Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report – Jackson fends off attacks; Biden to Europe

Flags of NATO member countries flap in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels
Associated Press/Olivier Matthys
Flags of NATO member countries flap in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 22, 2022. As Western leaders congratulate themselves for their speedy and severe responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re also scratching their heads with uncertainty about what their actions will accomplish.

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President Biden departs later today for an emergency summit in Europe to gauge what’s next for an uneasy alliance that has spent a month trying to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end a war with Ukraine he seems determined to escalate.

 

Biden is scheduled to wrap up the week in Warsaw, Poland, hoping to show his support for the easternmost NATO nation vulnerable to Russia’s aggression and now struggling to care for millions of Ukrainian refugees who fled across the border to safety with hopes of swift returns home.

 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday and today spoke to the Ukrainian people via video and to the Japanese parliament. He talked with the Pope and to the Italian parliament (The Wall Street Journal). He says he expects to speak with President Xi Jinping of China soon and he described peace negotiations with Russia as moving forward “step by step,” even as his nation’s military fielded a fierce counteroffensive and Russia warned that talks were not progressing (The New York Times). 

 

The Washington Post: Biden heads to Europe to bolster the Western alliance.

 

Niall Stanage, The Memo: Biden will play for high stakes during his European trip. 

  

The Hill (video): Reporter Brett Samuels unpacks the president’s European schedule.

 

Reuters: U.S. to offer entry to more Ukraine refugees. Only a handful were admitted to this country during the first two weeks of March.

 

The goals of the summit in Brussels on Thursday are a show of unity, agreement to ramp up sanctions on Russia and preparations should Putin unleash chemical or other banned weapons as the Kremlin sustains high casualties during what is becoming a stalemate war.

 

Biden said Monday that Putin is considering using chemical weapons.

 

“He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful of what about — of what’s about to come,” he said during White House remarks. “He knows there’ll be severe consequences because of the united NATO front, but the point is: It’s real.”

 

The United States says it will “respond aggressively” if Russia uses chemical weapons. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said use of such weapons would be a clear violation of international law, implying a new threshold of considerations for the alliance. And U.S. lawmakers have said use of chemical weapons against Ukraine would cross “a red line” that would require a new response by the West.

 

United Kingdom House of Commons explainer: Ukraine fears Russia could resort to using chemical weapons.

 

Reuters: U.S., European Union allies to coordinate on China during the meetings this week in Brussels.  

 

While Biden is in Europe, the administration will sanction hundreds of Russian lawmakers, reports The Wall Street Journal. U.S. and European allies on Thursday will announce new sanctions aimed at Moscow, the White House said on Tuesday (The Hill).

 

EU members Germany and Hungary sought to put the brakes on a potential embargo on Russian oil. Bloomberg News reported that EU leaders will likely give the political green light to a proposal by the bloc’s executive arm to consider a temporary tax on exceptional profits of some energy companies linked to surging gas and power prices (Bloomberg News).

 

Are global sanctions effective against Russia this time? The Hill’s Tobias Burns and Sylvan Lane report on five ways the answer may be “yes.”

 

The New York Times: Sanctions against Russia did little in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, and oligarchs got richer. Will this time be different? 

 

The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports where the Senate stands on pending legislation to sanction Russia.

  

➤ The U.S. and the U.K. on Tuesday announced a trade agreement that will lift tariffs on U.K. steel and aluminum products and remove levies on U.S. whiskey, motorcycles and tobacco that enter the U.K. (The Wall Street Journal).

 

***** 

 

SUPREME COURT FIGHT: On Capitol Hill, Tuesday marked the first day of questions for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as part of her confirmation hearings, with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee trying to score points at all turns on a number topics throughout the day. 

 

Headlining the queries on the GOP side were three potential 2024 candidates: Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.). Cruz, the first of the three to go, made critical race theory the main point of his questioning, pressing the nominee about critical race theory and whether it may influence her work as a justice. 

 

At one point, Cruz referred to a book titled “Antiracist Baby,” which argues that babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist and there is no neutrality. He said that the book was taught to 4- to 7-year-olds at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., where Jackson serves on the board of trustees, asking her if she agreed “with this book that’s being taught to kids that baby are racist.” She indicated she did not. 

 

As for Hawley, he followed through with his previewed plan to ask Jackson about her handling of child pornography cases. The Missouri Republican told the Supreme Court nominee that he lives in fear that his own kids could be exploited by predators he says she “let off the hook.” As The Hill’s Alexander Bolton notes, the back-and-forth over her decisions to give sex offenders lesser sentences than what federal guidelines recommended provided one of the most dramatic moments of the day.

 

“All of the offenses are horrible, all of the offenses are egregious but the guidelines … are being departed from even with respect to the government’s recommendation,” she told Hawley. She specifically took issue with a claim he made last week that she has demonstrated “a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes.”

 

“I want to assure you, senator, that I take these cases very seriously,” she added. 

 

ABC News: Fact check: Jackson’s child porn sentences “pretty mainstream.”

 

The Hill: Five takeaways as Jackson takes tough questions from GOP.

 

The Associated Press: Defending her record, Jackson back for 3rd day of hearings.

 

The New York Times: Analysis: Judging a judge on race and crime, GOP plays to base and fringe.

  

Introducing NotedDC: The Hill’s curated commentary on the beat of the Beltway. Click here to subscribe to our latest newsletter

 

  LEADING THE DAY

 

POLITICS: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday declined to say if former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) should drop his bid for the Senate after allegations that he physically abused his ex-wife and his children.

 

“Well look I think all of the developments of the last 24 hours are things the people of Missouri are going to take into account both the primary and I would assume would take into account in the general,” McConnell said during a weekly press conference.

 

The Kentucky Republican’s comments come amid a groundswell among Missouri Republicans calling for Greitens to suspend his bid after his ex-wife, Sheena Greitens, made the claims in an affidavit as part of a child custody dispute between the two. Greitens has sought to make McConnell a part of his campaign, having said that he would not support him as GOP leader if elected, one of the only Senate primary candidates to do so this cycle. 

 

The calls for him to end his campaign also came from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), whose seat Greitens and others are running to fill after he announced his retirement.

 

“If the filings are true, he should not be a candidate for the Senate,” Blunt said on Tuesday (The Hill).

 

NBC News: Mehmet Oz has a fan at Mar-a-Lago: Melania Trump.

 

Politico: Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) takes his latest risk: a Senate bid.

 

Reid Wilson, The Hill: Majority believes public schools on wrong track: poll.

  

➤ House Republicans will kick off their annual retreat today with a whiff of something that eluded them at last year’s retreat: unity.

 

The House GOP will convene in Florida for the rest of the week as the party sits firmly in the driver’s seat to retake the majority in the lower chamber later this year and in a less turbulent period than one year ago, as The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports. Last year’s retreat was hampered by questions surrounding the future of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in GOP leadership in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, with Cheney being ousted from the position shortly after.

 

“You won’t see any fallout now,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a press conference last week when pressed about this year’s retreat. McCarthy led the charge to oust Cheney at that time. 

 

That doesn’t mean Republicans still don’t have issues. In recent weeks, McCarthy has had to deal with the attendance of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) at a white nationalist conference and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) calling Zelensky a “thug.” 

 

The Hill: Sarah Palin says she’d serve in late Rep. Don Young’s seat “in a heartbeat.”

 

Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: How Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) resisted former President Trump’s pressure to overturn the Georgia election results. 

 

The Hill: Democrats press Biden to extend freeze on student loan payments.

 

Politico: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) vetoes transgender girls sports ban.

 

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

 

CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Monday, 971,162; Tuesday, 972,634; Wednesday, 973,437.

 

Lest anyone need additional evidence that omicron and its cousin BA.2 are infectious and stealthy, take note of separate VIP cases of infection revealed on Tuesday: White House press secretary Jen Psaki (who in November tested positive for COVID-19) and Hillary Clinton tested positive for the virus. The former secretary of State and presidential nominee said former President Clinton has tested negative, is at home in quarantine and feels “fine” (NBC News).

 

Psaki was tested in preparation for today’s travel to Europe with the president but won’t make the trip. She is not considered a recent close contact of Biden’s under government guidelines, so his travel plans to Brussels are not affected. Europe is also experiencing a surge of the BA.2 subvariant (The Associated Press).

 

Hillary Clinton, 74, who has been vaccinated and boosted, learned of her positive test results when she developed mild symptoms of illness. In tweets on Tuesday, she offered praise and gratitude for the effectiveness of vaccines and booster doses (The Hill).

 

Additional COVID-19 positive test results announced: Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D) (The Hill) and Norway’s King Harald V, 85, who has mild symptoms (The Associated Press). 

 

BA.2 now accounts for up to 70 percent of new infections in many parts of the U.S., according to an estimate from the genomics company Helix. The spread could signal a new chapter in the third year of the pandemic (The Washington Post).

 

As public health experts worry that a new U.S. surge of the virus is moving across the country, all 50 states have been lifting their COVID-19 restrictions. If New York City’s case statistics remain low, the mask requirement for children under 5 in schools and day care facilities will be lifted in the Big Apple on April 4, according to Mayor Eric Adams (D) (The Hill). Nationally, COVID-19 tests could again be in short supply if there’s a new surge of infections by summer, according to the Biden administration and independent public health experts (Politico).

 

Pfizer has agreed to supply UNICEF with nearly 4 million courses of its oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment for use in poor countries (The Hill).

 

OPINION

 

Putin has been a war criminal for years. Nobody cared until now, by Josh Rogin, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3iuE0fw 

 

How to follow the Supreme Court follies, by Jonathan Bernstein, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3itC0nz 

 

WHERE AND WHEN

 

The House meets on Thursday at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session.

 

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. and resumes consideration of the America COMPETES Act of 2022. Day 3: The Judiciary Committee continues confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Jackson at 9 a.m. Senators can ask questions for up to 20 minutes each.

 

The president will fly to Brussels at 9 a.m. for a NATO summit scheduled on Thursday and finish the week in Warsaw, Poland.

 

Vice President Harris will deliver remarks on addressing bias in home valuations at 11 a.m.

 ​​

The White House COVID-19 response team is scheduled to brief reporters at 3 p.m.

 

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

 

ELSEWHERE 

  

STATE WATCH: A tornado on Tuesday night ripped through New Orleans and its suburbs, killing one person, injuring others and leaving property damage in its wake. Other tornadoes in the same storm system hit Texas and Oklahoma (The Associated Press). … A dispute over a 70-year-old joint commission meant to tackle organized crime at the Port of New York has split the Democratic governors of neighboring states. As The Hill’s Reid Wilson writes, New York has asked the Supreme Court to step in to maintain a panel that was first created to fight the mob but that New Jersey now says is preventing economic growth. … In Florida, a small percentage of Walt Disney Co. workers participated in a walkout demonstration on Tuesday to protest what some see as tepid corporate pushback against legislation nicknamed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The company and CEO Bob Chapek, initially eager to dodge cultural, political controversies in a state dominated by the GOP, issued a statement denouncing the legislation that awaits the signature of GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. The measure would bar instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade (The Associated Press).   

 

LIGHTS & LEAKS: General Motors has issued a recall for more than 740,000 small SUVs because the headlights on the vehicles are too bright. According to documents filed earlier this month with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM recalled 740,581 GMC Terrain vehicles manufactured between 2010 and 2017. The company said that the headlamp housing causes a projected beam from the lower lamp to reflect off the high beam reflector, adding that it increases “the risk of a crash” (The Hill). … Ford is recalling some 200,000 trucks and SUVs because of a brake fluid leak that could compromise braking in the vehicles, according to documents filed this week that cover Ford F-150s in model years between 2016 and 2018, Ford Expeditions from 2016 to 2017, and Lincoln Navigators from 2016 to 2017 (The Hill).

  

THE CLOSER

 

And finally … Some of those who have not fled war-ravaged cities and communities in Ukraine are volunteering with evident ingenuity to supply food to exhausted, hungry Ukrainian soldiers and citizens scavenging for meals. The volunteer chefs devise outdoor wood-burning cauldrons, create small assembly lines of cooks in residential kitchens, and work to bake bread and heat vats of sauce with restaurant equipment where power is working.

 

Pop-up kitchens and even dairy farms have been photographed in Kyiv and Kharkiv, among locations coming up with meals since the war began (ABC News, The Associated Press, Lancaster Farming).

 

“We are cooking soups, porridge for our military, for civilians and for everyone who needs our help, including hospitals,Oleksiy Shevchenko, one of many volunteers, said earlier this month.

  

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!

Tags Bob Casey Brian Kemp Don Young Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jen Psaki Joe Biden Josh Hawley Ketanji Brown Jackson Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Marjorie Taylor Greene Markwayne Mullin Mehmet Oz Melania Trump Mitch McConnell Paul Gosar Ron DeSantis Roy Blunt Ted Cruz Tom Cotton Vladimir Putin

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