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Georgia voters narrowly elected incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) in Tuesday’s runoff, giving President Biden and Senate Democrats a majority in the Senate next year and a sense of momentum as they survey 2022’s history-defying midterm elections (The Hill).
Warnock defeated GOP challenger Herschel Walker, whose loss compounded a day of woe for former President Trump, who had endorsed the Heisman Trophy winner in the primary and general election. Rural turnout for Walker, 60, was not enough to offset a strong Atlanta-area performance by Warnock, 53, a well-known pastor in the city.
An estimated 3.5 million Georgians voted in the runoff, slightly down from the 3.9 million ballots cast in the general election (The Washington Post). It was the fifth time Warnock was on a ballot since November 2020 — and the fifth time he finished in first place (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
“I am Georgia,” Warnock said Tuesday night. “I am an example and an iteration of its history, of its peril and promise, of the brutality and the possibilities. But because this is America, because we always have a path to make our country greater against unspeakable odds, here we stand together.”
Biden tweeted late Tuesday that he phoned Warnock to congratulate him on his victory. “Tonight Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate. Here’s to six more years,” he wrote.
▪ Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal: Biden after the holidays will likely announce he’s seeking reelection, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said on Monday during a Wall Street Journal newsmaker event.
The contest in the Peach State concluded a disappointing midterm cycle for Republicans, who expected a red wave but fell short of retaking the Senate and captured a majority in the House by just a few seats. Walker, a first-time candidate criticized for gaffes, accused of serious misconduct and elevated by Trump, embodied broader Republican concerns that their nominees — and the involvement of the former president who is now a 2024 candidate seeking to return to the White House — undermined their chances. Walker’s loss spurred calls inside the Republican Party to rethink its direction and strategy, the Post reported.
Walker conceded Tuesday night without mentioning Warnock. “There’s no excuses in life and I am not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heck of a fight,” he told supporters at the College Football Hall of Fame, adding, “the best thing I‘ve ever done in my whole entire life is to run for this Senate seat right here” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
▪ The Hill: Five takeaways from the Georgia runoff.
▪ The New York Times: An astonishing $1.4 billion was spent on just four contests in Georgia since the beginning of 2020.
Separately on Tuesday, two Trump Organization entities were convicted in New York of criminal tax fraud, punishable by a fine of up to $1.6 million; only the company’s former finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, will go to prison. The illegal tax scheme, which did not directly implicate Trump, is a repudiation of financial practices at the former president’s business as he mounts another run for the White House (Bloomberg News and CNN).
Trump increasingly is viewed by leaders within his party as seriously weakened but still strong enough to tear down his chief political rival, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, creating a potential opening for any number of dark-horse candidates. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Trump has presented a “golden opportunity” to his rivals, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
Trump also remains under investigation by a newly appointed federal special counsel and by the House Jan. 6 committee, whose chairman said on Tuesday that members expect to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department. The target or targets are unclear.
Trump faces five major probes, recaps lawyer and legal analyst Ankush Khardori in a New York Times opinion article.
▪ The Hill: Trump complicates the GOP’s position as the party of the Constitution.
▪ The Washington Post analysis: Trump will go away slowly, then all at once.
▪ NBC News: House Jan. 6 Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) on Tuesday said he expects the panel to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department building on its investigation. Thompson did not say who the panel might recommend for prosecution or how many referrals he anticipates.
▪ The Hill: Lingering divisions from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot were on display Tuesday when legislative leaders presented the Congressional Gold Medal to law enforcement personnel who protected the Capitol during last year’s attack.
▪ The Washington Post: Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith subpoenaed Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin officials for Trump communications.
LEADING THE DAY
Pundits and pollsters already have their eyes on the 2024 election, but there are a host of 2023 political contests to watch too, The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is slated to defend the governor’s mansion in the red state, while Democrats will seek to keep the governor’s mansion in deep-red Louisiana blue as incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is term-limited. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the ideological balance of power on the state Supreme Court will be determined in a race for a seat on the court. And out east in Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans and Democrats are set to race for control for the state legislatures.
President Biden’s new primary plan, meanwhile, is reigniting old tensions between the Biden and Sanders presidential camps, writes The Hill’s Hanna Trudo, with a former top aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) ripping the plan to put South Carolina as the first contest in the 2024 primary as a fatal flaw.
But Biden’s primary shake-up could be his biggest contribution to national politics, MSNBC reports. Black Democrats helped propel Biden to the 2020 presidential nomination, and his plan for a new primary schedule, with South Carolina at the starting line, would increase Black voter power in the party.
▪ WMUR: “An absolute joke”: Gov. Chris Sununu (R), GOP blast Democratic National Committee demand that New Hampshire change its primary law.
▪ The Washington Post: Georgia official doubts Democratic plan for 2024 presidential primary.
House conservatives want their party to go big on impeachment next year — targeting Biden or a top member of his Cabinet — but across the Capitol, Senate Republicans are not ready to convict. Some Republican senators are openly signaling that even if impeachment managed to squeak through the House, it would quickly die in the upper chamber, and not because of the Democratic majority (Politico).
On Capitol Hill, it may be a bit early to conclude it’s too late for lawmakers to fund the government for another year or too iffy to clear a must-pass military and security blueprint before House and Senate members jet out of town later this month.
But it’s not too early for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to publicly describe Plan B when some of the basic building blocks of legislative momentum seem to be missing, such as consensus about the basic goalpost.
“We’re at a pretty significant impasse,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “Time is ticking. We have not been able to agree on a top line yet, and I think it’s becoming increasingly likely that we might need to do a short-term CR into early next year,” he added, using the shorthand for a continuing resolution (The Hill).
In January, the GOP will control the House, which in most circumstances might cheer McConnell. However, he and other leaders fear that House conservatives are so allergic to any compromise with Democrats that the government could wind up shutting down as battles continue. McConnell’s practiced viewpoint: A shutdown would be harmful economics, bad optics and, of course, is avoidable.
▪ Politico: Lawmakers labor to break impasses stalling a massive spending bill.
▪ The New Republic: Some Democrats hope to get a revived version of the popular child tax credit into a government funding package. “We’re going to keep at it until the end of the year. That’s the deadline,” House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn), said on Monday. “Every day is a new day in which to make the case.”
▪ The Hill: Activists push for the child tax credit.
Then there’s the blueprint for military policy known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). A draft of the bill was released late Tuesday by the House and Senate Armed Services committees. Leadership proposes to add $45 billion to the Biden administration’s initial budget request.
The bill customarily clears Congress every year but has sagged in 2022 under the weight of legislative ornamentation and errata. The defense bill text released Tuesday night includes repeal of the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate for the military, a policy change championed by some Republicans and opposed by the White House, and it did not include federal regulatory permitting changes for fossil fuel companies, favored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who will return to the House in January as a backbencher and cede her leadership gavel to a new GOP House majority, is tasked before the end of December to navigate demands from both conservatives and progressives in order to clear House passage of the final NDAA bill (The Hill and Breaking Defense).
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is running for Speaker but still trying to scare up enough votes on Jan. 3, has not found it easy (Forbes).
Former leader of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), on Tuesday revived a challenge to the GOP colleague who worked his way up the House ladder since 2007. “I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” Biggs tweeted. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment” (The Hill).
House lawmakers have dozens of questions for former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, whose cryptocurrency empire collapsed last month amid allegations of fraud, writes the Hill’s Sylvan Lane. The first question? Whether he’ll actually show up to answer them.
A House panel is pushing Bankman-Fried to testify at a hearing about the FTX collapse on Dec. 13. But Bankman-Fried has suggested he won’t be there, raising questions about when he’ll finally make an appearance before angry lawmakers.
Roll Call: Republican Ben Sasse is vacating his Nebraska Senate seat to become a university president in Florida on Jan. 8. Outgoing Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska confirmed Tuesday that he is applying for appointment to fill the impending vacancy.
The White House continues today to host Democratic state lawmakers from 31 states as legislatures prepare for their upcoming sessions, aiming to strategize about climate change, gun violence, abortion rights, voting rights and other prominent issues important to the party (The Washington Post).
Biden, a devout Catholic, has clashed with U.S. Catholic bishops over legislation to codify same-sex marriage. “I disagree,” he said on Tuesday, referring to the bishops’ objections. During the president’s first year in office, bishops said Biden should be denied Holy Communion because of his support for reproductive and abortion rights (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
A third Russian airfield was ablaze on Tuesday from a drone strike, a day after Ukraine demonstrated an apparent new ability to penetrate hundreds of kilometers deep into Russian airspace with attacks on two air bases.
Officials in the city of Kursk, around 60 miles north of the Ukraine border, released pictures of black smoke above an airfield in Tuesday’s early hours after the latest strike. The governor said an oil storage tank had gone up in flames but there were no casualties. While Kyiv celebrated the strikes, it did not directly claim responsibility for them.
“If Russia assesses the incidents were deliberate attacks, it will probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine,” Britain’s ministry of defense said on Tuesday (Reuters).
▪ The New York Times: Germany arrests dozens of people who are suspected of planning to overthrow the government. Many detained by police had military training and were believed to belong to a recently formed group that operated on the conviction that the country was ruled by a so-called deep state.
▪ Reuters: In France, minority communities decry a surge in police fines.
▪ The Washington Post: Indonesia’s parliament votes to ban sex outside of marriage.
Conserving 30 percent of Earth for nature would be equivalent to the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase climate target and is key to helping solve the biodiversity and climate crises, Canada’s environment minister Steven Guilbeault said in advance of the United Nations (U.N.) COP15 conference, which gets underway today in Montreal.
“We’re a big country with big ambitions,” Guilbeault said Tuesday. “We’ve committed as a country to protect 30 percent of land and waters by 2030. We’re working in full partnership with Indigenous peoples, as well as provinces and territories. One might argue, and I guess I am, that our 1.5 degrees is protecting 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030. It is the biodiversity equivalent of the 1.5 degrees on climate change.”
The target, known as “30×30,” is the most high-profile proposal under consideration by governments for this decade’s agreement to protect biodiversity. Led by the United Kingdom, Costa Rica and France, it has the backing of more than 100 countries but faces significant concerns from some Indigenous peoples and human rights campaigners, who warn it could legitimize land grabs and violence against communities (The Guardian).
▪ Vox: World leaders have two weeks to agree on a plan to save nature.
▪ The Guardian: “We are at war with nature”: The U.N. environment chief warns of biodiversity apocalypse.
China on Wednesday announced the most sweeping changes to its tough anti-COVID rules since the pandemic began, loosening restrictions that curbed the spread of the virus but had hobbled the world’s second largest economy and sparked protests.
The relaxation of rules, which include allowing infected people with mild or no symptoms to quarantine at home and dropping testing for people traveling within the country, are the strongest sign yet that China is preparing its population to live with the coronavirus (Reuters).
■ Walker, Trump’s celebrity pick, underscores Trump’s fall, by Charles Blow, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3BgBXFH
■ What a horrible way to run a country, by Catherine Rampell, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3VBJuqL
WHERE AND WHEN
👉 The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
⭐ INVITATION: Join a newsmaker event hosted by The Hill and the Bipartisan Policy Center on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 10 a.m. ET (hybrid), “Risk to Resilience: Cyber & Climate Solutions to Bolster America’s Power Grid,” with Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Energy Department Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response Director Puesh Kumar and more. Information for in-person and online participation is HERE.
The House will convene at 2 p.m. and resume work on U.S. immigration policy legislation.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden has no public events on his schedule, but that could change later today.
Vice President Harris will meet with Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė of Lithuania in the vice president’s ceremonial office at 1:45 p.m.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet with the U.S. Global Business Alliance CEO Leadership Council.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will lead White House aides and U.S. officials to meet with Jewish leaders for a roundtable at 11 a.m. to discuss the rise of antisemitism and efforts to combat hate.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.
It is a year of watershed moments in real estate, and not the good kind, writes The Hill’s Daniel de Visé. The Housing Market Index, a closely watched industry metric, dipped to 33 on a 100-point scale in October — its lowest level in a decade, save for the first dystopian month of COVID-19. Experts say anything under 50 is worrisome. Mortgage rates, meanwhile, are hitting 7 percent, marking a greater increase in the 30-year mortgage rate this year than at any time since 1972, when the feds began tracking it.
The good news: Experts don’t see a 2008-style meltdown coming. Most U.S. homeowners have sensible fixed-rate mortgages and robust stockpiles of equity. They’re fine, as long as they don’t try to move.
▪ WTOP: 4 in 10 consumers expect the housing market will crash, survey finds.
▪ Fortune: These 49 housing markets to see home prices fall over 15 percent — this interactive map shows Moody’s updated forecast for 322 markets.
➤ SUPREME COURT
Today before the Supreme Court, conservative attorneys hope to advance a controversial legal idea that would give state legislatures more control over elections.
The court is being asked to decide whether state election laws and political maps passed by state legislatures — specifically, a Republican gerrymander in North Carolina that the state’s Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional this year — should continue to be subject to judicial review in state courts (Politico and The New York Times).
The Washington Post: The Supreme Court thrives on hypotheticals. Justice Samuel Alito’s latest sparked a backlash.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Difficulty getting care for COVID-19 has become an increasingly common problem for lower-income and uninsured Americans. After paying about $25 billion to health care providers over the course of the pandemic to reimburse them for vaccinating, testing and treating people without insurance, the federal government is running low on funds for coronavirus care for the nearly 30 million people who are uninsured.
The Biden administration is asking Congress for more funding, so far unsuccessfully. The White House asked Congress last month for more than $9 billion in additional funding for the pandemic response. Some of that money would go toward ensuring that Americans, including those without insurance, continue to have access to vaccines and treatments — but congressional Republicans have resisted the requests, accusing the administration of spending pandemic relief money in a wasteful way (The New York Times).
▪ The Atlantic: China’s COVID-19 wave is coming.
▪ CNBC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages people to wear masks to help prevent spread of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) over the holidays.
A new modeling study by the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute concludes that a $6 billion federal investment over a decade for drugs that prevent HIV infections, such as through the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) program (UCLA Health), could reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent. The institute is lobbying Congress for additional HIV funding, arguing that taxpayers could eradicate the virus in the United States, achieving an estimated medical cost savings of $2.27 billion annually.
Information about the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,082,246. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 1,780 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … It’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Congress the following day. “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
The attack killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships, including eight battleships. By Dec. 11, 1941, the United States had entered World War II.