The Hill’s Morning Report — Kansas protects abortion rights; Pelosi in Taiwan; Sinema drama

·16 min read

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday spoke to Taiwan’s legislature, met with the country’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, and said her visit “honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy” (CNN).

“We commend Taiwan for being one of the freest societies in the world, for your success in addressing [the COVID-19 pandemic], which is a health issue, a security issue, an economic issue, and a governance issue,” she said.

The speaker arrived in Taipei late on Tuesday with a congressional delegation to praise the independent island claimed by China. Beijing lost no time in announcing its ire, outlining a schedule of military maneuvers in protest.

Becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official in a quarter-century to visit Taiwan, Pelosi, a long-standing China critic, arrived aboard a U.S. Air Force passenger jet and posed for photos on the tarmac at Taipei’s international airport, greeted by Taiwan’s foreign minister and other U.S. and Taiwanese officials before being whisked to a hotel (The Associated Press). The Washington Post published a Pelosi op-ed as she arrived.

Pelosi said her visit, part of a multi-nation itinerary in the Asia-Pacific, is intended to show U.S. backing for Taiwan’s democracy and independence.

Beijing, which under President Xi Jinping views the island as a renegade territory, responded by announcing that live ammunition drills will take place around Taiwan from Thursday until Sunday. Pelosi has departed as of this writing and her next stops are South Korea and Japan (The South China Morning Post).

Beijing also displayed its displeasure by imposing an economic vise on exporting sand to Taiwan and barring imports of its citrus and certain types of fish (The New York Times).

The White House previously warned that China could use Pelosi’s visit as a rationale for provocation and prepared for various possible reactions by Beijing. After the Speaker’s arrival in Taipei, China’s official Xinhua News Agency released an announcement of “important military training operations” issued by the People’s Liberation Army (The Washington Post).

As Pelosi arrived in Taiwan, she became the first Speaker to visit since Newt Gingrich in 1997. At 82, and currently the most powerful woman in elective politics, she has built an unparalleled record, elected by her Democratic colleagues twice as Speaker. Many in Washington believe she may opt to retire following the November midterms. Her message that the “United States continues to oppose unilateral efforts to change the status quo” in Taiwan becomes part of her legacy, delivered with drama.

Mike Lillis, The Hill: Pelosi courts controversy with Taiwan trip.

Reuters: Pelosi’s visit caps a long history of confronting Beijing.

Carl Hulse, The New York Times: Pelosi has spent more than three decades challenging China on human rights and other issues.

At least four U.S. warships, including an aircraft carrier carrying F-35 fighter jets, were positioned in waters east of Taiwan on Tuesday in what the U.S. Navy downplayed as a routine deployment (The Hill and Reuters). “Those who play with fire will perish by it. We believe that the U.S. side is fully aware of China’s strong and clear message,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a press conference on Monday (The Hill).

Meanwhile, drama in Washington continued on Tuesday as focus remains lasered on Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and whether she will jump on board with the budget deal struck between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The West Virginia centrist attempted to do his part on Tuesday; as he was seen talking to Sinema for 15 minutes while she was presiding over the upper chamber in the afternoon. He told reporters that he is exchanging materials to help her understand the details of the agreement but was otherwise tight-lipped about their conversation.

“We had a nice time. We had a nice time. Next?” he said.

As for Schumer, he said that Sinema’s suggestions on possible alterations to the $739 billion package are welcome as Democrats push to pass a bill in the coming days. That work could potentially spill into the weekend, delaying the monthlong August recess for senators (The Hill). Sinema declined to comment once again on Tuesday.

The party in power also got some good news in the form of head counting on Tuesday as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) returned after testing positive for COVID-19. Democrats need all of their members present this week in order to pass the reconciliation bill, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has been recovering from hip replacement surgery.

Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Sinema leaves Democrats in suspense.

NBC News: Sinema faces conflicting pressures in Arizona on Democrats’ big agenda bill.

The Hill: GOP targets Sinema while going all out to block Democratic bill.

However, the Senate did get one bit of business complete on Tuesday, passing the PACT Act, which expands benefits for veterans suffering illnesses due to toxic exposures from burn pits. The move was the culmination of a wave of criticism against the GOP for blocking the bill on Wednesday in response to the announcement of the reconciliation deal.

The package passed 86-11, with senators voting against three amendments to the bill that helped hold up its final passage until Tuesday. Jon Stewart, who has been a vocal proponent of the bill and publicly lambasted Republicans for their tactics in recent days, watched the vote with veterans in the Senate gallery (The Hill).

All 11 “no” votes came on the GOP side: Mike Crapo (Idaho), James Lankford (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), James Risch (Idaho), Mitt Romney (Utah), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.).

The deal struck with GOP senators that allowed the failed amendments also allows a Friday vote on Finland and Sweden joining NATO (The Hill).

© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Comedian Jon Stewart and a veteran celebrates passage of the PACT Act on Tuesday.

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LEADING THE DAY

POLITICS

The clearest reverberations from the decision striking down Roe v. Wade were on display on Tuesday as Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure that would give the state legislature the authority to ban abortion. As of this morning, 58.8 percent voted “no” to only 41.2 percent for “yes” (The Hill).

The question would have created a constitutional amendment removing abortion protections from the Kansas constitution. President Biden hailed the move, which was viewed as one of the first political opportunities for the abortion rights advocates after the Supreme Court’s decision in late June.

“The Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade put women’s health and lives at risk. Tonight, the American people had something to say about it,” Biden said in a statement (The Hill).

The New York Times: Kansans surge to polls to defend abortion rights.

© Associated Press / Charlie Riedel | Women celebrate after a ballot measure seeking to cement abortion restrictions in Kansas was defeated on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, it’s too close to call in Arizona where Kari Lake, former President Trump’s preferred candidate, holds a slim lead over Karrin Taylor Robson in the Arizona governor’s GOP primary.

Lake overtook Taylor Robson’s lead, buoyed by early vote totals, in the wee hours of Wednesday as the votes cast on primary day rolled in. As of this morning, she leads by more than 8,000 votes (1.3 percent margin) and declared victory, though the race has yet to be called.

Taylor Robson, the former head of Arizona’s university system, had a major financial advantage, having flooded the airwaves in the final weeks by a 7-to-1 margin to close the gap. According to final polls of the race, Lake led by nearly double digits.

If the result holds, it would be a massive win for Trump against two of his bitter rivals, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and former Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom had backed Taylor Robson.

The winner will face Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in November.

The Hill: Trump-backed Blake Masters to face Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) in Arizona Senate race.

The Hill: Five takeaways from primaries in Arizona, Missouri and beyond.

In the Missouri Senate race, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) won the battle of the Eric’s and took home the GOP nomination to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Schmitt defeated Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the only candidate in the race who Trump came out against, and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), taking home 45.9 percent — more than double the support of his challengers. Greitens, along with Schmitt, won Trump’s endorsement, but saw his support plummet in the weeks leading up to primary day after a barrage of ads centered on allegations of domestic violence against him (The Hill).

Politico: Inside the secret, year-long campaign to torpedo Greitens’ attempted comeback.

The Kansas City Star: Trudy Busch Valentine wins Missouri Democratic Senate primary, setting up showdown with Schmitt.

In Michigan, Tudor Dixon won the GOP gubernatorial primary and will face-off in November against incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). Dixon, who was backed by Trump and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, won with 40.5 percent support, handily topping the five-candidate field (The Hill).

On the House side, three House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his actions (or lack thereof) on Jan. 6, 2021 were on the ballot, and at least one of them was defeated. Rep. Peter Meijer (Mich.) lost to John Gibbs, the Trump-endorsed candidate, in the state’s 3rd congressional district. Gibbs won by a 3.6-percentage point margin, having been buoyed by outside Democratic groups who believe he would be an easier general election candidate than Meijer.

Two other races have not been called yet. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.) and Dan Newhouse (Wash.) both sit in the top two of their jungle primaries, which would slot them into the general election if things hold.

The Hill: Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) ousted by Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) in Michigan.

The Hill: Trump endorses challenger to Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R), who said he was pressured over election.

The election news was not confined to primary contests on Tuesday. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the commonwealth’s universal mail-in voting law, rejecting a challenge from GOP legislators.

The decision creates electoral certainty heading into the midterm elections and cements the 2019 law, which was overwhelmingly passed by bipartisan majorities. However, it became a GOP target of derision due to opposition by Trump and the rise of COVID-19 (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

The Hill: Judge refuses to delay Oath Keepers’ seditious conspiracy trial.

Caroline Vakil, The Hill: Five things to watch at CPAC.

Los Angeles Times: Biden, Vice President Harris back Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in Los Angeles mayor’s race.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

ADMINISTRATION 

Saturday’s U.S. Hellfire missile strikes via drone in Kabul, Afghanistan, which Biden said killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri without taking the lives of civilians, raises new questions about the Taliban’s decision to shelter the former Egyptian physician and his relatives and whether the exit a year ago of U.S. and Western military forces from Afghanistan created conditions for yet another chapter of refuge for extremists and terrorists (The Hill).

Abortion: In the first major action by the Justice Department challenging a state abortion trigger law since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, the government on Tuesday sued Idaho over its six-week abortion ban (The Associated Press). In its lawsuit, the federal government argued that Idaho’s law conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires a medical facility to provide emergency treatment to anyone who needs to be stabilized and treated. The government argues that requiring doctors to provide pregnant women medically necessary treatment could include abortion in some circumstances and supersedes Idaho’s trigger law. The federal government brought the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state’s “criminal prohibition on providing abortions as applied to women suffering medical emergencies,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “Under the Idaho law, once effective, any state or local prosecutor can subject a physician to indictment, arrest, and prosecution merely by showing that an abortion has been performed, without regard to the circumstances,” the department objected. “The law then puts the burden on the physician to prove an ‘affirmative defense’ at trial.”

In a related development, the president is poised to instruct the Health and Human Services Department to consider using Medicaid benefits to support women seeking abortions across state lines. Medicaid is a shared health program between the federal government and participating states to help low-income people (The Hill).

The Treasury Department said Tuesday that the United States froze the visa of Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reported romantic interest who was once a member of the state Duma, and imposed other property restrictions. The department said Kabaeva is also head of a Russian national media company that promotes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (The Associated Press and The Hill).

© Associated Press / ITAR-TASS, Presidential Press Service | Russian President Vladimir Putin and Alina Kabaeva, his reported girlfriend, 2004.

Congress is debating legislation that would make it illegal to import or export domestic- or foreign-caught shark fins. At the same time, the government is cracking down on alleged violations of existing law by the U.S. seafood industry. A complaint filed last month in Miami federal court accused an exporter based in the Florida Keys, Elite Sky International, of falsely labeling some 5,666 pounds of China-bound shark fins as live Florida spiny lobsters. Another company, South Florida-based Aifa Seafood, is also under criminal investigation for similar violations, according to reporting by The Associated Press about an ongoing probe. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors seize thousands of shark fins annually for failure to declare such shipments while in transit to Asia.

When negative is better than positive: The president on Tuesday continued to work remotely at the White House with a rebound case of COVID-19 and the return of a “loose cough” he thought he conquered last week before again testing positive for the virus. The president’s doctor says Biden, 79, is feeling well other than the cough and intends to remain in isolation until he can test negative on an antigen test (The Hill).

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OPINION

■ A key 9/11 plotter is dead. He was already irrelevant, by Graeme Wood, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3Jozgo2

■ Why I’m leading a congressional delegation to Taiwan, by Nancy Pelosi, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3bpjo8t

WHERE AND WHEN

The House is out for the August recess and will return to Washington on Sept. 13. The lower chamber could convene later this month, pending Senate action.

The Senate convenes at noon to resume consideration of a resolution supporting the accession to NATO of Finland and Sweden.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden at 2 p.m. convenes the first meeting of the interagency Reproductive Healthcare Access task force virtually from the Treaty Room. Cabinet participants include the attorney general, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The vice president will also attend the afternoon meeting of the reproductive healthcare access task force.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, through the end of the week to participate in the U.S.-ASEAN ministerial meeting, the East Asia Summit foreign ministers’ meeting, and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 12:45 p.m.

🖥  Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv, on YouTube and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.

ELSEWHERE  

ECONOMY

U.S. job openings in June were not as plentiful as in earlier months, a sign of a gradual slowdown. Openings fell to a still-high 10.7 million in June from 11.3 million in May, the Labor Department said on Tuesday. The government reported that the number of Americans quitting their jobs fell slightly but remained high at 4.2 million in June while layoffs fell to 1.3 million from 1.4 million in May (ABC News). The new information is closely watched by economists and analysts amid high prices, rising interest rates and recession fears.

Credit scores can make or break the costs of mortgages, auto loans and credit cards, so when a major credit company makes errors, the damage to borrowers, buyers and sellers is consequential. Equifax sent faulty credit scores to lenders for a three-week period this year, resulting in denied applications and higher interest rates (The Wall Street Journal).

U.S. property owners are able to shield themselves from legal consequences when they fail to pay property tax, a phenomenon that exacerbates a national housing crisis fueled by inflation and a shortage of low- and moderate-income homes for sale and rent (The Hill).

PANDEMIC & POX

The monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. emerged in May, and since then, state and local officials and members of Congress have urged the White House and federal public health officials to better coordinate the distribution of monkeypox vaccine doses around the country, a task controlled by the federal government but carried out by state, county and city public health offices.

To supervise the U.S. monkeypox emergency, Biden on Tuesday named Robert Fenton, who currently leads the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s western region, as the White House national monkeypox response coordinator, and named Demetre Daskalakis as the White House deputy coordinator. Daskalakis manages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention division that deals with HIV prevention, is a physician and previously was deputy commissioner of New York City’s health department (The Washington Post).

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,030,998. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 357, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

RIP

Legendary sports broadcaster Vin Scully died Tuesday at 94 at his home in Hidden Hills, Calif., the Los Angeles Dodgers announced. He had a career that spanned Dodgers history from Jackie Robinson to Clayton Kershaw and included network television stints covering football, tennis and golf. Scully presided over some of baseball’s greatest moments: Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, Kirk Gibson’s World Series heroics and Hank Aaron’s eclipse of the all-time home run record (Los Angeles Times).

THE CLOSER

© Associated Press / Wayne Perry | Titan, a rehabilitated turtle, returns to the ocean in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., on Tuesday.

And finally … A ninja turtle.

Titan, a sea turtle, has endured a harrowing stretch. He was injured by a boat propeller and lost a portion of his front flipper to a shark.

But there’s more. The juvenile loggerhead was rescued by a pair of New Jersey fishermen while being attacked by another shark. The men promptly contacted Sea Turtle Recovery, an organization that does just that — rehabilitates rescued turtles so they can return to the ocean.

As The Associated Press reports, Titan was one of eight turtles on Tuesday who returned to the sea in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., after some healing human TLC.

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