The Hill’s Morning Report — US joins Germany to send tanks to Ukraine
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It may take a year or more for the United States to get 31 M1 Abrams tanks promised by President Biden on Wednesday to Ukraine’s front lines. It will take months for 14 Leopard 2 tanks pledged by Germany to arrive, augmented in the meantime by tanks and heavy weaponry coming from about a dozen other European nations.
Ukraine asked for hundreds of battle tanks. The question ahead of an anticipated spring offensive by Russia is, will it be enough? Has the lifting of U.S. and German resistance to sending such heavy war machines opened the door to deliveries of European Leopard 2 tanks closer to the fighting — and improved Ukraine’s odds of victory? (The New York Times).
“These can help Ukraine to defend itself, win and prevail as an independent nation,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Biden suggested that sending a battalion’s worth of Abrams tanks to Ukraine and training its fighters to use them could multiply Ukraine’s defenses and eventually help exhaust the grinding Russian offensive toward a diplomatic end.
“If Russian troops returned to Russia … this war would be over today,” the president said. “That’s what we all want: an end to this war in just and lasting terms.”
Russia reacted today with waves of missiles aimed at Ukraine killing one person, (Reuters) and with fury on Wednesday, arguing Berlin was abandoning its “historical responsibility to Russia” arising from Nazi crimes in World War II. Now nearing a year since its invasion, Russia frames its war with its neighbor as defense against the U.S.-led alliance (Reuters). Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a Telegram post that Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was confirmation of Germany’s involvement in “a war planned in advance” against Russia.
▪ The Hill: In a significant shift, Biden is sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
▪ The Hill: Biden says U.S. tanks to Ukraine are not an offensive threat to Russia.
▪ Defense One: Following Biden’s pledge, the U.S. Army must devise options to help the Ukrainian military operate the maintenance-hungry and fuel-thirsty battlefield behemoths.
▪ The Guardian analysis: Western unity is critical but Ukraine will need more than tanks to win this war.
▪ Newsweek: 70 tons and gallons of fuel per mile, the game-changing Abrams tanks present one glaring problem for Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the transfer of tanks follows “intensive consultations” with allies (The Washington Post).
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally,” he said.
Germany’s tanks are coming from its existing military stocks and the package will include training of Ukrainian forces in Germany, plus logistics, ammunition and system maintenance support.
Russia has thousands of tanks still available in what has become a war of rapid attrition, David Silbey, a military historian at Cornell University who specializes in battlefield analysis, told the Times.
“The West will never manage a one-to-one match for those numbers,” he said. “But, given the quality advantage of the Leopard or Abrams over even the most modern Russian tank, if the West could supply 500 to 1,000 tanks, it would make a massive difference to the Ukrainians and to the war.”
Most of the weapons will be shipped either on rail cars or flatbed trucks that are strong enough to carry the enormous weight. The transports will use stealth, likely under the cloak of darkness, according to the Times. Ukrainian troops are required to retrieve the weapons from depots in NATO territory rather than await Western deliveries because of concerns about provoking Russia.
▪ Politico: Inside Washington’s about-face on sending tanks to Ukraine.
▪ The New York Times: U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, a Russian-speaking career diplomat confirmed by the Senate last month, arrived in Moscow today.
▪ BBC: Israel today conducted a military raid in the occupied West Bank, killing nine Palestinians including a 60-year-old woman, according to the Palestinian health minister. At least 29 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank so far this year, including militants and civilians.
▪ The Washington Post: Biden vowed to punish Saudi Arabia over its oil output reduction through OPEC Plus, which it chairs. That’s no longer the plan.
▪ The New York Times: In the U.K. cost-of-living crisis, some workers struggle to feed their children.
▪ Reuters: North Korea ordered a five-day lockdown in Pyongyang, citing rising cases of an unidentified “respiratory illness.”
▪ Reuters: Strong clan loyalty, locals, helped Italian mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, 60, stay hidden.
LEADING THE DAY
Get ready, lawmakers: Former President Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts will be reinstated in the coming weeks, according to Meta (The Hill).
Should Biden negotiate with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over raising the debt limit? Biden will meet with McCarthy, but White House officials say it’s not a debt limit negotiation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said McCarthy should take a lead on the debt ceiling negotiations, as Republicans push for spending cuts after the U.S. hit its debt limit late last week and the Treasury Department began implementing “extraordinary measures” to avoid a default — which are set to expire in June (NPR).
The House GOP is demanding spending cuts be paired with a debt ceiling hike, but it’s far from clear that they can rally around a single plan if Democrats in the House hold tight in opposition, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, especially given their narrow majority.
▪ The Hill: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) meets with McCarthy on the debt limit.
▪ Roll Call: House GOP considering “clean” short-term debt limit suspension.
▪ Reuters: Splits emerge as House Republicans demand Biden negotiate on debt limit.
▪ NPR: The politics and economics of a potentially costly showdown over the debt ceiling.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee renewed a request that Republican lawmakers had previously made while in the minority to Hunter Biden’s art dealer, Georges Bergès, seeking information about transactions benefiting the president’s son, including sales of his artwork (The Wall Street Journal).
On Tuesday, McCarthy removed two California Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell — from the House Intelligence Committee, citing “integrity.” Democrats, meanwhile, called the move “vengeance politics.” But McCarthy’s vow to block Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from sitting on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has hit an early snag: he may not have the votes to do it (The Hill and Politico).
The White House on Wednesday pushed back against McCarthy’s plans, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying all three members “bring a lot to the table when it comes to foreign policy and national security” (The Hill).
“We’ll say that when it comes to that committee, it should not be politicized,” Jean-Pierre added, speaking specifically about the Intelligence Committee. “It should be independent. And again, those congressional members bring a lot of expertise to that committee, and I’ll leave it there.”
Truth & Consequences? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) remains firmly in the headlines.
A pair of New York House Democrats on Wednesday said Santos, who has conceded numerous lies and distortions about his résumé and past activities, should be denied access to classified information while serving in Congress. Such a restriction would be within McCarthy’s purview to implement (The Hill).
▪ Politico: The improbability of Santos’s $199 expenses.
▪ The Washington Post: “I felt like we were in ‘Goodfellas’’’: How Santos wooed investors for alleged Ponzi scheme.
▪ The Hill: Santos unsure on voting to remove Omar from Foreign Affairs panel.
Biden and Vice President Harris will travel to the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania on Feb. 3, just days before the president’s State of the Union address, the White House announced. The trip to Philadelphia is official White House travel but could provide a preview of what we’ll hear on the campaign trail in 2024.
According to the White House, Biden and Harris will speak about “the progress we have made and their work implementing the Biden-Harris economic agenda that continues to deliver results for the American people.” No additional details were provided (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
Readers will remember that in 2019, Biden, who was raised in Scranton, announced his bid for the Democratic nomination in a simple video released on April 25, and days before the 2020 election, Democratic nominees Biden and Harris held bookend rallies with celebrities and speakers in the Keystone State (WHYY). After Pennsylvania put Biden over the top in the Electoral College on Election Night, street parties broke out in Philadelphia and other cities across the commonwealth (PBS).
And in September, Biden used Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park as the backdrop for a prime-time speech about democracy (CNN).
Over in the Senate, Democrats are on edge about possible retirements before 2024. The party will be defending 23 Senate seats, three of which are in states that Trump won in 2020 — Ohio, West Virginia and Montana. Additionally, they’re defending battleground seats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan.
In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) says he plans to run for reelection, but Democrats are still holding their breath waiting for Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Manchin to decide whether they will stick around for reelection battles in red states. Further suspense awaits in Arizona, where newly-Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may contend with a Democratic challenger, Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) who announced his bid earlier this week (The Washington Post).
Republicans across the party’s spectrum are pushing for former GOP Senate candidate Dave McCormick to challenge incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) in 2024, writes The Hill’s Julia Manchester, in a move that comes after the party suffered a devastating blow last year when now-Sen. John Fetterman (Pa.) became the Keystone State’s second Democratic senator.
Many in the GOP argue that McCormick, who was defeated in the primary by Mehmet Oz, would have had a better chance against Fetterman. Republicans are painting McCormick as a consensus candidate who can attract moderate and swing voters while keeping the more conservative factions of the party under his wing. But regardless of who Republicans nominate in the Keystone State, Casey stands to be a formidable challenger given his incumbency advantage and the state’s slight blue lean.
Trump will be in New Hampshire for a stop-by visit and South Carolina for a rally within the space of a few hours on Saturday. As The Hill’s Niall Stanage notes in The Memo, the stops mark the first significant ramping up of a 2024 campaign that even some Trump loyalists believe has gotten off to a lackluster start.
▪ The Hill: Ahead of a vote for chair on Friday at the Republican National Committee winter meeting, candidate Ronna McDaniel, the current chairwoman, picks up some needed support.
▪ Politico: The private angst over Trump’s racist attacks on former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao goes public.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
The controversy over Biden’s handling of classified documents has pushed some previously lesser names into the spotlight, writes The Hill’s Brett Samuels, who has rounded up five players, including the White House special counsel and Biden’s personal lawyer, formerly a White House counsel.
▪ CNN: Teams supportive of Trump and Biden separately jumped on a documents disclosure by former Vice President Pence as defenses in their respective classified documents controversies.
▪ The Washington Post: The National Archives and Records Administration may ask living former presidents and vice presidents to search for classified items.
▪ Politico: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) vows to block Biden nominees over classified documents flap.
Gasoline prices are increasing again, rising by about 40 cents over the past month. The average gasoline price in the U.S. was $3.48 per gallon on Wednesday, up from a month prior, according to the American Automobile Association. Analysts have attributed the jump to both an increased demand for oil and refinery issues (The Hill). The increase marks a sore spot for Biden — whose administration has spent the past months fighting against inflation and only recently saw a win when workers’ wages once again outpaced the rise in consumer prices — as he gears up for a tough reelection campaign during which he’ll have to counteract Republican arguments against his handling of the economy (Politico).
Biden today will give what the White House is billing as a “major economic speech,” in Virginia, which he will use to contrast his vision for the economy with House Republican proposals (The Hill).
Fox Business: Gas prices rise on strong demand, higher oil prices.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been in the spotlight since a computer system malfunction caused an hours-long grounding of all domestic flights earlier this month, and yet Biden’s nominee for administrator is waiting in limbo, write The Hill’s Karl Evers-Hillstrom and Alex Gangitano. Phil Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport, was nominated in July but has not received a hearing in the Senate yet. His future is unclear, with a number of Republican senators staunchly opposed to his nomination.
West Wing turnstile: The National Economic Council will get a new director to succeed outgoing Brian Deese, The Washington Post reports. Candidates talked about include Lael Brainard, a former White House staff adviser who served past presidents, now vice chairwoman at the nation’s central bank.
➤ STATE WATCH
Attempts by New York Democrats to pass gun measures after the Supreme Court struck down the state’s concealed carry law last summer are facing legal challenges from gun rights advocates that are tying the matters up in lower courts. As The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld reports, no matter who prevails, the outcome will serve as one of the first major applications of the high court’s overhaul in how judges mull the constitutionality of gun laws. The new law in part bans firearms in 20 “sensitive places,” including some of New York’s most famed spots: Times Square, Yankee Stadium and the subway system.
Officials at a Virginia school were warned on three occasions by teachers that a 6-year-old boy had a gun or had made threats, but failed to take action on the day he shot his first-grade teacher in class. An attorney for the teacher asserted Wednesday that the shooting of Richneck Elementary School teacher Abigail Zwerner, 25, in Newport News could have been avoided if administrators had taken the proper steps to search the student for the firearm (The Washington Post).
“This tragedy was entirely preventable if the school administrators responsible for school safety had done their part and taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger,” attorney Diane Toscano said.
NBC News: The Newport News School Board on Wednesday voted to replace its embattled superintendent amid the continuing fallout from a 6-year-old boy shooting his first-grade teacher this month. The board voted 5-1 to remove George Parker III as the head of the district of about 26,500 students.
Amid an escalation in gang violence in small California towns, families have usually been spared, but gangs there are increasingly working with violent Mexican cartels. During a Jan. 16 mass shooting in Goshen, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley, six people inside a house were quickly shot dead, execution-style, the latest in what the authorities say has been an alarming rise in homicides in the state’s agricultural heartland.
“A lot of cartels are moving into rural areas in the United States,” Nathan P. Jones, associate professor of security studies at Sam Houston State University in Texas, told The New York Times. “They can avoid major metro areas’ drug task forces, find cheap stash houses to keep drugs and be close to highways or interstates.”
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Affordable Care Act enrollments reached a record high.
▪ Bloomberg News: Housing demand climbs as the U.S. market starts to show signs of life.
▪ The New York Times: GOP state lawmakers push a growing wave of anti-transgender bills.
▪ Reuters: Half of U.S. mass attacks are sparked by personal and workplace disputes, a new report finds.
▪ The Washington Post: Monterey Park, Calif., shooting victims include “loving aunt” and joyful dancer.
■ Air defense upgrades, not F-16s, are a winning strategy for Ukraine, by Col. Maximilian Bremer and Kelly Grieco, commentary, Defense News.https://bit.ly/3WJvTNv
■ Only force will move Putin — and Ukraine is counting on its allies, byretiredLt. Gen. James M. Dubik, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3WzSITT
■ The scariest part of the debt ceiling impasse: Washington isn’t scared, by Ramesh Ponnuru, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3Hwwn5j
WHERE AND WHEN
👉 INVITATIONS to The Hill’s upcoming virtual events: TODAY, 1 p.m. ET, “Expanding Adult Vaccine Access,” with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure and Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). RSVP and save your spot.
🎤 FRIDAY, 2 p.m. ET, The Hill’s live virtual newsmaker event with Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in discussion with The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. RSVP and join live.
📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene at 10 a.m.
The Senate meets at 10 a.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. He will travel to Steamfitters Local 302 in nearby Springfield, Va., to deliver remarks at 2:45 p.m. about the economy. At 5:30 p.m., the president and first lady Jill Biden will host a reception in the East Room to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Vice President Harris arrives tonight in Washington after visiting relatives of the victims of a mass shooting that occurred at the Star Dance Studio in Monterey, Calif. She urged Congress to pass additional gun safety legislation. “They have the power to do something. Can they do something? Yes. Should they do something? Yes,” she said.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in South Africa, where she will hold bilateral meetings, including with Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. Yellen will join the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, and business leaders for lunch. In the afternoon, Yellen heads to the Ford Motor Company assembly plant outside of Pretoria, where she will receive a tour and speak about expanded trade and investment flows.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is traveling this week to Poland and next week to Germany to focus on combating antisemitism globally. He will begin his itinerary in Krakow today and be there through Sunday.
Economic indicators: The Bureau of Economic Analysis at 8:30 a.m. will report its advance estimate of U.S. gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2022 (CNBC). Separately, the Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report on filings for unemployment benefits in the week ending Jan. 21.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
The updated COVID-19 boosters are cutting the risk that a person will get sick from the coronavirus by about half, even against infections caused by the rapidly spreading XBB.1.5 subvariant, new studies conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. They are among the first looks at how the bivalent boosters have continued to work in the real world as the virus has evolved, and the data reveals that the boosters are continuing to offer substantial protection against currently circulating variants (CNN).
▪ The New York Times: Utah plastic surgeon sold fake COVID-19 vaccine cards for $50, U.S. says.
▪ The Atlantic: Wait, is this winter going… OK? Only by the basement standards of the 2020s.
▪ Kaiser Health News: Unmet needs: Critics cite failures in health care for vulnerable foster children.
GenBioPro, one of two American manufacturers of mifepristone, the first pill used in the two-drug medication abortion regimen, filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a state ban on the medication. It’s one in what is expected to be a wave of cases arguing that the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the pill takes precedence over such restrictive state laws. If the West Virginia court rules in favor of the company, it could compel other states that have banned abortion to allow the pills to be prescribed, dispensed and sold, according to legal experts.
On the other hand, if the courts reject the company’s arguments, some scholars say the decision could open the door for states to ban or restrict other approved drugs (The New York Times).
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots 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): 1,106,524. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 3,953 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.)
Take Our Morning Report Quiz
And finally … 🐆 It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by Germany’s focus on Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, we’re eager for some smart guesses about big cats.
Which of the big cats are social animals?
Which big cat is the face of an NFL team?
- All of the above
Which is the only big cat native to North America?
- Snow leopard
How fast can leopards run?
- Up to 36 mph
- Up to 16 mph
- Up to 60 mph
- Up to 26 mph
Be sure to email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com — please add “Quiz” to your subject line. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
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