Morning Report — Democrats vow to shield GOP Speaker


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House Democratic leaders say they’re prepared to shield Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from a potential conservative coup within his own ranks, an unprecedented vow that inflamed one of his most outspoken GOP critics Tuesday.

“If the Democrats want to elect him Speaker (and some Republicans want to support the Democrats’ chosen Speaker), I’ll give them the chance to do it,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) shot back in a post on the social platform X. “Americans deserve to see the Uniparty on full display.”

“I’m about to give them their coming out party!” Greene wrote.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), in a statement joined by his leadership colleagues, said Greene “will not succeed.”

Greene has threatened for more than a month to use House GOP rules and a motion to vacate as leverage to oust Johnson for what she sees as betrayal of conservatives’ agenda. Although she is treating Democrats’ backing to keep Johnson in place as the last straw on her list of grievances about the Speaker’s “slimy” deals with the minority, she has thus far not forced a vote on his removal.

The Georgia firebrand is working to maximize her public clout but is aware that many of her GOP colleagues, frustrated by inaction and discord, are reluctant to remove another Speaker. They worry it would trigger new leadership chaos six months ahead of elections. Republicans have the slimmest of slim House majorities and are battling to expand their numbers next year.

Johnson has recruited the most potent Republican backer available to him: former President Trump, who treats Greene as an ally but recently showered the Speaker with praise following a meeting at Mar-a-Lago. “He’s doing a really good job under very tough circumstances,” Trump said last month, referring to Republicans’ narrow majority in the House.

▪ The New York Times: Republicans, eager to call attention to divisions among Democrats, plan additional hearings with top university administrators to focus on campus protests. They suggest they could withhold millions of federal dollars from universities that fail to keep Jewish students safe.

▪ The Hill: The Senate is braced for fights over reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.


3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY:

▪ Police overnight dramatically cleared student protesters and made arrests at Columbia University after pro-Palestinian demonstrators encamped in Hamilton Hall and allegedly committed vandalism. Those students face expulsion. Law enforcement will maintain a presence on campus this month until at least after commencement. Similar arrests Tuesday night occurred at City College of New York in Harlem. The University of California, Los Angeles, declared a student encampment illegal for the first time. Campus demonstrations and arrests are being tracked coast to coast.

▪ Federal Reserve officials will hold the central bank’s benchmark federal-funds rate steady at its highest level in more than two decades, around 5.3 percent, at today’s conclusion of a two-day policy meeting. Economic output may be slowing, but employment, wages and inflation are up, causing headaches for the Fed.

▪ Begin regular mammograms at age 40, an expert panel said Tuesday while reversing its controversial 2009 advice to start screening at age 50. Why the change? Because breast cancer diagnoses are rising among women at younger ages.


LEADING THE DAY

Courts Trump 043024 Reuters Eduardo Munoz

© The Associated Press / Eduardo Munoz, Reuters | Former President Trump at Manhattan criminal court in New York on Tuesday.

COURTS

THE SECOND WEEK OF TESTIMONY in Trump’s New York trial got underway Tuesday — and it was more eventful than expected, encompassing everything from a gag order ruling to new details about Trump’s alleged affairs.

The former president faces 34 felony counts of falsification of business records. If he is convicted, he could face imprisonment, though incarceration would be unusual for a first-time offender. The Hill’s Niall Stanage has five key takeaways.

Justice Juan Merchan ruled against Trump on Tuesday morning, holding that nine social media posts violated the former president’s gag order, and that he was therefore in contempt of court. The former president was fined $1,000 for each instance, for a total of $9,000. Merchan lamented that he could not impose steeper fines on someone of Trump’s purported wealth, writing in his ruling, “it would be preferable if the Court could impose a fine more commensurate with the wealth of the contemnor.”

Jail time is next if violations continue, he said. Prosecutors have alerted the judge to four potential additional violations. Those were not covered by his order and will be discussed at a Thursday hearing (The New York Times).

▪ The Hill: Trump deleted social media posts that a judge determined violated a gag order in his criminal hush money trial, just before a Tuesday deadline.

▪ Business Insider: The former president can attend the high school graduation of his son, Barron Trump, later this month, Merchan rules.

Supreme Court: Justices on Tuesday declined to block a Texas law requiring pornographic websites to verify users’ ages. Similar age verification laws have passed in Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia.


WHERE AND WHEN

The House will meet at 10 a.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. President Biden will headline a campaign fundraiser at the Mayflower Hotel at 5:30 p.m. and return to the White House.

Vice President Harris will travel to Jacksonville, Fla., to talk about abortion rights while calling attention to the state’s new ban after six weeks of pregnancy, among the most restrictive such laws in the nation. The president and Harris are pointing Florida voters to a November constitutional amendment on the ballot that would protect abortion rights.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel where he met this morning with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv. The secretary meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. He will confer this afternoon with
Minister Benny Gantz. Blinken will visit Israel’s port in Ashdod.

The Fed will conclude a two-day meeting with a statement at 2 p.m., followed by a news conference with Chair Jerome Powell.

First lady Jill Biden will travel to New York City to speak about health research at 1:30 p.m. at the New York Stock Exchange Women’s Health Summit.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to New York City to meet with local small business owners as part of National Small Business Week. Later, he will talk about gender equity at an event hosted by Global Citizen Now.

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.


ZOOM IN

Politics MTG 040624 AP Matt Rourke

© The Associated Press / Matt Rourke | Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), pictured in January.

POLITICS

A SECOND TERM: Across two conversations with Time magazine, Trump outlined his plans for a second term that would reshape the U.S. and its role in the world. Among the former president’s plans: allowing red states to prosecute abortion ban violators and monitor pregnancies; withholding congressional funding at will; a deportation operation that would remove more than 11 million people from the country and use migrant detention camps; and weighing pardons for those who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In the interview, Trump said he would not go after President Biden, but if the Supreme Court did not find presidential immunity applied to the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, then Biden would be “prosecuted for all of his crimes, because he’s committed many crimes.” Trump also didn’t rule out political violence if he loses the November election.

“I don’t think we’re going to have that. I think we’re going to win,” he said. “And if we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.”

Time magazine: A fact check of Trump’s statements.

THE MIDDLE STRIKES BACK: The political centers of both parties on Capitol Hill are pushing back against the fringes of the far right and left, reflecting exasperation among voters in the middle. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports the resistance reflects the weariness and exasperation with the threats to boot Johnson out of his job and the ongoing clashes with pro-Palestinian protesters on college campuses across the country. In a remarkable development, Democrats announced Tuesday they would step in to help Johnson defeat any motion offered by conservatives to vacate his position.

“I think people are sick and tired of chaos and dysfunction. So, I congratulate all of our friends on both sides of the aisle in the House for … actually doing their job instead of all of the sideshow,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a member of the Republican leadership team. “Republicans are by and large tired of all the antics and the chaos, and they realize it’s a political liability.”

DEMOCRATS ARE HOPING that shift toward the middle will help them in November, as efforts increase to persuade swing voters to cast their ballots for Biden. In an election where enthusiasm is low and voters are lukewarm on support for Biden, Democrats are focusing on early persuasion efforts in battleground states to help sway so-called surge voters — who stayed home in 2016 but backed Biden during the 2020 cycle.

This week the progressive activist group MoveOn is intensifying the persuasion phase of a $32 million election program, which will engage those much-desired voters, sources tell The Hill’s Amie Parnes. “We believe that this strategy is key to doing the important work to successfully persuade voters and supply them with the information they need to protect their progress and their freedoms from Donald Trump and MAGA,” said Britt Jacovich, a press secretary for MoveOn. 

Another Democratic strategist familiar with the persuasion efforts added that the surge voters “are folks most likely to disengage, and there’s a universe of about 11 million,” and those voters are within 30 miles of a MoveOn member.  


2024 ROUNDUP:

▪ Democrat Timothy Kennedy, favored to capture a blue district, won Tuesday’s House special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District to fill a vacancy created by former Rep. Brian Higgins (D), who resigned in February. Democrats will now control 213 seats in the House compared with 217 for the Republicans. Five seats remain vacant.

▪ Florida’s six-week abortion ban takes effect today. The Biden campaign points to the state’s statutory restrictions to describe Trump as the cause of “cruelty and chaos” for one in three women in the U.S. who “can’t get the care they need.” The law’s enactment and a state abortion referendum in November have turned the Sunshine State into one of the most consequential battlegrounds for women’s reproductive rights since the fall of Roe v. Wade

▪ Democrats say student campus protesters are a minority of young voters being wooed for election participation in November. There’s debate about whether Biden should stand pat with his current condemnations of antisemitism and hate speech or get more involved.

▪ Trump’s campaign called the Commission on Presidential Debates’ refusal to move up its schedule “unacceptable” Tuesday and suggested he could go around the body that’s sponsored all general election presidential debates for decades.

▪ Here’s an update on Trump’s latest VP candidate considerations, reported by CBS News. Who’s fallen off the list? South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R)


ADMINISTRATION

The Drug Enforcement Agency will approve an opinion from the Department of Health and Human Services that marijuana should be reclassified from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug, a historic shift to generations of American drug policy that could have wide ripple effects across the country. The DEA’s proposal must still be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, but if approved, it would recognize medical uses of cannabis and acknowledge it has less potential for people to abuse the drug than other more dangerous substances. However, it would not legalize marijuana outright for recreational use (NBC News and The Hill).

▪ The Hill: The Department of Agriculture is testing beef for a bird flu virus following the infections of cattle in multiple states, though it says it remains confident the country’s meat supply is safe.

▪ NBC News: All new cars and trucks must come with pedestrian-collision avoidance systems that include automatic emergency braking technology by the end of the decade, according to administration regulatory plans.


ELSEWHERE

International Blinken in Amman 043024 Reuters Evelyn Hockstein

© The Associated Press / Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters | Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Jordan Tuesday to advocate for more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

INTERNATIONAL

RAFAH INVASION: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday reiterated that Israeli forces will launch an anticipated military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah regardless of whether a cease-fire and hostage deal is reached with Hamas. Netanyahu’s announcement comes amid fresh optimism that new truce negotiations could lead to a halt in fighting.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued his tour of the Middle East on Tuesday, including Jordan and Israel, with a focus on getting more humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Blinken visited a warehouse in Jordan where workers were loading trucks for the first attempt to send aid from Jordan to the Israel-Gaza border crossing in Erez. He praised the start of the new aid corridor and said the U.S. military’s planned pier to bring aid by sea to coastal Gaza would be operational in about a week (Reuters and The New York Times).

“This is real and important progress, but more still needs to be done,” he told reporters. “And in particular, we have to make sure our focus is not on inputs, but on impact and really measuring whether the aid that people need is getting to them in an effective way.”

▪ ABC News: This is how the pier off the coast of Gaza would work to deliver aid.

▪ CBS News: The Biden administration is considering bringing certain Palestinians to the U.S. as refugees, a move that would offer a permanent safe haven to some of those fleeing war-torn Gaza.

THE EXPECTED WITHDRAWAL of U.S. forces from Niger could endanger U.S. counter-terrorism operations and give Russia more influence in Africa as American ties to the continent appear to be waning. The Hill’s Brad Dress reports 1,000 troops in Niger are expected to eventually withdraw after the conclusion of ongoing high-level talks between Niamey and Washington that followed a military coup last year. But a forced withdrawal from Niger is the last thing the U.S. military wants as it fights against Islamic extremist groups across the Sahel, a volatile region that stretches from Senegal in western Africa to the Red Sea.

At risk for the U.S. is not just unchecked militants from ISIS, Boko Haram or al-Shabaab, but also the growing influence of Russia, Iran and China, all of which are jockeying for power in Africa.

Al Jazeera: Outmanned and outgunned, Ukrainian forces struggle to advance against Russian troops as the war drags on.


OPINION

■ What if Russia wins against Ukraine? Ask Georgia, by Marc Champion, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion.

■ Why the cease-fire protest movement is good for democracy — and potentially for Democrats in November, by Alan Minsky and Stephen Kent, and opinion contributors, The Hill.  


THE CLOSER

Closer Dome 010623 AP Matt Rourke

© The Associated Press / Matt Rourke | The Capitol in January 2023.

And finally … 🎙 Retiring lawmakers believe Congress today is “chaotic,” “dysfunctional,” “tense,” “misunderstood,” “broken” and “unproductive.” Those were among descriptions offered by a dozen lawmakers videotaped by The New York Times during recent exit interviews.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.): “The part of me that wanted to stick around because I believed we could get more things done died.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), on the satisfaction of making a difference for Americans: “I was responsible for cancer screening coverage under Medicare.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.): “It’s the American people that have to fix the Congress.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.): “I’ve had lots of disagreements with people. But the thing that’s most frustrating now is that the environment seems to give permission for people to come to an understanding, to shake hands and then erase all memory of that deal when it becomes convenient to do so.”  

Also speaking their minds: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.).


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