Morning Report — Biden hit with bruising report; Trump wins Nevada

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President Biden was cleared of criminal wrongdoing for “willfully” possessing classified documents when he was out of office. But he was harshly described in a special counsel report as “an elderly man with a poor memory.”

The political ramifications of the detailed, 388-page report released Thursday were immediate. Former President Trump used all caps to assert it was yet more evidence of an unfair, two-tiered system of justice intent on prosecuting him criminally on charges of possessing White House records and obstructing a federal investigation. Trump awaits federal trial in Florida.

Republicans, who for months have criticized Biden as an 81-year-old suffering from cognitive decline, used special counsel Robert Hur’s findings to bolster their case that voters should reject Biden on Election Day.   

The Hill: Five takeaways from the special counsel report on Biden’s classified documents.

THE PRESIDENT BLASTED the report during White House remarks late in the day after initially offering a tamer reaction. Earlier in the week, he vaguely suggested he would speak with reporters on Thursday, but he did so on a subject about which he was defensive and emotional. 

“My memory is fine,” Biden told reporters. Minutes later, while answering a question about the Israel-Hamas war and hostages, he mistakenly referred to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as the “president of Mexico.” 

He denied the special counsel’s conclusion that he “willfully retained” classified documents, calling such assertions “not only misleading, they’re just plain wrong.” Hur said Biden not only kept classified materials about sensitive national security matters when he was out of office, but also revealed some classified information to a ghostwriter. The president denied Hur’s assertion.

Biden emphasized his cooperation with the federal probe and repeated that he faces no charges. “I was especially pleased to see the senior Special Counsel make clear there’s stark differences between this case and Donald Trump.” 

“This matter is now closed,” Biden added.

Not quite. Amid a highly partisan presidential contest between two senior combatants maneuvering through low favorability ratings in a dangerous world, a door swung wide open this week to question Biden’s ability to keep pace for another term when he would be well into his 80s.

IN RECOUNTING his questioning of the president, Hur said Biden was unable to remember key dates of his service as vice president, or even precisely when his son Beau had died. It was in 2015. At the White House, the president, who had been reading his statement from a teleprompter, paused to add his anger that the special counsel questioned his recollection of his son’s death from brain cancer. “How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden asked, saying he didn’t believe it was any of Hur’s business.

White House attorneys and Biden’s personal lawyer defended the president as distracted during five hours of questioning by the special counsel over two days in October when he was also dealing with the Israel-Hamas crisis and juggling phone consultations with world leaders.

“The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events,” they wrote, adding: “This language is not supported by the facts, nor is it appropriately used by a federal prosecutor in this context.”

Read the report HERE.

Watch the president’s remarks HERE.

Primary: Meanwhile, Trump, as anticipated, won Nevada’s Republican Party caucus Thursday and marched closer to the GOP nomination. With 76 percent of the vote tallied this morning in the Silver State, he’s on track to pocket all 26 delegates two days after Nevada voters rejected challenger Nikki Haley in a symbolic primary. Trump did not appear on that ballot. The former president also won the GOP caucus in the U.S. Virgin Islands caucus Thursday. 

Earlier in the day, Biden, through his campaign, emailed supporters seeking contributions. “I am not trying to scare you. But Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee,” he wrote.

Ballots: As Biden wooed potential contributors, Supreme Court justices listened Thursday to arguments about Colorado’s decision to keep Trump off the state ballot under the 14th Amendment based on the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The justices appeared skeptical that some states could constitutionally bar a presidential candidate from ballot access on such grounds.

Congress: On Capitol Hill Thursday, the Senate approved a procedural cloture motion to advance a $95 billion measure that would send Ukraine and Israel additional assistance. The vote was 67-32. The upper chamber’s consideration will take days and senators are poised for a two-week recess. The future of the hastily retooled, non-border-security package, that follows a version that died Wednesday, appears slim in the House — if it gets that far. 

The Hill: Here’s why Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is in a tough spot on the question of more aid for Ukraine.


3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Russian President Vladimir Putin replied when asked about America’s defense of Ukraine during a two-hour interview at the Kremlin Tuesday with former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. Putin pointed to Americans’ focus on domestic “issues on the border, issues with migration, issues with the national debt.” Putin’s unusual sit-down with a Western journalist coincides with Congress’s debate about whether and how long to pause aid to Ukraine, the BBC points out. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) used a hearing Thursday to grill CEOs of three major drug companies as a way to steer public ire about high drug prices into political action. 

Concerned about plastics pollution in waterways, a New York City councilman on Thursday introduced a bill that would limit laundry and dishwasher soap pods or sheets made with polyvinyl alcohol in the five boroughs.


  In Las Vegas Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs meet the San Francisco 49ers in an epic rematch for Super Bowl 58. A few details: CBS will broadcast and Paramount+ will stream the game live. Here’s how to watch. The halftime show features Usher, Reba McEntire and others. … Taylor Swift, touring in Japan, might not make it to Vegas for her boyfriend’s big day (cue the suspense)… Las Vegas promises to be packed to the gills with private jets. … The White House says America deserves a day of football rather than more politics, so the president won’t be doing a pre-Super Bowl interview.


LEADING THE DAY

© The Associated Press / Manuel Balce Ceneta | Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold at the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.

SUPREME COURT

CAN TRUMP REMAIN A CANDIDATE for the White House on state ballots or is he an insurrectionist barred under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment? Justices on Thursday appeared skeptical about a patchwork of states determining constitutional ballot access for a presidential candidate in an election year. The justices grilled lawyers about whether states have the authority to ban a candidate from running for federal office, but they spent almost no time debating whether Trump engaged in insurrection through his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, which various lawsuits contend requires Trump’s disqualification under the 14th Amendment. 

Instead, the court largely delved into various offramps that would doom the various challenges without requiring the justices to reach that politically fraught question. Several justices seemed sympathetic to Trump’s argument that states have no authority to disqualify federal candidates, while some also questioned whether the clause applies to the presidency (The Hill).

“What’s a state doing deciding who other citizens get to vote for president?” said Justice Elena Kagan.

Minutes after Supreme Court arguments concluded, Trump said at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida that watching the hearing play out was a “a very beautiful process.”

“I hope that the democracy of this country will continue,” he said, going on to repeat many of his familiar campaign trail criticisms of Biden and to talk about the alleged “weaponization of politics,” which prosecutors and his legal challengers deny (ABC News).

In The Memo, The Hill’s Niall Stanage breaks down the five main takeaways from the day.

The New York Times analysis: A ruling for Trump on eligibility could doom his bid for immunity. 

Axios: Trump hopes semantics will save him at the Supreme Court.

Politico: Read the transcript of the Trump Supreme Court oral arguments.


WHERE AND WHEN

The House convenes for a pro forma session at 10 a.m. 

The Senate will meet at 10 a.m. 

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will meet at 3 p.m. at the White House with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The president will depart for New Castle, Del., at 5:40 p.m. 

Vice President Harris will speak about violence prevention to community leaders from 21 cities at 12:15 p.m. at the White House.   

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will join Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to participate at 1 p.m. in an Artemis Accords signing ceremony on the margins of the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue at the Department of State. Blinken and Gerapetritis will meet separately this afternoon. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will join Biden’s bilateral meeting with the German chancellor at the White House at 3 p.m.

First lady Jill Biden will fly to Charlotte to visit Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute and speak at 2 p.m. about medical navigation services for cancer patients. She will fly to Nashville to headline an afternoon political fundraiser.

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


ZOOM IN

© The Associated Press / Andrew Harnik | Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) at the Capitol last year.

POLITICS

OVER HIS SKIS? In a contest critical to Republican chances of taking control of the Senate, Speaker Johnson, a Trump supporter, found himself caught in a dustup about the Republican strategy to defeat Sen. Jon Tester (D), assessed as vulnerable in November. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) backs Republican Tim Sheehy, but Johnson was preparing to endorse Rep. Matt Rosendale (R), who is expected to jump into the race, Punchbowl News reported early Thursday. Johnson’s team told CNN the Speaker would donate to Rosendale’s campaign but won’t endorse a candidate. 

“The Speaker has committed to sending a contribution to Congressman Rosendale, as he has for other House colleagues and friends, but he has not made any endorsements in Senate races,” said Greg Steele, the communications director for Johnson’s political team. “He is singularly focused on growing the House majority.” Montana Sen. Steve Daines, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, confirmed he spoke to Johnson about his plans. 

Daines also squared off against McConnell several times this week over moving ahead with a Ukraine funding bill without border security provisions — even though the overwhelming majority of GOP senators rejected the bipartisan border deal. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports Daines is warning colleagues that moving Ukraine funding without securing border wins will hurt Senate GOP candidates. 

2024 ROUNDUP

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Thursday she will not seek reelection.

House Democrats, meeting Thursday at a retreat in Leesburg, Va., plotted legislative and political strategy and said some members would appear with Biden on the campaign trail while the party seeks to capture the House majority. 

What if both presidential tickets include Black vice presidential candidates in 2024?

Ahead of Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District to fill the seat vacated by departed Republican Rep. George Santos, a new Siena College-Newsday poll released Thursday foreshadows a tight race. Former congressman and Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi holds a slim 4-point advantage over Republican Mazi Pilip. Why it matters: House Republicans are eager to enlarge their narrow majority.  

Former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) will portray fictional Aaron Filkins, a senior senator from Washington state, on Nextflix’s series “The Residence.” He resigned from the Senate in 2017 after sexual impropriety allegations but a year later told The New Yorker he “absolutely” regretted his decision. Franken entered politics as an Emmy-winning “SNL” writer and comedian. 


ELSEWHERE

© The Associated Press / Hadi Mizban | Fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces carry the coffin of a commander from the Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group who was killed in a U.S. airstrike, in Baghdad on Thursday.

INTERNATIONAL

IRAQ CONDEMNED THE U.S. for the latest strike on Iraqi soil and said the military aggression is pushing Baghdad closer to kicking American troops out of the country Thursday. Yahya Rasool, the spokesperson for Iraq’s commander in chief, blasted the U.S. for what he said was a “blatant assassination” of an Iranian-backed militia leader “in the heart of a residential neighborhood” in Baghdad. Rasool said the U.S. has shown “no regard for civilian lives or international laws.”

The U.S. carried out a strike Wednesday night that killed a senior Iranian-backed militia commander, along with two other officials. The U.S. has battled Iranian-backed militia groups since October, and American troops have come under attack more than 160 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. There have also been more than 30 attacks in the Red Sea on U.S. troops and merchant shipping from the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. Repeated U.S. strikes have failed to deter any of the Iranian proxies from continuing their attacks, which the groups say is in response to American support for Israel’s war in Gaza (The Hill).

Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Tel Aviv Thursday after holding talks with Israeli officials, ending his Middle East tour that sought to broker the release of hostages in exchange for a cease-fire in Gaza. Blinken said Wednesday that Hamas’s response to a deal proposal included some “non-starters” but created space to “pursue negotiations.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the militant group’s demands “delusional” (The Washington Post).

Jordan’s King Abdullah embarked on a tour of major Western capitals today that will eventually take him to the U.S. for a meeting with Biden at the White House, where he is expected to lobby for a cease-fire in Gaza and increased humanitarian aid to Palestinians (NBC News).

ISRAEL IS RAMPING UP ITS ATTACKS ON RAFAH as it prepares to mount a ground offensive on the southern Gaza city despite warnings of catastrophic consequences for displaced Palestinians and the U.S. saying it won’t back an assault on the southern part of the enclave because it would be a “disaster,” because of the large number of civilians sheltering in the city, which Israel had declared a “safe zone” and where it told them to flee (Al Jazeera). 

NPR: In Gaza, anger grows at Hamas along with fury at Israel.

The New York Times: “There is no place for the people to run to,” a man sheltering in Rafah said.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE  

The Biden administration said Thursday that leading artificial intelligence companies are among more than 200 entities joining a new U.S. consortium to support the safe development and deployment of generative AI. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the U.S. AI Safety Institute Consortium, which includes OpenAI, Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft, Facebook-parent Meta, Apple and Amazon, among others (Reuters).

“The U.S. government has a significant role to play in setting the standards and developing the tools we need to mitigate the risks and harness the immense potential of artificial intelligence,” Raimondo said in a statement.

The Hill: The Federal Communications Commission Thursday banned AI-generated voices used in robocalls, basing its regulatory intervention on provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. 

Meanwhile, in Big Tech’s backyard, a state lawmaker in California introduced a bill on Thursday aiming to force companies to test the most powerful artificial intelligence models before releasing them — a landmark proposal that could inspire regulation around the country as state legislatures increasingly tackle the swiftly evolving technology (The Washington Post).


OPINION

■ Biden’s doddering document defense, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. 

■ A fresh dialogue on criminal justice reform changes the game for 2024, by Janos Marton, opinion contributor, The Hill. 


THE CLOSER

© The Associated Press / Andy Wong | Beijing, pictured Thursday, is decorated for Lunar New Year on Feb. 10.

And finally … Bravo to winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! We asked for smart guesses about the Lunar New Year because everyone needs a holiday break this weekend.

Here’s who went 4/4: Patrick Kavanagh, Richard E. Baznik, Lynn Gardner, Stan Wasser, Randall S. Patrick, Mary Anne McEnery, Pam Manges, Kathleen Kovalik, John Trombetti, Robert Bradley, Harry Strulovici, J. Jerry LaCamera, Lou Tisler, Chuck Schoenenberger, Ki Harvey, Steve James, Linda L. Field and Mike Mullen.

The dragon takes center stage in 2024, according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Nian gao, or glutinous rice cakes, is a Lunar New Year food tradition.

Red, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune, is considered an auspicious color during Lunar New Year celebrations. 

It is true that a Lunar New Year custom involves red envelopes containing money, usually gifts from elders to younger relatives.


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