The Hill’s Morning Report — Democrats aim big before GOP takes over House
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Democrats who control both the House and Senate have ambitious to-do lists before Congress adjourns this year. What they lack are bipartisan agreements and commitments inside their party about what can or should get to President Biden’s desk in December.
Much of the president’s agenda will be blocked in 2023 by Republicans who will wield the House gavel and are eyeing the presidential sweepstakes in 2024.
Conservatives warn that U.S. funding for Ukraine’s military defense against Russia will shrink and the nation’s authority to borrow to pay its bills won’t get raised without a fight.
Democrats in Congress return to work today and Tuesday with a sense of urgency to exploit the lame-duck session to notch some successes while they still can. They want to fund the government before Dec. 16 without a shutdown, approve a major Pentagon blueprint that’s considered a must-pass measure, wrap a bow around funding for elections and other improvements (Politico and The New Yorker), protect same-sex marriage by statute and even carve out a way to help so-called Dreamers who arrived undocumented in the United States years ago as children.
Democrats are also feeling pressure to work quickly to raise the statutory debt limit well ahead of a potentially disastrous fiscal showdown in 2023 when the cutoff of $31.4 trillion is expected to be reached. Many analysts expect that Congress won’t defuse the debt ceiling conflict this year because Republicans see political leverage on their side (The Guardian).
In the meantime, Biden has asked lawmakers to rapidly approve $37 billion in additional funding for Ukraine against Russia (The Hill).
“We don’t need to pass $40 billion, large Democrat bills … to send $8 billion dollars to Ukraine,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“It’s been very frustrating, obviously, even to the Ukrainians, when they hear these large numbers in the United States as the result of the burgeoned Democrat bills,” Turner added.
Democrats, like Republicans, are promoting legislative “priorities” that will have to wait for the results of future election cycles. One example is Biden’s proposed reinstatement of a federal assault weapons ban or enactment of other gun restrictions that Democrats say would respond to U.S. mass shootings.
Six employees died last week at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., when a gunman opened fire. And in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Nov. 19, a gunman killed five people and injured 17 at a popular LGBTQ nightclub (PBS).
Gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Sunday told CNN that the upper chamber does not have 60 votes to cut off debate and pass a federal ban on assault weapons during the lame-duck session. He said his party would nonetheless like to hold such a vote (The Hill).
“But let’s see if we can try to get that number as close to 60 as possible,” Murphy continued. “If we don’t have the votes, then we’ll talk to Senator [Charles] Schumer and maybe come back next year with maybe an additional senator and see if we can do better.”
Murphy referred to the Democratic leader from New York as well as to the potential reelection of Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) on Dec. 6 against Republican challenger Herschel Walker. If Warnock wins the runoff, Democrats would have a majority with 51 seats next year.
▪ The Hill: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Jan. 6 panel, on Sunday played down tensions as described by The Washington Post between vice chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and committee staff members over a concentration on former President Trump in a pending final report.
▪ The Hill: Some legal experts want the newly appointed Justice Department federal special counsel, Jack Smith, who is investigating allegations against Trump, to be more vocal during the process than was former special counsel Robert Mueller at the outset of the Trump presidency.
▪ The Hill: Trump, who is campaigning for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, on Sunday called special counsel Smith a “political hit man” and the Justice Department “corrupt.”
LEADING THE DAY
A little over a month before the new Congress is sworn in, House Republicans are already gearing up for the coming legislative session that’ll see them regaining the majority in the lower chamber.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who will likely chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee when the GOP takes over the majority in January, on Sunday said the panel will investigate about “40 or 50 different things” next year. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Comer said Republicans “have the capacity” for a slew of investigations.
“We’ll have 25 members on the committee, and we’re going to have a staff close to 70,” Comer said. “So we have the ability to investigate a lot of things.”
Among the issues GOP lawmakers have promised to investigate are the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. Republicans also plan to pry into Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and his business dealings — even though polling indicates few Americans are concerned with an investigation (The Hill).
The GOP is also planning at least one possible impeachment: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Republicans allege Mayorkas has mishandled the southern border with Mexico. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Sunday told ABC’s “This Week” that Mayorkas has been “derelict in his responsibilities” but “you’ve got to build a case” before impeachment (The Hill).
Beyond investigations and impeachments, The Hill’s Mike Lillis has rounded up five things to watch for as the Republican Party prepares to take over the House.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing to hold their leadership elections this Wednesday. The proceedings will mark a sea change in party leadership, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced recently that she will not seek reelection to a leadership post.
A new generation of Democrats — Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) — will almost certainly be elected to the top three leadership slots this week without a challenge or much fanfare.
The one top Democrat seeking to remain in leadership is Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) who plans to run for the fourth-ranking spot. Clyburn on Sunday cited a need for Southern representation as a reason he chose to remain in the top tiers of party leadership (The Hill).
“Look at our leadership, the South is left out of it,” Clyburn said on “Face the Nation.” “And what we are doing is trying to make sure that we do not tilt too far to the east or too far to the west, but maintain what we have here. There is no other Southerner among the leadership, and we need the South.”
The Washington Post: Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sought “consensus.” The next Democratic leaders may find that hard.
Next year’s crop of freshman lawmakers includes 38 Republicans and 34 Democrats who hail from 32 states across the country, The Hill’s Mychael Schnell reports. Here are five incoming House members to watch in the next Congress.
Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.), the first Gen Z member elected to Congress; Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.), who earned a Trump endorsement and will replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.); Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) who served as an impeachment counsel in 2020; Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.), who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; and Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress in Florida, who attended a House Second Amendment Caucus meeting with Kyle Rittenhouse.
▪ The New York Times: Meet the House Republicans who will wield power in the new Congress.
▪ The Hill: New wave of Hispanic lawmakers to hit House.
▪ Politico: Bipartisan band of brothers: The West Point grads coming to Congress.
Over in the Senate, The Hill’s Caroline Vakil is taking a look at the eight most vulnerable Democrats in 2024.
Republicans see Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as a top political target in 2024 when he’s up for reelection, so why give the centrist Democrat any legislative wins? Manchin has been in search of a deal with Republicans before the end of the year to overhaul the federal permitting process that covers energy infrastructure. A handshake accord between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to enact such changes before the end of this year is now uphill without GOP Senate backing, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
▪ ABC 27: Arizona counties face deadline to certify 2022 election.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: California’s homelessness problem pits Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) against mayors.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Chinese authorities swiftly tightened security in Shanghai following weekend protests that spread across China objecting to the government’s “zero-COVID” policies (Reuters). Demonstrators holding blank pieces of paper as symbols of anger had appeared on streets and university campuses, considered a rare event in a nation that squelches dissent (Reuters).
The spark behind the demonstrations was a deadly Thursday fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in China’s far northwest, where 10 people, including three children, died after emergency fire services could not get close enough to a burning apartment building. Residents blamed lockdown-related measures for hampering rescue efforts (The Washington Post and The New York Times).
Beijing on Monday eased the nation’s anti-virus rules in some areas but affirmed China’s severe “zero-COVID” strategy; the city government announced it would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections are found (ABC News).
“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t love my government … I want to be able to go out freely, but I can’t,” Shaun Xiao, a protester in Shanghai, told Reuters. “Our COVID-19 policy is a game and is not based on science or reality.”
Bloomberg News: Chinese President Xi Jinping has few good options to end historic protests.
▪ The Washington Post: Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei dies “suddenly,” state says.
▪ CBS News: Kim Jong Un’s daughter appears again, heating up North Korea succession debate.
Officials in Ukraine said Sunday that they managed to restore most of the electricity to Kyiv, even as Russian strikes hit cities across the southern parts of the country and intense fighting continues in the east.
Even though parts of Ukraine’s electricity grid have been hobbled by Russian strikes over the past few weeks, officials in the capital said that power, water and heat had been almost completely restored — after utility workers scrambled to restore power in recent days as temperatures drop and snow starts falling (The Wall Street Journal).
Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy firm said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces may leave the vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant — which they seized in March soon after their invasion (Reuters).
▪ Reuters: U.S. weighs sending 100-mile strike weapon to Ukraine.
▪ The New York Times: In Ukraine, Bakhmut becomes a bloody vortex for two militaries.
▪ NBC News: Snow on Sunday fell in Kyiv amid freezing temperatures as millions struggle with power outages across Ukraine.
▪ The New York Times: The U.S. and NATO scramble to arm Ukraine and refill their own arsenals.
■ Divided government demands creativity. Here are three ways to get things done, by E.J. Dionne, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3GNMStZ
■ We need a break from the permanent election frenzy, by Joseph Epstein, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3GLdhIS
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the Respect for Marriage Act.
The president at 10:30 a.m. will receive the President’s Daily Brief. At 1:30 p.m., Biden will host a congratulatory visit in the Oval Office with 2022 Nobel Prize winners from the United States.
The vice president returns to Washington today from Los Angeles.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Bucharest, Romania, for a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled through Wednesday.
First lady Jill Biden at 11:30 a.m. will kick off events to unveil this year’s White House holiday theme and seasonal décor honoring the role of the National Guard. At 12:30 p.m., she will offer a holiday message and thank volunteers from around the country who decorated the White House. The first lady will be joined by members and leadership of the National Guard and their families.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m.
A series of layoffs at big tech companies could put pressure on local housing markets amid a broader nationwide cooling, writes The Hill’s Adam Barnes. The layoffs could cause forced sales, damage buyer confidence and lead to smaller down payments — even from buyers who remain employed.
“The housing market is fueled by confidence, affordability, and most importantly, jobs. Housing demand in tech-heavy metros is expected to be lower in the near-term,” Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, told The Hill. “In some cases, prospective homebuyers will lack both the financial ability to purchase a home and the consumer confidence needed to go through with the purchase.”
▪ CNBC: Tech’s reality check: How the industry lost $7.4 trillion in one year.
▪ NBC News: Another tech bubble bursts: 2022 has been brutal for Silicon Valley workers.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Public health officials have repeatedly warned that the U.S. will likely face another wave of COVID-19 infections as the weather gets colder and people travel and gather for the holidays, but it doesn’t seem to be convincing a checked-out public to get vaccinated, writes The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel. The government has purchased 171 million doses of the updated vaccine, but federal data show that just 11 percent of the population older than age 5 has received a dose, including just under 30 percent of people 65 and older.
“The boosters have had dismal uptake from the beginning,” Rupali Limaye, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies vaccine demand, told The Hill. “I think that at this point, there is so much fatigue.”
Schools are also preparing for another winter marked by mass sickness, as the respiratory syncytial virus known as RSV continues to spike among children, prompting precautions that mirror those seen during COVID-19, The Hill’s Lexi Lonas and Joseph Choi report. Facilities with younger children face a potential “tripledemic” of RSV, COVID-19 and the flu this season.
While RSV causes cold and flu-like symptoms that resolve themselves in about a week for the majority of adults and older children, younger children, particularly infants and toddlers who have not been exposed to the virus, are at a high risk of developing severe illness.
Information about COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability can be found at Vaccines.gov.
▪ The New York Times: Happy birthday, omicron.
▪ The Washington Post: Measles is an “imminent threat” globally, health agencies warn.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,079,199. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,644 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … 🎄‘Tis the season for holiday department store window displays, a tradition that got its start in the 1870s at Macy’s and has blended yuletide entertainment with escapist retail therapy ever since. The handcrafted and ornate scenes take months and whole teams to produce, but they’re a dying art, The New York Times reports.
In New York City, Saks Fifth Avenue’s light show and windows alone took more than 250 people around 40,000 hours to complete this year. It’s one of just a handful of department stores in the City — Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s — that still build the traditional, whimsical scenes each year.
Bergdorf Goodman treats the production of its seven holiday windows as a nearly year-round endeavor. Initial work begins as early as February, and the nine-month process involves about 100 people and requires 10,000 hours. This year, the store’s theme is “magic in the making,” and the windows each feature different arts and crafts elements — from dressmaking to metal craft, mosaic or papier-mâché.
“We never stop working on either dreaming them up, planning them, producing them, installing or maintaining them,” David Hoey, the senior director of visual presentation at the department store, told the Times. “The purpose of all of this is to induce aesthetic delirium. You might have to come back two or three times to catch all the details.”
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