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Congress has returned from the Thanksgiving holiday to the last few weeks of the lame-duck session — and plenty of public and behind-the-scenes planning for the legislative term ahead.
In the final sprint before the end of the 117th Congress, the House and Senate face a laundry list of legislative items to consider before the year’s end, from a must-pass bill to keep federal agencies operating to a bill that would reform how Congress counts electoral votes (CBS News and Vox).
“Whether it’s strengthening our economy, improving our immigration system, protecting our national security, or safeguarding democracy around the world, we have important work ahead of us in December,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote in a Sunday letter to his Democratic colleagues. “We must take full advantage of the coming weeks to deliver results for the people.”
President Biden on Monday called on Congress to pass legislation immediately to adopt the tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators to avert a potential rail shutdown with less than two weeks remaining until the strike deadline.
That deal was recently voted down by four railroad unions representing most of the union members. Rail workers have said they are angry and frustrated that the deal did not include paid sick days or other substantial changes to an attendance policy. A rail strike could threaten the national water supply, stop passenger rail travel and trigger major disruptions to the supply chain during the height of the holiday season (The Washington Post and The Hill).
“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” Biden said in the statement. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
The National Retail Foundation on Monday echoed Biden’s statement, emphasizing the potentially devastating effects of a strike.
For House Republicans, much of the next five weeks and lame-duck legislative session will be overshadowed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) quest for the Speakership amid opposition from a handful of conservatives who threaten to sink his bid, writes The Hill’s Emily Brooks. Republicans will elect new regional representatives this week, under an expanded structure that gives more power to rank-and-file members. They will also consider more conference rules change proposals that include requests from the Freedom Caucus, such as banning earmarks.
House Democrats, meanwhile, are preparing to move to the minority in January but with a razor-thin margin they’ll be able to use to their advantage. The House GOP will have to steer legislation through with as few as four votes to spare while its leaders deal with an emboldened Freedom Caucus and internal finger-pointing over a disappointing midterm cycle (Politico).
“I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the bad legislation they are going to pass,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said. “Because I don’t think they’re going to pass it.”
Over in the Senate, the chamber will again meet today to resume consideration of the Respect for Marriage Act, which will safeguard same-sex marriage. The Hill’s Brooke Migdon and Al Weaver report that progressives say the bill could do more to safeguard the unions and LGBTQ couples, arguing that demands for bolstered religious liberty protections took a front seat in drafting legislation meant to enshrine marriage equality into federal law.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who just came off a bruising leadership race and is facing uncertainty over who will be the next Speaker amid a conservative revolt, is recalculating whether he wants to strike a deal with Democrats on spending just weeks before Republicans take control of the House. He initially signaled ahead of the midterm contests that he favored passing an omnibus spending package before the end of the year, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
As of last week, bipartisan talks on an overdue fiscal 2023 spending package had stalled, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of resisting an agreement (Roll Call).
Livestock farmers are pushing over the-lame duck session for the Senate to deliver a long-awaited immigration bill to modernize the agricultural visa system, writes The Hill’s Rafael Bernal. The Senate is poised to consider at least one immigration-related bill between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there are two House-passed bills that could get a vote.
Democratic leaders have put their weight behind a bill to protect “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors — while a broad swath of the agricultural industry is pushing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA).
Politico: Crunch time for Democrats is holding up a bipartisan bill to protect pregnant workers.
▪ The Hill: Criticism over former President Trump’s meeting last week with prominent white nationalist Nick Fuentes continues.
▪ The Hill: GOP senators slam Trump over his dinner with Fuentes, who accompanied the rapper Ye (Kanye West).
▪ The Hill: “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize,” former Vice President Mike Pence, who is weighing a presidential run in 2024, told NewsNation in an interview broadcast Monday.
▪ The New York Times: Jewish allies of Trump describe a breaking point after he hosts two antisemites. “He legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters,” one Republican commented. “And this scares me.”
▪ Empire Report New York: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is saying good-bye to longtime communications director Justin Goodman, who heads to strategic communications firm SKDK in Washington, D.C. The firm’s former managing director is Anita Dunn, a longtime political strategist and adviser to Biden and previously to former President Obama.
▪ The Hill: How close were House races? A few thousand votes could have swung control.
▪ Washington Monthly: Biden can raise the debt ceiling without Congress.
▪ The Hill: Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), 61, died Monday of colorectal cancer. He won his first election to the House in 2016 and was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
LEADING THE DAY
In response to small protests aimed at China’s strict zero-COVID policies in several cities on Monday, Beijing is clamping down while also easing some pandemic distancing requirements and working to vaccinate more seniors (The Washington Post).
Reuters reported that government authorities are seeking out individuals who gathered during weekend protests, which sprung up in major cities and Chinese university campuses and attracted worldwide news coverage.
The waves of demonstrations had not been seen in China since the government crushed pro-democracy rallies in 1989.
The South China Morning Post: China’s elite Beijing-based Tsinghua University sought to pacify students on Monday after the weekend protests against COVID restrictions. Witnesses said administrators at a meeting with students focused on COVID-19 measures and did not reference the demonstrations for “rule of law and freedom of expression.”
At the White House, Biden had a measured official reaction on Monday, a reticence criticized by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who serve as ranking members of the Congressional Executive Commission on China. The White House on Monday issued a statement in support of peaceful protesters in China but did not go so far as to directly call out its leaders.
In a joint statement, the lawmakers complained of “weak rejection” of China’s zero-COVID-19 policy by the United States and asserted “refusal” by the Biden administration to challenge President Xi Jinping’s “totalitarian grip,” a reaction they described as “nothing short of cowardly.”
▪ The New York Times: White House weighs how forcefully to support protesters in China.
▪ Politico: Biden administration reacts with caution to China protests.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: White House says Chinese have a right to peacefully protest.
The catalyst for the citizen pushback was a deadly fire last week in Urumqi, the capital of the northwest Xinjiang region; many blamed COVID-19 lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts. Beijing on Monday accused “forces with ulterior motives” for linking the fire to the lockdown measures, saying local authorities had “made clear the facts and refuted this information and smears” (France 24).
A protest? A vigil? In a country where protests are swiftly quashed, many who gathered to voice their discontent — under the watchful eye of the police — were uncertain about how far to go (The New York Times).
▪ The Washington Post: How blank sheets of paper became a protest symbol in China.
▪ Reuters: How the protests gained momentum, with interactive graphics.
▪ The Washington Post: China’s rare protests spark demonstrations of solidarity around the globe.
▪ CNN: BBC journalist “beaten and kicked by the police” as protests spread across China.
▪ The New York Times: Chinese unrest over lockdown upends global economic outlook.
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky warned residents to brace for more Russian airstrikes as the country reels from a barrage that has left infrastructure battered as winter and freezing temperatures approach. Officials are working around the clock to restore light, water, heat and communications, he said (The Washington Post).
“As long as they have missiles, they won’t stop, unfortunately,” Zelensky said, accusing Russia of using “the cold against people.”
The New York Times: Three weeks after a cyberattack, the island nation of Vanuatu’s government is still offline.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Arizona’s Maricopa County supervisors on Monday voted to certify the 2022 election results over GOP objections, The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld reports. The GOP-controlled board voted unanimously to certify the canvass at the conclusion of a tense meeting, insisting no voter was disenfranchised.
However, Cochise County’s two Republican board members on Monday voted against certification of the election results, setting up a likely legal fight with Arizona’s office of the secretary of state, which has promised to sue the county (The Wall Street Journal).
Early voting in Georgia’s runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and GOP hopeful Herschel Walker began Monday and could wind up after Dec. 6 tipping the Democratic majority to 51 or, conversely, continuing the same 50-50 tie Senate Republicans have now. Warnock and Walker have each ramped up negative advertisements and fundraising to try to either depress turnout for their opponent or motivate voters who might get behind their own bid. The Hill’s Cheyanne M. Daniels reports on five things to watch as early voting kicks off in the Peach State, including the impact of former President Trump and the abortion debate.
The New York Times: A turning point for Attorney General Merrick Garland as the Justice Department grapples with its Trump inquiries.
➤ SUPREME COURT
Justices today will hear oral arguments in a case that could bolster or curtail the power of states to challenge federal immigration policies. The Supreme Court will consider litigation brought by Texas and Louisiana to stop the implementation of a 2021 Department of Homeland Security memo that instructs agents to prioritize the arrests of immigrants who threaten national security or public safety, as well as migrants who recently crossed the border. An eventual ruling on the legality of the guidance could limit the government’s ability to set priorities for enforcement (Roll Call).
▪ Vox: A Trump-appointed judge seized control of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to stop him.
▪ Bloomberg News: Supreme Court suggests it will limit corruption prosecutions.
■ Will China’s protests survive? by James Palmer, Foreign Policy deputy editor. https://bit.ly/3Vh8frN
■ How to talk to a widow, by Betty Rollin, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3gISefj
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at 2 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. and resume consideration of the Respect for Marriage Act.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Hewill travel to Bay City, Mich., to tour the SK Siltron CSS silicon wafer manufacturer, which is a subsidiary of a South Korean conglomerate, and deliver remarks at 3:30 p.m. about U.S. manufacturing and job creation (U.S. News). Biden will return to the White House this evening.
The vice president is in Washington today and has no public events.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Bucharest, Romania, for a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled through Wednesday. This morning, he will tour a photo exhibit at the Romanian Athenaeum with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca and Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu. He will meet with President Klaus Iohannis at 10:30 a.m. local time, then meet with Aurescu. At midday, the secretary will take questions from the press along with Aurescu. Blinken will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at 1:30 p.m. local time, then participate in a NATO welcome ceremony and group photo. The secretary will participate at 2:30 p.m. local time in the NATO gathering’s first session, about Russia’s war with Ukraine. Blinken and Slovakian Foreign Minister Rastislav Kacer will meet in the afternoon, followed by an evening Group of Seven Plus meeting about Ukraine’s damaged energy grid. The secretary will join the NATO summit’s second session at 6 p.m. local time, focused on the alliance’s support for Ukraine.
Home prices nationwide are quickly slowing in markets where remote workers relocated for lower costs of living during the pandemic, writes The Hill’s Adam Barnes. The influx of newcomers intensified home-buying competition and drove up costs by more than 30 percent in some cities. Now after years of massive price growth, high mortgage rates and economic uncertainty are keeping buyers out of these formerly in-demand real estate markets. Examples include Phoenix, Austin, Texas, and Boise, Idaho.
The decade long housing boom in the U.S. is over, and the market has gone eerily quiet, Bloomberg News reports. Buyers and sellers alike are clearing out, leaving the real estate agents who served them during the pandemic housing frenzy scrambling for listings or exiting into fallback careers as deals plunge.
Some economists believe home prices are about to drop significantly, following nine months of falling sales for existing homes. The supply of single-family homes is growing, meanwhile, putting an end to the pandemic-era inventory shortage that swept the nation. And with mortgage rates near 7 percent, experts foresee a large-scale housing slowdown (Axios).
▪ NPR: Rent control expands as tenants struggle with the record-high cost of housing.
▪ Bloomberg News: There’s a job-market riddle at the heart of the coming recession.
➤ STATE WATCH
In New York, advocates for group homes who want increased feedback and communications between residents and the state, say they are upset that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) last week vetoed legislation that would have created a task force study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adult group homes, which often serve people with disabilities (StateofPolitics).
In Hawaii, the Mauna Loa volcano is erupting for the first time in 40 years, sending lava flowing on the Big Island but without risks to communities, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in a statement on Monday (CNN).
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Hospice services are big business in the United States because of Medicare’s coverage, lax regulation and fraudsters’ greed. ProPublica’s detailed Monday report by Ava Kofman is a grim must-read: “Endgame: How the visionary hospice movement became a for-profit hustle.”
Tobacco smoking attracts fewer young people in the United States, according to a Gallup survey. Cigarette smoking among young adults fell from 35 percent to 12 percent during the past 20 years, Gallup reported on Monday. Adults older than 65 are the least likely to smoke cigarettes; Gallup found that just 8 percent in that age category said this year that they’re smokers (The Hill).
▪ WUSA9: Washington, D.C., public schools require students, staff to take COVID-19 test to return to school.
▪ The Washington Post: COVID-19 deaths skew older, reviving questions about “acceptable loss.”
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): 1,079,477. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,644 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … 🎁 It’s holiday season at the White House. Jill Biden on Monday unveiled this year’s holiday decor, from the official White House Christmas tree to countless small touches across the East and West wings.
A banner marking this year’s theme — “We the People” — hangs over the entrance to the East Wing, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed in 1845, is on display in the library. The White House is also filled with mirrors, which hang the trees of the Grand Foyer, and allow visitors to “see themselves in the decor,” said Biden’s communications director, Elizabeth Alexander.
There are 77 Christmas trees, 25 wreaths and more than 83,615 lights in this year’s display, according to the White House. A new menorah, constructed of wood removed from the White House during the Truman-era renovation in the 1950s, sits in the Cross Hall (The Washington Post).
“The values that unite us can be found all around you,” Biden said at a reception thanking the 170 volunteers from across the country who worked to put up the decorations. “A belief in possibility and optimism and unity. Room by room, we represent what brings us together during the holidays, and throughout the year.”