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Classified documents unearthed between early November and this week – located in a private office space in Washington, in President Biden’s Wilmington, Del., garage before Christmas and in his home library on Thursday – resulted in an expanded investigation by a Justice Department special counsel.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced at the Justice Department that experienced prosecutor Robert Hur, “in the public interest,” is now a special counsel for a probe into Biden’s newly uncovered classified documents. Hur is seen as a highly respected appointee of former President Trump who early in his career clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Hur, a former U.S. attorney in Maryland, has been praised by outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
The White House has described a batch of sensitive documents discovered a week before the midterm elections as dating from Biden’s time as vice president. The dates and contents of documents found Dec. 20 in the president’s garage, and by his lawyer in the president’s home library this week, were not described.
Biden, who recently spoke to reporters about the discovery of two batches of classified documents, made no mention that some were uncovered at his home.
Under the law, officials can be prosecuted for civil or criminal violations for mishandling classified records, and Garland said Hur’s job is to “investigate whether any person or entity violated the law.”
Biden’s retention of secret documents was not publicly known on Nov. 18 when Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s handling of boxes of presidential records and hundreds of classified materials he and his lawyers moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago and then resisted returning to the government for a year. The special prosecutor also is investigating evidence of efforts by Trump and his allies to subvert the 2020 election.
Trump is now a declared presidential candidate, and Biden is expected to soon announce a reelection campaign.
“This appointment underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law,” Garland said on Thursday.
Former President Obama, near the end of his first year in office with then-Vice President Biden, issued with some fanfare a lengthy executive order dealing with classified national security information. The order made clear that “classified information may not be removed from official premises without proper authorization.”
In addition, the handling of sensitive documents with the National Archives and Records Administration by incoming and outgoing White House officials is known to be a detailed process with supervision and procedures. Biden has not explained how he transitioned out of government with classified papers in his possession, other than to say he was “surprised.”
Flashback: During an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last fall, Biden said Trump’s storage of presidential records and secret materials at his Mar-a-Lago club and residence was “totally irresponsible.” Biden said he recalled asking himself, “How that could possibly happen – how anyone could be that irresponsible?”
House Republicans have said they plan to probe Biden’s handling of classified records in oversight hearings.
The president and his White House team say Biden’s circumstances and Trump’s actions are different, maintaining that Biden’s personal lawyers and the administration took appropriate steps since November to cooperate with the Justice Department and the Archives.
▪ The Hill: What we know about the Biden documents so far.
▪ The Hill: Who is special counsel Hur, tasked to examine Biden’s handling of classified documents?
▪ The Hill’s Niall Stanage, The Memo: Biden document woes deepen.
LEADING THE DAY
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that he’s willing to consider expunging an impeachment of Trump by the Democratic-led House. The former president was impeached twice during his four-year presidency: once, in 2020, for withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for political favors; and a year later, for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. In the previous Congress, groups of Republicans floated resolutions to expunge both impeachments. Supporters of the latter included Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the Republican conference chairwoman (The Washington Post).
It is highly unlikely McCarthy can get the votes to pass such a bill through the narrowly divided House and there is no chance in the Senate.
Senate Democrats are under pressure to play defense against multipronged House Republican investigations of Biden and his administration — not to mention the issue of classified documents from his days as vice president — which will consume much of the House agenda this year in hopes of inflicting political damage on the president, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has declined to say what Senate Democrats will do to counter the House investigations, but his vulnerable incumbents would prefer to focus on pursuing legislative goals instead of partisan warfare that will inevitably divide their constituents.
▪ Bloomberg News: The GOP-led House voted to ban sale of oil reserves to China, but the bill likely won’t become law.
▪ The Hill: House Republicans unveil crypto panel.
Biden on Thursday went on the offensive against House Republicans, criticizing the first bills introduced by the chamber, specifically a piece of legislation that would strip roughly $71 billion from the Internal Revenue Service and target money Congress approved to help the IRS find and pursue tax cheats. Biden said he was “disappointed” that the early bill “would help wealthy people and big corporations cheat on their taxes at the expense of ordinary class taxpayers,” and cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that found reducing IRS funds would curtail its ability to collect unpaid taxes, adding about $114 billion to the deficit over the next decade (The Washington Post).
“Is this how House Republicans are starting the new term: cutting taxes for billionaires, raising taxes for working families, and making inflation worse?” Biden asked. “Well, let me be clear: If any of those bills make it to my desk, I will veto them. I will flat veto them. I’m ready to work with Republicans, but not this kind of stuff.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans are lining up at the chance to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, write The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch and Rafael Bernal, even as others in the party stress that the process must begin with a thorough investigation.
On Thursday, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who had been one of the first members of Congress to call for Mayorkas’ impeachment announced that the fight was back on, posting on social media that he’d be updating his articles of impeachment against the secretary “with even more justification very soon,” (Business Insider).
Politico: Former GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts tapped to fill Nebraska’s open Senate seat.
Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has been accused of fabricating much of his resume and faces investigations in multiple jurisdictions, is finding himself in even more hot water. As The New York Times reports, a review of records and newly uncovered documents reveal that efforts to elect Santos may have run afoul of campaign finance rules.
The murkiness around the fundraising operations on behalf of the Long Island lawmaker makes it difficult to know whether any laws were broken. But a close examination of available records suggests RedStone Strategies — which raised significant money for Santos — may have skirted the law.
Santos has faced criticism and calls to resign from both sides of the aisle. Examples include the chair of the Nassau County Republican Party, the Nassau County executive and Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (N.Y.) the newly elected GOP lawmaker from a neighboring district, however, Santos has repeatedly said he will not step down.
Vox has charted out different ways the Santos scandal could finally end.
▪ Reuters: Santos says he won’t resign, only leave if voted out in next election.
▪ The Washington Post: Santos lied about being a volleyball “star,” county GOP chair says.
▪ CNN: McCarthy stands by Santos despite growing calls for resignation from other GOP lawmakers.
Trump is planning to hold the first public campaign event of his 2024 White House bid in the early-voting state of South Carolina later this month, his campaign announced. Since declaring his candidacy shortly after the midterm elections, the former president has limited his public campaign appearances to events at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida before an invited crowd or in a virtual setting (ABC News).
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) political brand is facing a potential setback after a series of disappointing GOP losses in the commonwealth ahead of what is expected to be a hard-fought battle for the General Assembly in November, writes The Hill’s Julia Manchester.
On Tuesday, Democrat Aaron Rouse defeated Republican Kevin Adams in the state’s 7th Senate District, flipping the seat and expanding the Democrats’ majority in the chamber. That defeat followed an underwhelming showing in November’s midterms, which saw the GOP gain only one of several targeted swing seats in the state. Altogether, the losses have raised questions about the party’s strength in the commonwealth heading into the November state legislative elections, despite optimism following Youngkin’s 2021 victory.
The New York Times: His star rising, Youngkin juggles local issues and national ambition.
If the national economic goal this year is to slay inflation, even the tiniest drop in gasoline and food prices is cause for celebration at the White House. Biden on Thursday reacted to the consumer price index reported for December and offered a conclusion he hopes Americans share, even amid an annualized inflation index of 6.5 percent (CNBC).
The index, which measures the cost of a broad basket of goods and services, fell 0.1 percent in December. It was the largest month-over-month decrease since April 2020, around the time that workers and families began to stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. The Federal Reserve wants to see compellingly stable, lower inflation measures before ramping back on higher interest rates. That’s the data point investors and financial markets await.
Biden’s most recent job approval yardstick is 44.1 percent, the highest it’s been since October 2021, according to polling aggregations published by FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics.
“Two years in, it’s clearer than ever that my economic plan is working,” the president said in prepared remarks. He pointed to low unemployment and wage growth as well as the number of Americans with health insurance before declaring, “We’re clearly moving in the right direction.”
▪ The Hill: U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls on Congress to end gridlock, saying businesses are “fed up.”
▪ The New York Times: Inflation is slowing — good news for American consumers and the Fed.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Inflation report tees up likely quarter-point Fed rate rise in February.
▪ Vox: Three charts that explain what’s happening with U.S. inflation.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
The Federal Aviation Administration software that caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations when it failed Wednesday is 30 years old and at least six years away from being updated, CNN reports. The Notices to Air Missions (NOTAM) database failure triggered the FAA to implement the first nationwide stop of air traffic in more than 20 years early Wednesday; since then, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has held multiple meetings with top FAA officials and “has made it very clear” he wants the NOTAM database updated much faster than the FAA’s planned timeline.
▪ NBC News: Aviation warning system that crashed was already a pain for pilots.
▪ Bloomberg News: FAA computer failure caused by people who damaged data file.
Biden is again criticizing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — that supporters call foundational to a free and open Internet, and detractors say leads to more disinformation and hate speech online — this time in a Wednesday Wall Street Journal opinion piece he used to invite Democrats and Republicans to take on Big Tech in a bipartisan way. The controversial provision protects companies from being sued over content posted by third parties on their platforms.
“We need Big Tech companies to take responsibility for the content they spread,” he wrote. “That’s why I’ve long said we must fundamentally reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech companies from legal responsibility for content posted on their sites.”
But in place of the existing law, Biden offers little suggestion for a replacement. Google, meanwhile, argued that if the Supreme Court rules to scale back a liability shield for internet companies, the decision could lead to more censorship and hate speech online (The Hill).
Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Soledar is ongoing as Russia hopes to take complete control of the salt mining town for an advantage against the bigger prize: Bakhmut. As The Hill’s Brad Dress reports, the city of Bakhmut, at the edge of the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, is a strategically important city for both Ukraine and Russia in the war. For Russia, control of the city would likely lay the groundwork for a push northwest, toward the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, according to military analysts. Still, Russia does not appear to have the entirety of Soledar within its grasp, although it made significant gains this week through brutal tactics, including leveling the town with artillery strikes and throwing a mass wave of prisoner soldiers at Ukraine’s lines.
▪ Reuters: Scale of alleged torture, detentions by Russian forces in Kherson emerges.
▪ The Washington Post: Poland urges allies to join it in sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
▪ The New York Times: Western tanks appear headed for Ukraine, breaking another taboo.
A month after scrapping most of its zero-COVID restrictions, China is experiencing all at once what many other nations have been navigating for three years.
Infections have skyrocketed, medical facilities are stretched to their limits and the elderly and immunocompromised are dying — although official government statistics are seen by public health experts as vastly underestimating the number of COVID-19-related deaths (The Wall Street Journal).
▪ Reuters: China set for historic demographic turn, accelerated by COVID-19 traumas.
▪ The Washington Post: The United Arab Emirates appoints oil exec to lead COP28 climate talks, sparking outrage.
▪ The New York Times: In a first, South Korea declares nuclear weapons a policy option.
▪ CBS News: Suspect in assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe charged with murder more than six months later.
▪ The Washington Post: Socked in by smog, Indian officials invest heavily — in public relations.
■ GOP thrusts Biden’s boiling-children-in-oil plan into the culture wars, by Charles C.W. Cooke, senior writer, National Review. https://bit.ly/3H1uMEs
■ Behind the Biden classified-docs fiasco is the feds’ obscene abuse of “secrecy,” by James Bovard, opinion contributor, The New York Post. https://bit.ly/3kgDlCA
WHERE AND WHEN
A note to readers: Morning Report will be off on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; look for The Hill’s Tipsheet in your inboxes to keep up with the latest news.
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The House will convene at 11 a.m., but no votes are expected. Members will return for legislative business on Jan. 24.
The Senate will meet at 1:30 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will welcome Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan to the White House at 11:15 a.m. for meetings and a working lunch. They are expected to focus on national security issues. The president will depart the White House at 1:45 a.m. for Delaware.
Vice President Harris will host the Japanese prime minister for a working breakfast at the vice president’s residence at 10 a.m.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks and signs a U.S.-Japan Space Cooperation Framework Agreement with the Japanese prime minister, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at 4:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will ceremonially swear in Jay Shambaugh as under secretary of the Treasury for international affairs. Yellen will also join the president this morning in his bilateral meeting with the Japanese prime minister.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff at 11 a.m. will deliver welcoming remarks at a White House naturalization ceremony in recognition of National Religious Freedom Day.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. and will include Keisha Lance Bottoms, the president’s senior adviser for public engagement.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
Long COVID-19 symptoms — from shortness of breath to loss of taste and smell — for many patients will ease over a year, according to new research. The study, a collaboration between KI Research Institute and Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel, was published Wednesday in The BMJ, a medical journal. The study did not include patients who developed long COVID-19 from omicron or its subvariants, but doctors in the U.S. say they do see new patients with long COVID-19 symptoms following an omicron infection (NBC News).
“For the vast majority of patients,” said study author Maytal Bivas-Benita, “this will get better.”
▪ VeryWell: What you need to know about the COVID-19 XBB.1.5 “kraken” variant.
▪ The Atlantic: Are our immune systems stuck in 2020?
▪ The Washington Post: Slide in measles vaccination rate among kindergartners raises alarm.
▪ The Hill: Transgender youth health care bans have a new target: adults.
Information about the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot availability can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Five percent of young adults now identify as nonbinary or transgender, communities that society barely recognized and seldom counted until a few years ago, writes The Hill’s Daniel de Visé. The notion that millions of Americans reject their birth gender feels new, researchers say, but the population is not. Only recently have surveys asked if people identify with a gender other than the one assigned at birth. More important, perhaps, is growing acceptance of gender fluidity, at least among the young.
One landmark UCLA study found that three-quarters of all nonbinary adults are under 30, which suggests Generation Z has explored gender identity in a way that older Americans have not. Researchers also found an alarming rate of suicidal ideation in the nonbinary and transgender communities, perpetual targets in conservative culture wars. Simply honoring a person’s chosen name and pronouns, mental health workers say, can literally save their life.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,099,473. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,907 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.)
And finally … 👏👏👏 Congratulations to the winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Victorious puzzlers easily navigated American history and last week’s marathon House Speakership votes.
Morning Report’s trivia masters who went 4/4: Paul Harris, Mary Anne McEnery, Patrick Kavanagh, Bill Grieshober, Alla Yun, Harry Strulovici, Amanda Fisher, Peter Spofera, Pam Manges, Jonathan S. Berck, Randall S. Patrick, Tim Mazanec, Daniel Bachhuber, Ki Harvey, Cliff Grulke, Steve James, Terry Pflaumer, Dan Mattoon and JA Ramos.
They knew that while the 118th Congress needed 15 ballots to elect a Speaker, the historical comparison and highest number of ballots required was 133, in a Speakership election that stretched for months between 1855-1856.
The Constitution stipulates that tax bills must originate in the House.
America’s first Speaker was Frederick A.C. Muhlenberg, a Pennsylvania minister.
James K. Polk is the only U.S. president who also served as Speaker.