The Hill’s Morning Report – Ukraine, the West await Russian attack
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday! Presidents Day! 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 this morning: 935,335.
President Biden begins a high-stakes week with a new diplomatic push backed by as much certainty as U.S. intelligence can provide that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to move military forces deep into Ukraine, despite the international upheaval and carnage that would follow.
Although Biden began weeks ago to prepare the American people for a possible war in Europe, his public rhetoric on Friday shifted from “if” to “when.” In Moscow today, Putin will hold a meeting of his security council and deliver a speech amid what the Kremlin described as rising tensions (The New York Times).
French President Emmanuel Macron early Monday spoke with Putin for a second time in two days amid a flurry of last-ditch outreach that includes the West’s urging of a Biden-Putin summit, which the White House has agreed to “in principle” as long as Russia does not invade its neighbor, according to a U.S. written statement (The New York Times). As of this writing, a Kremlin spokesman called the summit idea “premature,” without rejecting it outright (The Guardian). And there’s news this morning from AFP that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will speak today with Putin by phone.
Biden has said diplomacy remains the preferred path, but for days he has all but conceded the combined efforts in Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Kyiv and among other Western leaders and diplomats appear not to have dissuaded the Russian president.
The Associated Press: Russia on Sunday reversed its pledge to withdraw an estimated 30,000 of its forces from Kremlin ally Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north.
The Washington Post: Russia has plans to target and kill dissidents and certain vulnerable populations in Ukraine following an invasion and military occupation, the United States advised the United Nations in a recent letter that did not specify the intelligence behind such assertions. The Kremlin denied the report.
The French foreign minister was expected to speak by phone today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (Reuters). Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday he would confer once again with Lavrov on Thursday, if an attack has not occurred (CNN). If any summit between Biden and Putin is organized, it would only happen following the Blinken-Lavrov conversation, and only if Russia has not moved against Ukraine in the interim, U.S. officials indicated.
The Hill: Crises keep Biden off the road and in the Oval Office.
The Hill: Russia denies invasion plans.
In the White House and at the Pentagon, eyes are on what Russia is doing with an estimated 190,000 troops poised to pounce on Ukraine, plus the Russian medical officers, emergency blood supplies and munitions at the ready. The New York Times, The Washington Post and CBS News reported that U.S. intelligence learned last week that the Kremlin had given the order for Russian military units to invade. The question in NATO and among Western capitals is when.
Intelligence officials have told the administration they have a high level of confidence in the intelligence they have gathered about Russian military planning, as well as about plots by Moscow’s intelligence agencies to try and create a pretext for war.
The New York Times: Satellite images collected over the weekend showed a new phase of Russian military readiness, with units closer to Ukraine’s border and troops along tree lines.
“Everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be taking place,’’ Blinken said early on Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The Associated Press: Vice President Harris, during a speech delivered before returning from Germany on Sunday, said there is a “real possibility of war” in Europe.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who has conferred with his counterparts in Eastern Europe as the United States positioned additional forces in Poland to bolster NATO, said Sunday that the international community need only “look at what’s on the other side of the Ukrainian border” to see the force Putin is preparing.
“We see a lot of tanks and armored vehicles there. We see a lot of artillery. We see rocket forces,” Austin told ABC News. “If he employs that kind of combat power, it will certainly create enormous casualties within the civilian population and so this could create a tragedy, quite frankly” (The Hill).
The Ukrainian people, many of them determined to keep calm and carry on, have also betrayed their agitation. Some in Eastern Ukraine, uncertain about what’s ahead, have fled into Russia. Others have taken to the streets of Kyiv and Odessa, embracing the flag of Ukraine (pictured below) and vowing to fight any invasion ordered by Putin. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a Munich conference of diplomats and international leaders on Saturday that the West had appeased Russia for more than a decade. “Result? At least the annexation of Crimea and aggression against my state,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking on Sunday at the same conference, called for global preemptive punishment aimed at Russia for taking its grievances about NATO’s eastward expansion to the brink of war.
“Russia has to be stopped right now,” he said. “I’m officially saying that there are all the grounds to implement at least a part of sanctions prepared against Russia, now” (Reuters).
Reuters: While the West would sanction Russia and isolate Putin if an attack takes place, China is expected to back Moscow diplomatically. Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China told Western leaders amid global discussions about Russia over the weekend that “the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected and safeguarded.”
The Associated Press: Following an attack on Ukraine, Russia would be cut off from markets, tech goods, vows European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The New York Times: Oil prices climb as Russia menaces Ukraine.
Sunday Talk Shows: Ukraine crisis dominates.
The New York Times: Once he kept Russia at a distance. Now, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is doing the Kremlin’s bidding.
Reuters: A Ukrainian reservist learns fighting skills she hopes never to use.
Here’s what else we’re watching this week:
> Biden has said he will nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court before the end of February. Will we learn her identity this week? Democratic advocacy groups say they are mobilized to help the president seat his choice by this summer when Justice Stephen Breyer retires (The Hill). The three known top contenders for the job are federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, California state Supreme Court judge Leondra Kruger, 45, and U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, 55 (The Associated Press).
> The police in Washington, D.C., will increase security beginning on Tuesday until days after Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1. They’re preparing for any demonstrators, including convoys of truckers opposed to cross-border COVID-19 vaccination requirements (WUSA 9).
> Scientists are debating whether we should worry about the BA.2 version of the coronavirus, which is 30 percent more transmissible than omicron and perhaps a variant all its own. Suddenly, new research in Japan suggests it may cause more severe disease and slip past key weapons used against COVID-19. It swiftly became the dominant variant in the Netherlands, where researchers say booster doses of available vaccines are effective against it. Genomic studies have found BA.2 in 47 of 50 states, and 74 countries (CNN). It is spreading fast in South Africa (Bloomberg).
> On Thursday, economists and analysts want to see the government’s latest update on gross domestic product in the fourth quarter and in all of 2021. On Friday, attention turns to personal income and spending in January, a barometer of demand during a high-inflation period for consumers.
> Will the Conservative Political Action Conference this week shape up to be a face-off between former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the two foremost 2024 contenders for the GOP nomination? Other notables scheduled to address the Orlando conference: former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), and Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: A White House request for additional funds to combat COVID-19 is running into a brick wall known as Congress as the push to include up to $30 million in the next funding package falls flat with lawmakers and is increasingly unlikely to be included.
As The Hill’s Peter Sullivan and Nathaniel Weixel write, GOP members have become outright opposed to the possibility, but more troubling for the administration is that Democrats are not anywhere close to being fully onboard with the idea. With omicron declining rapidly across the country, Democrats are wary about complicating talks on a yearlong spending bill before the March 11 deadline.
“I’m not eager to add anything,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, told reporters last week, adding that funding talks had already taken “several months of negotiation.”
On the Republican side, lawmakers are simply ready to move on and don’t believe spending billions of dollars more is a prudent decision.
“Spending $30 billion more without proper oversight or a proper plan to end the public health emergency is not how we give Americans their freedom back,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
> BA.2: Washington, D.C., is monitoring the wily subvariant and has thus far detected a small number of cases. “The question, really, that we should be asking, and we are talking about, is: Does this just replace the current cases that are in the community at the rate that we’re at? Or does it cause additional cases in the community? And more importantly, does it cause additional morbidity and mortality?” said Patrick Ashley, deputy director of the D.C. health department. He urged people to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible (WTOP).
Here’s what science says about whether masks can harm children (National Geographic).
The Associated Press: U.S. virus cases, hospitalizations continue steady decline.
The New York Times: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t publishing large portions of the COVID-19 data it collects.
> Infections: Elizabeth II, 95, tested positive for COVID-19, Buckingham Palace said on Sunday. She was described as having mild, cold-like symptoms days after meeting with her son Prince Charles, who also tested positive for the virus last week, as did Charles’s wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The queen, who has been vaccinated and boosted, “will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines,” the palace said in a statement, adding that Elizabeth will continue with “light duties” (BBC). According to the Daily Mail this morning, the queen is being “closely monitored,” with Buckingham Palace being “concerned” but not “alarmed” by her status.
> Global COVID: Individuals infected with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom will no longer be required to self-isolate starting this week as the government rolls out a plan for Britons to live with the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that putting an end to virus-related restrictions will allow people to “protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms” (The Associated Press).
In Australia, the country’s borders reopened to international tourists today after being shut down for nearly two years. The country has moved slowly to reopen, having only allowed Australian citizens and residents to travel in and out of the nation since November. As Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison put it, “the wait is over” (Reuters).
Reuters and The Washington Post: Canada’s capital on Sunday was secured and cleaned up following weeks-long demonstrations by truck drivers opposed to COVID-19 vaccine requirements. The protests, which created gridlock in Ottawa, resulted in 191 arrests.
The Associated Press: Hong Kong said its anti-COVID-19 controls might be tightened.
SIGN UP NOW
Don’t miss a beat! Sign up for NotedDC, The Hill’s new insider take on the heartbeat of politics and policy, coming soon.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Trump’s new social media platform went public this morning as the ex-president looks to make his return to social media after being banned from his Twitter and Facebook accounts after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol last year.
Truth Social, Trump’s new app, went live on the Apple app store today, with Trump World starting to tease its launch in recent days. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a screenshot of his father’s verified @realDonaldTrump account on the new platform with a post uploaded early last week saying, “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!”
However, there are many unknowns about how the platform will work and how it will compete against social media giants and conservative alternative platforms. Trump initially talked about launching a social media medium of his own in October (Reuters).
Bloomberg News: Pompeo to visit Taiwan in rare trip by ex-top U.S. diplomat.
> 2022 watch: Republicans are struggling to come together and support a single alternative candidate to former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) in the Missouri Senate race, further escalating concerns in the party that the GOP could lose the seat in November if he is the candidate.
Polls continue to show that Greitens leads the race over a horde of GOP rivals, including state Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.). However, each of the two won high-profile endorsements from Cruz and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a popular Show Me State figure. However, the real fear showed up in a leaked poll showing Greitens only narrowly leading a Democrat in a general election.
Nevertheless, Republicans are running in place and are struggling to take him down and have not consolidated their support, handing him a path to win the primary via plurality support (The Hill).
Jordain Carney, The Hill: Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) faces challenge on Trump credentials.
The State: “I’m gonna win without him”: Why Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) says she can overcome the Trump factor.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: Arkansas case poses new threat to Voting Rights Act.
CONGRESS: Congress for the third time gave itself an extension to complete its fiscal term paper, shooting last week toward yet another deadline, this time March 11, to fund the government’s operations for the remainder of fiscal year that ends in September. Negotiators hope the three-week extension will be a legislative charm, reports The Hill’s Aris Folley.
> The odds of winning the House are increasingly in Republicans’ favor. The number of House Democrats not seeking reelection this year hit a 30-year high last week, the most for the party since 1992. The trend to leave Congress reflects gridlock on Capitol Hill, the toxicity of relations between the parties and the challenges facing Democrats as they fight to hold on to a slim majority in the lower chamber, report The Hill’s Cristina Marcos and Mike Lillis.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
Can Democrats dodge doomsday? by Maureen Dowd, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/36hf7km
There is no “Ukraine crisis.” There is a Russia crisis — and more specifically a Putin crisis, by Kevin D. Williamson, correspondent, National Review. https://bit.ly/3s5136f
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. for a pro forma session. The House returns to work next week.
The Senate convenes on Tuesday at 3 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president has no public events.
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry today in Egypt will deliver an address at American University in Cairo about climate action ahead of the COP27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh scheduled for Nov. 7-18. Kerry will also join Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to launch the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Egypt Climate Working Group.
INVITATIONS: Join The Hill’s Virtually Live for two topical events with newsmakers and experts this week: “COVID-19 and Rare Disease Patients” on Thursday at 1 p.m. (registration is HERE), and on Friday at 1 p.m., don’t miss “America’s Report Card” (information HERE).
➜ STATE WATCH: Florida lawmakers in January passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which has been assailed by national and state leaders, students and parents as harmful and anti-LGBTQ. On Thursday, a committee passed a new version of the measure to try to be more specific (Tampa Bay Times). Suddenly a state-based trend focused on public education has caught fire: There are now 15 similar bills moving through legislatures that regulate how textbooks and curriculums teach LGBTQ+ issues, who can be hired, and what teachers are allowed to say regarding gender identity and sexual orientation (The Hill).
➜ ENVIRONMENT ON THE BENCH: Conservative judges across the country are asserting unprecedented influence over the federal government’s ability to make decisions on environmental protection, health and social welfare — posing a challenge for the Biden administration at a time when a series of pivotal environmental decisions are set to come before the federal courts (The Hill).
➜ OLYMPICS FINALE: The Beijing Winter Olympics concluded on Sunday with a closing parade of nations and fireworks after two weeks consumed with COVID-19 concerns and a doping scandal. In the end, Norway stood atop the podium in the medal count, raking in 37 medals, including 16 golds. The Russian Olympic Committee secured 32 medals (six golds) and Germany finished with 27 medals (12 golds). The U.S. finished fifth in the medal count with 25, including eight gold medals.
And finally … It’s Presidents Day, which could mean you have the day off. Or you could be irritated because others have the day off (ahem). Or you realize you’re bombarded with advertisements for Presidents Day deals, mysteriously associated with sheets, mattresses and big box and department stores for whom presidential history is but another opportunity to clutter your inbox.
USA Today: Presidents Day 2022: Who does it honor (Washington? Lincoln?).