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Welcome to The Hills 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, 513,091; Tuesday, 514,657; Wednesday, 516,608; Thursday, 518,453.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday took a scalpel to President BidenJoe BidenThe West needs a more collaborative approach to TaiwanAbbott’s medical advisers were not all consulted before he lifted Texas mask mandateHouse approves George Floyd Justice in Policing ActMOREs $1.9 trillion relief bill hoping to surgically ensure enough support from centrists this week to clear the measure, already passed by the House.

Biden and Senate allies say theyre willing to be less generous with the bills income cutoffs for proposed $1,400 federal direct payments to higher-income individuals and families (The Hill and The New York Times). 

The Hill: Senate Democrats cut deals to gain votes for COVID-19 relief measure.

The Senate is moving with the pace of a cooling saucer and hopes for a final vote later this week (Reuters), while the House on Wednesday suddenly accelerated its floor schedule to approve sweeping voting and police reform bills and canceled plans for votes today amid new security threats involving the Capitol (The Hill). Law enforcement and intelligence officials warned that extremists threaten to attack the Capitol today based on a convoluted and false belief that former President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform billDEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leaveGeorgia Gov. Kemp says he’d ‘absolutely’ back Trump as 2024 nomineeMORE will be reinstalled in office (The Hill).

The Associated Press: House passes voting rights bill over GOP opposition (and defeats proposal to let 16- and 17-years-olds vote (The Wall Street Journal).

The Associated Press: House Democrats late Wednesday voted 220-212 to overhaul policing nationwide with national standards. 

The Capitol Police force is preparing for another assault on the Capitol building after obtaining intelligence of a potential plot by a militia group, just two months after a mob of Trump loyalists and extremists attacked the building, leaving five dead and hundreds injured (The New York Times).

Senate conservatives, including Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate coronavirus bill delayed until ThursdayDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief billSenate GOP will force clerks to read bill to delay COVID-19 relief voteMORE (R-Wis.) (pictured below), have their own ideas about how to slow a Senate bill they believe is partisan and too bloated, especially in the context of $4 trillion previously enacted as COVID-19 relief. They vowed on Wednesday to gum up the works by asking the clerk this week to read the entire bill aloud, which Johnson estimated could take 10 hours. 

We need to keep this process going, Johnson told reporters, adding that he has readied plenty of amendments to slow momentum.

Republican senators are plotting how they can score political points as the bill moves through the Senate. The process known as vote-a-rama gives the minority party opportunities to force Democrats to go on the record with each vote ahead of 2022 elections, reports The Hills Jordain Carney. 

The Hill: Senates GOP will force clerks to read bill to delay COVID-19 relief bill vote.

The Hill: In addition to a voting rights measure, the House on Wednesday passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, seen by progressives as a landmark police reform bill named after the Minneapolis victim of a police killing last summer. Biden has said he would sign both measures, but the bills face long odds in the Senate (Reuters).

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LEADING THE DAY

SECURITY: The U.S. Capitol Police Department is bracing for a second attempted assault on the Capitol today, a day after the commanding officer of the Washington, D.C., Guard lamented the delayed response to activate troops on Jan. 6 until hours after the Capitol had been breached by pro-Trump supporters. 

The Capitol Police said in a statement Wednesday that it has obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol. 

We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers, it added.

The Capitol complex has been fortified by a fence that includes barbed wire and National Guard troops that are expected to remain in the coming weeks. As The Hills Chris Mills Rodrigo notes, March 4 has been circled on law enforcements calendars for months because some QAnon adherents believe Trump will be reinaugurated that day. That was the date for presidential swearing-ins until 1933.

On Wednesday, Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. Guard, testified to lawmakers that top Pentagon officials approved deploying the National Guard to the Capitol more than three hours after then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund placed a frantic call to him asking for help on Jan. 6. 

At 1:49pm I received a frantic call from then Chief of U.S. Capitol Police, Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter at the Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters. Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many Guardsmen as I could muster,” Walker said in written testimony released ahead of a Senate hearing Wednesday morning. 

Immediately after the 1:49pm call with Chief Sund, I alerted the Army Senior Leadership of the request. The approval for Chief Sunds request would eventually come from the Acting Secretary of Defense and be relayed to me by Army Senior Leaders at 5:08pm 3 hours and 19 minutes later, he added (The Hill). 

The Hill: Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing.

The Hill: Threats to lawmakers up 93.5 percent in last two months. 

The Associated Press: Takeaways: What hearings have revealed about Jan. 6 failures.

*****

POLITICS: New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoDemocratic NY legislator: Sexual harassment allegations show ‘clear pattern of Cuomo’s abuse of power’Lawyer for former Cuomo aide blasts ‘falsehoods’ at briefingAs Trump steps back in the spotlight, will Cuomo exit stage left?MORE(D) said on Wednesday that he wont resign after three women accused him in recent days of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual advances.

Some politicians will always play politics. Thats the nature of the beast. I dont think today is a day for politics. I wasnt elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. Im not going to resign. I work for the people of the state of New York, they elected me, and Im going to serve the people of the state of New York, Cuomo said at a press conference.

The remarks came during Cuomos first public appearance since allegations of sexual improprieties first surfaced. He added that he was embarrassed by his actions, but maintained that he never touched anyone inappropriately. 

First, I fully support a womans right to come forward. And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly, I am embarrassed by it. And thats not easy to say. But thats the truth, Cuomo said. I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. And I certainly never ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain.

Letitia James, New York’s Democratic attorney general, has opened up an independent investigation into the claims (The Hill).

The Associated Press: Double standard? Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Senate Dems face unity test; Tanden nomination fallsGillibrand: Cuomo allegations ‘completely unacceptable’Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery packageMORE (D-N.Y.) in the spotlight after Cuomo scandal.

> 2024: Trump is reportedly seriously considering a 2024 presidential bid, but it isnt expected to happen with a key cog in his two previous campaigns. 

According to Bloomberg News, any bid is unlikely to happen with former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump was unhinged and unchanged at CPACTrump talking to allies about 2024 run without Pence: reportThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Washington on high alert as QAnon theory marks March 4MOREon the ticket as Trump believes he was disloyal to him by not attempting to overturn the election results on Jan. 6, with advisers suggesting that other candidates could be more effective overall. 

The Hill: Pence said in an op-ed published in the Daily Signal that there were significant voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law in the 2020 presidential contest. Pence wrote the opinion piece for the Heritage Foundations publication to criticize the voting rights legislation, HR 1, supported by House Democrats and on the floor this week. Pence argued that if enacted, the bill would increase opportunities for election fraud.

Karl Rove: Trumps appeal rings hollow at CPAC.

> Midterms: Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerHouse GOP campaign chief: Not helpful for Trump to meddle in primariesHouse panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading appsThe Hill’s Morning Report – Biden on COVID-19: Next year Americans will be ‘better off’MORE(Minn.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), issued a warning to Trump on Wednesday, saying that he hopes he does not meddle in primary contests and attempt to oust lawmakers who supported his impeachment in January. 

Speaking at an event hosted by Politico, Emmer said he has not spoken to Trump directly about staying out of primary races involving the 10 House Republicans that voted in favor of impeachment. However, he said that he believes Trump will listen to Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielHouse GOP campaign chief: Not helpful for Trump to meddle in primariesRNC chair on censures of pro-impeachment Republicans: ‘Overwhelmingly, our party agrees with each other’Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues MOREand other GOP leaders telling him thats not going to be helpful. 

I imagine well have a conversation at some point, Emmer said. He can do whatever he wants. Any citizen can do whatever he wants. But Id tell him its better for us that we keep these people and have a majority that can be sustained going forward. 

Don’t bet any amount of money that Trump is going to heed Emmer’s advice.

Emmer said the NRCC will not intervene in primaries, including to support incumbents (The Hill).

The Hill: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) caught in middle of opposing GOP factions.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CORONAVIRUS: Biden on Wednesday panned the decisions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to reopen their states fully, saying the pair of governors were making a big mistake and labeling it Neanderthal thinking.

I hope everybody’s realized by now these masks make a difference, Biden said, referring to the rollback of mask mandates in the two states. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. 

Bidens comments came a day after he bumped up the timeline for all Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by two months, saying that there will be enough vaccines by the end of May instead of the end of July. As Morgan Chalfant and Jonathan Easley write, the announcement sets a new bar that could carry risks for an administration that is likely to be judged on its handling of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

> Everlasting contagion? Eighteen specialists who closely track the pandemic or are working to curb its impact, interviewed by Reuters, say they now believe data about SARS-CoV-2 variants indicates the virus will remain as endemic, continuing to circulate in communities and globally and will likely cause a significant burden of illness and death for years to come.

The Hill: Experts warn the United States risks delaying normal summer.

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden’s COVID-19 bet comes with deep risks. 

The Wall Street Journal: Support for COVID-19 vaccine passports grows, with European, Chinese backing.

> Mask fight: Retailers and grocery stores are fearing a resurgence of the mask wars from earlier in the pandemic as states start scaling back coronavirus restrictions. 

As The Hills Alex Gangitano writes, nationwide chains that have COVID-19 rules in place for both employees and customers are worried about the confusion that’s likely to ensue as some states lift mask mandates for indoor spaces but stores keep them in place. Industry groups and major companies with operations in Texas are already saying they plan to stick with their own coronavirus mitigation measures, regardless of changes at the state level.

The Wall Street Journal: Starbucks, Target among companies to still mandate masks in Texas despite lift on COVID-19 restrictions.

The Associated Press: California: More vaccines go to the rich than at-risk.

The Hill: Antibodies from South African coronavirus variant may offer cross-protection, researchers find. 

*****

MORE ADMINISTRATION: Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandGarland’s AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocksNational Sheriffs’ Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ roleWhy do we still punish crack and powder cocaine offenses differently?MORE, Bidens nominee to be attorney general, hit GOP Senate roadblocks that will likely delay until next week his expected confirmation to lead the Justice Department. Senate Judiciary Committee member Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGarland’s AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocksNational Sheriffs’ Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ roleThe Memo: Is Trump mounting a comeback or finally fading?MORE (R-Ark.) said he has additional questions he wants Garland to answer and will block efforts by his colleagues to expedite a vote on the nominee this week (The Hill). 

> Following enactment of 2001s war powers authorization in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al Qaeda, successive presidents have found themselves embroiled in debate with Congress about whether the legislative branch must sign off on all new U.S. military operations. The surgical strikes Biden recently ordered in Syria reawakened misgivings in Congress that the commander in chiefs interpretation of his constitutional authority to order military operations without consultation and pre-approval from lawmakers is too broad. But Democrats, like Republicans before them, struggle to find consensus around proposals to rein in the president in times of international emergency (The Hill). 

> The Hills media reporter Thomas Moore reports on Bidens communications strategy, as managed by top West Wing aide Kate BedingfieldKate BedingfieldWe knew media would coddle Biden here’s why it’s much worseStrong words but weak response when a Biden aide breaks the rules White House press aide suspended for threatening Politico reporterMORE.

> Shalanda Young, nominated to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, could become the presidents escape hatch after Neera TandenNeera TandenOn The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask warsHere’s who Biden is now considering for budget chiefCBC ‘unequivocally’ endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chiefMORE withdrew her nomination on Tuesday to be budget director. Young will testify before a Senate panel today in a bid for confirmation for the No. 2 job, but already Democratic leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus are encouraging Biden to elevate Young to director. The White House says the president will not decide on a new OMB nominee this week (The Hill).   

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: [email protected] and [email protected] We invite you to share The Hills reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 

OPINION

The Iran nuclear deal needs to be fixed and rewritten, not just revived, by Russell A. Berman, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/309VNzl

Capitol Police begged for help. For 199 minutes, Trumps Pentagon stalled, by Dana Milbank, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2OpvRNG

Don’t refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, by Joseph Chamie, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3v0zXg3

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WHERE AND WHEN

The House will hold no votes today.

TheSenate convenes at noon.

The president and Vice President Harris will receive the Presidents Daily Brief at 10:30 a.m. Biden and Harris will meet in the Oval Office at 2 p.m. with a bipartisan group of House lawmakers to discuss legislative plans for infrastructure, joined by Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHere’s who Biden is now considering for budget chiefBiden’s COVID, border policies prove he’s serious about neitherHarris pushes for support for cities in coronavirus relief package MORE. At 5 p.m., Biden will offer congratulations to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during a virtual hookup to discuss the Mars rover landing.

The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. and will include Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughPentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assaultSenate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretarySenate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretaryMORE.

Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report on claims for jobless benefits filed in the week ending Feb. 27. The report is expected to show elevated unemployment and a labor market that has not recovered from effects of the pandemic.

Hill.TVs Rising program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. EST at Rising on YouTube. 

ELSEWHERE

INTERNATIONAL: Prince Philip, 99, on Wednesday was treated for an unspecified pre-existing heart condition with what Buckingham Palace described as a successful procedure and remains hospitalized (BBC).  

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY: Texass power grid manager, Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was fired by the councils board on Wednesday in the wake of one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history. ERCOT is under investigation in the state and by the House Oversight Committee (CNBC).

CULTURE: Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of Stellantis the owner of Jeep, said on Wednesday that the company is open to dropping the Cherokee name from its line of sport utility vehicles. Tavares added that Stellantis is in talks with the Cherokee Nation about the potential change for the line of cars. We are ready to go to any point, up to the point where we decide with the appropriate people and with no intermediaries, Tavares said. At this stage, I dont know if there is a real problem. But if there is one, well, of course we will solve it (The Hill). Whats behind the decision to halt publication of Dr. Seusss If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, “McElligots Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!,” and “The Cats Quizzer” (NBC News).

JOLENE VACCINE: Country music legend Dolly Parton got a taste of her own medicine on Tuesday when she received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine whose research she helped fund. Parton, 75, documented the moment in a video posted to social media on Tuesday in which she encouraged eligible viewers to get the shot and broke into a modified rendition of Jolene. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate, she sang. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, cause once you’re dead then that’s a bit too late. Parton last spring announced a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University. That money helped fund three pandemic-related research projects, including a test used in Moderna vaccine trials. She said last month that she was going to wait her turn to be inoculated. Hopefully it’ll encourage people. I’m not going to jump the line just because I could (NPR).

THE CLOSER

And finally Its Thursday, which means its time for this weeks Morning Report Quiz! Alert to the FBIs alarm about the rise in domestic terrorism, were eager for some smart guesses about U.S. extremists in the news.

Email your responses to [email protected] and/or [email protected], and please add Quiz to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.

Adherents of which group believe that events today, March 4, will result in Trumps return to office? 

  1. The Federalist Society
  2. QAnon
  3. Three Percenters
  4. Groyper Army

Who warned senators on Tuesday that domestic terrorism is metastasizing across the country?

  1. Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani again suspended from YouTube over false election claimsSacha Baron Cohen calls out ‘danger of lies, hate and conspiracies’ in Golden Globes speechBiden administration buys 100,000 doses of Lilly antibody drugMORE
  2. Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonTucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it’s ‘more destructive’ than QAnonFormer Trump officials eye bids for political officeJill Biden picks up where she left offMORE
  3. Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland
  4. FBI Director Christopher Wray

Conservative conspiracists, refuting contradictory evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, claim that ______ was responsible for attacks on the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

  1. National Organization for Women 
  2. Antifa, or left-wing anti-fascists
  3. International Revolutionary Front
  4. Democratic National Committee

Since 9/11, white supremacists and other far-right extremists have been responsible for almost three times as many violent attacks on U.S. soil as Islamic terrorists, according to federal data. Which of these homegrown hate groups espouse racial superiority of whites?

  1. National Socialist Order
  2. American Identity Movement
  3. Hammerskin Nation
  4. All of the above