Associated Press: “The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 498,000, the lowest point since the viral pandemic struck 14 months ago and a sign of the job market’s growing strength as businesses reopen and consumers step up spending.”
“Coronavirus infections in the U.S. are now at their lowest levels in seven months, thanks to the vaccines,” Axios reports. “The vaccines are turning the tide in America’s battle with the coronavirus. Deaths and serious illnesses have dropped significantly, and now cases are falling too — an important piece of protection for the future, if we can keep it up.”
New York Times: U.S. Covid outlook reaches most hopeful point yet.
President Joe Biden told reporters he was “willing to compromise” on how to pay for his infrastructure proposals. Said Biden: “But I’m not willing to not pay for what we’re talking about. I’m not willing to deficit spend. They already have us $2 trillion in the hole.”
“President Biden delivered a clear and punchy message to America’s highest earners on Wednesday: I’m going to raise your taxes, but your vacation homes are safe,” the New York Times reports. “Biden defended with gusto his plans to increase taxes on high earners and the wealthy. He railed against high-earning chief executives and promised that his plans were ‘about making the average multimillionaire pay just a fair share.’”
Said Biden: “We’re not going to deprive any of these executives of their second or third home, travel privately by jet. It’s not going to affect their standard of living at all. Not a little tiny bit. But I can affect the standard of living that people I grew up with.”
Playbook on how the Biden White House views its Republican opposition: “They see a divided opposition gradually coalescing around devotion to an former president known primarily for one thing these days: lying about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. And with the GOP mostly absent from any actual debate about policy, the White House believes it has the upper hand and can easily define Republicans as handmaidens to the wealthy and corporate America.”
“Biden knows he has the advantage right now and he’s not giving it up, despite the occasional bromide about unity. Those bipartisan meetings next week should be interesting!”
CHENEY. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), campaigning to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the Republican Party’s No. 3 leader in the House for calling out President Donald Trump’s election lies, pitched herself as an unshakable ally of the former president on Thursday, calling him the “strongest supporter of any president when it comes to standing up for the Constitution,” the New York Times reports.
Washington Post: Stefanik defends election falsehoods told on January 6.
“I’m gonna just go ahead and say this ain’t unity. It’s capitulation to crazy, and it seems most have.” — Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), commenting on the expected ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from the House GOP leadership.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) commented on Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who will soon be “voted off” the House Republican leadership: “Her crime: acknowledging the reality that Trump lost the election. The Republican Party is no longer a ‘conservative’ party. It is an anti-democratic cult pushing the Big Lie and conspiracy theories.”
GUILIANI. Politico: “Rudy Giuliani laid off several staffers and independent contractors in the last few weeks, according to one of the people, who said the ousted employees had been told that the former New York mayor was seeking to cut costs.”
“The news of Giuliani’s shrinking entourage comes after years of stories suggesting he might be having financial difficulties — or is at least seeking creative ways to make money as he manages his growing legal woes.”
George Conway: “As a former associate attorney general and former U.S. attorney, he surely understands that federal search warrants against lawyers don’t just fall off trees. The Justice Department doesn’t like them, out of respect for the attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors will use them if they have really strong evidence a lawyer is up to no good, and if very senior personnel in Washington agree. And, of course, only with the blessing of a federal court.”
“That’s terrible news for Giuliani — just ask Michael Cohen, the last presidential lawyer raided by the FBI. It’s not good for the former guy, either. Giuliani’s travails have left him facing potentially staggering legal bills, which in apparent desperation he’s beseeching Trump to pay. And most important, Giuliani faces the prospect of jail.”
“If Giuliani has anything to offer prosecutors to save himself, it would have to be Trump, the only bigger fish left. And it was arguably criminal for the then-president to have used his official powers to try to coerce foreign officials into aiding his reelection campaign. In fact, Giuliani’s admission that he wasn’t conducting foreign policy, but merely helping Trump personally, is exactly what would make the scheme prosecutable. The former guy just might want to rethink stiffing Giuliani on those bills.”
New York Times: “Last year, racing to develop a vaccine in record time, Pfizer made a big decision: Unlike several rival manufacturers, which vowed to forgo profits on their shots during the Covid-19 pandemic, Pfizer planned to profit on its vaccine.”
“On Tuesday, the company announced the vaccine brought in $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year, nearly a quarter of its total revenue.”
MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT. “In a breakthrough for an eight-year-long effort, two senators behind legislation to revamp the way the military handles sexual assault cases and other serious crimes say the bill has the bipartisan votes to gain passage,” NPR reports.
“New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst said on Wednesday that the legislation would, for the first time, move cases out of the chain of command to trained, military prosecutors. Such cases would remain under military oversight, but instead be handled by criminal justice attorneys with relevant expertise, as opposed to commanders who often lack legal training.”
Ronald Brownstein: “Both of the earlier administrations tended to view widening inequality as a kind of natural phenomenon—the inevitable result of structural changes in the economy, led by greater automation and more global economic competition.”
“The Biden team views inequality much more as something molded by human hands—the result of policies that have weakened workers and strengthened corporations’ marketplace leverage. To a greater degree than Obama’s and especially Clinton’s teams, it believes that generating widely shared prosperity isn’t possible without aggressive government intervention.”
TRUMP. Wall Street Journal: “With Donald Trump’s return to Facebook in limbo, YouTube has emerged as the former president’s best chance to return to social media in the near future. Mr. Trump has been suspended from posting on the video-sharing service owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google since January.”
“Company leaders have said they will revisit their decision, but have given few details on when, or who will make the call. Unlike Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., which has permanently banned Mr. Trump, YouTube has provided limited information on its call.”
Twitter suspended an account which had been tweeting out statements from Donald Trump, who remains banned from the social media platform.
FACEBOOK. Politico: “It is facing a whole new round of censure, especially from the right — months after the company suspended Trump over his remarks during the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, triggering calls from conservative lawmakers to break up, rein in or otherwise restrain the world’s biggest social media network.
“And that means Facebook’s political threats from Republicans may be poised to get a lot worse, at a time when the pro-Trump wing of the GOP is feeling especially emboldened. Wednesday’s board decision arrived just as the former president’s supporters were poised to oust an anti-Trump apostate from their House leadership, with Trump’s vocal endorsement, and days after a squeeze on Democratic seats gave Republicans new reason to feel optimistic about their chances of reclaiming Congress next year.”
Axios: No one in Washington is happy with Facebook.
NEXT SPEAKER. A new Punchbowl News survey of senior Democratic Capitol Hill aides finds 64% of them see Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) as the next Democratic speaker of the House, followed by just 14% who say it will be House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
On the GOP side, 81% of Republican staffers say it’ll be House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), while just 8% say it’ll be House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).
IRS. Bloomberg: “The Biden administration has proposed a more than 10% funding increase for the Internal Revenue Service for the next fiscal year and an overall investment of $80 billion over the next 10 years to beef up the agency’s depleted auditing staff and outdated technology.”
“But some former IRS officials said it will take several years to produce significant results, especially after accounting for the time it takes to hire and train new employees and to complete audits of highly complex returns.”
“Moreover, such audits are prone to appeals and litigation that could tie up any payments for additional years, and past efforts to recoup unpaid taxes have returned a tiny fraction of what Biden envisions.”
TUCKER CARLSON. David Frum: “To Carlson, it’s all just sounds and images on a box, to be spoken, then forgotten. Say one thing today, the opposite tomorrow. Urge a war on national television, then disavow it afterward as if it had nothing to do with you. It’s cynical, but above all it’s cowardly.”
“Maybe that’s the fascination of the Carlson TV persona. We all sense that if a Murdoch ordered him, he would say the opposite of everything he says now. Last year, he flipped from ‘COVID is real’ to ‘COVID is fake.’ He could flip from anti-vax to pro-vax literally tomorrow.”
“Carlson’s like a one-man TV special effect, a creation of market analysis of race-baiting as a segment within an ever more fragmented infotainment industry.”
Some were curious why Tucker Carlson ripped into GOP pollster Frank Luntz and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week for not disclosing Luntz rented a room to the top House Republican. Well, Playbook reports that Carlson “failed to mention that his brother, Buckley Carlson, worked as ‘vice president of message development’ in the early 2000s for Luntz, who is a notoriously hard-charging boss. We’re told they had an acrimonious split. Tucker Carlson and Luntz didn’t get back to us with a comment.”
“The number of deportations carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month fell to the lowest monthly level on record, a drop that comes as illegal border crossings remain at a 20-year high,” the Washington Post reports.
Vox: “Some parts of the US are already beginning to experience some of the downsides of population slowdown or decline: Shrinking tax bases in rural areas have made it harder for government budgets to support essential services, such as infrastructure and public schools.”
“There are ways that policymakers can turn the situation around — the Biden administration has advocated for family-friendly policies that could make it easier for Americans to have more children. But that will not be enough to overcome a widening gap in the number of working-age adults that are able to support an aging population of baby boomers.”
“That leaves immigration, which has historically insulated the US from population decline and represents a kind of tap that the US can turn on and off.”
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER. “Senior Democrats are treading carefully around Justice Stephen Breyer these days, worried that a progressive push to get him to retire could either anger him or come off as overtly political — in either case potentially dashing their hopes of getting a young new liberal on the Supreme Court in his place,” CNN reports. “The clock is ticking for the party, because the Senate could fall into Republican hands during the midterm elections next year — or, actually, at any moment. Two members of the Democratic majority are near or just over 80 years old, and they hail from a state where a Republican governor would name their replacement if they weren’t able to serve.”
JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS. Adam Liptak: “Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went a decade without asking a question from the Supreme Court bench, is about to complete a term in which he was an active participant in every single argument.”
EARMARKS. Politico: “At least six GOP senators plan to violate their conference’s toothless earmark ban and more than a dozen others won’t commit either way, citing fears that they’re relinquishing power to Democrats if they don’t participate.”
“Less than 30 Senate Republicans have definitively sworn off earmarks as Democrats revive the practice of congressionally directed spending this year.”
Roughly half of House Republicans along with all but one of the House Democrats have requested earmarks, according to PBS Newshour. The only Democrat to not request earmarks is Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who “adamantly opposes the concept.”
JEFF BEZOS. Bloomberg has a fascinating story of how Jeff Bezos used his ownership of the Washington Post to beat back tabloid coverage of his personal life.
AUSTRALIA v. INDIA. “Even in the pandemic era of closed borders, Australia’s latest travel restriction stands out: Anyone, including Australian citizens, who arrives in the country after visiting India in the previous 14 days can face up to five years in jail, a $50,000 fine or both,” the Washington Post reports.
SHERROD BROWN v. RAND PAUL. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) “kind of a lunatic” for not wearing a mask while conducting Senate business, the Columbus Dispatch reports. Said Brown: “One of them that’s an M.D., isn’t, but he’s kind of a lunatic… He thinks he wants to be different but it doesn’t serve the public interest.”
A HALF A MILLION GUN SHOT VICTIMS. Washington Post: “Developed by researchers at the Rand Corp., a California-based think tank, the study found roughly 550,000 people were admitted for gunshot wounds from 2000 to 2016, representing billions of dollars in health-care costs annually, as well as untold pain and suffering.”
SECOND STEELE DOSSIER. “The former MI6 spy Christopher Steele produced a second dossier for the FBI on Donald Trump while he was in the White House,” The Telegraph reports. “The second dossier contains raw intelligence that makes further claims of Russian meddling in the US election and also references claims regarding the existence of further sex tapes. The second dossier is reliant on separate sources to those who supplied information for the first reports.”
RUSSIA v. UKRAINE. “Russia has withdrawn only a few thousand troops from the border with Ukraine, senior Biden administration officials said, despite signals from Moscow last month that it was dialing down tensions in the volatile region,” the New York Times reports. “Senior Defense Department officials said that close to 80,000 Russian troops remained near various strips of the country’s border with Ukraine, still the biggest force Russia has amassed there since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.”