Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) suffered a stroke last week and underwent surgery but is “expected to make a full recovery,” the Washington Post reports. There are indications that the Senate Democratic leadership did not know about Lujan’s health problems until today. Lujan’s office declined to comment when asked by NBC News when they expect the senator could return to work. In a 50-50 Senate, the health of every senator takes on added importance.
Punchbowl News: “We have no idea how long Luján will be sidelined during his recovery. There’s no timetable for his return at this point. On two previous occasions where senators suffered strokes – former Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) – it took them months to return to the Capitol. And however long Luján remains absent, the Senate Democratic leadership is going to be in a jam.”
Punchbowl News: “The Senate is beginning to grapple with a new reality. With Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) in the hospital after a stroke, Democrats don’t have a functioning majority. They will be unable to move anything besides non-controversial bills and nominations. As we all know, there are very few of those these days.”
“The longer Luján is out, the more problematic his absence becomes. A lengthy recovery could impact President Joe Biden’s ability to confirm a new Supreme Court nominee. If Luján is sidelined for a long period of time, Biden may have to rethink who he nominates to the Supreme Court.”
The Hill: Lujan stroke jolts 50-50 Senate.
If Lujan is going to be out for more than two weeks, he will have to resign and the Democratic Governor of New Mexico will appoint a replacement.
“President Biden is directing the Pentagon to deploy more than 3,000 American troops to bolster the defense of European allies in the first major movement of U.S. forces in Russia’s military standoff with Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“Mr. Biden is sending roughly 2,000 troops from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Poland and Germany this week and also repositioning about 1,000 troops that are part of a Germany-based infantry Stryker squadron to Romania, on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern flank closest to Russia.”
“Biden administration officials say they will cut Russia off from its vital supply of semiconductors if it invades Ukraine — a broad sanction without precedent,” Axios reports. “Stemming the flow of microchips to Russia would be a blow to the country’s economy, but the novel move could have long-term repercussions for U.S. companies.”
“President Joe Biden is expected to nominate career foreign service officer Bridget Brink to serve as his ambassador,” the AP reports. “Brink, currently serving as the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, will assume the long vacant diplomatic post at a moment when the U.S. and its allies remain on high alert, with some 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s border.”
Axios: “A month of diplomatic talks has achieved nothing. Russia’s alarming military buildup keeps growing. And in his first public comments about the spiraling tensions in over a month, Putin on Tuesday accused the West of goading Russia into a conflict over Ukraine.”
“Between 100,000 and 130,000 Russian troops are now estimated to be stationed on the border with Ukraine, a presence that continues to grow.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) “is calling on the Biden administration to drop longstanding U.S. support for Ukraine’s eventual membership in NATO, arguing that a binding commitment to defend the country would undermine efforts to counter China,” Axios reports.
“Hawley is staking out a position increasingly supported by the Republican base but historically at odds with the mainstream GOP consensus still backed by his Senate colleagues.”
Politico: “The disconnect between the GOP foreign policy establishment and the pro-Donald Trump base of the party on the value of intervening in foreign quagmires isn’t new.”
“But the crisis in Ukraine is exposing the widening gulf between the two camps when it comes to committing U.S. resources in support of fledgling democracies under siege by authoritarian regimes.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and other conservatives of “parroting Russian talking points” amid the looming threat of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, The Hill reports.
Said Psaki: “If you are digesting Russian misinformation and parroting Russian talking points you are not aligned with longstanding bipartisan American values, which is to stand up for the sovereignty of countries like Ukraine, but others.”
According to newly filed campaign finance records, the ex-president’s “Save America” political action committee gave $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, a non-profit where former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows works as a senior partner, on July 26 last year.
The donation came less than a month after the House formed the chamber’s select committee on investigating the Capitol insurrection.
That cash made up the lion’s share of the $1.35 million the PAC gave out to candidates and groups overall in the second half of 2021. Most of the PAC’s contributions want to candidates that espoused the big lie, CNN found.
Former President Donald Trump ripped Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of his staunchest supporters, telling Newsmax that the senator is a “RINO” for saying that pardoning the Capitol rioters would be “inappropriate.”
Said Trump: “Lindsey’s a nice guy, but he’s a RINO. Lindsey’s wrong… Lindsey Graham doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.”
The day before she and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) sided with Republicans to keep the filibuster as is and, in so doing, block the path forward for voting rights legislation, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) went to a Texas fundraiser and told an assembled group of donors that included top fossil fuel executives to “rest assured” that she would vote against any changes to the filibuster, according to one executive who spoke to the Guardian.
“Some 4.3 million people quit or changed jobs in December — down from last month’s all-time high but still near record levels, as the labor market remained unsettled and the omicron variant swept through the United States,” the Washington Post reports. “Employers reported some 10.9 million job openings in the survey, well above pre-pandemic averages.”
“The data is one window into how the labor market’s patterns have been upended by the pandemic. While the crisis was originally marked by mass joblessness — more than 20 million people lost their jobs in the earliest days of the pandemic, many temporarily — 2021 was defined by a strong labor market recovery as well as complaints by employers about difficulty finding available workers.”
Asked if he regretted saying President Biden’s forthcoming pick of a Black woman to the Supreme Court would be an affirmative action choice, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) told reporters: “I’ll let that interview stand.”
“Here’s what I’m looking for in a Supreme Court justice: Number one, I want a nominee who knows a law book from a J.Crew catalog. Number two, I want a nominee who’s not going to try to rewrite the Constitution every other Thursday to advance a woke agenda. Those are my criteria.” — Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), quoted by Politico.
“We run the risk of creating an elite society. We’ve got to recognize that people come from all walks of life, and we ought not dismiss anyone because of that.” — Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), quoted by the Associated Press, noting that eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices went to law school at either Harvard or Yale.
“Don’t go anywhere near the court. Don’t meet with anybody. If you’re getting a haircut or having your nails done, don’t say a word to anybody, and reserve your comments for the hearing. Somebody will have heard it.” — Former GOP lobbyist Tom Korologos, quoted by the New York Times, offering advice to President Biden’s Supreme Court pick.
Former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) will serve as a guide for President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee during the Senate confirmation process, the New York Times reports. “Mr. Jones, who left the Senate in 2021 and was on a short list to serve as Mr. Biden’s attorney general, will be serving as a so-called Senate sherpa for Mr. Biden’s nominee… Sherpas have borrowed their nicknames from people who live in the Himalaya Mountains. They are known for their ability to guide travelers through hazardous terrain, including at high altitudes and in frigid conditions.”
“President Biden called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss his upcoming Supreme Court nomination. He hosted the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and asked him, along with the Democratic chairman, to suggest potential justices. And top White House aides began reaching out to GOP senators to seek their input,” the Washington Post reports.
“Together, those actions Tuesday launched Biden’s effort to project at least a veneer of bipartisan consultation as he sets out to make his first pick to the Supreme Court, replacing Justice Stephen Breyer.”
Playbook: “The discordant notes stem from a behind-the-scenes Republican Party tussle over strategy for the upcoming nomination, according to more than a half-dozen GOP officials on and off Capitol Hill. Republicans are divided between a desire to keep the nationwide focus on issues that resonate with swing voters they need to flip both chambers — like spiraling prices — and red-meat rhetoric that revs up their base.”
“Some are worried that going too hard at Biden’s pick — and especially using language like ‘affirmative action’ — will distract from pocketbook issues and potentially backfire. But others think Republicans would be missing a key opportunity if they hold back, pointing to a recent ABC poll showing that three-quarters of voters want Biden to look at ‘all possible nominees,’ while only 23% wanted him to consider only Black women.”
New York Times: “As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus personally touches or swirls around so many individuals, vaccinated and largely protected families are strained by varying comfort levels. It is much the same the world over, especially where significant portions of the population have been vaccinated, like Italy, which now has one of the highest rates in the world.”
“Initially slammed by the virus, Italy today holds the promise of a near future where the schism in society is no longer between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, or the socially responsible and the scofflaws, but between the risk takers and the risk averse.”
“For many with booster shots, life has become a constant negotiation between those who want to resume dining in restaurants, those still reluctant to accept deliveries and those who just want to get the virus already and get their mandatory quarantines over with.”
“Leaked notes from a White House Situation Room meeting the day before Kabul fell shed new light on just how unprepared the Biden administration was to evacuate Afghan nationals who’d helped the United States in its 20-year war against the Taliban,” Axios reports.
“Hours before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital on Aug. 15, 2021, senior Biden administration officials were still discussing and assigning basic actions involved in a mass civilian evacuation.”
“While the word ‘immediately’ peppers the document, it’s clear officials were still scrambling to finalize their plans — on the afternoon of Aug. 14.”
“Donald Trump’s relentless, false claims about the 2020 presidential election have sparked fresh urgency in Congress — and in both parties — for changing the Electoral Count Act to ensure no one can undo a future presidential election,” the AP reports.
“Lawmakers are working furiously to update the 135-year-old law that was put in place in the aftermath of the Civil War and came perilously close to unraveling on Jan. 6, 2021. At that time, the defeated president urged his followers to ‘fight like hell’ over the election and pressured Vice President Mike Pence to ditch his ceremonial role presiding over the session and reject the results.”
“A series of new remarks by Donald Trump about the aftermath of the 2020 election and new disclosures about his actions in trying to forestall its result — including discussing the use of the national security apparatus to seize voting machines — have stripped away any pretense that the events of Jan. 6, 2021, were anything but the culmination of the former president’s single-minded pursuit of retaining power,” the New York Times reports.
A House bill to rename an Atlanta post office after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) passed 402 to 0, but Rep Chip Roy (R-TX) voted “present.”
Rep. Roy also “has twice in the past three days promoted a fictional online rumor that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fled to the United States because of a protest in Ottawa by a group of truck drivers and others opposed to vaccine mandates, Covid-19 restrictions and Trudeau himself,” CNN reports.
“Roy even called for Trudeau, who was not in the US, to be deported.”
“Justice Neil Gorsuch is speaking this weekend to the conservative legal group that boosted his Supreme Court candidacy, in a session at a Florida resort that is closed to news coverage,” the AP reports.
“U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is working to repair her relationship with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan after a Situation Room confrontation in which she accused him — in front of colleagues — of undermining her in the press,“ Axios reports. “The rare window on personal clashes inside the Biden White House also illuminates the tension between the president’s trade and national security advisers about how and when to execute aspects of their China strategy.”
“The dispute centers more on tactics and turf, and is unlikely to derail Biden’s pursuit of a digital trade deal with Indo-Pacific allies after the Trump administration scuttled Obama-era plans for a Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
“At least 16 historically Black colleges and universities in the U.S. said they received bomb threats Tuesday, disrupting classes or causing them to be canceled,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “So far, no bombs have been found.”
“With freezing weather expected to hit a large portion of Texas this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday tried to assure Texans that the state is better prepared this year than last, but said there could be local power outages throughout the state,” the Texas Tribune reports.
Dallas Morning News: Beto O’Rourke (D) goes on the road to skewer Abbott over Texas’ electric grid.
Denmark scrapped most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers Covid-19 “a socially critical disease,” the AP reports. “Officials say the reason for the Danish move is that while the omicron variant is surging in the country, it’s not placing a heavy burden on the health system and Denmark has a high vaccination rate.”
“Two years into the pandemic, the coronavirus is killing Americans at far higher rates than people in other wealthy nations, a sobering distinction to bear as the country charts a course through the next stages of the pandemic,” the New York Times reports.
“Some of the reasons for America’s difficulties are well known. Despite having one of the world’s most powerful arsenals of vaccines, the country has failed to vaccinate as many people as other large, wealthy nations. Crucially, vaccination rates in older people also lag behind certain European nations.”
“The United States has fallen even further behind in administering booster shots, leaving large numbers of vulnerable people with fading protection as Omicron sweeps across the country.”
Catherine Rampell: “Democrats in Congress have made it much easier for state-level Republicans to slash taxes this year, just ahead of the midterms.”
“That’s because Democrats have shoveled a ton of federal money onto the states, even after it became clear that many states were flush with cash and didn’t need the help.”
“Soaring tax revenue and billions in pandemic aid from the federal government have left many states with an unusual problem — too much money,” the AP reports.
“The result is one of the most broad-based movements in recent memory toward giving consumers and taxpayers a break. In red states and blue, lawmakers and governors are proposing to cut taxes and fees, create tax credits, or delay tax and fee hikes that had been planned before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.”
Jonathan Bernstein: “Democrats shouldn’t be too upset, policy-wise, that Republican states have the cash to fund regressive tax cuts and are doing so. Sure, that’s not what Democrats would do (and are doing) with surplus money.”
“But tax cuts, even regressive ones, surely are better from a Democratic perspective than slashing money on social services and basic government infrastructure. And there’s a good chance that a flood of money to the states prevented Republicans from reacting to tight budgets with spending cuts.”