Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Emergent – Russia widens offensive; US, allies to add trade sanctions

AP/Evgeniy Maloletka

 

Presented by Emergent

 

 

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Russia overnight widened its military assaults on Ukraine as the United States and allies prepare today to apply a new economic sanction on Moscow. 

On Friday, Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine expanded with airstrikes for the first time in western parts of the country as a 40-mile Russian convoy near Kyiv broke up and appeared to redeploy, according to satellite images from Maxar Technologies (The Associated Press). 

President Biden this morning will announce that the U.S., the European Union and the Group of Seven industrialized nations agree to revoke “most favored nation” trade treatment that currently benefits Russia — meaning many of Moscow’s trading partners will impose higher tariffs on some Russian imports. Members of Congress support revoking the benefit, a sanction requested by Ukraine’s government (The Associated Press). 

U.S. officials on Thursday, including Vice President Harris while speaking in Poland, backed an ongoing international war crimes investigation of Russia’s actions, vowed additional economic punishments and warned that Putin might order the use of chemical, biological or even tactical nuclear weapons to try to seize Ukraine. 

Biden continues to try to leverage the sway of other world leaders and economic isolation to try to force Moscow to retreat as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine entered its third bloody week. Biden spoke by phone on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose country does extensive trade and energy business with Moscow, and the two presidents called for an “immediate cessation of Russian aggression,” according to a White House statement. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday said the U.S. is working with allies “to consider further sanctions.” However, international economic and trade punishments levied against Russia are a long-term strategy that has hobbled Russia’s economy but has not altered Putin’s near-term behavior. 

“At this point, we are not seeing Russia back off the horrific war they started,” Yellen said during a newsmaker event hosted by The Washington Post. “In fact, the atrocities they are committing against civilians seem to be intensifying” (Bloomberg News). 

The Washington Post: “No off-ramps.” U.S. and European officials do not see a clear endgame in Ukraine.

The Associated Press and Axios: On Friday, the EU’s foreign policy chief said the international nuclear talks with Iran should “pause” because of unspecified “external factors.” Last week, Russia said it wanted “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that U.S. sanctions would not affect Moscow’s relationship with Tehran.  

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, during a Thursday interview with Vice News, said he believed Putin will negotiate an end to the war. “I think he will. I think he sees that we are strong,” Zelensky said. “He will. We need some time.”   

Talks Thursday between Russia and Ukraine aimed at negotiating cease-fires went nowhere. The West condemned Russian forces for targeting women, children and noncombatants while shelling hospitals, airports, schools, apartment buildings and shopping centers, even as the Ukrainian military retained tenuous control of Kyiv, the capital, and other cities (The Associated Press).

 

 

Much of the developed world reeled at news reports and images on Wednesday of Russia’s air campaign against a maternity hospital in Mariupol, a port city in Ukraine in which trapped residents have no heat in dwellings with blown-out windows, no electricity and little food, water or communications. Residents have been told to put the dead in the streets or try to bury their loved ones where they can safely dig some sort of grave (The New York Times’s “The Daily” podcast). 

Western and Ukrainian officials called the hospital attack a war crime. 

Harris, who met with the president of Poland on Thursday and today will be in Bucharest, Romania, said Russia’s bombings merit a war crimes investigation, although she stopped short of directly accusing Russia of having committed war crimes. 

When asked by reporters last week if Russia was guilty of such crimes in Ukraine, Biden replied, “We are following it very closely. It’s early to say that.” 

Harris went further: “Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” she said, noting that the United Nations has already started a process to review allegations. “I have no question the eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities” (The Associated Press). 

The war has become a horror without end for Ukraine, a non-NATO country that has pleaded to no avail with allies for a no-fly zone, for emergency European Union membership and for fighter jets. Ukraine’s plight has become a humanitarian crisis in neighboring countries, especially in Poland, and the U.S. and European nations are sending aid to help some of the more than 2 million refugees, mostly women and children, who a few weeks ago had jobs, apartments, schools and futures. 

European Union representatives, meeting on Thursday at Versailles, snubbed Ukraine’s emergency bid to join the bloc. The EU braced for a long standoff with Russia as officials expressed differing views about how far to go with economic sanctions, how quickly to cut Russian energy imports and whether to let Kyiv join the EU swiftly during a wartime crisis (Reuters). 

 

 

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are publicly describing potential chemical or biological attacks by Moscow against Ukraine.  

As The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell and Brett Samuels write, officials told Congress that Russia may be laying the groundwork for a chemical or biological attack, and experts and world leaders have openly discussed the risk of escalation given Russia’s nuclear arsenal.  

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at Thursday’s briefing when asked what the U.S. might do in response to such a turn of events. “What we’re saying right now is they have the capacity and capability (for a chemical weapons attack). I’m also not going to get into intelligence.” 

Administration officials on Wednesday cited Russian claims that the U.S. is developing bioweapons in Ukraine — which the administration dismissed as “false” and “laughable” — as a possible pretext for Moscow to deploy chemical weapons while claiming such indiscriminate carnage is defensive.  

“I think it underscores the concern that all of us need to focus on those kind of issues, where it’s the potential for a use of chemical weapons either as a false flag operation, or as against Ukrainians,” CIA Director William Burns told lawmakers on Thursday. “This is something… is very much a part of Russia’s playbook, they’ve used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere; so it’s something we take very seriously” (The Hill). 

The U.S. is not alone in the dire intelligence analyses. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told CNN that she is “very concerned” about such a possibility, adding that it would be another “grave mistake” by Putin. 

The Washington Post: White House warns Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, rejects false “conspiracy” of U.S. biolabs.  

Los Angeles Times: Senators question why the White House opposed a proposed Polish plane transfer to Ukraine rejected by the Pentagon as a potential provocation. 

China is another factor in assessing Russia’s next moves. Beijing has thus far declined to join other nations in condemning Moscow.  

Burns told lawmakers on Thursday that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been “unsettled” by the war and the unity it has inspired in the West. As The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant noted, the CIA chief argued that Xi is worried about global economic consequences as well as damage to his reputation while associated with the “ugliness” of Russia’s war.  

In all, it makes China a wild card as the war drags on. 

Bloomberg News: U.S. slams China for pushing Russia’s “preposterous” lab theory.

The New York Times: Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are winding down in Russia, the first big banks to exit. 

NBC News: Which companies have stopped doing business with Russia? 

The Guardian and The New York Times: Facing economic calamity, Russia talks of seizing the assets of Western companies that are exiting the country. 

****** 

CONGRESS: On Thursday night, Biden issued a warning to his party about the possibility of Republicans taking control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. As Democrats work to keep control on Capitol Hill, Biden urged a revival of his party’s 2020 enthusiasm. “If we don’t do that, don’t do that, it’s going to be a sad, sad two years. Think about Republicans if they controlled the Congress these last two years,” he said during remarks to Democratic National Committee members (The Hill).

The Wall Street Journal: Biden, Democrats lose ground on key issues, poll finds. 

Politico: Democrats see midterm hope in Biden bounce. 

The Hill and NBC News: The Senate on Thursday passed a sprawling $1.5 trillion spending bill that would prevent a government shutdown and provide $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine. The president is expected to sign the measure into law before government funding runs out tonight. The legislation passed 68-31 after receiving House approval on Wednesday.  

The bipartisan spending measure would fund the federal government through Sept. 30, with increases to both defense and non-defense programs over 2021 levels. The Ukraine-related spending includes money for humanitarian aid and $6.5 billion for the Defense Department — $3.5 billion to replenish equipment sent to Ukraine and $3 billion for U.S. troops who are helping NATO member states in Europe. It also provides money to support Ukraine’s energy grid and to combat disinformation.

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LEADING THE DAY

U.S. ECONOMY: Inflation in February rose 7.9 percent in February, a record rise in prices not seen since 1982, according to the government — but not a surprise to consumers, investors or economic analysts, many of whom are braced for an even higher inflation number in the government’s next report for March (The Associated Press and The Hill). 

The Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports that the February data showed household staples leading the inflation surge, along with rent hikes. The war in Ukraine, which had just begun as the government gathered data last month, is already taking a toll on prices. 

The Federal Reserve faces new challenges ahead of next week’s scheduled meeting, when a rate hike of at least 25 basis points has been widely expected from Fed governors. The policy terrain is seen as volatile, with inflation at least 6 percentage points higher than the Fed’s 2 percent target. But the U.S. also is experiencing a tight labor market, persistent supply chain problems, rising energy and gas prices, ebbing but not defeated COVID-19 infections and an unpredictable geopolitical landscape. 

“There is no clear answer to how the Fed should respond because these forces are pulling in opposite directions,” David Wilcox, former director of the Fed’s division of research and statistics, told Politico. “The most important thing for them to do now is to communicate that the situation is incredibly uncertain.”  

The Hill: Biden blames inflation on “Putin’s price hike.”

 

 

****** 

 

CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 958,621; Tuesday, 960,311; Wednesday, 961,935; Thursday, 963,819; Friday, 965,466.  

It may be hard to think back to 2020, but today marks two years since the World Health Organization officially declared a COVID-19 pandemic, changing life and routines in every country on the planet.

U.S. fatalities from COVID-19, which may reach 1 million within weeks, are the most disturbing reminder of what the country has been through.  

The Hill’s Peter Sullivan reports that even as the U.S. remains in the grip of the current pandemic, it worries about and prepares for the next one. The picture is not encouraging: The government is running out of funds to purchase necessary treatments and pandemic supplies going forward, and the White House warned of “severe consequences” after Congress opted this week to remove COVID-19 funding from the government appropriations package approved by the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday night. “We continue to call on Congress to provide the funds urgently needed to prevent severe disruptions to our COVID response,” Biden said in a statement. 

The Washington Post: COVID-19 response may have to be scaled back amid congressional inaction, White House says. 

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) decided to extend until April 18 the current federal mask mandate for travelers on airplanes, in airports, on buses and on rail systems (The Hill).  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created the guidance the TSA is using and the CDC is expected to update the recommendations for masking during public travel by April (The Associated Press).

 

A MESSAGE FROM EMERGENT

 

We Go to protect those who protect us. For more than two decades, Emergent has developed, manufactured, and delivered protections against critical health threats.  

The vaccines and treatments we manufacture have protected millions, including US service members. Learn more about how our life-enhancing products help create a better, more secure world: www.emergentbiosolutions.com

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

POLITICS: Former Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday visited the Ukraine-Poland border and met with refugees flooding into Poland amid the ongoing Russian invasion. 

Pence, who was accompanied by his wife, former second lady Karen Pence, traveled with Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical Christian humanitarian organization, and the group’s vice president of operations, Edward Graham — the son of the group’s president and evangelical pastor Franklin Graham

The former VP encouraged people to donate to the organization and other relief groups and tweeted a number of photos of encounters with displaced Ukrainians.  

“The impact of the Russian invasion on these families is heartbreaking and the need for support is great,” Pence said. “Let’s stand together as one with the people of Ukraine.” 

According to RealClearPolitics, Pence did not give the White House or the State Department a heads-up about his trip. 

The Hill: Former President Trump is asking his supporters to fund a new Trump airplane after an emergency landing of his current aircraft.

The New York Times: Michael Flynn invokes Fifth Amendment before Jan. 6 panel.

Politico: California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) recall opponents sit out 2022 governor’s race.

> Inflation politics: Niall Stanage in his latest Memo writes about how inflation creates political pain for Biden and Democrats during an uncertain period at home and abroad. He notes that House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) recently accused Biden of mounting a “war on American energy.” The Republican National Committee has attacked Biden for what they call “his radical green agenda.” The specifics of such broad-stroke GOP attacks are in question among some experts. 

The State: Legendary football coach Lou Holtz will address a crowd at South Carolina Trump rally.  

The Associated Press: Texas flagged 27,000 mail ballots for rejection in primary.

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

Israel offers to host peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, by David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3tM0rSn  

What does COVID-19 do to the brain and mind? By Therese Raphael, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3vRAdAK 

A Russian journalist who stayed behind, by David Remnick, editor, The New Yorker. https://bit.ly/3sXco8F 

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets at 10 a.m. House Democrats hold a retreat in Philadelphia (The Hill). Punchbowl News published the schedule for the event. 

The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of Shalanda Young to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will announce new sanctions related to Russia at 10:15 a.m. The president will speak in person at the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Philadelphia at 12:15 p.m. He will depart the City of Brotherly Love at 4 p.m. for Wilmington, Del.  

The vice president will meet with U.S. and Polish service members in Warsaw, Poland, at 2:40 a.m. ET before traveling to Bucharest, Romania, for a bilateral meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis at 7:40 a.m. ET. Iohannis and Harris will hold a joint news conference at 8:50 a.m. ET. Harris will meet with U.S. embassy staff in Bucharest before returning to Washington. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Denver ​​to tout American Rescue Plan funds that helped Colorado during the pandemic afford state hiring, support affordable housing and small business assistance, as well as other investments during a national crisis. She will also meet with the news media. She will be joined by second gentleman Doug Emhoff while visiting the Denver branch of the U.S. Mint in the morning, and in the afternoon, at the Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) will participate. 

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.

ELSEWHERE

ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT & GAS TAXES: Calls to suspend gas taxes across the U.S. grow as prices rise and inflation bites (The Associated Press).  … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday said his state, which has a large budget surplus, is working to suspend its gas tax on an emergency basis (The Washington Post). … The Environmental Protection Agency restored California’s power to set its own auto emissions standards (The Associated Press and The Hill). … Environmental groups see the U.S. ban on imports of Russian energy as a boon for renewable energy development, even as Republican leaders call for further fossil fuel exploration and increased energy production from all sources domestically (The Hill).   

⚖️ COURT: On Thursday in Illinois, a Cook County judge sentenced actor Jussie Smollett to 30 months of probation for lying to police as part of a hate crime hoax. He must spend the first 150 days of the sentence in Cook County Jail. Smollett stood up in court and said he is not suicidal and is innocent (Chicago Tribune and CNN). 

➜ ⚾ UNLOCKED: Baseball is back. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association finally reached a collective bargaining agreement on Thursday, ending the 99-day lockout and salvaging a full 162-game schedule in the process. Spring Training facilities are set to open in a week and Opening Day is slated for April 7 (ESPN). 

 

 

 

A MESSAGE FROM EMERGENT

 

 

We Go to protect those who protect us. For more than two decades, Emergent has developed, manufactured, and delivered protections against critical health threats. 

The vaccines and treatments we manufacture have protected millions, including US service members. Learn more about how our life-enhancing products help create a better, more secure world: www.emergentbiosolutions.com

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … It’s that time of the week! A rousing Friday standing ovation for all Morning Report Quiz winners who were on top of trivia about the history of the U.S. space shuttle program

Here are the quiz savants who scored 4/4: Patrick Kavanagh, Richard Baznik, John Donato, Luther Berg and Len Jones. 

They knew that over the course of the space shuttle program, five shuttles — Discovery, Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis and Endeavor — took part in the 130 non-test missions. 

In between the two most notable space shuttle disasters — Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 — 88 successful missions took place.  

Outside of Challenger, Endeavor spent the least amount of time in space of all of the shuttle orbiters.  

Finally, the late Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) went into outer space for the second time in 1998 (becoming the oldest individual to do so) as part of the STS-95 crew aboard Discovery. 

 

Tags Biden chemical weapons conflict Donald Trump Doug Emhoff Elise Stefanik Gavin Newsom invasion Janet Yellen Jared Polis Jen Psaki Joe Biden Karen Pence Larry Hogan Mike Pence Morning Report Russia sanctions Shalanda Young Steve Scalise Ukraine Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky William Burns
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