Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. Today is Thursday! 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, 542,359; Tuesday, 542,949; Wednesday, 543,843; Thursday, 545,281.
Ahead of a much-anticipated press conference this afternoon during which President BidenJoe BidenSupreme Court will hear Boston bomber’s death case — if the Biden administration lets it The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats face questions over agenda MORE will be peppered with questions about immigration and conditions at the U.S. southern border, he announced on Wednesday that Vice President Harris is his point person for border policies and problems.
The president said Harris will lead the administration’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants and establish fresh partnerships with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries aimed at addressing the root causes of the surge in immigration. The president wants Central American countries to know “there is one single figure dedicated to this effort,” a senior administration official said (The Hill).
Biden played a similar role as vice president in the summer of 2014 for former President Obama. He flew to Guatemala to meet with Central American counterparts in an effort to curb a dramatic surge of immigrants detained and deported at the U.S. border. From October 2013 through September 2014 under the Obama administration, 68,541 unaccompanied children were taken into U.S. custody at the border, a 77 percent increase over the previous year. In the same period, nearly as many families, 68,445, were apprehended — a threefold increase from the previous year (Vox).
Mass migrations from Central America have multiple causes, including flight from violence, gangs and poverty; the encouragement of smugglers; perception among migrants in Central America of generous U.S. policies, especially for unaccompanied children; desire for reunification with relatives in the United States; and ambitions for economic opportunity.
The Wall Street Journal: Men looking for work drive the surge in illegal crossings at the U.S. border.
In 2014, Biden faced an audience of reporters in Guatemala City and told them, “The truth is, all the causes are part of the problem. The truth is the economic deprivation that exists in so many parts of Central America is a driving force. To deny that would deny history. It’s always been a driving force.”
When journalists asked Biden nearly seven years ago what the United States was going to do about the situation, he began with the message that undocumented migrants would not short-circuit the laws of the United States. The Biden administration is now repeating that communication while also trying to distance itself from the hard-line immigration policies of former President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats face questions over agenda Democrats divided on gun control strategy MORE.
In 2014, Biden was dispatched to carry that message: “We can first make clear in each of our countries in an unrelenting way, not just with a public service announcement, that there is no free pass, that none of these children or women bringing children will be eligible under the existing law in the United States of America.”
Harris will work with Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today North Korea fires two ballistic missiles into sea Will diplomacy work with Iran? MORE, Ricardo Zúñiga, special U.S. envoy to the Northern Triangle countries, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Arizona town declares ‘state of emergency’ over border crisis Biden taps Harris to lead on immigration amid border crisis MORE, and yet-to-be confirmed U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator-designee Samantha PowerSamantha PowerThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Overnight Defense: Top House Armed Services Republican talks National Guard at Capitol, Afghanistan, more | Pentagon chief visits Afghanistan amid administration’s review | Saudis propose Yemen ceasefire Senators call on Biden to officially recognize Armenian genocide MORE to address the swell of migrants and tackle long-term partnerships with countries from which migrants and unaccompanied children flee, including Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
In the meantime, House Democrats recently passed two immigration measures and want to move a comprehensive bill that’s backed by Biden to create a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million eligible undocumented immigrants already in the country. The measure is changing, however, in search of sufficient support in the House. Even if it passes, its chances are bleak in the 50-50 Senate (Bloomberg Government).
The president wants to show Americans he’s taking the border situation seriously after facing stiff criticism from Republicans as the flow of migrants has increased since he took office in January. The growing humanitarian and political challenge at the U.S.-Mexico border threatens to overshadow the administration’s ambitious legislative agenda (The Associated Press).
The president made his announcement as a delegation of White House officials and lawmakers traveled on Wednesday to the southern border to tour a facility used to house migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Senate Democrats pay tribute to victims of mass shootings The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – COVID vaccine developments MORE (R-Texas) told Fox News he’s leading a delegation today with 17 colleagues to the border to assess conditions and urged the administration to grant access to news media to tour detention facilities.
“All of this is the direct result of political decisions made by Joe Biden and his administration,” Cruz said at the Capitol. “He halted construction of the border wall, he reinstituted the failed policy of ‘catch and release,’ and he ended the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, and that has resulted in this crisis. They are releasing illegal immigrants, and these immigrants are testing positive for COVID-19 at over six times higher rate than the U.S. population.”
The Washington Post: Biden’s first news conference, scheduled more than a week ago, invites a flurry of questions about a pileup of challenges and crises.
LEADING THE DAY
GUN VIOLENCE: The disturbing reality of gun violence in America returned this week with two mass shootings just days apart, reports The Hill’s Alex Gangitano.
Harris, interviewed by CBS “This Morning,” said the president believes laws to strengthen gun background checks and to ban assault weapons are needed to have a lasting impact, although she said the president had not ruled out taking additional executive action. Harris offered no details on Wednesday.
“It is time for Congress to act,” she said, referring to two measures passed this month by the House. “We all agree that we need background checks. … We need the Senate to act.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: Senate confirms Levine for HHS, first openly transgender official | Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver | Former Operation Warp Speed chief fired over sexual harassment allegations Mississippi GOP senator says it’s wrong to vote on Sunday for religious reasons Senate confirms first openly transgender official, approving Levine for HHS MORE (D-N.Y.) would like to unify his caucus around gun legislation but odds are slim, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats face questions over agenda Democrats divided on gun control strategy MORE, a centrist who represents conservative West Virginia, says a House-passed background checks bill goes too far, while other colleagues, such as Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats divided on gun control strategy California public radio news director loses father in Boulder shooting MORE (D-Calif.), who helped enact the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired a decade later, and Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats divided on gun control strategy Cotton: Democrats’ infrastructure bill will be focused on higher taxes, ‘Green New Deal’ MORE (D-Md.) are working to restore such a ban and add restrictions for high-capacity magazines. Any gun control measure would need at least 10 Republican votes, a high bar when it comes to a deeply partisan issue ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
PBS (streamable in full here): Frontline documentaries offer context, “NRA Under Fire (2020)” and “Gunned Down (2015).”
NBC News: How do mass shootings keep happening in Colorado? Experts believe contributing factors include a contagion effect stemming from the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 and easy access to firearms.
More administration updates: The IRS and Social Security Administration have been pressed by lawmakers to explain why people who receive Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits and are not required to file tax returns have not yet received federal stimulus deposits automatically. Explanations are complex and bureaucratic (The Hill). …The nomination of Colin Kahl, Biden’s pick to be deputy Defense secretary for policy, slowed on its way to the full Senate in search of some procedural resuscitation. Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday split 13-13 along party lines in a closed-door vote on Kahl, whom Republicans have criticized for tweets lambasting the Trump administration, as well as his support for the Iran nuclear deal (The Hill).
CORONAVIRUS: AstraZeneca maintained on Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective in combating the virus after it issued a revised data set after a public back-and-forth with U.S. health officials surrounding its initial efficacy announcement this week (NBC News).
The company announced late Wednesday that its shot has a 76 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, down from the 79 percent it initially reported. The revised figure comes after top U.S. health officials accused the company of cherry-picking favorable data to boost its vaccine.
The latest turn comes amid AstraZeneca’s rocky rollout of its vaccine. The company had hoped that its U.S. trial of 32,000 individuals and subsequent efficacy report would help after about a dozen European nations recently suspended its use over concerns that was connected to some recipients who soon after had serious blood clots. Upon investigation, health regulators deemed that there was no connection and that the shot is safe.
AstraZeneca is expected to apply for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration in April (The Associated Press).
Meanwhile, the U.S. hit a new milestone in the battle against the coronavirus on Wednesday as more than one-quarter of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Per the CDC, 85.4 million Americans have received at least one shot, accounting for 25.7 percent of the U.S. population. More than 46 million people — roughly 14 percent of the population — are now fully vaccinated.
The data also shows that 70 percent of adults age 65 or older have received at least one dose, with one third of those under age 65 having received a dose. Overall, more than 130 million doses have been administered.
The current vaccination effort comes as top public health experts and officials make a renewed push to reach out to individuals who are skeptical of the new vaccines, headlined by conservatives and Trump supporters who are increasingly hesitant to do so.
The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel and Reid Wilson report that experts, including National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins and former CDC chief Tom Frieden, are taking their messages to places like Fox News, Newsmax and panels with prominent conservative politicians. All of this is in an effort to move the group in the direction of vaccination and allay their concerns.
The Associated Press: Brighter outlook for U.S. as vaccinations rise and deaths fall.
The Hill: U.S. records over 30 million coronavirus cases amid vaccination effort.
The Hill: CDC: Asian, Black, Hispanic communities hit hardest, earliest by coronavirus.
USA Today: More than 25 percent say they will wait for herd immunity before resuming normal activities.
The Washington Post: New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Cuomo family members received special priority for COVID-19 testing: report Cuomo goes from a rising star to an imploding one MORE’s (D) family members were given special access to COVID testing, according to people familiar with the arrangement.
> Restrictions watch: German Chancellor Angela Merkel apologized to the German people after she abandoned plans for a five-day shutdown that would have coincided with Easter and a holiday weekend.
Merkel had unveiled a plan a day earlier to make Thursday a “rest day,” which would have shut down shops and only allowing supermarkets to open on Easter Sunday. That move would have effectively created a five-day shutdown as Friday and Monday are already national holidays (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), a candidate for the state’s open Senate seat, found himself in a contentious interview on Wednesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who wondered if the former governor was “Todd Akin 2.0” and questioned him about allegations of sexual blackmail and violence.
In the 27-minute interview, Hewitt repeatedly grilled Greitens over how he can combat allegations that he had photographed a woman nude without her consent in an effort to blackmail her into keeping quiet about an extramarital affair. Those allegations were among the multiple scandals that prompted Greitens to resign the Missouri governorship in 2018. The woman has alleged in sworn testimony before a GOP-led investigative committee that Greitens forced her to perform a sexual act after taking the photo.
“How are you going to survive that? How are you not going to be [former Rep.] Todd Akin?” Hewitt said. Akin was the 2012 GOP Senate candidate in Missouri who fell to former Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (D-Mo.) after he claimed that women who are the victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant as a result. “You’re talking to a Republican. … I just want to win the Senate, Eric. And I’m afraid you’ll be Todd Akin 2.0.”
Over and over, Greitens denied any wrongdoing, saying that the allegations against him were false and had been perpetuated by the “mainstream media” and Democrats even though it was a GOP committee that investigated him.
As The Kansas City Star’s Bryan Lowry notes, Greitens’s media tour had largely consisted of appearances on friendly networks and radio shows, including Newsmax, before his interview with Hewitt. The former governor is running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Senators to unveil bill banning permanent Capitol fence Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview MORE (R-Mo.).
The New York Times: Republicans fear flawed candidates could imperil key Senate seats.
Los Angeles Times: California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Newsom picks Filipino American assemblyman for California attorney general On The Money: Yellen defends raising taxes ‘in a fair way’ to fund infrastructure plan | Senate confirms Young as deputy budget director | Fed creates climate financial risk panel MORE (D) taps Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D) to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Newsom picks Filipino American assemblyman for California attorney general Biden taps Harris to lead on immigration amid border crisis MORE as state attorney general; bypasses Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions MORE (D-Calif.) for post.
Politico: Trumpworld’s next target: Building a dark-money machine.
CONGRESS: Senate Democrats are uncertain about their next agenda item, amid a bevy of competing priorities and procedural roadblocks that threaten to stall some of the president’s top campaign promises.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney notes, the Senate has spent the final week before a two-week break confirming nominations for the second week in a row. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged votes on a slate of the party’s big priorities, many of which don’t have 60 votes, but hasn’t yet revealed what’s next as bills from the House pile up.
“I think the leadership is still taking with committee chairs and the White House,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats face questions over agenda Democrats plan to squeeze GOP over filibuster MORE (D-Va.). Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Democrats face questions over agenda Democrats divided on gun control strategy MORE (D-Conn.) added that Democrats have had “discussions,” but no decision has been made.
The Senate will return on April 12.
With conversations surrounding voting rights hitting a fever pitch, Schumer on Wednesday slammed Republicans for offering up bills in dozens of states that would place limits on the ability to vote. Testifying before the Senate Rules Committee on a sweeping elections reform bill, the Democratic leader accused the GOP of trying to “disenfranchise” voters after losing the 2020 election.
“Shame on them. … This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues: Why are you so afraid of democracy,” Schumer said. “They’re not even standing up to protect the sacred right to vote. Shame, shame, shame, on all of them” (The Hill).
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We see the Left. We see the Right. Can anyone see the ‘Exhausted Majority’? by Thomas Edsall, columnist, The New York Times https://nyti.ms/3cl2o0G
The local government was wrong in trying to close our schools. The data prove it, by Timothy Carney, columnist, Washington Examiner. https://washex.am/3vZSitM
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Friday at 2 p.m. for a pro forma session. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will hold a virtual hearing at noon focused on the spread of online disinformation, which fuels U.S. extremism and misinformation. CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter will testify. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Senators to unveil bill banning permanent Capitol fence GOP lawmakers blast ‘morally reprehensible’ Democratic probe of House race MORE (D-Calif.) will (virtually) hold her weekly press conference at 2 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of a motion to proceed to the Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act of 2021.
The president and the vice president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will hold his first formal press conference since his inauguration at 1:15 p.m. in the East Room. Biden will join a video conference with European Union leaders at 3:45 p.m. from the Situation Room.
Harris also will participate in the White House’s virtual Passover celebration with second gentleman Doug EmhoffDoug EmhoffThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden tasks Harris on border; news conference today Pelosi, White House recognize Equal Pay Day Biden takes sales blitz to swing-state Ohio MORE at 5:50 p.m. in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium.
Economic indicators: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report filings for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 20. The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. issues its third estimate in a report of U.S. gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2020 and for the year.
INVITATION: The Hill’s Virtually Live wraps up a jam-packed week of smart conversations about key issues! TODAY join “The COVID-19 Vaccine & the New Era of Manufacturing,” at 1 p.m. (registration HERE).
➔ INTERNATIONAL: North Korea continued provocative actions to test ballistic missiles on Thursday, after earlier missile launches over the weekend. Pyongyang fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Thursday, according to officials in the United States, Japan and South Korea (NBC News). The Biden administration is finalizing a review of its North Korea policy and the missile launches cast a shadow over that process and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (Reuters). … It’s hard to imagine a cargo ship getting disastrously stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal, but it happened, threatening the global shipping system, which is already strained by the pandemic. The skyscraper-sized container ship named Ever Given became wedged in such a way on Tuesday that it blocked all traffic in the vital waterway. Tugboats are still working to reopen the channel through which 10 percent of world trade flows, including oil (Reuters). … In Israel, the inconclusive results on Tuesday of election results have left parties that oppose Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE and his Likud Party today to discuss the option of naming Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz as their head to collectively form a government (Jerusalem Post). … In Russia, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s health is stable and satisfactory, the government said on Thursday, a day after his allies raised the alarm over his condition. Navalny’s lawyers say they have not been able to see their client in prison (Reuters).
➔ STATE WATCH: With Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature on Wednesday, Virginia ended capital punishment. The state has executed more people (more than 1,200) than any state in the nation and becomes the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty (The Associated Press). … Fourteen states including Wyoming and Louisiana filed suit on Wednesday against the Biden administration to challenge its pause in oil and gas leasing on federal lands and in federal waters. The other states involved are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia (Reuters). … Activists are battling a Minnesota pipeline project through protests, in court and by putting pressure on the Biden administration to block its construction. Supporters of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline say it brings jobs and contributes to the nation’s energy supply but opponents argue it will interfere with tribal rights and have negative impacts on climate change (The Hill).
➔ VAN GOGH: In a rare occurrence today, Vincent van Gogh’s 1887 landscape painting, “Street Scene in Montmartre,” goes on the auction block in Paris. The Dutch impressionist master’s street scene in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre was publicly displayed for the first time last month in advance of the sale. The work dates from a period when van Gogh lived in Paris with his brother, Theo, and the major impressionists of the day became a major influence. Sotheby’s auction house has not identified the owner but said the painting remained in the same family collection for more than 100 years — out of the public eye. Estimated value: between $6.1 million and $9.8 million (The Associated Press and ArtNet).
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by March Madness, we’re eager for some smart guesses about madness (and oddities) going on during March.
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
What city imposed an 8 p.m. curfew after scores of street fights and arrests took place last weekend?
- New Orleans
- San Francisco
- Miami Beach
- None of the above
What high-profile figure made a return to the White House this month after some time away?
- Major Biden
- Gene Sperling
- Champ Biden
- All of the above
What was Sidney Powell’s defense (former Trump attorney) in court this week as she attempted to have a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems dismissed?
- They never should have taken her claims seriously
- That no reasonable person would believe she made factual statements
- Executive privilege
- None of the above
Oral Roberts University defeated the University of Florida in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, becoming the ___ 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in tournament history.