The Hill’s Morning Report – What’s Putin’s next move?
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this morning: 884,260.
As of today, 74.5 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 63.1 percent is “fully vaccinated,” according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker and the government’s definition. The percentage of Americans who have received third or booster doses is 26.1.
The United States and leading allies will meet today at the United Nations Security Council to try to pressure Russia as talk of tough sanctions, now or following any invasion of Ukraine, dominate conjecture about what Russian President Vladimir Putin will do and how the international community would respond.
This week, U.S. senators believe they can iron out differences and take up a tough sanctions measure aimed at deterring Putin and the Kremlin, putting their weight behind a big-stick approach to diplomacy that emphasizes pain and long-term international consequences for Russia (The Hill).
Gauging disagreements within NATO about specific proposed sanctions and strategy, as well as the rifts within the Republican Party about whether Biden’s policy toward Moscow is too weak or too tough, Russia sought to delay today’s United Nations meeting, calling it “a stunt” orchestrated by President Biden and his administration (The New York Times).
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who will likely speak again this week with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accused the United States and NATO of desiring to pull Ukraine into the European alliance (The Hill). Biden has publicly said Ukraine, with its own internal governance problems, including corruption, is not poised to be a NATO member anytime soon. Lavrov says Moscow wants more clarification from NATO (Reuters).
The Hill: The United States assails Russian disinformation.
As President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine continues to publicly play down the idea of an imminent attack by 127,000 Russian troops now encircling his country’s borders, Biden and his advisers play up the dangers, arguing that Russia’s military movements and evident preparations for violence contradict its many months of denials.
CNN: Russia positioned blood supplies near Ukraine’s borders as part of its accumulation of medical supplies, troops and military equipment in the area that could signal plans for an invasion, U.S. officials said.
On Friday, Biden said he’ll soon send more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe. Last week, he warned Zelensky it was “a distinct possibility” Russia could invade Ukraine in February. Putin will be in Beijing later this week for the Winter Olympics and is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping, a Kremlin ally and influencer, to discuss security in Europe.
The Hill: Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, said on Sunday that Russia has aims beyond its neighbor. “I believe nobody’s safe if Ukraine will be attacked,” she warned.
The Wall Street Journal: In Eastern Ukraine’s largest city, pro-Russia sympathies wither as war looms.
The United States insists the U.N. Security Council will today be “unified in calling for the Russians to explain themselves.” U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Sunday during an ABC interview, “We’re going into the room prepared to listen to them, but we’re not going to be distracted by their propaganda.” Although the United States has worked to learn what Russia’s representatives have to say, Biden has commented that his advisers are unsure that Putin’s lieutenants know what Putin will do.
“You don’t amass 100,000 troops if you don’t have intentions to use them,” Thomas-Greenfield said (The Hill).
The Hill: Pentagon spokesman John Kirby repeated on Sunday that the United States is considering a range of sanctions against Russia not levied before.
The Associated Press: Why U.S. sanctions may target individual Russians.
The New York Times: Britain moved to broaden its range of sanctions available against Russia if it attacks Ukraine. It has long been a financial hub for Russia’s wealthy and well connected, with one British parliamentary report describing London as a “laundromat” for illicit Russian money. The U.K. is supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine and has offered to increase its troop deployments elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
With both the House and Senate back to work this week in Washington, the legislative branch may act. But there are challenges: GOP leaders who urge Biden to be tougher must reckon with the party’s isolationist far-right flank, reports The Hill’s Cristina Marcos. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) assailed Biden on “Fox News Sunday” for what he called “appeasing” Russia. He called the president’s foreign policy “feckless.”
The Wall Street Journal: A Senate bill nearing completion would hit major banks in Russia and limit the market for Russia’s sovereign debt if the country attacks Ukraine.
The Hill’s roundup of Sunday shows: Russia sanctions, Biden Supreme court nominee dominate.
Here’s what else we’re watching this week:
> The Washington Football Team encouraged suspense ahead of its planned announcement Wednesday about an official post-Redskins name, and some wonder whether the choice actually leaked last week (Sporting News). It won’t be Wolves or RedWolves, which means the finalists are Commanders, Admirals, Armada, Brigade, Sentinels, Defenders, Red Hogs, Presidents and the status quo “Washington Football Team” (The Associated Press). … On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will be more interested in hearing from a roundtable of witnesses about the Washington Football Team’s “toxic workplace culture” at 10 a.m.
> Biden will focus on gun crimes and policing on Thursday in New York City following the recent shooting deaths of two officers who were among those responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem between a mother and her 47-year-old son, who was shot and killed on the scene by a rookie police officer. Urban crime, guns and law enforcement are potent political issues for candidates in both parties this election year (CNBC).
> Nominees for three vacancies at the Federal Reserve, including Sarah Bloom Raskin, nominated for the top financial institution supervisory role, face Senate Banking Committee members on Thursday during a confirmation grilling.
> The Winter Olympics in Beijing start Friday with the opening ceremony and conclude on Feb. 20. Expect plenty of political controversy, boycotts, activism and a dearth of official international delegates because of anti-China fervor (The Associated Press). The athletes, however, are the ones to watch, and NBC explains how.
> Wall Street analysts on Friday will pore over the government’s employment report for January (and Biden will have remarks). With omicron cases rising in January, nonfarm payroll growth may have slowed more than was recorded in December, pointing to economic headwinds.
LEADING THE DAY
CONGRESS: Lawmakers return to Washington this week with a growing smorgasbord of items on the to-do list, headlined by chatter surrounding one item that won’t be determined for weeks: the president’s nominee to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court.
Focus on Sunday surrounded District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, a top candidate to fill Breyer’s spot on the bench. Childs had been tapped to serve on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Senate Judiciary Committee said on Friday that she is not part of its agenda for a planned confirmation hearing for nominees on Tuesday.
Childs is a favorite of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is unabashedly and publicly championing her public-university, Southern roots and her skills in the law. Childs also got a boost on the GOP side on Sunday. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), praised Childs as a “fair-minded” and “highly gifted” jurist, adding that Biden could not do better if he tried.
“I can’t think of a better person for President Biden to consider,” Graham told “Face the Nation.” “One of the most decent people I’ve ever met. … I cannot say anything bad about Michelle Childs. She’s an awesome person,” the former Judiciary Committee chairman added.
The Hill: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine): Biden’s campaign pledge to nominate Black woman to court politicized nomination process.
Jordain Carney, The Hill: Senate GOP faces uncharted waters in Supreme Court fight.
No matter who Biden taps to fill the slot, the selection could alter the internal dynamics of the court. As The Hill’s John Kruzel writes, the next justice is likely to add youth, diversity of experience as a Black woman and a more liberal viewpoint than that of the retiring 83-year-old Breyer, who is known for his pragmatic and somewhat centrist instincts.
The president’s nominee could impact the court’s liberal minority of women, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as the dynamics of those in the conservative majority, including Chief Justice John Roberts, who are increasingly willing to take on the constitutionality of precedent and hot-button social issues in a hyper political environment.
The Brookings Institute: What is Biden drawn to in judicial appointees?
The Washington Post: Possible Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, former public defender, saw impact of harsh drug sentence firsthand.
> Stock options: A number of Republican Senate candidates running on anti-Big Tech platforms have stock holdings in the same companies they are vowing to hold accountable if elected to Congress.
That dynamic has brought forth accusations from some on both sides of the aisle of hypocrisy. According to others, arguing that someone won’t hold Facebook, Google or Apple accountable because they have stock in the company is a weak attack and the conflict-of-interest accusations are small potatoes.
As The Hill’s Rebecca Klar notes, high-profile candidates on the GOP side, including Ohio’s Jane Timken and Pennsylvania’s Jeff Bartos, both have substantial holdings in Big Tech companies.
Some GOP strategists say the investments could open candidates up to criticism, but any further attacks centered on how hypocrisy creates conflicts of interest could be a harder argument to follow.
Bloomberg Businessweek, Joshua Green: Congress’s Big Tech stock stakes make regulation awkward as an antitrust bill casts a spotlight on enormous portfolios held by lawmakers, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a government institution with iffy rules about potential stock conflicts of interest. Pelosi has downplayed her own and her husband’s lucrative tech stock trades, referring to a “free-market economy.”
The Wall Street Journal: Democrats put Build Back Better in the court of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Reuters: House to vote this week on “finished version” of CHIPS for America Act, and go into conference.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Former President Trump’s suggestion on Saturday that he might potentially grant pardons to Jan. 6 rioters if he is reelected in 2024 landed with a thud among some of his supporters and other Republicans a day later.
Graham, a top ally and frequent golf partner of the ex-president, told CBS News that Trump’s suggestion is “inappropriate” and would send the wrong signal following the deadly attack on the Capitol.
“I don’t want to send any signal that it was okay to defile the Capitol,” Graham told host Margaret Brennan. “There are other groups with causes that may want to go down to the violent path that these people get pardoned.”
“I think it’s inappropriate. … I don’t want to do anything that would make this more likely in the future,” Graham added (The Hill).
Trump raised the idea during a rally in Texas on Saturday night, telling supporters that those who were arrested in the Capitol attack are “being treated so unfairly.”
The Washington Post: Trump’s Texas trip illustrates his upsides and downsides for Republicans and their midterm hopes.
The New York Times: Campaigning to oversee elections, while denying the last one.
Yahoo News: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) scorns Trump’s pledge to pardon Jan. 6 rioters: “Oh, my Goodness, no!”
The New York Times: New York Democrats could gain three House seats under proposed district lines.
The Hill: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) sparks Democratic backlash.
> Last Frontier: Alaska is by no means a swing state, but it is on the front lines of the GOP civil war ahead of key contests up and down the ticket in the November midterm elections.
As The Hill’s Tal Axelrod writes, three of the state’s top politicos — Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Don Young (R) — are all up for reelection, but all are under the microscope for a number of reasons.
Murkowski’s situation remains the most contentious, having voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. She is the only one to do so while also being up for reelection this fall, with a number of Trump orbit figures throwing their weight behind Kelly Tshibaka.
On the gubernatorial front, Dunleavy is the target of a primary challenge, in part due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. As for Young, he has largely sidestepped the issues facing Murkowski and Dunleavy but also faces a primary opponent.
ABC News poll: Majority of Americans want Biden to consider “all possible nominees” for Supreme Court vacancy.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Rhapsody for a boy in blue, by Maureen Dowd, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3GeIdgs
Stopping Putin means hitting him where it really hurts, by Lara Williams, social media editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3IO3QWF
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Tuesday at 1 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. The president and Vice President Harris at 11 a.m. will host members of the National Governors Association at the White House. Biden will meet at 2 p.m. at the White House with Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The secretary of State will attend (Reuters and Al Jazeera).
First lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff at 9:45 a.m. will host spouses of members of the National Governors Association at the Kennedy Center, where they plan to deliver remarks.
The National Governors Association concludes a three-day annual winter meeting, this year with 39 governors participating in Washington. Agenda is HERE.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will speak about the crisis in Ukraine at 11 a.m. ET during an event hosted by The Washington Post Live. Information is HERE.
➜ INTERNATIONAL: North Korea on Sunday fired what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested in the past year. The Japanese and South Korean militaries said the missile was launched on a high trajectory, apparently to avoid the territorial spaces of neighbors, and reached a maximum altitude of 1,242 miles and traveled 497 miles before landing in the sea (The Associated Press). Pyongyang confirmed the test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of striking Guam. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missiles now pose a direct threat to the U.S. mainland (The Associated Press). Thomas-Greenfield said Sunday on ABC News that the administration continues to be open to discussions with North Korea “without conditions.” … A small fraction of migrants subjected to the court-ordered reimplementation of the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy gain asylum in the United States. December figures released by the administration show that just 12 percent of migrants were able to make the case that they would face danger if sent across the border to Mexico while pursuing asylum claims in the U.S. (The Hill and The Associated Press).
➜ CYBER SPYING WEAPONRY: Israeli-invented spying tool Pegasus, owned by company NSO, has helped law enforcement crack global criminal cases. But the many abuses of Pegasus have been well documented. The U.S., which bought a version of the spyware through the FBI and racked up bills of $5 million, decided last year to seek to ban it. Israel, which has ultimate say over the international customers to whom NSO sells its spy tools, is infuriated and perceives the United States as supremely hypocritical. NSO’s spy system, called Phantom, was able to hack data behind any mobile phone number in the United States without the knowledge of American users or U.S. telecommunications companies or tech giants such as Apple and Google. The FBI decided last summer after prolonged debate in two administrations not to deploy the NSO weapons it had eagerly assembled, now tucked away in New Jersey, reports The New York Times Magazine after a lengthy investigation.
➜ CRYPTO: The values of most cryptocurrencies have plummeted recently, wiping out billions of dollars of wealth. And instead of mostly harming niche crypto enthusiasts, the impact was felt widely. Cryptocurrencies have seen their popularity skyrocket during the pandemic, pulling in countless celebrity endorsements and even being integrated into more traditional asset portfolios. With tax filing season underway, many investors in the red are bracing for massive tax bills on winnings they no longer have (The Hill).
➜ SPORTS DRAMAS: After a topsy-turvy Championship Sunday, Super Bowl LVI is set. The Cincinnati Bengals will make their first appearance in the big game since 1988 after going on the road and pulling an upset of the heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs, 27-24. They will face the Los Angeles Rams, who came back from 10 points down to top the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17. The Rams will not have far in the next two weeks as Super Bowl LVI will take place at SoFi Stadium, their home park. Sportsbooks have installed the Rams as 4-point favorites (NPR). … Tennis great Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open in a dramatic, five-hour and 24-minute final match against Daniil Medvedev. It ended early Monday Down Under (The Associated Press).
And finally … Tuesday kicks off Black History Month, marking the 46th annual commemoration of African American history in the U.S.
The 2022 theme of the monthlong celebration is “Black Health and Wellness.” According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the theme explores “the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora.” It also takes into account “activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.”
Black History Month was officially recognized in 1976 by President Ford, who called on individuals to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” (History.com).
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