The White House and federal officials, working around-the-clock with railroad unions and railway companies, late Wednesday struck a tentative deal ahead of a Friday deadline to avert a rail strike that threatened massive disruption and price hikes across the United States.
President Biden, a union booster and longtime Amtrak devotee, announced the news in a statement this morning (NBC News). The president had been weighing an emergency decree and Congress had discussed its powers to act if the unions and companies could not agree before the deadline. Biden called in around 9 p.m. Wednesday as 20 hours of talks were underway, according to The New York Times.
The tentative deal affecting more than 100,000 workers must be ratified by the union members, who agreed not to strike in the interim (The Hill).
Negotiating parties agreed to a “post-ratification cooling off period” of several weeks, to ensure that if a vote fails for any reason, there will not be an immediate rail shutdown, CBS News reported.
“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people,” the president said, calling it “a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic.”
“These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned,” he said. And railway companies will benefit, he added, by being “able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come.”
A 30-day moratorium that had so far forestalled a strike was set to end Friday for members of the two largest U.S. freight rail unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, or BLET, and SMART Transportation Division.Both had yet to reach deals with rail carriers, which had struck or were close to reaching tentative agreements with the other 10 of the country’s 12 rail unions.
A rail strike could have cost an estimated $2 billion a day and the risk of a shutdown had already disrupted shipments of agricultural products and chemicals, and would have slowed delivery of everything from new cars, coal and oil to consumer goods.
The possibility of a work stoppage forced Amtrak on Wednesday to preemptively cancel long-distance rail services beginning today on tracks owned and maintained by freight rail companies, with exceptions for the Northeast’s commuting corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston because Amtrak owns those tracks (Bloomberg News).
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a former union leader heavily involved for weeks in the back-and-forth and all throughout Wednesday’s talks, used Twitter this morning to announce without details that “following more than 20 consecutive hours of negotiations at @USDOL, the rail companies and union negotiators came to a tentative agreement that balances the needs of workers, businesses, and our nation’s economy. The Biden Administration applauds all parties for reaching this hard-fought, mutually beneficial deal. Our rail system is integral to our supply chain, and a disruption would have had catastrophic impacts on industries, travelers and families across the country.”
The Association of American Railroads, in a statement thanking the involvement by Walsh, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, said “new contracts provide rail employees a 24 percent wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024, including an immediate payout on average of $11,000 upon ratification, following the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) No. 250. All tentative agreements are subject to ratification by the unions’ membership.”
Unions cited by the association: Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
▪ The Associated Press: Biden: Tentative railway deal reached, averting strike.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Railroad strike averted as tentative deal is reached.
LEADING THE DAY
Senate Democrats are pressing for a vote by early next week on a bill to codify same-sex marriage, but Republicans are sending a message as the push intensifies: Not so fast.
A bipartisan group of senators tasked with winning the support of the requisite 10 Republicans is struggling to reach that goal ahead of Monday, when Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) could put the bill on the floor.
However, the timing of the effort is complicating matters. A number of Republicans remain undecided as they wait for the group of senators to release the religious liberty language in the bill. Adding to the issues, the midterm elections are right around the corner, which complicates everything in the interim.
“There’s a lot of complex issues that have not been resolved. And we haven’t even seen text. … it does seem that the scheduling has been driven by Sen. Schumer’s political ambitions, rather than an attempt to get an outcome,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said on Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s constructive to have a vote on Monday.”
At the moment, only three Senate Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) — officially support codifying same-sex marriage. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has indicated she is supportive, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has retracted his backing for the time being. The proposal passed the House with 47 GOP members voting to advance it, opening the door to a pathway through the upper chamber.
“I don’t think we have the votes yet,” Portman said. “I don’t want to move ahead unless the votes are there. I’m still talking to people. Others have been more optimistic, but people need some time.”
The Senate is set to be in town through the end of the month. There are two weeks on the calendar when senators are slated to be in town in mid-October, but few expect that to come to fruition to allow incumbents to use the entire month to campaign ahead of the Nov. 8 election (Politico).
▪ Politico: GOP pollster warns party on total abortion bans.
▪ The Hill: House GOP leaders hedge on 15-week abortion ban.
▪ Axios: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) renegades.
▪ The Hill: Rule changes open door for lawmakers to rely further on ads funded by taxpayers.
Elsewhere in the Senate, some Republicans are indicating they are fed up with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) over the likely attachment of permitting reform language to the stopgap spending bill, which must pass by the end of the month or risk a government shutdown.
As The Hill’s Aris Folley and Rachel Frazin point out, Republicans have complained for years about the length of time and the arduous process involved in advancing fossil fuel and other energy projects, with Manchin’s efforts likely being the best chance to speed up the environmental review process. However, there is lingering bad blood over Manchin’s deal with Schumer paving the way for the Inflation Reduction Act to be passed via budget reconciliation.
The GOP’s anger could also cause headaches for the party in power is it is struggling to win Democratic support for the permitting bill, particularly on the left.
“What they’re celebrating today at the White House is the damage you have already done by passing this reckless bill you voted for,” Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters this week. “If you’re now looking for Republicans to support and give you more cover than you have right now, you’re not going to find it with us.”
▪ Alexander Bolton, The Hill: McConnell, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on collision course over spending deal.
▪ The Hill: Senate Republicans demand Schumer bring defense authorization bill to floor.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➤ POLITICS & INVESTIGATIONS
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) on Wednesday announced he will participate in an Oct. 25 televised debate against Mehmet Oz, his Republican opponent in the Senate race. The debate will take place in Harrisburg and will be hosted by The Hill’s parent company, Nexstar Media Group (The Hill).
Fetterman is still recovering from a May stroke, which affected his speech and “auditory processing.” Oz and his campaign pressured Fetterman, asserting he did not want to debate or answer reporters’ questions at news conferences. The Democratic candidate at the outset said he would debate Oz but had not committed to a date (CNN).
“We said from the start that we’d do a debate, which John reiterated very clearly again last week,” said Rebecca Katz, a senior campaign adviser. “Enough distractions, it’s time to talk about the issues.”
▪ The New York Times: Fetterman says stroke problems have not slowed down a “normal” campaign.
▪ The Washington Post: Fetterman and Oz agree to October debate — with unusual conditions.
▪ The Associated Press: Fetterman, Oz agree to Oct. 25 debate, but feud over terms.
▪ The Philadelphia Inquirer: Fetterman, and Oz (sort of) weigh in on Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) 15-week abortion ban.
Fetterman leads Oz by a wide margin when it comes to key issues such as abortion, gun control and immigration, a Wednesday Monmouth University poll showed. While 44 percent of respondents said they trust Fetterman when it comes to abortion legislation, only 26 percent said the same about Oz. Fetterman leads by 9 points when it comes to “defending values;” by 5 points regarding jobs and the economy, and by 10 points on gun control.
The candidates are tied on only one issue — immigration — where 34 percent of respondents said they trust Fetterman, and 34 percent placed their trust in Oz.
In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is leading by 49 to 48 percent against challenger Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes (D), according to a Marquette University Law School poll, marking a quick turnaround from a month ago.
According to Marquette’s August poll, Barnes led with 52 percent of likely voters to only 45 percent for the incumbent Republican. The presumed reason for the shift? A barrage of anti-Barnes ads in August, which helped flip independents into Johnson’s column. The latest survey shows Johson leading 48 to 46 percent with voters who identify as independents. Barnes had led with the group 55 to 40 percent (WisPolitics).
▪ Politico: Scott brought a treat to the Senate GOP lunch on Wednesday: polling showing Johnson ahead in his Wisconsin reelection race.
▪ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Johnson, Barnes race a toss-up in Marquette Poll.
▪ The Washington Post: After final primary losses, a wounded GOP establishment looks to November.
But The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports that privately some Democratic Party strategists are warning against putting too much stock in recent polling. They fear a repeat of 2016 and 2020, when polls failed to capture GOP momentum in key races “or the possibility that any support the party gained over Republicans in recent months could collapse in the 54 days before November.”
▪ The New York Times: Yes, the polling warning signs are flashing again.
▪ Vox: The case for Democratic optimism — and pessimism — in the midterms.
▪ PBS: Polls show Republicans may not get red wave they hoped for in midterms.
Meanwhile, Biden and Democrats are still challenged when it comes to the economy, write The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Alex Gangitano, as they try to embrace good news about unemployment and new legislation that spurs investment while grappling with inflation. As Biden gathered supporters at the White House on Tuesday to tout his administration’s inflation achievements, the August consumer price index report painted a far more sobering picture.
The disappointing inflation data, coupled with a stock market drop, gives the GOP fodder to criticize Biden and the White House.
▪ The New York Times: Sobering inflation report dampens Biden’s claims of economic progress.
▪ The Associated Press: Biden approval rises sharply ahead of midterms: AP-NORC poll
▪ The New York Times: Price pressures remain stubbornly high.
■ What conflicted Americans fear most from an abortion ban, by Ross Douthat, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3DGDIxZ
■ Congress won’t let a rail dispute cripple the U.S., by Thomas Black, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3dbVYEm
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at noon.
The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and will resume consideration of the nomination of Sarah Merriam to be a United States circuit judge for the 2nd Circuit.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8:30 a.m. Biden will host a White House United We Stand Summit and deliver a speech at 3:30 p.m. about violence, democracy and public safety. The president will also speak at 8:25 p.m. at the 45th Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala at the Washington Convention Center. He will return to the White House tonight.
Vice President Harris will speak this morning at the White House United We Stand Summit in the East Room. At Blair House across the street from the White House at 1:45 p.m., she will host a multilateral meeting with Caribbean leaders from Suriname, CARICOM, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this morning will tour an IRS facility in New Carrollton, Md. She will speak at 10:30 a.m. about the Inflation Reduction Act’s provisions affecting the IRS and taxpayer services.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will hold a roundtable event at 1:30 p.m. in Allentown, Pa., as part of his department’s Road to Success Back to School Bus Tour. The secretary at 5 p.m. will visit with members of the American Federation of Teachers in Philadelphia and discuss public service loan forgiveness and other issues. Cardona will be accompanied by second gentleman Doug Emhoff.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. reports on filings for unemployment benefits in the week ending Sept. 10. The Census Bureau will report at 8:30 a.m. on U.S. retail sales in August.
The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 1:15 p.m.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Graham want the United States to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and on Wednesday they introduced a measure and held a news conference hoping to push such action as a guage of U.S. support for Ukraine. It’s unclear when or whether the bill might come up for a vote. But the two senators have been advocating for the designation for months, visiting Kyiv in July to promote it (Reuters).
In an interview with The Hill’s Niall Stanage, Iuliia Mendel, the former press secretary forUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, stressed how vital ongoing U.S. aid and public interest is to her nation’s attempts to fend off Russia’s ongoing invasion. Ukraine has made surprising gains in a counteroffensive in recent days, but Mendel argued all those achievements could be for naught if U.S. aid tapers off, even as she acknowledged there is no telling how long the war might last.
The Hill: Senate panel considers Taiwan bill — to the discomfort of White House. A new poll shows 9 of 10 voters in this country and in Europe worry Russia’s invasion of Ukraine emboldens China to invade Taiwan.
Biden spoke with Britain’s King Charles III on Wednesday to offer his condolences on the passing of his mother, the queen, and conveyed his wish to continue a “close relationship” with the king. The president and first lady Jill Biden will travel to the U.K. on Saturday to attend the queen’s funeral on Monday (New York Post).
➤ SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote on Wednesday ruled that an Orthodox Jewish university in New York is required for now to officially recognize an LGBTQ student group in a rare legal defeat for religious rights. Justices rejected an emergency request made by Yeshiva University, which claims that recognizing the group would be contrary to its sincere religious beliefs. The decision leaves intact a decision by a New York state judge who ruled in June that the university was bound by the New York City Human Rights Law, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation (NBC News).
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged countries to continue encouraging their populations to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “Last week, the number of weekly reported deaths from COVID-19 was the lowest since March 2020,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing in Geneva. “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We’re not there yet, but the end is in sight” (CNN).
The White House on Thursday morning released information about an updated COVID-19 Global Response and Recovery Framework, which ends the “emergency phase” of the pandemic, but asserts “that the United States must work with its international partners to minimize COVID-19-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths; integrate COVID-19 response activities into existing health systems while ensuring impacts on other health services are minimized; and strengthen global readiness for future pandemic threats.”
The statement cites a 70 percent vaccination rate globally, and estimates indicating that nearly 20 million deaths were averted worldwide in 2021 due to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Health experts warn that the U.S. could see the most severe influenza season since the start of the pandemic. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere experience their flu seasons early and can sometimes offer previews of what’s ahead. U.S. infectious disease experts and the government are encouraging people, especially the elderly, to get flu shots along with available COVID-19 booster doses newly tailored to the BA.5 version of omicron (The Hill).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,052,214. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 350, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
➤ TECH & CYBERSECURITY
The downfall of Kiwi Farms, an internet forum that facilitated the discussion and harassment of online figures and communities, marked one of the internet’s most successful takedown campaigns, writes The Hill’s Brad Dress. American cybersecurity firm Clowdflare dropped security services for the website earlier this month after a targeted harassment campaign against Canadian Clara Sorrenti, a transgender activist and Twitch streamer who uses the handle Keffals, tracked her to a temporary residence in Northern Ireland, where she was hiding from attackers (Wired).
In a statement, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince said dropping Kiwi Farms was “an extraordinary decision for us to make and, given Cloudflare’s role as an internet infrastructure provider, a dangerous one that we are not comfortable with.”
A few days later, the Russian firm DDoS-Guard also suspended security services for the website, and by the end of the week, Iceland had removed the website domain). Then the internet archive site Wayback Machine blocked access to archived information on Kiwi Farms (The Verge). The domino effect has effectively killed the website.
▪ Forward: This trolling website targeted transgender people, Jews and the disabled. Here’s how it fell.
▪ Business Insider: How the “swatting” site Kiwi Farms has created a bizarre alliance between MAGA’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and transgender activists.
▪ The Washington Post: Under pressure, security firm Cloudflare drops Kiwi Farms website.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday announced charges against three Iranians who allegedly launched cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad.
“A senior Justice Department official told reporters that the individuals — Mansur Ahmadi, Ahmad Khatibi and Amir Hossein Nickaein — are alleged to have carried out attacks against hundreds of computers in both the United States, Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom and organizations in Iran beginning at least in October 2020,” according to Politico.
DOJ officials clarified that the agency does not believe the hackers were acting on behalf of the Iranian government but rather were demanding to be paid themselves. According to Axios, they face four charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in connection with computers and intentional damage to a protected computer.
▪ CBS News: Justice Department charges 3 Iranians in hacking scheme targeting U.S. entities.
In California, state attorney general Rob Bonta on Wednesday filed an antitrust suit against e-commerce giant Amazon “claiming the retailer stifles competition and increases the prices that consumers pay across the internet,” according to The New York Times.
The lawsuit alleges that Amazon penalizes sellers who offer their products on other sites for lower prices, making it harder for retailers to compete (The Washington Post).
“If you think about Californians paying even just a little bit more for every product they purchased online over the course of a year, let alone a decade, which is what is at issue here, the collective magnitude of harm here is very far-reaching,” Bonta said during a news conference. “The ‘everything store’ has effectively set a price floor, costing Californians more for just about everything.”
Take our Morning Report Quiz
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by Queen Elizabeth II, we’re eager for some smart guesses about the life and reign of her majesty.
What year did Queen Elizabeth ascend to the throne?
After the queen’s death, which creatures under the monarch’s care had to be informed, according to protocol?
- Her corgis
- Her horses
- Her swans
- Her bees
During World War II, how did then-Princess Elizabeth contribute to the war effort?
- As a nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps
- By making care packages for soldiers
- As a truck driver and mechanic for the Auxiliary Territorial Service
- By visiting hospitals across Britain
What was Queen Elizabeth’s childhood nickname?
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.