The Hill’s Morning Report – How far will Russia go?
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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 935,335; Tuesday, 935,991; Wednesday, 939,201; Thursday, 941,908; Friday, 944,831.
Overnight, Russian forces used cruise and ballistic missiles in attacks on Kyiv, according to the Ukraine interior ministry. The Ukraine army said it is fighting Russian forces within a few miles of the capital as of this writing (AFP and The New York Times). Other reports describe gunfire inside the city as air raid sirens blare (ABC News).
Reports Friday from the ground and from intelligence suggest the initial Russian targets may be airports, part of a plan to fly more troops and light armored equipment into the capital to try to seize control along with the nation’s government.
Other key Ukrainian cities were under attack on Friday, according to media reports.
“They say that civilian objects are not a target for them,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday of the Russian assault. “It is a lie, they do not distinguish in which areas to operate” (The New York Times).
Military analysts suggest Russia may try to use cyberattacks and attacks on Ukraine’s electrical grid, which Russia has done before, as part of a plan to gain control of Kyiv and sow panic among its 2.8 million residents.
President Biden expanded U.S. sanctions against Russia on Thursday, targeting major Russian banks and imposing export controls to hurt Moscow’s defense and tech industries amid a coordinated effort with allies to penalize the Kremlin for missile attacks across Ukraine and its invasion of troops (The Hill).
Axios: Images describing how Russia’s attack is unfolding in Ukraine.
As Ukrainians fled the capital and cities elsewhere, others with nowhere to go huddled underground (pictured below) as missiles exploded across a country of 44 million people and Russia sought to immobilize Ukraine’s defenses and communications capabilities. NATO and the U.S. today plan an emergency summit among the 30-nation security alliance, saying the alliance will beef up defenses near Ukraine and Russia (ABC News). As of Thursday, at least 137 people had been killed in Ukraine and at least 316 injured, according to the Ukraine government (NBC News).
Biden on Thursday said international sanctions against Russia were never anticipated to “prevent” this week’s attack ordered by President Vladimir Putin, a comment that sparked confusion because he, Vice President Harris and global officials had repeatedly described the threat of sanctions as a potential “deterrent.” Biden said the sanctions he announced on Thursday, and those still on the table for the future, will take time — likely “months” — to weaken Russia and force Putin to pay a price for unprovoked aggression that Biden said is ultimately aimed at seizing Eastern European territory beyond Ukraine.
“This is a dangerous moment for all of Europe,” Biden said.
Today, Russia announced its first response to Western sanctions: British planes will be banned from flying to Russia or crossing its airspace, which could affect flights from London to Asia. Britain this week banned the Russian national airline Aeroflot, The New York Times reported from Moscow.
NPR: The Ukraine crisis was paved by the failure of diplomacy.
Gerald F. Seib, The Wall Street Journal: Russia’s strike changes not just Ukraine but the world.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Biden locks into battle with enigmatic Putin.
CNN: Here’s what the U.S. sanctions announced by Biden would do.
The U.S. did not expel Russia from the SWIFT international banking system or sanction Putin personally, despite pleas from Ukraine and some members of Congress to pull the plug on SWIFT and make the Russian president pay for his aggression. Biden said SWIFT expulsion remains an “option,” but lacked unanimity among European partners. He argued that the collection of banks sanctioned by the U.S. imposed a substantial cutoff to Russia’s access to international financing.
The Hill: Biden vows to alienate Russia as “pariah”; faces challenges.
Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker: In Washington, a Ukraine tragedy foretold.
Although Biden said he had “no plans” to speak with Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron called the Russian president on Thursday to demand an end to the attack on Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, and he explained the French sanctions in coordination with the NATO alliance (The Wall Street Journal). Biden spoke with Zelensky on Wednesday night and Macron spoke with him on Thursday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with the Ukraine president Friday.
Zelensky vowed on Thursday to stay put with his family. Russia, he said, seeks to destroy the Ukrainian government and he noted information that Russian sabotage groups had entered the capital. “The enemy marked me as target No. 1 and my family as target No. 2. I am staying in Kyiv,” he declared.
CNN: Zelensky by declaration bars Ukrainian males ages between 18 and 60 from leaving the country.
The Hill: Putin claims he was “forced” to invade Ukraine.
Biden said another 7,000 U.S. troops are heading to Germany but U.S. forces would not fight in Ukraine. Should Russia’s attacks — including cyberattacks — strike NATO nations, the United States could be drawn militarily into the crisis because of its commitment to back NATO members, Biden conceded.
The president briefed the top four leaders in Congress on Thursday (Politico).
The Wall Street Journal: The White House said it sees no increased threat of a nuclear attack amid the Ukraine crisis.
The Hill: Five things to know as Russia presses into Ukraine.
The president, who said any country that does business with Russia now is “stained by association,” ducked a question on Thursday about whether he urged China to help isolate its ally, Russia. Beijing has rejected calling Moscow’s attack on Ukraine an invasion (Reuters and CNN). China is using charter flights to evacuate its citizens from Ukraine, while Australia publicly criticized China’s “lack of a strong response” against Russia’s aggression (CNN).
Bloomberg News: On Thursday, oil prices soared past $100 per barrel as Russia targeted Ukraine for attacks.
Reuters: Biden said on Thursday the United States is working with other countries on a combined release of additional oil from global strategic crude reserves, and a source with knowledge of the talks said the plan was in the “early stages.”
CNBC: Stock market futures fall after a stunning comeback on Thursday as investors assess geopolitical tensions.
INVITATION to The Hill’s Virtually Live event TODAY at 12:30 p.m. ET, “America’s Report Card.” Ahead of the State of the Union, The Hill takes stock of the administration’s response to the pandemic and its impact on the economy. We’ll discuss legislative priorities in a midterm year and the potential for any bipartisan action. Join us for interviews with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond and more. RSVP today.
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LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Washington, D.C., is on SCOTUS watch as Biden is on track to reveal his nominee for the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer by Monday in advance of the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
The latest speculation surrounds Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a member of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court on Thursday released an opinion, a move that drew attention from politicos as it usually drops opinions on Tuesdays and Fridays.
As CNN notes, a similar situation took place four years ago when then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court. The D.C. Circuit at the time published a rare opinion on Monday, a move that preceded Kavanaugh’s nomination to replace outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy only hours later.
Biden has reportedly made his decision on who to nominate to replace Breyer, and that announcement could come as early as today (CNN).
> Senate surprise: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), 87, first elected in 1994, is expected to announce his resignation from the upper chamber on Monday, setting off a scramble among Oklahoma Republicans to fill a rare Senatorial opening in a deep red state.
Multiple outlets reported that Inhofe is expected to remain in office through the end of the year. The five-term senator won reelection in 2020 by a 59-point margin. According to Politico, Inhofe has missed an abnormal amount of votes this year, having told reporters in December that his wife has been sick.
Politico: Hard pivot toward Trump proves costly for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
> CPAC: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday used his perch at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to pan national Democrats, COVID-19 restrictions and other perceived attacks on “freedom” in a speech that will undoubtedly fuel talk about a potential 2024 presidential bid.
As The Hill’s Max Greenwood reports from Orlando, the roughly 20-minute speech served as a checklist of grievances and political victories that have helped make DeSantis a conservative superstar, both in the Sunshine State and with national Republicans. DeSantis garnered multiple standing ovations, having talked during the address about the state’s rejection of the “biomedical security state” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, having prohibited the use of public health measures like vaccine mandates.
Notably, one topic DeSantis did not mention was the elephant in the room: former President Trump (Insider). Trump will address the conference on Saturday.
NBC News: Florida House passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The New York Times: North Carolina court imposes new district map, eliminating GOP edge.
The Hill: Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-Fla.) agenda spurs backlash from Democrats, GOP alike.
Insider: Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. will not sit for depositions in a civil investigation as they seek to appeal subpoenas, lawyer says.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: As anticipated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today will ease its guidelines on masking after a number of states this month announced their own plans to lift indoor mask mandates. The agency today will discuss how it will be incorporating more factors into the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend high-quality face coverings during the pandemic. Instead of focusing only on COVID-19 case numbers, the agency will also factor in local hospital capacity and hospitalizations. A majority of Americans will no longer be recommended to wear masks inside in public spaces under the new guidance (The Associated Press).
In California, Los Angeles County says it will lift its indoor mask requirements beginning today at establishments, venues and businesses that verify COVID-19 vaccination status (ABC 7).
> The CDC guidance change comes as the “stealth omicron” cousin known at BA.2 continues its rapid spread globally. Early research finds the variant spreads much faster than the original omicron and in rare cases can sicken people even if they’ve already had an omicron infection. There’s mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear just as effective against it (The Associated Press). … The Netherlands says it will drop most COVID-19 measures beginning today, despite its experience with high BA.2 infections (Netherlands resident pictured below). The Dutch say the high BA.2 infection rates there have not translated into peak hospitalizations (Reuters).
The Wall Street Journal: New COVID-19 variant: What we know about the BA.2 omicron strain.
The Associated Press: Hong Kong’s new virus cases top 10,000 in spiraling outbreak.
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!
Where Putin goes from here, by Peggy Noonan, columnist, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/36IVHFz
How Putin has fortified Russia against the West’s sanctions, by Sebastian Mallaby, contributing columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3t8YOOm
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 12:30 p.m. for a pro forma session. The House returns to work next week.
The Senate convenes at 2 p.m. for a pro forma session.
The president meets with fellow NATO leaders in a virtual summit to discuss the situation in Ukraine at 9 a.m. Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 11:30 a.m.
The vice president will participate virtually in an 8 a.m. meeting with leaders of the Bucharest Nine (B9) group of eastern-flank NATO Allies to discuss Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Participants include leaders from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the European Union.
Economic indicator: The Bureau of Economic Analysis will report at 8:30 a.m. on personal income and consumer spending in January.
The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 2 p.m.
➜ CIVIL RIGHTS: A jury in Minnesota on Thursday ended two days of deliberations and convicted three fired Minneapolis police officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, who was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin in 2020 (The Associated Press). Thao and Lane were also charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin.
➜ DEMONSTRATIONS: A convoy of about two dozen protesting truckers headed from California across the country had a tough first day on Wednesday (BuzzFeed News). … What do the truckers want as the nation’s capital activates the National Guard, puts state police on high alert, positions snow trucks to thwart any invasion and fills the streets of Capitol Hill with unmarked cars to keep a lookout? (The Washington Post).
➜ HEALTH: Women will no longer have to visit a doctor’s office or clinic in order to obtain an abortion pill, and will be able to do so through telemedicine and receive it via the mail, U.S. health officials said Tuesday. The Food and Drug Administration announced the change in a letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that has sued over the Trump-era restriction (The Associated Press) … According to a study released on Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, more than half of all U.S. abortions are now done with pills, not surgery, In 2020, pills accounted for 54 percent of all U.S. abortions, up from roughly 44 percent in 2019 (The Associated Press).
➜ CYBERATTACKS: Wired has some timely reporting about Russia’s Sandworm Hackers. Great Britain’s National Cybersecurity Center and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on Wednesday released advisories warning that they, along with the FBI and the National Security Agency, detected a new form of network device malware being used by Sandworm, a group tied to some of the most destructive cyberattacks in history and believed to be a part of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The new malware, which the agencies call Cyclops Blink, has been found in firewall devices sold by networking hardware company Watchguard since at least June 2019. See the advisories HERE (U.S.) and HERE (U.K.). The Associated Press reported on Russia and cyberattacks during the assault on Ukraine.
And finally … It’s that time of the week! An extended slow clap for all of this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners who were exceptionally savvy about bits of February news trivia.
Here are the puzzle wizards who scored 4/4: Lou Tisler, Kathleen A. Kovalik, Harry Strulovici, Pam Manges, Mary Anne McEnery, Candi Cee, Patrick Kavanagh, Richard Baznik, Ki Harvey, Jonathan Scheff, Lori Benso, Eric Sugar, Steve James, Jaina Mehta and John Donato.
They knew that Denzel Washington, who is up for his second best actor Academy Award nomination, scored his first best actor Oscar accolade for his performance in “Training Day.”
Germany was the only country at this month’s Winter Olympics to sweep a podium at a single event, having won gold, silver and bronze in the two-man bobsleigh competition.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) was the subject of widespread ridicule for saying that he held his breath when posing for a photograph maskless at a Los Angeles Rams playoff game.
Finally, in the most important news this week, Hank the Tank, a 500-pound black bear who seized internet attention in recent days, has ravaged homes in the Lake Tahoe area seeking out food and other goodies.