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The Hill's Morning Report - All eyes on Supreme Court

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday and spring has sprung! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators. Readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

The White House and many senators anticipate that the newsiest part of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation process this week will be about history rather than suspense over whether President Biden’s choice of a respected federal judge clears the Senate in an election year. 

The expectation in Washington is that Jackson, 51, will win confirmation to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she once clerked, before he departs this summer. Her journey to become the first Black woman nominated to join the court and her ideas about the law are seen as the main event as the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings today.

Will the questioning get ugly during four days of proceedings? Maybe, but Republicans insist they want to avoid the kind of personal hazing they accuse Democrats of staging before the 50-48 confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

The focus on the court took a new turn on Sunday night as Justice Clarence Thomas, 73, was reported to have been hospitalized on Friday in Washington with flu-like symptoms. He is recovering, has received intravenous antibiotics and could be discharged in a few days, according to a court statement. He may miss some oral arguments (NBC News and The Hill).

The Associated Press: What to watch as Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings begin.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who is seen as having presidential ambitions, could be an exception. He accused Jackson of being soft on sex-related offenses. The accusation drew assertive pushback from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and from the White House, but Hawley and perhaps a few other GOP senators are expected to probe whether Jackson is soft on criminals. Her supporters argue that her experience in providing criminal defense is an asset. She will also be asked about her work with the U.S. Sentencing Commission, about Guantanamo Bay detainees and about her views on court expansion, reports The Hill’s Jordain Carney.  

The Associated Press: Fact check of recent GOP statements and allegations about Jackson’s record.

The Associated Press: Jackson’s Guantanamo clients an issue for the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Sunday that he has not decided whether he will support Jackson for the high court (The Hill). He voted in the minority against her nomination last year to be a federal appeals court judge. Three Republicans voted for her.

“I’m going to listen to the evidence, I’m going to listen to the hearings, and by the way, she’ll be treated much better than Democrats have typically treated Republican nominees like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh ,” McConnell added during a CBS News interview. “It will be a respectful, deep dive into her record, which I think is entirely appropriate for a lifetime appointment.”

*****

UKRAINE CRISIS: Russia’s war against its neighbor, now almost a month in duration, may be nearing a stalemate even as the Russian military and President Vladimir Putin targeted and killed at least 40 Ukrainian marines, bombed more trapped civilians in the bleak wasteland that was once the city of Mariupol and set a surrender deadline there for today, and destroyed an underground Ukrainian ammunition depot using new hypersonic missiles.

Heavy fighting north of Kyiv continues Monday as Russian forces press on with a stalled effort to encircle Ukraine’s capital, according to the British defense ministry (The Associated Press).

Against this backdrop, Biden will travel to Brussels on Wednesday for a Thursday NATO summit to consult allies about next steps as thousands of Ukrainians and Russians become casualties and millions of Ukrainians are displaced in a war Putin says he will not relinquish. The president on Friday will also travel to Warsaw, Poland, to meet with President Andrzje Duda, but he will not enter Ukraine, the White House said.

The Associated Press: Russia demanded Mariupol lay down arms today in exchange for safe passage of civilians out of the city. Ukraine refused.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, whose participation or personal contribution to the European talks later this week had yet to be determined on Sunday, has warned that if negotiations fail with Russia, a third world war will result (The Hill). He appealed to Israel during a weekend Zoom speech to do more to help his country, referencing the Holocaust to make his points (The Associated Press). Later, he said in a video message that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was attempting to arrange peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, possibly in Jerusalem (Reuters). 

Biden, his advisers and U.S. lawmakers continue to applaud NATO’s unity, the layering of tough global sanctions on Russia and Ukraine’s heroism. They collectively lament deaths and injuries in Ukraine from the war, which as of last week numbered at least 2,361, according to the United Nations. There is general consensus in official Washington that Zelensky’s request for a no-fly zone that would be enforced by the U.S. could backfire and provoke rather than encourage Putin’s retreat.

China and Turkey, to which the United States and NATO countries have turned for help in pressuring Putin to back off, have not produced results.

Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to the United States, said Sunday that his country and Russia have a long relationship of trust and that President Xi Jinping encouraged Russia to engage in diplomatic talks with Ukraine, which he said Moscow is doing. Calls for China to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine “will not help,” he said as Russia and Ukraine discuss options for cease-fires. “I would be surprised if Russia would back down by condemnation,” he added Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Qin described Xi’s conversation with Biden on Friday as candid and clear. “China stands for peace, opposes war,” he added (Politico). 

The Hill: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says Putin is moving more intensively to “reestablish some momentum” against Ukraine’s fierce opposition. 

The question heading into the week remains what else the world is prepared to do if Putin holds out against all economic and diplomatic entreaties and ramps up Russia’s warfare to force Ukraine into surrender. Some lawmakers appearing on the Sunday shows said that U.S. and NATO efforts to avoid challenging Russia militarily in the air or on the ground might not hold if Russia decides to use new lethal weapons against Ukraine’s military and fleeing civilians. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said chemical weapons should be a “red line” (The Hill). 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Sunday reiterated that U.S. forces will not be on the ground in Ukraine now or as part of any potential future NATO peacekeeping mission that could be deployed to Ukraine (The Hill). 

The Hill’s Rebecca Klar interviewed Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation, Alex Bornyakov, about his government’s unconventional war tactics against Russia, which include tapping a volunteer “IT Army,” accepting cryptocurrency donations and heavy use of social media. 

Introducing NotedDC: The Hill’s curated commentary on the beat of the Beltway. Click here to subscribe to our latest newsletter. 

   LEADING THE DAY

CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning: 971,162. As of today, 76 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 64.7 percent is “fully vaccinated,” according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker and the government’s definition. The percentage of Americans who have received third or booster doses is 28.7.

The Associated Press: Some states are retreating from daily COVID-19 data reporting, including South Dakota. The New York Times noted that others shifting to weekly reporting include Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina, as well as Washington, D.C. 

➤ Rising COVID-19 infections in Europe have put the United States on alert that Americans could soon see a similar spike after a lull in coronavirus infections amid ebbing restrictions. BA.2, an omicron cousin, is the highly transmissible culprit behind Europe’s latest wave. Many experts believe the U.S. will see rising infections, although public health authorities point to the effectiveness of vaccinations and booster doses and the availability of Pfizer’s antiviral pill (The Hill and CBS News). 

The Hill: BA.2 is unlikely to pose a high risk for serious illness or fatalities in the United States, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Hopefully, we won’t see a surge. I don’t think we will. The easiest way to prevent that is to continue to get people vaccinated. And for those who have been vaccinated, to continue to get them boosted,” he said while acknowledging that the U.S. will likely see an “uptick” in cases.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told “Fox News Sunday,” “We should be prepared. COVID hasn’t gone away.” He urged Congress to support additional funding for continued COVID-19 prevention, responses and future pandemic preparation. 

“We’ve got to continue funding them and supporting them so they are available to people across the country. That’s why Congress moving to provide that funding is so critical,” he said, referring to lawmakers’ indecision about whether and by how much to appropriate additional funding to meet pandemic needs, and whether new funds should add to the deficit or offset.

➤ NBC News: The White House warns that on Tuesday it will begin to phase out a COVID-19 program that reimburses doctors and medical providers the cost of testing, treating and vaccinating the uninsured, an arrangement that will end completely in early April without additional federal funding. Congress has been unable to agree on an additional $22.5 billion sought by the administration for pandemic response.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

MORE IN CONGRESS: Some senators say denuclearization talks with Iran should be put on a back burner because Russia is a participant in the talks. Lawmakers say they have been left largely in the dark about the details of the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which former President Trump rejected, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.

The talks that involve Biden administration officials stalled earlier this month as Russia demanded that a revised agreement with Iran shield it from sanctions imposed because of its war in Ukraine (The New York Times). 

➤ Axios: To nudge a stalled China competition bill over hurdles and through Congress to Biden’s desk, the administration today leans on a few former Trump administration officials for some help. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo today will host former White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster; Matthew Pottinger, another former White House official; former Google CEO Eric Schmidt; and lawmakers including Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) during a virtual conversation about semiconductor manufacturing.

➤ Tick, tick, tick. Bipartisan legislation to make daylight saving time permanent passed the Senate but the House is hesitating. Leaders made clear they are not in a rush to take up the legislation. Reasons: House members say they need to weigh the time-change ramifications, and the Ukraine crisis is a dominant focus on Capitol Hill (The Hill). … The debate is the latest bid in a long history of initiatives by big business to regulate America’s clocks. Corporations have lobbied for years to increase the hours per day in which U.S. consumers are tempted to enjoy spending on entertainment, sports and leisure activities during daylight hours. Industries that have favored the change include restaurants and bars, golf, aviation and tourism (The Hill). 

➤ Cannabis industry executives are energetically lobbying Congress to get marijuana legislation to Biden’s desk before November’s elections (The Hill). 

******

POLITICS: Republicans have stepped up recruitment of Black candidates in an effort to make inroads with minority voters ahead of November’s midterm elections. Party leaders believe recruitment and messaging strategies are resonating with a voting bloc long associated with the Democratic Party, The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports.

Eighty Black candidates have filed to run as Republicans in House races this cycle, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Black Republicans are also hoping to make inroads in some governor’s races. One example is Richard Irvin, the first Black mayor of Aurora, Ill., who is running in the GOP primary to challenge incumbent Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D).

➤ Nothing gets GOP voters’ attention quite like alleged controversies that have Biden’s name in the headlines. Republicans are preparing for what they hope will be majority control in the Senate (and divided government) in 2023. If they set the Senate’s agenda next year, some favor launching investigations tied to the president and his administration, perhaps aimed at the business and tax affairs of Biden’s son Hunter Biden, as well as the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and immigration and border policies. Such probes could dog the Democratic Party into 2024, reports The Hill’s Jordain Carney.   

The Hill: Why do Republicans hold an advantage in state governments? New data suggest Republican voters are more aware of the power of state legislatures to set agendas on guns, abortion and civil rights, while Democrats tend to think those powers rest more with Congress.

Congressional redistricting: Five states (Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio) have yet to finalize their congressional maps (The Hill). … Democratic gains in legislative maps might not last long (The Associated Press).

OPINION

Peace, partition or stalemate: three ways this unraveling war will end, by Mark Galeotti, opinion contributor, The Sunday Times (UK). https://bit.ly/34VBMT4

Questions for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, by George F. Will, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3tpS3Jl

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 1 p.m.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the motion to proceed to the America COMPETES Act of 2022. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Jackson.  

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden at 11 a.m. will host a secure call with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss Ukraine and Russia. He will join a quarterly meeting of Business Roundtable CEOs at 6 p.m. to discuss inflation, the U.S. economy and the impact of international sanctions on Russia.

Vice President Harris will travel to Sunset, La., to champion the bipartisan infrastructure law’s investment in U.S. high-speed internet during a midday speech.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to tour the exhibit “Burma’s Path to Genocide” and deliver remarks at 9:30 a.m. about the acts committed by the ruling junta in what is known as Myanmar.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell offers his economic outlook at noon at a National Association for Business Economics conference in Washington.  ​​

The White House press briefing is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. and will include Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger.

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

ELSEWHERE  

INTERNATIONAL: The U.S. formally determined that violence committed against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar‘s military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity, a move that advocates say should bolster efforts to hold the junta that now runs Myanmar (also known as Burma) accountable (Reuters and The Associated Press). Blinken will speak about the situation today in Washington. … Three of the artificial islands built by China in the disputed South China Sea are fully militarized as fortified, armed bases, contradicting Xi’s peaceful assertions to the contrary, according to U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John Aquilino (The Associated Press). … When it comes to asylum seekers trying to enter the United States, the Biden administration has thus far resisted pressure from progressive advocates to lift a two-year-old policy originated by the Trump administration known as Title 42, which relies on COVID-19 as a public health rationale to keep borders shut (The Hill).  

PETROLEUM SUPPLY PRICING: Strained relations with Saudi Arabia complicate efforts by the Biden administration to persuade Riyadh to step up oil production with the aim of hiking supply and lowering prices during Russia’s war with Ukraine (The Hill). … Global oil prices have been impacted by China’s ongoing coronavirus outbreak (The Hill). … California’s sky-high gas prices are affecting livelihoods, career choices and interest in electric vehicles (The Hill). … Some progressives in Congress say they are hesitant to push the party’s clean-energy agenda amid soaring U.S. gasoline prices, reports NBC News’s Scott Wong.

CYBERSECURITY: Experts continue to warn that oil and gas industries and other core sectors of the U.S. economy have failed to invest in fortifying their operations against cyberattacks, including by nation states and their allies, because such expensive precautions are not required by law, even as multiple administrations warn about the malevolent cyber capabilities of some nation states (The Hill). Need a recap? Here’s a list of past cyber incidents, current through February, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

PRIVACY: Recent new revelations about government spying have been greeted with collective shrugs among lawmakers, major media outlets and the public — a departure from past reactions to secret government surveillance and debates about U.S. privacy rights. The Hill’s Christopher Mills Rodrigo reports on how privacy advocates interpret evolving reactions to domestic surveillance and public expectations about privacy in the digital age. 

THE CLOSER

And finally … For those distant from Washington and unable to view the pale pink clouds around the Tidal Basin amid the National Cherry Blossom Festival, take heart and thank 24/7 technology. No need to miss a thing! The Bloom Cam is back, and a birds-eye view from the top of the Washington Monument is new (WTOP). 

“Peak bloom” is just a few days away, according to the National Park Service, which is guided by this week’s warm weather forecasts (WTOP). The annual festival, which draws a gazillion visitors to see 3,700 trees each year (and clogs DC traffic every spring), runs through April 17. 

Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE !

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