Good mooorning, Early Birds. We’re going to spend the snowy three-day weekend digesting Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly’s engagement and an almost Rep. Ben Affleck (Mass.). What will you do? Play Wordle, perhaps? Let us know how you fare: earlytips@washpost.com.

👀 SCOOP: “Leaders of the federal judiciary have had to backtrack after nearly three dozen law clerks and judges’s assistants affirmed in an informal survey that they had ‘witnessed wrongful conduct in the workplace,’” our colleague Ann Marimow reports. 

  • “The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said officials removed the question from a training registration form, sent last week to thousands of judiciary staff who work for federal judges, but not before 34 of about 40 employees — nearly everyone who responded — indicated that they had observed some form of inappropriate behavior.”

On the Hill

Jeff Merkley says it's time to talk about the … talking filibuster

Ten questions for … Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.): We chatted with the Senate's self-proclaimed “chief filibuster antagonist” about his frustrations with the 60-vote threshold, his apparent lack of Republican friends and whether he'll ever run for president.

The Early: You mulled running for president in 2020. Would you consider running in 2024 if President Biden doesn’t run?

Merkley: Never say never.

The Early: As a runner, what’s your favorite Washington route?

Merkley: The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail at dawn, and the National Mall and the Lincoln Monument at night.

The Early: You’re a longtime advocate of scrapping the filibuster and you've become known for your professorial approach to the topic. What’s your strategy for convincing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to change the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation?

Merkley: Actually, I support reinvigorating the filibuster to restore full public debate and amendments.

The Early: Describe Manchin in three words. 

Merkley: West Virginia senator.

The Early: Terry Currier, the record store owner who coined the “Keep Portland Weird” slogan, told KOIN last year that the city isn’t as weird as it used to be. What do you think? Is that cause for concern?

Merkley: Portland will always be weird, in a great way.

The Early: Who is your closest friend on the other side of the aisle?

Merkley: If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

The Early: What was the last book you finished? And what are you reading now?

Merkley: God Save Texas” by Lawrence Wright and “Ready Player Two” by Ernest Cline.

The Early: To steal a question that New York Magazine used to ask New Yorkers: Who is your favorite Oregonian, living or dead, real or fictional?

Merkley: Oregon’s former [Republican] governor, Tom McCall, who championed Oregon’s famous beach bill, bottle bill and land use bill.

The Early: You introduced legislation with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in 2020 following the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof’s reporting on Pornhub. What do you think of Kristof’s [potential] run for governor?

Merkley: A great columnist and one of three intriguing candidates — if he qualifies for the ballot.

The Early: It seems almost certain that Democrats won't be able to pass their voting rights bills next week due to Manchin and Sinema's opposition to changing the filibuster. What's the next step for moving voting rights forward?

Merkley: In my ideal world, the talking filibuster — resulting in powerful minority leverage, numerous amendments, public debate and scrutiny, and, when the debaters wear out, a final vote. Ultimately, our republic is founded on the theory that after robust debate, you choose the path championed by the greater number, not the lesser.

Senate will take up voting rights Tuesday despite major obstacles to pass

Groundhog Day: The Senate is heading home for the weekend with Democrats’ push to pass a pair of voting rights bills in almost exactly the same place it was when the week began, despite all the speeches and negotiations.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is still planning to bring to take up the legislation — and to force a vote on changing the Senate’s filibuster rules when Republicans move to block it.

And Manchin and Sinema are still opposed to changing the rules, giving the voting rights legislation no path forward, as our colleagues Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report. The two senators met with President Biden for more than an hour early Thursday evening; a White House official described the meeting only as “a candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights.”

The only thing that’s changed on voting rights is the timing — slightly.

While Schumer had vowed to vote on changing the filibuster rules by Monday, he said on Thursday evening that Senate would instead head home for the weekend due to “circumstances regarding covid” — Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Thursday that he’d tested positive for the virus — “and another potentially hazardous winter storm approaching the DC area this weekend.” Senators will return on Tuesday — even though the chamber wasn’t scheduled to be in session next week — to take up the legislation.

Democrats' Sisyphean drive to pass the voting rights bills has put Biden's other top priority — the Build Back Better Act — on the back burner.

But activists haven't forgotten about it. The Economic Security Project Action and other groups have organized a day of action today to pressure senators not to give up extending the beefed-up child tax credit, which expired at the close of the year. A coalition of West Virginia groups will also gather on the steps of the state Capitol in Charleston to urge Manchin to back extending the credit.

At the White House

One year in office, Vice President Harris' team hopes to boost public image

New Year, New Veep: Vice President Harris’s team, nearing her one-year anniversary in office, is engaged in a series of course changes that aides and supporters hope will boost her public image and reset her political prospects, after a first year that even some of her allies say has fallen short of expectations,” our colleague Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports.

  • “She has hired Jamal Simmons, a seasoned political operator and familiar face on cable news, to oversee her communications. She has returned to President Biden’s side for big events. She is mulling a heavier media schedule after months of looking warily at such engagements. She is looking to benefit from an extensive schedule of midterm campaigning that aides hope will revive Democrats’ faith in her political skills and popular appeal.”
  • “And after a year when Biden often seemed to put Harris in charge of intractable, no-win issues, she is suddenly at the center of what, for the moment, at least, is the administration’s top priority — voting rights.”
  • “Harris’s staff acknowledges that she has faced strong headwinds. She is the most-watched vice president in history, complete with her own press corps that travels internationally with her and tracks her opinion polls, not just the president’s. Articles about Harris have obsessed over her laugh, delved into her distrust of bluetooth ear buds and criticized her affinity for pricey Parisian cookware.”

“Aides say it has been difficult for Harris to shake a presidential campaign narrative that she is hard to work for. Several articles criticized Harris’s handling of staff amid the departure of high-profile aides in the final days of 2021. Critics scattered over two decades told The Washington Post of an inconsistent and at times degrading boss who burns through seasoned staff members who have found success in other demanding, high-profile positions.”

  • “Defenders say many of the attacks on Harris are rooted in racism and sexism, reflecting the bias of people unaccustomed to seeing a woman in power.”
  • “Others say Harris is confronting issues that cannot be fixed by any one person, even a vice president.”

The Media

Weekend reeeads: 

Viral

What do LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell all have in common? “When Ja Morant soared to block a transition layup attempt by Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley on Sunday, the Memphis Grizzlies’ bench jumped to its feet and the superlatives started flying. Lakers star LeBron James called it a ‘spectacular play’ made possible by ‘rockets in his calf muscle,’ and the Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. called it ‘probably the best block I’ve seen,’” our colleagues Ben Golliver and Artur Galocha write. “Social media was agog over various replay angles, all of which seemed more preposterous than the last.”

  • “Morant’s block was amazing on its face, and it combined the many elements of his game that have positioned the third-year guard to make his first all-star team next month: speed, timing, powerful leaping ability, body control and high basketball intelligence. But the highlight play will endure in the collective memory because it also melded aspects of other famous blocks.”

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @jaxalemany and @theodoricmeyer.