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The 2024 GOP primary is heating up
The Republican presidential primary season is gaining steam as candidates flock to Iowa ahead of what is shaping up to be a tense contest for the nomination. Both former President Trump and likely campaign rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took aim at one another while each visited Iowa, home of next year’s first caucus.
Trump twice went after DeSantis on Monday in Davenport, Iowa, foreshadowing a rollicking primary season. The former president’s rhetorical jabs and withering nicknames aimed at rivals and foes are part of his political persona, The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Max Greenwood notes.
Trump told reporters aboard his plane en route to Iowa that he regrets endorsing DeSantis during his 2018 bid for governor. During his speech, Trump again took aim at DeSantis with Sunshine State retirees in mind, accusing the governor of wanting to “decimate” Social Security and comparing him to Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, whom Trump asserts is a Republican in name only.
“He’s going to do that again,” Trump said of DeSantis, while vowing to protect Social Security and Medicare (The New York Times).
Elsewhere, other potential GOP candidates are offering the electorate sunnier visions of the future, The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports.
Last week, potential contender Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) team released two videos touting “the spirit of Virginia,” as he worked to strike a positive tone during a CNN town hall where he faced a series of tough questions on education. Meanwhile, announced candidate Nikki Haley and potential candidate Tim Scott have both used their backstories to talk about why they think America is great — Haley citing her parents’ immigration story and Scott often talking about how he was raised by a single mother in poverty. The personable, optimistic tone of Youngkin, Haley and Scott marks a notable contrast to Trump who is known for his blunt, political attacks against opponents.
▪ The Hill’s The Memo: If DeSantis gets into the presidential race, both leading GOP candidates say they resist additional U.S. aid to Ukraine — a dynamic that could fundamentally reshape the Republican Party’s position.
▪ The New York Times: DeSantis, backing away from Ukraine, angers GOP hawks.
▪ Vox: DeSantis and the growing Republican split on Ukraine aid.
▪ Yahoo News: Interview: Former Vice President Mike Pence seems to know where he’s going. The potential Republican presidential candidate has sharpened his attacks on Trump and DeSantis.
The prospect of a Pennsylvania Senate bid by GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano — who decisively lost his bid for governor last fall — has Republicans feeling a sense of deja vu and reigniting fears that he could cost them up and down the ballot again if he is the nominee. As The Hill’s Al Weaver reports, the party machinery is lining up solidly behind businessman David McCormick, sidestepping Mastriano, to the point where many believe he is their only chance to defeat Sen. Bob Casey (D) in what could be a tough presidential cycle.
“A lot of people want him to run. Put it that way,” former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told The Hill about McCormick, whom he is encouraging to run. “I think Pennsylvanians have learned a lesson here, and lesson is you go with candidates that are strong principled conservatives that don’t have baggage that can hurt you in a general election. … Tying yourself to the [stolen] election stuff and tying yourself too close to Trump is destructive. It hurt the entire ticket [in 2022].”
▪ The Washington Post: McCormick allies hope to avoid a GOP Senate primary fight in Pennsylvania.
▪ Politico: Mastriano and his super fans aren’t yet willing to let go. A weekend rally shows the serious obstacles that traditional GOPers have in their way.
Meanwhile, as Biden prepares to launch his reelection bid, the president is encountering a foil in the House Freedom Caucus, write The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Emily Brooks. Biden wants to establish a contrast with Democrats and make the conservative GOP group — including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.) — the face of the Republican Party.
“It makes perfect sense,” one Democratic strategist said of Biden’s tack to aim fire at the caucus. “Who are the faces of the Republican Party right now? It’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and [Rep.] Lauren Boebert [Colo.]. So why not show how extreme the Republican Party has become.”
Looking toward 2024, Biden is also facing interparty challenges as he risks alienating two key groups — progressives and younger voters — with his embrace of a controversial Alaska oil drilling project as well as shifts to the center on crime and immigration. As The Hill’s Alex Gangitano and Hanna Trudo report, the president’s decision to approve the Willow drilling project in Alaska, his support of a GOP bill nixing a Washington, D.C., crime measure and his efforts to control the border could help him with centrist voters and independents while blunting the impact of GOP attacks.
But the confluence of decisions could cost Biden with the young voters and progressives who round out his base and are seeing his shift to the center with some dismay.
▪ The Hill: D.C. Health Link hacker exposes lawmakers’ personal information.
▪ Politico: Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) files paperwork for 2024 reelection bid, though it’s not a guarantee he’ll run.
▪ The New York Times: Boris Epshteyn helps Trump navigate legal peril while under scrutiny himself. He is the latest aide to take on the role of slashing defender of the former president, even as the Justice Department seeks information about him in the Jan. 6 and documents inquiries.
▪ The Hill: Senate Democrats are pressing pharmacies to ensure access to abortion drugs. They sent a letter to Walgreens, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid.
LEADING THE DAY
➤ BANKS, REGULATORS, ECONOMY
The most important fact on Tuesday in the aftermath of the recent insolvencies of two banks was that the threat of contagion appeared to be “ring-fenced,” in the vernacular of financial analysts. The possibility of a cascade of collapsing banks had apparently been prevented (Reuters).
Investors and depositors breathed sighs of relief. Markets appeared relieved. Those who had money in Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in California and Signature Bank in New York were able to access their assets under new federal intervention, no matter how much had exceeded the government’s insurance cap. Investors, however, are in a different situation and some creditors of SVB’s parent company are angling to profit if there’s a bankruptcy sale (The Wall Street Journal).
The top regulators — the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) — earned plaudits for coordinated weekend intervention to forestall immediate runs on financial institutions.
The Washington Post: The 72-hour scramble to save the United States from a banking crisis.
The turmoil and confusion that had been feared among the nation’s small- and medium-sized banks seemed, instead, to sprout within Congress on Tuesday — and not always along strictly partisan lines (The Wall Street Journal).
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants tough hearings in which the banks’ CEOs and regulators are grilled (The Hill). Warren, who is no fan of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and the central bank’s inflation-fighting strategy, urged him to recuse himself from the government’s review of SVB’s collapse (CNBC).
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on Tuesday accused some in his party of not being tough enough when it comes to banking regulations (Bloomberg News).
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), whose family owned a community bank in Missouri, urged the federal government to temporarily insure all bank deposits (as was done for depositors at the two failed banks), not just deposits of up to $250,000 insured by the FDIC (Politico). That idea contradicted what has been said by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who plans hearings after the bank failures, Punchbowl News pointed out.
The Hill’s Emily Brooks noted that McHenry complained during a CNBC interview, “We have politicians dancing around in a hackish way trying to drive their own agenda. We have folks that are opining so that they can actually have a greater platform.” The chairman said the Fed and FDIC are “doing the right thing.”
Conservative lawmakers who are not customarily fans of federal regulations are in some cases eager to place blame this week with the Biden administration. They’re skeptical about the president’s assertions that taxpayers won’t be backstopping the depositors at the California bank that had specialized in tech firms and innovative start-ups. Signature Bank, shut down on Sunday, was known as a crypto-friendly financial institution. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that some Republicans believe the administration is creating a moral hazard that could encourage future risky banking behavior.
Meanwhile, at least two Democratic members of Congress who received campaign donations tied to SVB said they would forfeit the money (CNBC and Politico). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said they will return or send to charity campaign support received from SVB or its former executives. Expect more lawmakers to follow suit.
📈 Inflation Watch: The consumer price index in February rose by 0.4 percent for an annual increase of 6 percent, in line with what economists expected. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that last month’s rate was the lowest yearly price increase since September 2021 and a drop from June’s whopping 9.1 percent (The Hill).
✂️ Budget Watch: Trying to balance the federal budget over a decade is not easy. The Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday if lawmakers opt to exclude Social Security from changes, as both parties have pledged, budget balance could require cutting 41 percent of spending on other programs aside from interest outlays. It gets even more challenging to erase deficits if Medicare is also off the table, the nonpartisan budget scorekeeper said.
Biden on Tuesday signed an executive order to enforce background check requirements for gun purchases in a tacit acknowledgment that divided government effectively blocks his ambition to enact new laws to try to curb mass shootings and the prevalence of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition in America.
Biden’s modest order this week directs the attorney general to ensure that gun dealers are complying with existing background check laws. It seeks to improve reporting of guns and ammunition lost or stolen while in transit. It calls for improved transparency about gun dealers who are cited for firearms violations. And it directs agencies to work with the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network to improve the quality of investigations into gun crimes (The New York Times).
To unveil his executive action, the president traveled to Monterey Park, Calif., where a gunman in January shot and killed 11 people who had gathered at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio. Elements of Biden’s pledge to enhance gun safety and firearms requirements are expected to be repeated on the hustings during his anticipated bid for a second term. Congress last year passed gun safety legislation for the first time in nearly 30 years, refining the existing gun dealer definition in law (NPR).
“I’m here on behalf of the American people to mourn with you, to pray with you, to let you know you are loved and not alone,” Biden said, before memorializing each of the dance studio victims individually.
“I’m here with you today to act,” he added, detailing bipartisan gun violence legislation that he signed into law last year. “Today, I’m announcing another executive order that will accelerate and intensify this work to save more lives, more quickly” (CBS News).
While Biden seeks to tighten national gun restrictions, some House Republicans want to ease some weapons requirements for congressional employees. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), on Friday introduced legislation that would allow workers to carry legally possessed weapons in self-defense to and from Capitol Hill and store them in specially installed lockers at the entrances of House office buildings. Washington, D.C., and federal laws prohibit individuals from carrying legal weapons inside federal buildings. Republicans in January removed metal detectors at the entrances to the House floor, which had been installed under the previous Democratic majority (Fox News).
⚠️ Defense Department: The Pentagon is increasing development this year of hypersonic missiles with the belief that the U.S. has fallen behind adversaries China and Russia in some warfare technology (The Hill).
🚰 Environmental Protection Agency: With human health in mind, the EPA proposed the nation’s first drinking-water standards to deal with “forever” toxic chemicals. The proposed rulemaking would force water utilities to spend billions of dollars to comply with the government’s proposed limits on polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are human-made chemicals found in common consumer products such as cosmetics and food packaging that are used by millions of Americans. Linked to infertility, thyroid problems and several types of cancer, the chemicals can persist in the environment for years without breaking down (The Washington Post).
The Guardian: Toxic “forever” chemicals, which can penetrate skin, are found in foods and pollute water sources, have been found in worldwide toilet paper brands tested by scientists.
✈️ Federal Aviation Administration: In the wake of the FAA’s air traffic system meltdown in January and recent near-collisions involving passenger aircraft, a federal air safety summit is scheduled for Wednesday organized by FAA acting Administrator Billy Nolen, who concedes there have been more near misses than “expected” in U.S. skies(NBC News).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
A Russian fighter jet harassed and then collided with an unmanned U.S. drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday, forcing the U.S. to bring the MQ-9 Reaper aircraft down in international waters, the U.S. European Command said. Russia’s jet struck the propeller of an American reconnaissance drone, located on its tail, U.S. officials said, forcing the drone’s operators to bring the craft down in the sea. Biden was briefed Tuesday morning on the incident, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in a statement. “In fact, this unsafe and unprofessional act by the Russians nearly caused both aircraft to crash.”
Russian intercepts in the area are common, but this one “is noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was, indeed reckless that it was,” Kirby said (The Hill and NBC News).
During an exclusive interview with The Hill, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said, “This is extremely unusual, I’m not aware of an incident like this that’s occurred over the last year of conflict over there.”
Reuters: Moscow sees the drone incident as provocation, says Russia’s ambassador to U.S.
▪ The New York Times: Russians, fleeing their country and its war, have quickly reshaped the societies of nations like Georgia and Armenia.
▪ Bloomberg News: Poland may transfer MiG29 jets to Ukraine in the coming weeks.
Saudi Arabia is asking the U.S. to provide security guarantees and help to develop its civilian nuclear program as the White House works to broker diplomatic relations between the kingdom and Israel, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Striking a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia has become a priority for Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program and military aid to Russia during the Ukraine war looms ahead. The sources told the Journal that the Biden administration is deeply involved in the complex negotiations, and any deal would reshape the Middle East’s political landscape.
Meanwhile, The Hill’s Brad Dress and Laura Kelly report that Saudi Arabia’s embrace of Chinese diplomacy with Iranis so-far being viewed as the latest snub by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against Biden, however, the deal may ultimately help the United States’ strategy in the Middle East. Experts and U.S. officials remain cautious over how much influence China commands in the region, with Saudi Arabia’s deep military ties with the U.S. a particularly strong bulwark against outside forces, and Iran’s foreign military adventurism and internal crises making it an unpredictable diplomatic partner.
▪ Politico: U.S. officials project calm as China stuns world with Iran-Saudi deal.
▪ Financial Times: China plays peacemaker in the Gulf.
▪ Reuters: Honduras to seek China relations, pressuring Taiwan ahead of U.S. trip.
➤ STATE WATCH
Ohio on Tuesday sued Norfolk Southern Railway over the derailment of a train carrying toxic materials in the town of East Palestine last month. The 58-count suit alleges several violations of state and federal law pertaining to hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence, among others, according to Dave Yost, the state’s attorney general. Yost said the state is seeking damages, civil penalties and a “declaratory judgment that Norfolk Southern is responsible” (CNBC).
“This derailment was entirely avoidable,” he said, adding that Norfolk Southern has seen an 80 percent increase in accidents over the past decade. “The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohio and Ohioans for many years to come.”
A late-winter storm has dumped heavy, wet snow in parts of the Northeast, causing widespread power outages and dozens of flight disruptions. Dozens of flights were delayed or canceled on Tuesday at airports across the region, including LaGuardia Airport in New York and Logan International Airport in Boston. According to the National Weather Service, the brunt of the storm appeared to be affecting northwestern Massachusetts, where 28 inches of snow had been recorded in Windsor. In Pittsfield, Mass., police said there were downed power lines and felled trees throughout the area (The New York Times).
“If you don’t have to drive, can you please do us all a favor and not go out on the roads,” the Pittsfield Police Department said on Facebook. “We have wires down everywhere. We have trees down everywhere, and it’s not going to get any better.”
Meanwhile on the West Coast, another atmospheric river walloped storm-ravaged California, inundating cities already flooded by recent rain and forcing residents to flee — or risk being without help if they need it. About 30 million people across the state were under flood alerts as the 11th atmospheric river to hit the West this season slammed Northern California on Monday and took aim at central and Southern California on Tuesday. Rain could fall as fast as 1 inch per hour in some places and result in significant flash flooding (CNN and NPR).
“We weren’t expecting it to be as bad as we’re seeing it,” said Monterey, Calif., Mayor Tyller Williamson.
With the wallop of severe weather this winter, The Hill’s Daniel de Visé conducted a survey of the most and least disaster-prone states, looking at the number of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declarations, number of billion-dollar disasters, disasters per capita and climate-related flood risk.
■ The submarine that could change the world’s balance of power, by Jessica Karl, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3yEBA5Z
■ Bank regulators were asleep at the wheel: Their wake-up call is overdue, by
Paul Kupiec, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3Jgjwnt
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will convene at 11 a.m. on Friday for a pro forma session.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of Brent Neiman to be deputy under secretary of the Treasury. The Senate Budget Committee will discuss Biden’s proposed fiscal 2024 budget with Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young during a hearing at 10:15 a.m.
The president is in Las Vegas, where he will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8:30 a.m. Biden will speak at 11:30 a.m. PT at the University of Nevada about savings achieved under new law under Medicare that reduce some prescription drug costs, according to new data. The president will return to the White House at 7:50 p.m.
Vice President Harris will travel to Paramus, N.J., to speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at 1:55 p.m. In New York City, she will film an interview in New York City with Stephen Colbert for “The Late Show” at 6 p.m. (airing tonight) before returning to Washington at 8:40 p.m.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is scheduled to meet Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen at 10 a.m. local time and with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed an hour later, followed by a working lunch. Blinken meets at 1:30 p.m. with signatories to the implementation of the 2022 cessation of hostilities agreement between warring parties. The secretary at 2:45 p.m. will meet employees and families from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. He will tour a United Nations logistics center warehouse at 4 p.m. local time with USAID Ethiopia Mission Director Sean Jones and Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide. The secretary will meet civil society leaders at 5:30 p.m. and hold a press conference at 7 p.m.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will speak at South by Southwest in Austin at 11:30 a.m. CT about the administration’s efforts to advance women’s rights globally.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics will report at 8:30 a.m. on the producer price index for February.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk announced on Tuesday that it will lower the prices of some of its insulin products in the U.S. by up to 75 percent, becoming the second company to take such action after Eli Lilly’s announcement earlier this month. The new prices are set to take effect next January. “We have been, and remain committed to, developing a sustainable path forward that balances patient affordability, market dynamics, and evolving policy changes,” a Novo Nordisk spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “These updates have been in development for many months, but due to increased stakeholder interest, we accelerated to announce now.”
The enhanced stakeholder interest was likely spurred by Eli Lilly’s announcement at the start of March that it would be capping the cost of its most popular insulin products by 70 percent and capping out-of-pocket monthly costs to $35. Along with Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk command the vast majority of the global insulin market (The Hill and The Wall Street Journal).
▪ The New York Times: The U.S. program that brought HIV treatment to 20 million people. Over two decades, Pepfar may have saved an estimated 25 million lives, helping to slow the AIDS pandemic.
▪ USA Today: Luxury cars, stocks, crypto and $83 million in taxpayer dollars: Chicago man indicted in COVID-19 testing scheme.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 1,862 for the most recent week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Data is reported on Fridays.)
And finally … ⚔️ Julius Caesar, in Shakespeare’s telling, received an ominous warning: “Beware the Ides of March.”
March 15 may call to mind Caesar’s treacherous death in 44 BC at the hands of a posse of assassins, but others see a lighter side, celebrating the macabre and perhaps donning a costume or grabbing a beverage (posca, anyone?) for the mid-month occasion (Salem News).
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
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The Hill’s Morning Report — The 2024 GOP primary is heating up
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