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Congress notched a productive day Thursday after the Senate passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus funding package and the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021, released its much-anticipated final report.
The massive government funding package passed Thursday with a large bipartisan majority, 68-29, and marks the end of the Senate’s legislative business for this Congress just days before Christmas (The Hill).
“This is one of the most significant appropriations packages we have done in a long time,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) just before votes were cast on what he called “aggressive investments in American families, workers and national defense” (The Washington Post).
The bill sets aside $45 billion in aid to Ukraine, with its Senate passage coming just a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with President Biden at the White House and gave a historic address to a joint session of Congress.
The sweeping 4,155-page package also includes $38 billion for emergency disaster assistance and $2.6 billion to help U.S. Attorneys prosecute cases related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol (CNN).
There are also provisions geared toward protecting against a repeat of Jan. 6, like the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act — which revises older legislation on the vote certification process for the Electoral College and clarifies the role of the vice president in the process.
Ahead of the bill’s Senate passage, some Republicans threatened to block the priorities of GOP senators who helped it clear the upper chamber, The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports.
The omnibus now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on the legislation before government funding runs out at the end of the day. The Senate is now in recess and will reconvene in January when the new Congress is sworn in.
▪ The Hill: These are the last-minute changes the Senate made to the $1.7 trillion omnibus.
▪ The Hill: Former President Trump calls spending bill a “disaster” and argues that “every single Republican should vote no.”
Meanwhile, in the House, the Jan. 6 panel on Thursday released its 845-page final report — a sweeping document that represents the culmination of the committee’s 18-month probe of the riots and the role Trump played in efforts to block the 2020 presidential election results, The Hill’s Mychael Schnell reports.
Earlier this week, the Jan. 6 committee voted to criminally refer Trump to the Department of Justice for inciting an insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the country, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to make a false statement (The Hill).
The committee has also made public dozens of transcripts of interviews and depositions with witnesses over the course of the investigation, including former Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, former Trump lawyer John Eastman and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (Axios).
“This report will provide greater detail about the multistep effort devised and driven by Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election and block the transfer of power,” Jan. 6 committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote in a foreword in the report.
“Building on the information presented in our hearings earlier this year, we will present new findings about Trump’s pressure campaign on officials from the local level all the way up to his Vice President, orchestrated and designed solely to throw out the will of the voters and keep him in office past the end of his elected term,” Thompson wrote.
▪ The Washington Post: In rural Georgia, an unlikely rebel against Trumpism.
▪ Politico: A secret report about a CEO’s sexual misconduct was just made public by Congress.
▪ Roll Call: Biden expands immigration tool that doesn’t require Congress
Democrats are releasing Trump’s tax returns after years of fighting to make them public — though they’re emphasizing that the decision targets Internal Revenue Service (IRS) oversight and the U.S. tax system overall, rather than the former president specifically.
“After years of stonewalling and litigation ending at the Supreme Court, the committee found that, for all practical purposes, the mandatory audit program was dormant. It wasn’t just functioning poorly — it was not functioning at all,” said House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.).
Trump was the first president since Watergate not to release his tax returns before taking control of the White House, and a report from the House Ways and Means Committee revealed the IRS didn’t audit Trump during the first two years of his time in office.
Following that revelation from the committee, the House on Wednesday passed a bill to codify the agency’s policy requiring annual audits of a president’s tax returns into federal law, The Hill’s Mychael Schnell reports.
▪ Bloomberg: What Trump’s tax returns say about his finances and the IRS.
▪ The Hill: How Trump paid $0 in income tax in 2020.
▪ Roll Call: Democrats nominate state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (Va.) to fill the late Rep. Donald McEachin’s (Va.) seat in Virginia.
▪ The Hill: Incoming GOP lawmaker George Santos says he will tell his “story” next week.
➤ MORE CONGRESS
Over a dozen Senate Republicans shrugged off recent threats and tirades from Trump and voted for the Electoral Count Reform Act, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
The legislation would raise the threshold for objections to Electoral College votes and clarify the role of the vice president in the vote certification process — two years after Trump and his allies tried to use the Electoral Count Act to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results with the help of then-Vice President Mike Pence.
“We’re one election past 2020 and he still seems to be obsessed with that election. Obviously, I don’t think that’s good for him. It’s certainly not good for anybody else, which is why most of us have decided to move on,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said of Trump.
Even some of Trump’s closest allies, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), backed the package (Insider).
But other Republicans angling to ingratiate themselves with Trump’s base voted against the bill, such as Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), who pledged back in 2020 to object to the Electoral College certification of that year’s results.
The New York Times: How a bipartisan Senate group addressed a flaw exposed by Jan. 6.
Congressional attempts to reform antitrust laws appear to have been stymied by tech giants and other groups devoting millions to counter the efforts, write The Hill’s Rebecca Klar and Karl Evers-Hillstrom, as two proposals to try and curb the power of some of the nation’s largest tech firms didn’t make it into the year-end bills.
“When we began this work, we knew we were taking on the largest economic powers in this country. These are gigantic monopolies. And one of the great challenges with monopolies is with tremendous concentrated economic power comes political power,” said chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
▪ The Hill: Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.) wins top Democratic seat on powerful Oversight Committee
▪ Washington Post: Congress wants to overhaul retirement plans. Here’s what might be coming.
▪ The Hill: Schumer breaks Title 42 spending bill logjam with help from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).
Ukrainian morale was lifted by Zelensky’s historic visit to D.C. on Wednesday, the New York Times reports — the president’s first time out of Ukraine since Russia invaded back in February.
“We are returning from Washington – we are coming with good results. With something that will really help,” Zelensky said in an address to Ukrainians on Thursday as he headed back to his country.
“I thank President Biden for his help, his international leadership, and his determination to win. I am grateful to the Congress of the United States – both houses, both parties, all those who support Ukraine, all those who want victory as much as we all do. There will be victory!”
▪ The New York Times: Caught on camera, traced by phone: The Russian military unit that killed dozens in Bucha.
▪ The Washington Post: Deep secrecy, high risk: How Zelensky’s improbable D.C. visit came together.
China sent dozens of aircraft on military drills toward Taiwan on Thursday, with many crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait into the air defense zone of the self-governing democratic island nation that China claims as part of its territory, The Hill’s Brad Dress reports.
■ The last lesson of the Jan. 6 committee, by the New York Times Editorial Board, the New York Times. bit.ly/3G93YRd
■ Anthony Fauci’s legacy might be impossible to replicate, by the Washington Post Editorial Board, the Washington Post. bit.ly/3vef2aC
■ Gods don’t bleed. Trump is bleeding, by Charles M. Blow, columnist, The New York Times. bit.ly/3WkQJDM
? A note to readers: Kristina Karisch will return to Morning Report on Tuesday, Dec. 27; Alexis Simendinger will be back in January.
The House will convene at 9 a.m. Friday.
The Senate stands in recess as of Friday.
The president and first lady Jill Biden are set to depart the White House at 4 p.m. to make a 5:05 p.m. holiday visit to Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. They’ll return to the White House at 6 p.m. after the visit.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has no public appointments Friday.
There’s no White House daily press briefing on the schedule for Friday.
The founder and former CEO of the bankrupt cryptocurrency platform Sam Bankman-Fried appeared in a U.S. court on Wednesday and was released on a $250 million bond after being arrested in the Bahamas earlier this month (The Hill).
Bankman-Fried, 30, spent time in Bahamian jail before he was extradited to the U.S. Wednesday night. He now faces several charges, including campaign finance violations, money laundering and wire fraud.
A judge allowed Bankman-Fried to live at his parents’ home in California, wearing an ankle monitor, while he awaits trial.
FTX filed for bankruptcy last month, and its collapse has spurred congressional scrutiny and legal action from former investors over billions of dollars lost in the cryptocurrency exchange (Reuters).
▪ Wall Street Journal: New FTX charges against Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang show U.S. is going after deputies, too.
▪ Bloomberg: All the ways that crypto broke in 2022.
▪ Axios: U.S. securities regulator alleges price manipulation by FTX
U.S. life expectancy continued to decline steadily in 2021, as COVID-19 and illegal drugs took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. While some comparable countries have started to bounce back from the pandemic, U.S. life expectancy dropped to 76.4 years at birth, down from 77 in 2020. The decline is felt across the board, among all population groups, from children to seniors, and across genders and ethnicities. Americans now can expect to live as long as they did in 1996 — a worrying benchmark for a developed nation where life expectancy is supposed to rise, not fall (The Washington Post).
“This one, it’s sort of across-the-board bad news,” Eileen Crimmins, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California who studies life expectancy around the world, told the Post. “We’ve gone since 1996 without improving. That’s incredible, given how much we’ve learned about medicine, how much we’ve spent.”
▪ The New York Times: The “tripledemic” rages on. Respiratory syncytial virus has probably peaked, but the flu is still surging and COVID-19 cases are rising. Scientists are hopeful next winter will be better.
▪ CNN: Tracking hospitalizations this brutal virus season.
▪ Bloomberg: China is likely seeing 1 million COVID-19 cases and 5,000 deaths a day.
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): 1,090,014. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,952 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… ❄️ Biden on Thursday said he hopes this holiday season will usher in a “fresh start” for the nation and called for Americans to come together across the aisle.
“I sincerely hope this Christmas season will drain the poison that has infected our politics and set us against one another. I hope this Christmas season marks a fresh start for our nation, because there’s so much that unites us as Americans, so much more that unites us than divides us,” Biden said in remarks ahead of the Christmas holiday this weekend.
The president encouraged people take time this holiday for “quiet reflection” and look at their fellow Americans “not as Democrats or Republicans, not as members of ‘Team Red’ or ‘Team Blue,’ but as who we really are, fellow Americans, fellow human beings worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.”
Biden’s holiday remarks come as the country braces for a major winter storm that’s set to impact most of the nation over the next few days.
And for loyal readers: Our Friday quiz is taking a break and will return after the holidays!
Electoral Count Act
Jan. 6 report