


In addition, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThune, Johnson say decisions on reelection bids expected soon Cruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Senate confirms Rahm Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan MORE (R-S.D.) is expected to make a reelection decision by the end of the year.


“All in due time,” Thune said when asked late last week about his plans (The Hill).

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! 


No, vaccinated people should not cancel their holiday plans, by Leana S. Wen, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/329xlTs 


Biden emerges as progressive government’s Mr. Bad example, by Gerard Baker, editor at large, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/32jBeET 



The House meets on Thursday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session.


The Senate convenes on Thursday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session and will return to session on Jan. 3.


The president and Vice President Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:05 a.m. ​​He will deliver remarks on the omicron variant and the importance of vaccinations at 2:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room.


The White House press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.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.


INTERNATIONAL: U.S. bombings in the Middle East since 2014 are the subject of extensive reporting describing faulty intelligence and flawed strategy tied to the air war and a huge human toll. Read the investigation by The New York Times in part one HERE and part two HERE


COURTS: Trump and his family’s real estate business filed a lawsuit Monday in upstate New York against New York state Attorney General Letitia James (D) seeking to persuade a judge to halt her long-running civil investigation into his business practices with a finding that his constitutional rights have been violated (The New York Times).In Colorado, a 110-year prison sentence for a truck driver whose brakes failed in a horrific 2019 accident that killed four people and injured six prompted more than 4 million people to petition the governor for sentencing mercy for a 26-year-old driver they say is not a criminal deserving of a life sentence (The Washington Post). 


HEALTH: Biogen announced on Monday its plans to cut the price of Aduhelm, the company’s Alzheimer’s treatment, from an average of $56,000 per year to $28,200 in an effort to boost the product after a lackluster launch. The change comes seven months after the company set the initial price, which aided the troubles in selling the drug to patients. Aduhelm is the first new Alzheimer’s drug released in almost two decades (The Wall Street Journal). 


CHARITABLE GIVING: Amazon founder (and Washington Post owner) Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosElon Musk: ‘I will pay over billion in taxes this year’ Musk hits back after Warren accuses him of ‘freeloading’ Strahan says he wants to go back after Blue Origin flight lands MORE donated $2.7 million to the Washington, D.C., Public Library’s literacy program, Beyond the Book, the largest gift received to date by the D.C. Public Library Foundation. The program provides reading materials to children ages 5 to 8, as well as educational resources for their families. Bezos’ donation will allow the number of participants to double in 2022 (Washingtonian).


And finally … Commander Biden! Just when the president needed a new friend, the White House unveiled a German shepherd puppy on Monday, a successor to Champ, who died at age 13 in June, and Major, whose inclination to gnaw on Secret Service agents got him temporarily banished to Delaware for some remedial training last spring.


Commander strutted his tail-wagging, tongue-hanging puppiness on Twitter with presidential ball-tosses and a debut video clip complete with captions and music. Social media wags both swooned and meowed.


Commander is a present to the president from his family (and definitely a gift to the White House communications team during a ruff news week) (The Hill and CNN).




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