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Tuesday’s Senate runoff contest in Georgia, occurring nearly a month after Election Day, may tell Republicans more about who will struggle as a presidential candidate in 2024 than predict the future for Democrats under a divided government in January.
The oddsmakers believe the contest this week between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and GOP challenger Herschel Walker is Warnock’s to lose.
Turnout has been high. The campaign ads from each candidate have been intensely negative. And former President Trump, who endorsed Walker early in the GOP primary, is fading as his party’s untouchable kingmaker.
Some Republicans on Sunday rushed to distance themselves from Trump, who called for the “termination” of the Constitution’s rules regarding elections. In a Truth Social post, the current presidential candidate called for Biden’s election victory in 2020 to be overturned based on his interpretation of newly detailed information about the president’s son Hunter Biden and Twitter’s role at the time (The Hill and The New York Times).
House and Senate Republicans, who privately say they are eager to talk about their future plans and policies, not Trump’s, will continue to be asked this week about the former president’s terminate-the-Constitution advocacy, his associates and a pileup of ongoing investigations, which include his tax returns, now in the hands of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The Hill’s Niall Stanage notes that the former president’s 2024 White House campaign has stumbled out of the gate. “I just think that the act is worn out,” said Rick Tyler, a GOP strategist who has long been critical of Trump. “There is a reason that a circus moves from town to town. It’s because after a while everybody has seen the acts.”
A lot has happened in a month.
▪ The Hill: Here’s where Trump’s GOP rivals stand on potential 2024 bids.
▪ The Hill: Next steps for the Justice Department’s documents investigation involving Trump.
In Georgia, a win by incumbent Warnock would give Senate Democrats some breathing room as their 51st vote in 2023, reports The Hill’s Al Weaver. No longer could one Democrat — including centrists Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — almost single-handedly derail a contentious nominee or long-sought legislative goal. A clear majority with less power in the hands of mercurial centrists could mean fewer headaches for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) as he coordinates strategy with President Biden.
NBC News reports that Georgia has set new records for early voting ahead of Tuesday. More than 1.85 million Georgians have voted early, breaking two single-day records in about a week. And the contest is drawing new voters. At least 76,000 Georgians who didn’t turn out in the Nov. 8 general election have voted early.
Experts say the key test in the Peach State will be how well each campaign turns out its core voters in the most reliably blue and red counties, The Hill’s Caroline Vakil reports. For Warnock, that means DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton counties. Predominantly GOP counties are Forsyth, Cherokee and Hall, but in those areas, Walker last month underperformed Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who was reelected on Nov. 8 and otherwise seen as a top-of-the-ticket draw for his party.
The Hill: Why Biden is keeping his distance ahead of Tuesday’s Senate runoff in Georgia.
As evidence that conservative populism in the Republican Party is attracting a variety of politicians eager to burnish national reputations, Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) are emerging as the latest interpreters. Many in the party believe Trump, who crafted a unique version of populism, does not have a corner on the market, opening doors to other aspirants, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
But recall that Trump, the wealthy New York real estate personality, defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by campaigning as a Washington outsider and an everyman.
Hawley, Cruz and Rubio, each viewed as nurturing presidential ambitions, may eschew Trump and his brand of personality-driven politics while trying to borrow pages from the overall messages he championed.
The Hill’s Amie Parnes takes the measure of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’s deft sense of political addition as he touts his personal narrative, which blends elite achievements, a blunt leadership style and what he describes as a humble upbringing.
“I think what we’ve done in Florida is we’ve shown that we’ve exercised leadership, we’ve not kowtowed, we’ve been willing to take on big interests … but producing results,” the governor said Thursday at a press conference in Miami. “And so that ends up attracting more people to want to be on your team.”
Meanwhile, in the House, Democrats who represent the Midwest worry their party’s evolving image, identified closely with liberals representing the West and East coasts, could haunt them politically in the heartland, The Hill’s Mike Lillis reports.
“A current that we swim against every two years in middle America is the identity of our party,” said Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, a 26-year veteran Democrat who will retire at the end of this term.
▪ CNN and The New York Times: The FBI is investigating a North Carolina power outage in Moore County caused by “intentional” attacks on substations, including evidence of gunfire and vandalism. At least 40,000 people were without electricity during the weekend and residents were under curfew until 5 a.m. today amid an officially declared state of emergency.
▪ The Hill: At least five conservative House Republicans have said they will oppose Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) bid to be elected Speaker on Jan. 3. Appearing Sunday on Fox News, McCarthy responded that GOP holdouts who do not vote for him would be “squandering this majority.”
▪ The Washington Post: U.S. inflation has begun to ease its grip but consumers are hard-pressed to feel it. There’s a long way to go before consumers or the Federal Reserve are satisfied. “It will take substantially more evidence to give comfort that inflation is actually declining. By any standard, inflation remains much too high,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said last week.
▪ The Hill: Advocates warily eye legal challenge to abortion pills.
▪ Reuters: Biden on Tuesday will travel to Arizona to visit Taiwanese chip manufacturer TSMC and to promote U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.
LEADING THE DAY
Republicans have a new argument this year at the end of partisan clashes over government funding: Domestic spending should be reduced because of the sweeping tax and climate legislation Democrats moved through Congress earlier this year in party-line votes, writes The Hill’s Aris Folley.
Republicans have been ramping up calls for spending reductions outside of defense while specifically pressing for talks over the domestic spending Democrats put forward without GOP support. One of those bills was this year’s $740 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which Democrats and experts estimate would lead to more than $200 billion in deficit reduction over the next decade. The other was the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package President Biden signed into law last year.
“The reconciliation bills spent a ton on domestic,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill. “So, that has to be factored in and in terms of more domestic spending.”
Year-end spending fights typically pit Republicans fighting for more money allocated to defense against Democrats fighting for more funds domestically. Lawmakers have until Dec. 16, when current funding is set to lapse, to pass legislation to keep the government running or risk shutdown. However, negotiators say Congress may end up passing a short-term funding bill — known as a continuing resolution (CR) — punting the deadline through around Dec. 23, if talks require more time.
“We want to be secure nationally, and that’s defense, but we want to be secure with regard to education with regard to health, transportation, etc.,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, said Friday. “These are the pieces that strengthen the economy and the domestic economy.”
But in recent days, top Democrats have warned that Congress could be headed for a stopgap bill that continues current funding another year if lawmakers fail to agree on new policies and funding levels.
▪ Roll Call: Omnibus spending talks heat up.
▪ Reuters: Pentagon chief calls on Congress to pass spending bill on time.
▪ Politico: Ukraine aid and stealth bombers: Pentagon lays out consequences if Congress can’t pass a budget deal.
When it comes to defense spending, meanwhile, congressional Republicans are looking to play hardball with the annual defense authorization bill to combat what they are calling “woke” military policies, The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports.
The GOP lawmakers want to insert language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to counter policies ranging from the military’s vaccine mandate to efforts to bring diversity and inclusion to the ranks — which they argue are weakening the military. But Democrats see the gambit as posturing meant to whip up support ahead of a new Congress and say it won’t disrupt their efforts to advance the NDAA in the days ahead.
House leaders say the bill is moving ahead and soon, with a draft of negotiated legislation expected to be brought to the floor early this week.
“That’s been a bit overblown,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), said of the NDAA drama when asked by The Hill. He added that he and the other leaders of the two defense committees have “all been working towards getting it done and we’re going to do it next week.”
▪ Breaking Defense: NDAA coming this week; Smith pledges it will pass.
▪ Politico: Defense bill could roll back COVID-19 vaccine policy, top Democrat says.
A narrowly divided Congress next year means many of both parties’ top policy priorities will have a tough time making it to Biden’s desk, writes The Hill’s Emily Brooks. House Republicans have placed a heavy emphasis on oversight and investigatory activities for the next Congress with the knowledge that many conservative priorities have little chance of making it through the Senate. But there are plenty of possibilities for deal-making and negotiation that may not take the form of sweeping policy bills but could nonetheless allow the House to act in key areas.
“It is very difficult to imagine constructive bipartisan immigration legislation at the moment,” Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, told The Hill. “I don’t expect that you’ll see much legislative action on a proactive energy and climate agenda. I think there may be opportunities for some good, old-fashioned transactional legislating, where Republicans and Democrats put things together that they each want.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Iran has abolished its morality police, the attorney general said on state media, after months of protests set off by the brutal beating and death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was being held by the force for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress laws. The decision, which was reported by state news outlets late Saturday, appears to be the government’s first major concession to the months-long protest movement — which amounted to one of the biggest challenges of Iran’s system of authoritarian rule in decades.
The morality police “was abolished by the same authorities who installed it,” Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri said on Saturday, according to state media reports, but he also suggested that the judiciary would still enforce restrictions on “social behavior” (The New York Times).
Stores in several cities shut their doors on Monday, following calls for a three-day nationwide general strike from protesters seeking the fall of clerical rulers (Reuters).
▪ The Economist: Iran’s rattled government may be backing down.
▪ ABC News: Iran’s morality police may soon be gone, but wearing the hijab is still mandatory for Iranian women.
▪ Bloomberg News: U.S. focus on Iran is thwarting weapons aid to Russia, envoy says.
▪ The Guardian: Iran locked into “vicious cycle” over protests and arming Russia, says U.S.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said she sees a “reduced tempo” when it comes to the war in Ukraine and that both Russian and Ukrainian armies are settling in for the winter months to prepare for counteroffensives in the spring. She told NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell on Saturday that the fighting, primarily in the eastern Ukrainian region Donetsk, has already slowed down for the winter.
“Once you get past the winter, the sort of question is, what will the counteroffensive look like?” Haines said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif. “We expect that, frankly, both militaries are gonna be in a situation where they’re gonna be looking to try to refit, resupply, in a sense, reconstitute, so that they’re kind of prepared for that counteroffensive. But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be, in fact, prepared to do that, and I think most optimistically for the Ukrainians in that time frame.”
Ukraine recaptured the southern city of Kherson last month, but Russia still holds a swath of territory in the east, including the Crimean Peninsula and the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where fighting continues to break out (The Hill).
Ukraine appears eager to dispel any idea of a lull in the fighting or loss of momentum, however, with the Ministry of Defense posting videos of tanks plowing through muddy, water-logged fields and high morale among soldiers.
President Volodymr Zelensky on Sunday used his nightly address to urge citizens to unite and support one another through the winter, saying Russia “hopes to use winter against us: to make winter cold and hardship part of his terror. We have to do everything to endure this winter, no matter how hard it is. And we will endure. To endure this winter is to defend everything” (CNBC).
▪ The New York Times: Illia Karamalikov, at the time a member of Kherson’s city council, returned a dazed Russian pilot to Russian forces occupying the city at the time. Ukraine now calls it treason.
▪ BBC: Zelensky calls the West’s Russian oil cap “weak.”
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Russians systematically loot art, ancient relics from Ukraine’s cultural sites.
▪ ProPublica: Agents of influence: How Russia deploys an army of shadow diplomats.
Apple accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside China in recent weeks. The company plans assembly of more Apple products elsewhere in Asia, particularly India and Vietnam, in part because of worker protests and turmoil in Zhengzhou over wages and COVID-19 restrictions (The Wall Street Journal).
Protests last month swept cities across China, as residents spoke out against the country’s “zero COVID” policies. The widespread demonstrations, which are likely to lead to a loosening of pandemic restrictions, could trigger a wave of new hospitalizations and possible fatalities, Fortune reports.
Chinese residents have less exposure to the coronavirus, which means weaker immune responses. The government insists on relying on China’s own sub-par vaccines even as the elderly with higher health risks also have comparatively low vaccination rates.
“Because of the continuing `zero tolerance’ policy, there is relatively little immunity from infection” in China, said Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the infectious diseases division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
■ Time is running out to protect the civil service, by Bill Scher, contributor, Washington Monthly. https://bit.ly/3h1Q7U3
■ Warnock and Georgia’s long campaign, by Francis Wilkinson, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3VNVVzo
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 to The Hill newsmaker event: Tuesday 1 p.m. ET, “Reimagining the Pharma Supply Chain,” with Reps. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and other expert panelists. Information and registrationHERE.
The House will convene at noon.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Frances Behm to be a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Bidenand first lady Jill Biden will host a White House Congressional Ball at 6:30 p.m.
Vice President Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the Congressional Ball.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will participate in the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, which meets near Washington today (Politico). Talk of tax credits for EU electric vehicles is expected to dominate (Reuters).
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will deliver opening remarks at 10 a.m. at the first meeting of the Treasury Advisory Committee on Racial Equity.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.
➤ NEWS MEDIA
News organizations hit by downturns in advertising revenues, evolving news consumption habits and changes by online and social media platforms, coupled with rocky economic projections, have plunged into headline-grabbing employee purges.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: CNN, Gannett and other media giants resort to layoffs ahead of a potential downturn.
▪ CNN: News and entertainment media organizations, including CNN, are cutting costs as they work to restructure in a stormy economic climate.
▪ The New York Times: Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, began a new round of layoffs, cutting roughly 6 percent of its 3,440-person U.S. media division.
▪ The Hill: Is long-form journalism dying? A five-minute read.
➤ SUPREME COURT
Justices today will hear arguments in a case that has sparked debate about the First Amendment, religious and other personal views as applied by business owners and the boundaries of state and federal anti-discrimination laws as applied to LGBTQ rights and beyond.
The Supreme Court will weigh a Colorado law that requires Denver-area graphic artist and website designer Lorie Smith to communicate messages on behalf of customers that are contrary to her personal beliefs, in her case, same-sex marriage. The case 303 Creative v. Elenis is described as a clash between free speech rights and LGBTQ rights.
If the debate sounds familiar, it should. In 2018, justices decided a similar case involving a Colorado baker who didn’t want to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. The Supreme Court at the time punted. Today’s more conservative court is revisiting the issues. Opponents of Smith’s perspective say there is no constitutional right to discriminate and that a ruling in her favor would weaken anti-discrimination laws and allow businesses engaged in expression to refuse service to all sorts of customers, perhaps including racial minorities or Muslims based on personal convictions (The New York Times).
▪ SCOTUSblog’s podcast “SCOTUSTalk”: Can a web designer refuse to design websites for same-sex weddings?
▪ Vox: The big stakes for anti-discrimination in the Supreme Court’s new LGBTQ rights case.
▪ The Atlantic, David French: The most consequential First Amendment case this term is not about LGBTQ rights, as many people believe it to be, but about what constitutes speech.
▪ The New York Post: Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett faced calls a week ago to recuse herself from today’s case due to her Christian faith.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
The U.S. is facing one of the earliest and most severe flu seasons on record, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of people hospitalized with influenza nearly doubled during Thanksgiving week — 19,593 compared to 11,378 people admitted to the hospital the week prior. Of those who were hospitalized, most were aged 65 or older (NBC News).
COVID-19 cases rose after the Thanksgiving weekend even as hospitals contended with waves of patients stricken with RSV and influenza infections. Coronavirus hospitalizations last week reached their highest level in three months, with more than 35,000 patients treated, according to Washington Post data tracking.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
▪ The New York Times: Who will care for “kinless” seniors?
▪ The Washington Post: Assisted living too often fails older, sicker residents, report says.
▪ The New York Times: A promising trial targets a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,081,431. 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 … 🌋 As Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, continues to erupt on Hawaii’s Big Island, scientists are deploying seismometers, spectrometers, tiltmeters, GPS units and other state-of-the-art tools to take advantage of a rare opportunity to document the phenomenon.
“Mauna Loa is one of the most well-instrumented volcanoes in the United States,” Wendy Stovall, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told The New York Times. Still so much about the inner workings of the mountain — which erupted for the first time in 38 years — is unknown, as its sheer size, mineral composition and heat all present logistical difficulties for scientists and public officials hoping to predict its movements. With the eruption underway, researchers on the Big Island have had to strike a careful balance between concern for public safety, given the many unknowns, and the desire to collect data.
“Our main mission is to mitigate these hazards scientifically,” said Jim Kauahikaua, a volcanologist with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “An eruption is always exciting, but we learn to temper our excitement and professionally work toward our main mission.”