Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Russia-Ukraine waiting game

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during their meeting
Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via Associated Press

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Russian Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during their meeting

 

 

Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Tuesday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators. Readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 919,697; Tuesday, 922,473.

Officials in Russia and Ukraine on Monday used strategic ambiguity to hint that a diplomatic understanding might still be reached that could in effect reward Moscow’s aggressive anti-NATO-membership posture by nudging wary Ukraine closer to neutrality on the question of one day joining the European alliance.

 

Russia’s Defense Ministry today announced without details that some forces are pulling back from Ukraine’s border, even as other major military exercises continue (The Washington Post and The Associated Press). Ukraine’s reaction: “We’ll believe when we see.”

 

The rhetoric coming out of Moscow and Kyiv, including a guarded change in tone, hinted at the potential for de-escalation just days after the White House warned that the Kremlin was ready to invade its outmatched neighbor this week, after which painful sanctions levied by the United States and European partners would be immediate. 

 

The Associated Press: Sliver of hope: Kremlin sees a diplomatic path with Ukraine.

 

The New York Times: Oil markets on edge as Russia-Ukraine tensions drag on.

 

In a choreographed presentation meant for public consumption, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested to his boss, Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Russia continue along a diplomatic path to extract security guarantees from the West (Reuters and USA Today). Russia’s defense chief told Putin that military exercises at Ukraine’s borders were coming to an end. “Good,” Putin replied to both men (The New York Times).

 

In Ukraine on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (pictured below) before Scholz’s planned meeting today with Putin in Moscow. Eager to play down any imminent threat of a Russian invasion, Zelensky also is keen to avert such a crisis. He suggested Ukraine’s NATO membership goals are aspirational, but not immediate. “How much should Ukraine go on that path?” he said on Monday. “Who will support us?”

 

The Wall Street Journal: Russian forces near Ukraine have grown to 105 battalion tactical groups, up from 83 groups earlier this month, according to U.S. officials. Russia has also moved about 500 combat aircraft within range of Ukraine and has 40 combat ships in the Black Sea, said U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports.

 

Ukraine’s NATO goal, intended as a shield, appeared in its constitution after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Prior to that invasion, Ukraine was officially neutral. The United States and NATO have told Putin that he cannot use force to coerce a binding pledge that Ukraine will never join the NATO alliance. Zelensky and some Ukrainian officials have been quietly pursuing negotiations that could lead to acceptance of some form of neutrality or another solution more narrowly focused on Russian demands in a potential cease-fire agreement that also would uphold Ukraine’s independence, according to the Times.

 

Reuters: Zelensky declares Wednesday, Feb. 16, identified by the West as a potential invasion date in the minds of Russian forces, as a “day of unity” in Ukraine.

 

Meanwhile, President Biden spoke by phone on Monday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about reinforcing a “defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank,” according to a White House statement. The U.S. closed its embassy in Kyiv, the capital, and relocated operations to western Ukraine, the State Department announced.

 

The Hill: Pentagon mulls a new way to arm Ukrainians if Russia invades.

 

The Hill’s Niall Stanage in his latest Memo writes that it’s unlikely Putin will back down completely, while any outcome is thought to be tough for Biden, who has taken a prominent, forceful stance with his enigmatic Russian counterpart. 

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend their joint news conference

 

 

> Defense competition: The White House promoted a Pentagon report released today about shrinking U.S. defense contractor competition and the national security impacts. The report outlines five initiatives aimed at supporting “sufficient domestic capacity and capability in the defense industrial base,” including attracting small business entrants.

 

> Gun control: Such legislation in Congress has largely been put aside by Democrats on Capitol Hill. The party is wary ahead of this year’s midterm contests and Republicans won’t budge on expanding background checks, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.     

 

> West Wing: Biden’s communications adviser for television, Mariel Saez, is leaving the White House for the private sector (CNN). … Former Trump White House COVID-19 adviser Deborah Birx, an infectious disease and public health expert whose reputation took a beating as the pandemic swept across the United States, has a memoir planned for publication on April 26 (The Associated Press and The Hill). 

LEADING THE DAY

CORONAVIRUS: Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced on Monday that the District’s indoor mask mandate will expire at the end of the month and that its requirement for people entering businesses to show proof of vaccination ends today. 

 

Bowser said she made her decision because of a sharp decline in infections since December’s omicron surge. The district’s proof-of-vaccination requirement was put into place shortly before Christmas (The Washington Post).

 

“COVID is not as deadly as it was,” she said, noting people can now get vaccinated. “Getting vaccinated and boosted, we can’t emphasize enough.”

 

Rolling back the city’s mask mandate is not universal, however. Unlike several blue-state governors, Bowser left in place the mask requirement for schools, healthcare facilities and public transit (The Hill). 

 

CBS 8 San Diego: California announces no new guidance on masks in schools, will reassess Feb. 28.

 

The Hill: Ontario, Canada, lifting its proof-of-vaccination requirements.

 

BBC: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, tests positive for COVID-19 days after Prince Charles’s positive result.

 

The Washington Post: Is there a universal vaccine capable of working against most coronavirus variants? Scientists are searching. 

 

The Wall Street Journal: Microsoft to start bringing employees back to the office.

 

 

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser wears a face mask as she speaks at a news conference

 

 

> All truckered out: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked his country’s Emergencies Act on Monday in a push to end anti-COVID-19-mandate protests by truckers, which for weeks crippled Ottawa, hampered border crossings and hurt the auto industry. 

 

The move gives Trudeau sweeping powers to end the protests. Among them, the government has threatened to tow vehicles to keep essential services up and running and issuing a freeze on bank accounts of the truckers involved. He has ruled out using the military.

 

“Consider yourselves warned,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said. “If your truck is used in these blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen. The insurance on your vehicle will be suspended. Send your rigs home.” 

 

Alex Gangitano, The Hill: Five big questions after Canadian truckers cleared from US border bridge.

 

******

 

CONGRESS: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — the most prominent voice of the far-left “squad” — criticized Biden as unassertive, Republicans as undemocratic, members of her own party as vulnerable to groupthink, and the news media as sensational during a wide-ranging interview with The New Yorker published on Monday. She reserved some of her harshest words for leaders in her own caucus, particularly when it comes to the process of devising legislative strategy. “Honestly, it is a shit show. It’s scandalizing, every single day,” she said.

 

> The Senate on Monday moved forward to potentially confirm Robert Califf, Biden’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration for a second time in his career. A floor vote is expected today (The Hill).

 

> Two popular bills approved in the House face new challenges in the Senate, where the chamber’s “cooling saucer” characteristics often look a bit like a deep freeze. Complications have ensnared a measure that would relieve much of the financially strapped Postal Service’s huge debt, and another measure that would avert a government shutdown this weekend hit speed bumps, The Associated Press reports.

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: Mazars USA, the longtime accounting firm for former President Trump and the Trump Organization, said it could no longer vouch for financial statements it prepared for the company following accusations from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) that it fraudulently misrepresented the value of its assets. 

 

In a letter submitted in new court filings on Monday, William Kelly, the general counsel for the accounting firm, told the Trump Organization that it would be terminating their business relationship and that the former president’s company should inform any recipient of the financial statements that they can no longer be relied upon. 

 

“We write to advise that the Statements of Financial Condition for Donald J. Trump for the years ending June 30, 2011 — June 30, 2020, should no longer be relied upon and you should inform any recipients thereof who are currently relying upon one or more of those documents that those documents should not be relied upon,” Kelly wrote in a letter dated Feb. 9. 

 

A Trump Organization spokesperson said in a statement that they were disappointed with Mazars’s decision, adding that its work was in accordance with accounting standards (The New York Times).

 

> The New York Times: The wording of a pretrial motion on Friday from Justice Department special counsel John Durham started a furor in right-wing news outlets about purported spying, but conservatives’ narrative is off-track. The facts involve malware from the Obama White House era, not spying involving Trump.

 

> The Washington Post: Larry Puccio, a longtime friend of West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, has a growing lobbying business in Washington as companies seek to understand and influence a key lawmaker. Puccio is not the only Manchin ally who has been lured to K Street.

 

> Palin problems: A judge on Monday indicated that he will dismiss former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) lawsuit against The New York Times, saying that her attorneys produced a lack of evidence to suggest the paper of record acted recklessly or knowingly published false material about her. 

 

Judge Jed Rakoff’s decision came as a jury in U.S. District Court was still deliberating a verdict, with those deliberations continuing this morning. Rakoff said in court on Monday that Palin’s lawyers had no “legally sufficient evidentiary basis” for a case against the outlet. 

 

“I think this [was] an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times,” Rakoff said. “The law here sets a very high standard [for actual malice]. The court finds that that standard has not been met.” 

 

The former 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee (pictured below) filed her lawsuit in response to a Times editorial, later corrected, that had connected her to the 2011 shooting in an Arizona parking lot that injured then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) (The Hill).

 

The Texas Tribune: Early voting kicks off ahead of March 1 primaries, to run through Feb. 25. 

 

The Associated Press: Democrats eye key governors’ races as a backstop against the GOP: Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Sarah Palin leaves the courthouse in New York

 

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE! 

OPINION

Mr. President, it’s time for a little humility, by David Axelrod, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3oO75Wu 

 

Imagine if a lemon law penalized schools for rotten educations, by Mitch Daniels, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3JtW58U 

 

The Rams won a Super Bowl. Have they won Los Angeles? by Jason Gay, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/34Vkkh8 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session. The House returns to work Feb. 28 following the Presidents Day recess.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of Celeste Wallander to be an assistant secretary of Defense.

 

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden will deliver remarks at the annual legislative conference of the National Association of Counties at 2 p.m. at the Washington Hilton.

 

Economic indicator: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports at 8:30 a.m. on January’s producer price index.

 

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 3 p.m.

 

INVITATIONS: The Hill’s Virtually Live features “Race & Justice ImperativeTODAY at 1 p.m. ET with author Robert Bullard, Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President Melanie Campbell and more for a wide-ranging discussion moderated by The Hill’s Steve Clemons and Nexstar Media’s Raquel Martin (info and registration HERE), plus “Food Security Summit” on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, with House Hunger Caucus Co-Chairs Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and more (details HERE).

 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.

ELSEWHERE

STATE WATCH: Texas is suing Facebook over allegations that the social media giant violated Texans’ privacy via its past use of facial recognition technology. The lawsuit alleges Facebook captured biometric data of Texans for commercial purposes without their informed consent and failed to destroy collected identifiers within a reasonable time. The lawsuit also alleges that Facebook, now under the parent company Meta, violated the privacy of non-users by collecting biometric identifiers from photos and videos uploaded to the platform by friends and family (The Hill). 

 

SUSTAINABILITY: Corporate climate pledges are increasingly coming under the microscope, with outside groups saying that a number of companies are relying on shaky math to fulfill their vows. Environmental groups and activists pressing for action on climate change say the failures will only raise the pressure for governments to take action on global warming (The Hill). 

 

IN THE KNOW: “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah (below) will serve as the comedic presence at April’s White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner. The April 30 soiree will be the first event since 2019, as it was canceled each of the past two years due to COVID-19. “We can’t wait for him to help bring our 100-year Washington tradition ‘Back to Abnormal,’” WHCA President Steven Portnoy said, referring to Noah’s comedy tour with the same name (The Hill).

 

 

Trevor Noah arrives at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … The Morning Report Beijing Winter Olympics coverage today continues with some great photos and a medal leaderboard. 

 

Norway leads in medals with 22, of which 11 are gold. Russia, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee, has captured 20 (4 gold) while the U.S. has tallied 17 total medals, including 7 golds. Trailing behind is Canada with 17 (2 gold), and Austria’s total of 16 (6 gold). 

 

Check out medals, competitions, schedules and details at NBC Olympics.

 

 

Austria's Lukas Greiderer competes at the 2022 Winter Olympics

 

 

 

Mana Kawabe, of Japan, competes at the 2022 Winter Olympics

 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Boris Johnson David Axelrod Deborah Birx Donald Trump Jackie Walorski Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Durham Justin Trudeau Muriel Bowser Trevor Noah Vladimir Putin
See all Hill.TV See all Video