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Weeks away from the annual State of the Union address and his expected reelection announcement, President Biden is tangled in a classified paper chase.
A batch of classified documents discovered Nov. 2 at a Washington office Biden once used after he was vice president and made public for the first time on Monday in a report by CBS News mushroomed into a foggier narrative involving a second batch of classified documents, also uncovered by unnamed members of Biden’s team, this time at a different location, according to NBC News on Wednesday.
The list of unanswered questions has expanded, including the dates and contents of recovered classified documents, whether the National Archives knew any classified materials were missing and the scope of the Justice Department’s review, which began quietly a week before the midterm elections and became publicly known for the first time on Monday.
The Hill: White House spars with reporters over Biden classified documents, declining to answer questions while a Justice Department review continues.
House Republicans on Wednesday said the retention of classified documents by one or more individuals in Biden’s orbit, apparently spanning years, would be part of a menu of investigations planned by lawmakers involving the president and his family.
The Hill: Democrats want Biden to run against the House GOP.
The president told reporters Tuesday he was “surprised” when he learned that his former think tank office contained classified documents in what was described by the White House as a locked closet. Biden said he did not know the contents of the papers. News outlets reported this week that some of the recovered materials dealt with other countries, including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom (CNN).
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and ally of former President Trump, urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special counsel to investigate how classified documents were handled by Biden and others close to him after he departed the White House as vice president (The Hill). The Justice Department intervened last year with a subpoena and an FBI search to retrieve classified documents Trump moved from the White House to store at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Under the Presidential Records Act, White House documents and communications, including materials marked classified, go to the National Archives as the property of the American people and are not supposed to exit 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with officials when they leave office.
“I think if you believe a special counsel is necessary to assure the public about the handling of classified documents by Donald Trump, you should apply a special counsel to the mishandling of classified documents by President Biden when he was vice president,” Graham told Fox News, echoing other GOP lawmakers who accuse the Justice Department of a partisan double standard.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, told The Hill’s Brett Samuels in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that he has not made a decision about whether he will seek the presidency in 2024.
“Over the coming months, we’re going to continue to travel,” Pence said in his Washington, D.C., office during a national book tour. “We’re going to continue to listen very intently, and we’ll make a decision I’m sure that in the months ahead about what role we might play, whether it be as a national candidate or as a voice for our conservative values.”
Trump is the sole declared GOP presidential candidate, but his campaign thus far has been low key. Pence said the former president’s decision to jump into the race early will have no bearing on his own plans. “At the end of the day, I think it’s a new day,” he said. “I think it calls for new leadership. And I have every confidence that the American people and Republican voters will have better choices come 2024.”
Pence, who previously served in the House from Indiana, says he supports plans by the new House GOP majority to “deeply examine” Biden’s actions and those of his family, including Hunter Biden.
The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that Biden this year and next may seize opportunities to triangulate with House Republicans on legislation where compromise is seen as possible, including on reform of federal permitting for petroleum industry projects, increased border security and fiscal policy changes. It’s a model his Democratic predecessors in the White House pursued with some success during periods of divided government.
▪ The New York Times: Here are all the ways Republicans plan to investigate Biden.
▪ The New York Times: Hunter Biden’s tangled tale comes front and center.
▪ The Washington Post: Trump campaign officials subpoenaed with new questions about Jan. 6.
▪ The Hill: Republicans in New York’s Nassau County called on Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) to resign. He says he won’t.
▪ The Hill: Danielle Walker, a Democrat and West Virginia’s sole Black state lawmaker, in an interview shares harrowing accounts of racism.
LEADING THE DAY
Thousands of flights were delayed or canceled Wednesday after the Federal Aviation Administration ordered a nationwide pause on domestic flight departures. The agency’s system for alerting pilots and airports of real-time hazards, called NOTAM (Notice to Air Missions), went dark early Wednesday morning, sparking safety concerns and a grounding of most domestic air traffic.
More than 9,000 flights within, into or out of the United States had been delayed on Wednesday, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware. The delays were spread across the country and affected multiple carriers.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that once flights resumed, he “directed an after-action process to determine root causes and recommend next steps.” Biden, meanwhile, told Buttigieg to report directly back to him when he learned the cause of the outage. Later, officials said there was no evidence of a cyberattack and a corrupted computer file was the culprit.
“We are going to see the ripple effects from that, this morning’s delays, working through the system during the day,” Buttigieg said on CNN. “Now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place.”
Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the administration for the FAA meltdown, with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Garret Graves (R-La.) tweeting that lawmakers will “aggressively pursue accountability” (The Hill and The New York Times).
CNN reported Wednesday evening that the outage may have been linked to a computer issue in the main NOTAM system and a system reboot to solve said issue that ended up taking longer than expected. Officials decided to perform the reboot early Wednesday before air traffic began flying on the East Coast, to minimize disruption to flights.
“They thought they’d be ahead of the rush,” a source told CNN. The system “did come back up, but it wasn’t completely pushing out the pertinent information that it needed for safe flight, and it appeared that it was taking longer to do that.”
The FAA then opted to issue a nationwide ground stop at around 7:30 a.m. ET, halting all domestic departures, a dramatic and rare occurrence.
A senior government official said Wednesday evening that a corrupted file affected both the primary and backup systems, adding that officials continue to investigate (NBC News).
“The FAA is continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage,” the agency said in a statement. “Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Wednesday hinted at possible hearings to explore the problem that the FAA experienced with NOTAM, which is located in Virginia (WTOP). NPR reported that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attacked the nationwide disruption as “completely unacceptable” and “the latest example of dysfunction within the Department of Transportation.”
He also alluded to possible congressional action, saying that “the administration needs to explain to Congress what happened” and that Congress should “enact reforms in this year’s FAA reauthorization.”
▪ The Hill: Five things to know about the system outage at the FAA.
▪ The New York Times: FAA outage highlights the fragility of the aviation system.
▪ Politico: FAA meltdown is Buttigieg’s next political headache.
Further out in the atmosphere, NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, have hatched a plan to get three astronauts home from the International Space Station after their ride — the Soyuz spacecraft — developed a problem in December. As The Hill’s Amy Thompson reports, the Russian Space Agency explained the problem on Wednesday, announcing it would send an uncrewed replacement craft, Soyuz MS-23, to replace the damaged spacecraft as a crew lifeboat. That craft will launch on Feb. 20.
“Analysis of the spacecraft, including thermal calculations and technical documentation, shows that the MS-22 must be landed without a crew on board,” Sergei Krikalev, the executive director of Russia’s human spaceflight program, said during a news briefing.
The White House and the chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission are pushing back on the idea of a ban on new gas stoves as tensions over the restrictions boil over in Washington. The clarification came after a commissioner said that a ban was on the table, sparking fury from Republicans and moderate Democrats in Congress.
▪ The Hill: As Kamala Harris navigates unscripted moments as the nation’s first female vice president, allies say she should show more of her personal, relatable side to boost her political future.
▪ The Washington Post: On Wednesday, doctors removed two basal cell cancerous lesions from first lady Jill Biden using Mohs surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
House Republicans are divided over proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security, The Hill’s Mike Lillis and Nathaniel Weixel report. Entitlements have long been a political third rail, but some in the GOP say everything is on the table. They want to use the debt ceiling negotiations to extract promises to reduce government spending even if it means cutting entitlements. But other conservatives insist Medicare and Social Security will be left alone and the cuts will come from elsewhere.
Lawmakers are sending conflicting messages about the potential cuts, with some, such as Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), one of the leaders of the conservatives who extracted a promise from Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to put a limit on new discretionary spending, insisting that entitlements are safe.
“It took approximately .2 seconds for everybody to be saying ‘you’re gonna slaughter defense … you’re gonna hurt Social Security and Medicare. Everybody calm down,” Roy said in a radio interview.
Others, such as Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), were striking a different tune.
“We can work on reprioritizing defense spending, but that’s really nibbling around the margins. If we really want to talk about the debt and spending, it’s the entitlements program that’s 70 percent of our entire budget,” Waltz said on Fox Business this week. “That $1.7 trillion, and defense within that, is only 30 percent. So, if we want to talk about big reforms, I look forward to hearing that from those folks who are pushing toward a balanced budget.”
The U.S. by next month may hit the statutory limit on borrowing to meet its obligations, after which the Treasury Department would be forced to use accounting maneuvers to push potential default out until summer (NBC15/AP).
▪ The Wall Street Journal: House lawmakers discuss a discharge petition to force a debt ceiling vote.
▪ The New York Times: The U.S. may breach the debt ceiling. Here’s why that would be very bad.
▪ Forbes: The debt ceiling deadline is not precisely known.
The House on Wednesday passed its first GOP abortion bill days into its new session by a vote of 220-210-1. It would require that all infants born after attempted abortions get medical care. One Democrat voted for the measure, and one voted “present” (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Russia claimed Wednesday that its forces had seized control of Soledar, a town in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region that is a gateway to the nearby, fiercely fought-over city of Bakhmut. While Ukraine denied the claims, its troops in the area have been under severe pressure in recent days. If confirmed, Russia’s takeover of Soledar would be the first significant territorial advance for Moscow following months of defeats and retreats (The Washington Post).
▪ Reuters: A Russian reshuffle placed a top general in charge of the faltering Ukraine invasion.
▪ Politico: Russia’s cyberattacks aim to “terrorize” Ukrainians.
As Russia’s war in Ukraine nears the end of its first year, experts say the Kremlin will increasingly become a global menace and expand its provocations beyond Ukraine in an attempt to chip away at international support for Kyiv’s resistance. The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports that while experts are less worried about prospects of Moscow using nuclear weapons or attacking Western infrastructure, they warn that Russia may use everything short of nukes to try to exhaust Ukraine and its allies.
“I just don’t think they have the bandwidth to project power anyplace else right now,” Brian Whitmore, an expert with the Atlantic Council, told The Hill. “They’re clearly diminished by this war. They certainly don’t have the ability to project kinetic power anyplace else.”
Ukrainian defense officials are zeroing in on tank deliveries from the U.S. and European partners, saying the firepower and security provided by the armored artillery vehicles will turn the tide on the battlefield against Russia, write The Hill’s Laura Kelly and Brad Dress. The Biden administration has increased the heavy artillery it has provided Ukraine, but has done so slowly and incrementally to protect against any suggestion that Washington is provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.
▪ The New York Times: Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba has been positioning himself as Uganda’s next leader. But his provocative tweets have unnerved Ugandans and put his father in a bind.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: A sacred Jerusalem site becomes a flashpoint with Israel’s rightward shift.
▪ Politico EU: Free flights, a secret deal and a corruption storm: Inside the European Union’s “Qatargate” committee.
▪ Reuters: More than half of German companies report labor shortages.
■ The Biden papers and the Mar-a-Lago documents: Apples and oranges?
by James D. Zirin, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3CCgsjd
■ The IRS needs money to make money, by Jessica Karl, social media editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3GY9309
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will meet at 9 a.m.
The Senate will convene Friday at 1:30 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., he will speak about the economy and inflation in the South Court Auditorium, after which he will speak at an 11 a.m. memorial service for former Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Washington National Cathedral.
The vice president will fly to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a 2 p.m. moderated conversation about climate change with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Kyle Whyte, professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. Harris will return to Washington this evening.
Economic indicators: The Bureau of Labor Statistics at 8:30 a.m. reports on the consumer price index in December and, separately, real earnings in December. The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report on claims for unemployment benefits filed in the week ending Jan. 7.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will meet at 12:30 p.m. on Capitol Hill with the co-chairs of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism.
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency today will partner with the Japanese government for the fifth Indo-Pacific Business Forum.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce leaders, during a 1:30 p.m. ET news conference, will detail the business group’s 2023 agenda.
➤ GUNS, STATES, COURTS
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said New York can enforce a tough new law that bans guns from “sensitive places,” such as schools, playgrounds and Times Square, as a lawsuit plays out in an appeals court. The law was enacted in response to a landmark ruling in June that had placed strict limits on guns outside the home.
The court’s brief, unsigned order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices act on emergency applications. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said in a statement that the law “presents novel and serious questions” but added that the appeals court should address those questions first (The New York Times).
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Wednesday signed a measure banning the “sale, manufacture and delivery” of semi-automatic, assault-style weapons and the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines. The law, which took effect immediately, is expected to be challenged in court (Chicago Tribune and Reuters).
▪ The 19th: The Supreme Court could consider a charter school’s code requiring skirts or dresses for girls.
▪ CNN: Another “radical” change to the Voting Rights Act could reach the Supreme Court.
▪ Slate: The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority may sabotage unions’ right to strike.
▪ Roll Call: Supreme Court weighs immunity of Puerto Rico oversight board.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday officially renewed the ongoing public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic amid concerns over a more transmissible viral mutation and broad pandemic fatigue (The Hill).
The announcement by Secretary Xavier Becerra marks the 12th renewal of the COVID-19 public health emergency since the pandemic began in 2020. Each public health emergency declaration lasts for 90 days before expiring or getting renewed. While it is not required by any laws or department rules, Becerra has publicly committed to giving state governments and health care stakeholders a 60-day notice if there are plans to allow the declaration to expire. A major surge in cases, as seen in past years, has not emerged this winter.
“We have seen COVID infections increase in prior winters, and it does not have to be that way this year,” a department spokesperson told The Hill. “We now have the updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine to protect against the Omicron strain. Our message is simple: Don’t wait. Get an updated COVID-19 vaccine this winter. It’s safe and effective.”
▪ The Washington Post: Coronavirus “chimera” made in a lab shows what makes omicron seemingly less deadly.
▪ The New York Times: Now that California’s tobacco prohibitions are in place, some Camel and Newport items are billed as newly “fresh” or “crisp” non-menthol versions.
Information about COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,098,512. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,731 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.)
Try Our Morning Report Quiz
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by the week of Speakership votes, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the House of Representatives.
Be sure to email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com — please add “Quiz” to your subject line. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
It took the 118th Congress 15 ballots to elect a Speaker, but in the 1850s, the House took even longer, setting a record. How many ballots did it take?
All bills must pass both the House and Senate to become law with the president’s signature. According to the Constitution, what type of legislation must originate in the House?
1. Appropriations bills
2. Tax bills
3. Defense bills
4. Agriculture bills
Who was the first U.S. House Speaker?
1. Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg
2. Theodore Sedgwick
3. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer
4. Thomas Tudor Tucker
Who was the only Speaker to serve as president?
1. Andew Johnson
2. James Buchanan
3. James K. Polk
4. Millard Fillmore
Biden classified documents