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The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Will Russia use chemical weapons?

Apartments destroyed by shelling.
Associated Press/Andrew Marienko
An apartment building was destroyed by shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sunday, March 13, 2022.

 

Presented by Facebook

 

Apartments destroyed by shelling.

 

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The possibility of a Russian chemical attack in Ukraine has U.S. officials on high alert as Moscow ramps up its offensive in western Ukraine and China takes on a larger role in discussions surrounding the war as it reaches day 19. 

Biden administration officials on Sunday indicated that they are bracing for the deployment of chemical weapons in Ukraine after Russia accused the U.S. of housing biological weapons in the region, which the White House has rejected. The dubious claim is viewed as a Russian attempt to lay the groundwork for a possible chemical attack. 

“It is a very legitimate concern, fear that Russia would use chemical weapons in Ukraine,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union” when asked if the U.S. would consider intervening more directly if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes that move. 

“They’re right now accusing the United States and Ukrainians and potentially using chemical and biological weapons which is a tell,” Sullivan continued. “It’s a tell that they themselves may be preparing to do so, and then trying to pin the blame on someone else” (The Hill). 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Sunday that the department is watching this possibility “very, very closely” but added that the U.S. has not “seen anything that indicates some sort of imminent chemical or biological attack right now” (The Hill). 

The Hill: Sullivan says Putin “resorting” to potential use of chemical weapons due to frustrations. 

The Hill: Ukraine doesn’t expect NATO’s help if Russia uses chemical attack. 

Adding to the frustration, Russian propaganda efforts reached a new level within the U.S. on Sunday as former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) threw her weight behind a conspiracy theory about the U.S.’s involvement in Ukrainian biological laboratories. The comments came after Russian government-controlled media outlets have used clips of the former Democratic presidential candidate on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” as a justification for the invasion, earning her widespread criticism from lawmakers in the process. 

“Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted on Sunday. “Her treasonous lies may well cost lives.”  

The Hill: Putin efforts to stifle media reach fever pitch. 

The Wall Street Journal: President Biden’s handling of Ukraine conflict imperils energy, foreign-policy pledges. 

Bloomberg News: European Union mulls Russia export ban on cars worth more than 50,000 Euros.

The Hill: U.S., EU cyber investments in Ukraine pay off amid war. 

Meanwhile, fighting continued on Sunday in Ukraine, headlined by a Russian missile attack against a Ukrainian military base near the Polish border that killed at least 35 people and injured at least 134 others. Russian warplanes launched about 30 cruise missiles at a facility in Yavoriv that served as a crucial cooperation locale for Ukraine and NATO nations that are backing its defense. 

The fighting near NATO territory also brought forth the possibility of the alliance being forced into the conflict, an idea the U.S. almost universally wants to avoid (more on this below). The Ukraine-Poland border has also served as an entry point for military aid from the West (The Associated Press). 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was a “black day” during his nightly address (The Associated Press). Today will also bring a fourth round of negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian officials, with the need of getting food, water, medicine and other supplies to cities that are suffering deeply, including Mariupol (The Associated Press).

Elsewhere in the country, the Ukrainian national power grid company on Sunday managed to restore a broken power line to the Chernobyl power plant after power was cut to the site on Wednesday. Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko lauded those who reconnected the lines as “heroes” as the power is used in order to prevent leaks of radiation. 

The Hill: Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko says he is worried he is a target of the Russian military. 

The New York Times: How does it end? A way out of the Ukraine War proves elusive.

 

Ukrainian soldiers take cover.

 

The situation on the ground for Russia has also forced it to seek help from China. According to The New York Times, Moscow asked Beijing for military equipment and support for the war, with Putin also pressing for economic assistance due to the heavy sanctions levied by the U.S. and Europe. A U.S. official declined to discuss the Chinese reaction to the Russian ask. 

The news also comes as U.S. and Chinese officials are set to meet today in Rome to discuss the war in Ukraine. Forecasting the talks, Sullivan issued a warning to Beijing, calling on them to decide against aiding Russia economically (The Associated Press). 

“I’m not going to sit here publicly and brandish threats,” Sullivan told CNN. “But what I will tell you is we are communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there absolutely will be consequences. … We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world.” 

The Hill: Russia’s efforts to salvage economy could have devastating impacts. 

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. won’t negotiate Ukraine-related sanctions with Russia to save Iran nuclear deal. 

The Hill: Israel faces high stakes as Russia go-between.

Finally, Sunday was also one of protests as demonstrators took to the streets across Europe. Tens of thousands congregated in Berlin to rally against the war, marching from Alexanderplatz toward the Brandenburg Gate. Anti-Russia demonstrations also took place in London, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart.

Also speaking out on Sunday was Pope Francis, who decried the invasion as an “armed aggression” in his most pointed remarks since the war began nearly three weeks ago (Reuters).

The Hill: Francis decries “barbarianism” of children killed in Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal: Millions are fleeing Ukraine, some are going back.

 

People fill the streets in protest.

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LEADING THE DAY

CONGRESS: The Ukraine situation has also forced the hand of Congress, which greenlighted nearly $14 billion in humanitarian and military aid to the war-torn nation. However, lawmakers have a warning: Money is fine, but anything more is not. 

Lawmakers have become increasingly wary of provoking any sort of direct confrontation between Russian and U.S. forces, leading them to draw a bright line at any further military involvement that could lead down that road, according to The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Headlining those items are declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine and putting U.S. troops into Ukraine. 

“This is the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis,” warned Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. “We have never been this close to direct conflict with Russia.” 

In a deeply divided Congress, the situation in Ukraine is one issue that has brought most members together, including Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters last week that he doesn’t see a role for U.S. fighter jets in Ukrainian airspace. 

“There are a number of ways to potentially have an impact in the sky. Stingers, drones and airplanes — and we just discussed the possibility of getting these Russian-era MiGs out of Poland and into Ukraine,” McConnell said, referring to a proposal to send U.S. aircraft to Poland to replace Soviet-era fighters. 

The Hill: Far left, far right find common ground opposing U.S. interventionism. 

Jordain Carney, The Hill: This week: Congress ramps up penalties against Russia over invasion.

The Hill: Five things to know about the $1.5 trillion spending bill Congress just passed.

> SCOTUS fight: Republicans are raising red flags over Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s work on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees as her nomination to the Supreme Court motors on with closed-door meetings across the Senate.

As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, Jackson’s work is coming up during meetings with GOP members of the Judiciary Committee and senators, including her past as a public defender, during which she worked cases for detainees. However, what Republicans are zeroing in on is her decision to continue working for detainees once she moved into private practice, and that is certain to come up during her hearings later this month. 

“I think you’ll hear more about her Guantanamo Bay representation,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), adding that he brought up the topic during his sit-down with Jackson because “I was curious how she got the case because it might make a difference to me whether it was something she sought out.” 

 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones walk in Capitol Hill

 

 

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Facebook has invested $13 billion over the last 5 years to help keep you safe. Over the last several months, we’ve taken action on: 

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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 967,552.

> COVID-44: Former President Obama on Sunday announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19, saying that he experienced symptoms before his positive test. 

“I just tested positive for COVID. I’ve had a scratchy throat for a couple days, but am feeling fine otherwise. Michelle and I are grateful to be vaccinated and boosted, and she has tested negative,” Obama tweeted. “It’s a reminder to get vaccinated if you haven’t already, even as cases go down.”

WMUR: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) tests positive for COVID-19. 

 

Former President Obama

 

> Vaccines: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Sunday that a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be “necessary” to continue to help keep hospitalizations manageable and sicknesses more mild. 

“Right now, the way that we have seen, it is necessary, a fourth booster right now. The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths,” Bourla told “Face the Nation.” “It’s not that good against infections, but doesn’t last very long. But we are just submitting those data to the FDA and then we will see what the experts also will say outside Pfizer.”

A third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization. In August, the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years old or older. Bourla said on Saturday that Pfizer will soon submit data for a fourth COVID-19 dose.

Countries including Israel, Chile and Germany have already begun recommending fourth COVID-19 doses for high-risk groups (The Hill). 

Bourla’s remarks come only days after the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization officially declaring the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly 1 million lives and altered countless others in that time. 

As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel writes, challenges still lie ahead for the U.S. on the COVID-19 front despite the plummeting of infection totals and as Americans get on with their lives. Chief among them: regaining trust in public health authorities and the continued push for increased funding to deal with the pandemic, which was excluded from the government funding bill last week. 

Cristina Marcos, The Hill: Capitol marks two years since closing to public from COVID-19.

The Associated Press: China battles multiple outbreaks, driven by stealth omicron.

Politico: As masks come off, vulnerable Americans feel left behind.

******* 

POLITICS: The war in Ukraine is also having widespread repercussions on the political scene as House Republicans are using gas prices as their latest cudgel against Biden in their push to retake the lower chamber after four years in the minority.

As The Hill’s Julia Manchester notes, Biden and Democrats were already on defense due to rising gas prices and record inflation well before the Russian invasion happened. However, the war and subsequent hike in gas prices have added to the GOP toolbox against the president, with Republicans using the latest gas increase to argue that the U.S. lacks energy independence under the Biden administration. Last week, the House GOP campaign arm released an ad titled “Pain at the Pump” targeting 10 incumbent House Democrats. 

“The blame for record-high gas prices lies solely at the feet of Joe Biden and House Democrats,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said in a statement announcing the ads. 

The Hill: Democrats divided over proposal to suspend federal gas tax. 

Reuters: U.S. gasoline prices edge lower after hitting record high last week.

Max Greenwood and Amie Parnes, The Hill: Ukraine raises stakes for former President Trump’s “America First” agenda. 

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Get ready for Biden vs. Trump all over again.

Axios: GOP seeks election boost from tech startups.

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

The war next door, by Farah Stockman, editorial board member, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3JpbUhD 

What the Russian invasion has done to Ukraine, by Joshua Yaffa, contributing writer, The New Yorker. https://bit.ly/3MMIUSJ

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets on Tuesday at noon. 

The Senate convenes 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 10:30 a.m. Biden will address the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference at 2:10 p.m. and take part in a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at 7:45 p.m. 

First lady Jill Biden will deliver remarks for the 2022 International Women of Courage Award at the State Department at 10 a.m. 

The White House press briefing will take place at 3 p.m. 

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

➜ INTERNATIONAL: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Sunday claimed responsibility for a dozen ballistic missiles that hit Erbil, Iraq’s northern Kurdish regional capital, earlier in the day, saying that the missiles were fired at Israeli “strategic centers” in the city. The missiles also targeted the U.S. Consulate and comes amid talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal (Reuters).

➜ SPORTS: Finally, the sports world found something Tom Brady is not good at: retirement. The seven-time Super Bowl champion on Sunday announced that he is returning for a 23rd NFL season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers less than two months after deciding to hang up the cleats following a divisional round loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the eventual Super Bowl champs. Brady turns 45 years old in August (ESPN). Hilariously, only hours earlier, Lelands, an auction site, sold Brady’s “final” touchdown ball for $518,000 from that postseason loss (ESPN).

 

A MESSAGE FROM FACEBOOK

We’re making investments in safety and security—and seeing results

 

 

Facebook has invested $13 billion over the last 5 years to help keep you safe. Over the last several months, we’ve taken action on: 

    • 62 million pieces of explicit adult content
    • 51.7 million pieces of violent and graphic content

See how we’re working to help you connect safely.

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … It’s award season, and Sunday was Great Britain’s turn.

“The Power of the Dog” took home best film honors (star Benedict Cumberbatch pictured below) and “Dune” picked up five awards at the British Academy Film Awards in London on Sunday night, potentially serving as a precursor to the 94th Academy Awards later this month.

Jane Campion was named best director for the best film winner, with Will Smith and Joanna Scanlan winning for best actor and best actress for their performances in “King Richard” and “After Love,” respectively. 

The Academy Awards are slated to be held on March 27 (The Associated Press).

 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter pose for photographers.
Tags BAFTA Barack Obama Biden chemical weapons Chris Murphy Donald Trump doug jones economy gas prices Jake Sullivan Jeanne Shaheen Jill Biden Joe Biden John Cornyn John Kirby Ketanji Brown Jackson Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Morning Report Pope Francis Russia Shalanda Young Tom Emmer Tucker Carlson Tulsi Gabbard Ukraine Vitali Klitschko Vladimir Putin

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