The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden: `No’ policy for Russia regime change
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Monday! 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!
President Biden begins the week trying to dig out from the last one.
His highly charged, emotional ad lib in Poland declaring that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” caused cracks in the NATO alliance, distracted from painstaking U.S. messaging in Europe and did little to improve the odds that a month of war and its specter of nuclear catastrophe will soon end diplomatically.
As he exited church on Sunday evening, Biden gave a one-word answer, “no,” when reporters asked him if he wants Putin removed or is calling for regime change.
At home, the president faces different headwinds. He’s still struggling to revive significant pieces of his domestic agenda 14 months into his term and finds that a majority of Americans are critical of his handling of the economy and rising inflation woes ahead of the November elections.
Today he will send Congress a proposed budget for the next fiscal year, reprising Democratic Party ideas contested by the GOP, including tax hikes on billionaires and curbs on fossil fuels in order to battle climate change.
Separately, the West Wing believes the U.S. may face another COVID-19 surge later this spring and perhaps in the fall and must reckon with a citizenry fed up with variants, vaccines, muddled public health recommendations and the pandemic’s never-ending intrusions.
The Associated Press: Biden finds no respite at home after his return from Europe.
Before Biden spoke to reporters on Sunday, his aides scrambled to clean up his broadside against Putin, amending his remarks to clarify that U.S. policy to help Ukraine remains negotiating a diplomatic end to Russia’s war. In recent months, Biden has called Putin — who could remain in power under Russian law perhaps through 2036 — a killer, a “thug,” and a “murderous dictator.”
During a Sunday interview, French President Emmanuel Macron was asked about Biden’s view that Russia’s president is a “butcher.” Macron told France-3 television that he would not use such language, adding that there should be no escalation — in words or actions (The New York Times).
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a Sunday TV appearance walked back Biden’s comments. “This is not the aim of NATO, and also not that of the American president,” he said (The Associated Press and News4Jax). Scholz added: “We both agree completely that regime change is not an object and aim of policy that we pursue together.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. is not seeking to remove Putin from power. “We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else,” he told journalists in Jerusalem. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people” (The New York Times).
Meanwhile, Ukraine continued battling Russian forces while pleading with the West to supply more weapons and air defenses. Russian troops are reported to be consolidating their positions and resisting Ukrainian attempts to break their grip, while focusing on seizing Mariupol, which could fall (The New York Times).
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addresses multiple global audiences by virtual hookup and grants interviews to journalists almost daily, asked NATO allies on Sunday to provide planes and tanks to Kyiv while arguing that Ukraine’s fighters are braver than the European leaders who have said they will not provide a no-fly zone over Ukraine for fear it could provoke Putin to expand the war (The Associated Press).
Praising the Ukrainian defenders of port city Mariupol in the south, Zelensky said, “If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1 percent of their courage.”
Russian news organizations on Sunday published an interview with Zelensky, the first he has given to Russian journalists since the start of the war. Russia’s communications watchdog responded by ordering the outlets not to share or broadcast the interview, without giving a reason for the ban.
The Associated Press: Today negotiators from Ukraine and Russia are scheduled to resume talks about the war. They plan to meet in Turkey.
Reuters: Ukraine’s military intelligence chief on Sunday said Russia wants to split Ukraine into two parts, akin to North and South Korea, with one part occupied and the remainder unoccupied by Moscow. He vowed “total” guerrilla warfare to prevent a carve-up of his country.
The Sunday talk shows: Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), once a CIA officer, says the United States should give Ukraine as much weaponry “as we can” (The Hill). … Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is retiring at the end of this term, said Sunday that Biden’s Poland speech was strong despite his ad lib at the end (The Hill). … Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told “Fox News Sunday” there is no support in the Democratic House for an official U.S. policy of regime change in Russia (The Hill). “The president, I think, is a straight shooter. He’s deeply empathetic. I’m sure he’s so frustrated with these scenes of children, women being killed,” Khanna added.
INVITATION: Join The Hill’s Virtual event “Driving Tomorrow: EVs & AVs” at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio), EVgo CEO Cathy Zoi, Lion Electric’s Marc Bedard and more (RSVP today). As batteries, chips and electric charging stations become more vital, how can we design an infrastructure framework with sustainability in mind? How do we make electric vehicles affordable and accessible to all drivers? And can autonomous vehicles pave the way to safer roads?
INVITATION: Join The Hill’s Virtual event “Future of Defense Summit” at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Join Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and more (RSVP today to save your spot). With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a backdrop, what are the Pentagon’s top priorities to meet future needs? What emerging technologies and innovations are essential to securing U.S. strategic priorities?
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: Tonight the House select panel on the Jan. 6 attacks will meet to consider criminal contempt charges against Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, who worked for former President Trump. Some committee members are expected to seek agreement to call Ginni Thomas, activist wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, to testify as part of the investigation.
Biden, who determines who has executive privilege, turned down an effort by Scavino, Trump’s social media manager, to resist the Jan. 6 committee investigation with a privilege claim. The disclosure came as part of a committee report released late Sunday that describes the contempt cases against the former aides (Politico and The Hill).
News outlets reported over the weekend that Ginni Thomas’s text messages in late 2020 and early 2021, turned over to the committee by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, show her interest in election fraud conspiracy theories and her repeated recommendations to those close to the former president to work to overturn the election. Members of the House panel would like to ask her directly about her actions.
The Hill’s John Kruzel and The New York Times report why Justice Thomas faces growing calls for his recusal from related Supreme Court disputes now that it’s known his wife urged a strategy before Jan. 6 to keep Biden from assuming the presidency following his November victory.
NBC News’s Scott Wong reported that Ginni Thomas also pressed for lawmakers to be “out in the streets” to publicly protest the 2020 presidential election results.
➤ Alabama: Republican Mo Brooks, who is running for an open Senate seat in this year’s Republican primary, was surprised last week when Trump rescinded his endorsement of his candidacy. That about-face could help bolster the Jan. 6 committee’s position in a growing number of court battles and strengthen its case against Trump, reports The Hill’s Harper Neidig. Brooks’s admission that the former president had urged him to overturn the 2020 election, including in the months after Biden took office, could be part of the select committee’s evidence to establish criminal conduct to try to overturn the will of U.S. voters.
The Hill’s Alexander Bolton sizes up the landscape to report that evidence is accumulating in the Senate and on the campaign trail that Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is weakening, albeit slowly.
➤ Nebraska: The resignation on Saturday of Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry following three felony convictions for lying to Congress about campaign cash creates a House vacancy effective on March 31. The timing of Fortenberry’s resignation is expected to trigger a special election that’s separate from Nebraska’s primary on May 10 (The Hill and ABC News).
MORE IN CONGRESS: A U.S. push to limit trade with Russia, which has broad bipartisan support, is bogged down in the Senate. A standoff with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over sanctions included in the House-passed bill to end normal trade relations with Russia dashed hopes of quick passage, reports The Hill’s Jordain Carney.
➤ As the nation’s intelligence leaders gathered before lawmakers earlier this month to offer grim assessments about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was one topic that sparked impatience and excitement among lawmakers: oligarchs’ lavish sailing vessels. “Are we going to seize some yachts?” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked FBI Director Christopher Wray. The U.S. may not be able to immediately deliver the property seizures lawmakers have in mind, sanctions experts say (The Hill).
➤ Demonstrating that congressional perspectives about the nation’s drug laws have shifted, the House is poised this week to vote on legislation that would legalize marijuana with near-uniform support among Democrats. Unlike in late 2020 when House Democrats passed a similar bill, proponents now have a key ally in Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Separately, a bipartisan bill passed last year by the House that would eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity has gained 10 Senate GOP cosponsors (The Hill).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: Total U.S. coronavirus deaths as of this morning: 976,704.
As of today, 76.1 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 64.8 percent is “fully vaccinated,” according to the Bloomberg News global vaccine tracker and the government’s definition. The percentage of Americans who have received third or booster doses is 28.9.
Has the potency provided by booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines faded in recipients enough to warrant new boosters — and if so, when? The questions debated inside the government are complex and action is expected soon (The New York Times).
U.S. government authorization for additional booster jabs for seniors and people with special health risks is expected in the coming weeks, reports The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel. Conflicting public health messages are among the hurdles government officials would like to avoid. Fewer than half of all U.S. adults have received an initial booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the same time that virologists and physicians anticipate that seniors will receive booster jabs, parents await federal clarity about initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines for young children. The Hill’s Peter Sullivan rounds up the latest news on that subject.
➤ Infections: White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Sunday that she tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Europe with the president. She was with Biden on Saturday but said in a statement that she is not considered a close contact under federal guidance and is isolating at home with mild symptoms of illness. She assumed the lead for the White House with the media on the trip last Wednesday after White House press secretary Jen Psaki tested positive for the virus last week. Psaki’s bout with the coronavirus is her second (The Hill).
➤ International: In a gargantuan undertaking affecting an estimated 25 million people, China on Monday began locking down most of its largest city of Shanghai as a coronavirus outbreak surges and amid questions about the economic toll of the nation’s “zero-COVID” strategy. Shanghai’s Pudong financial district and nearby areas will be locked down from early Monday to Friday as citywide mass testing gets underway (The Associated Press).
ADMINISTRATION: The White House today will ask Congress in its new budget blueprint to pass a minimum tax on billionaires as part of a fiscal 2023 budget proposal intended to contrast with GOP tax and deficit-reduction policies heading into the midterms (The New York Times and The Hill).
The tax would require U.S. taxpayers worth more than $100 million to pay a rate of at least 20 percent on their income as well as unrealized gains in the value of their liquid assets, such as stocks and bonds, which can accumulate value for years but are taxed only when they are sold. Biden’s proposal is the first time he has called for a type of individual wealth tax, but the general theme was at the center of the 2020 Democratic primary.
Under Trump, Republicans enacted a major tax overhaul in 2017 that lowered individual tax rates to the benefit of the wealthy. Those tax cuts expire in 2025 (The Hill).
And speaking of taxes … former IRS officials and agency experts are casting serious doubt on the government’s ability to swiftly clear a backlog of tens of millions of unprocessed tax returns delayed by the pandemic. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig recently told Congress that the IRS would “absolutely” clear the backlog by the end of the year, but IRS-watchers are dubious (The Hill).
Pentagon: Congress in December passed a defense spending bill that included a provision that for the first time leaves the door open to U.S. military academy cadets who have children (The Hill). Since the 1950s, rules governing all five U.S. service academies — the Air Force, Naval, Military, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine academies — forbade cadets and midshipmen from having dependents, a requirement for service that existed nowhere else in the military, nor in civilian ROTC programs. The old choice: fully relinquish parental rights to biological children or face expulsion from military academies.
The president we have: Biden needs new advisers and help from Congress to deter Russia and other escalating threats, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board. https://on.wsj.com/3uwlQiU
With one slap, a carefully constructed Oscars fell spectacularly to pieces (TV review), by Caroline Framke, Variety. https://bit.ly/3tI515w
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 2 p.m. and votes are expected at 6:30 p.m. The House select panel on the Jan. 6 attacks holds an executive meeting at 7:30 p.m.
The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and moves to final passage of the America COMPETES Act of 2022. The Senate Judiciary Committee holds an executive meeting to discuss its pending vote on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, expected to occur on April 4.
The president and Vice President Harris receive the President’s Daily Brief at 11:30 a.m. Biden announces his fiscal 2023 budget at 2:30 p.m. along with Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young.
Blinken is in Israel and participates this morning in the Negev Summit with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Bahraini Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. The participants deliver statements following the summit. Blinken at midday will visit David Ben Gurion Memorial National Park with the Israeli prime minister.
First lady Jill Biden is in Bakersfield, Calif., where she will attend a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service ceremony and speak in Keene, Calif., at 9:45 a.m. PT. She is accompanied by Ur Jaddou, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. with deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates, Young and national security director Jake Sullivan.
➤ BIG CHILL: Scientific collaboration over the years helped thaw relations between Russia and the West. Moscow’s war with Ukraine and resulting global sanctions and funding cutoffs have altered scientific collaborations, and scientists are beginning to discuss the losses and costs. Tackling climate change and other problems will be tougher without shared data, and time will be lost. Russian and Western scientists have become dependent on each other’s expertise as they worked on everything from unlocking the power of atoms to firing probes into space. Picking apart the dense web of relationships will be complicated (The Associated Press).
➤ CYBERSECURITY: White House warnings about cyber threats prompt experts to question why U.S. officials haven’t defined what constitutes cyberwarfare. “We have to set up rules of engagement that are absolute, saying any cyberattack that is associated with a governmental agency loosely of the Russian government or the Chinese government will immediately trigger the following actions,” one expert says (The Hill).
➤ WINGING IT: An eaglet began to hatch on Sunday after incubating for a month in the treetops at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., the offspring of Mr. President and Lotus, bald eagle parents. One of two eaglets, however, has not survived the hatching process and there is some suspense about No. 2 (ABC13). The nest is monitored via an eagle cam, sponsored by the American Eagle Foundation, allowing everyone to take a look. Check it out!
And finally … The Oscars went to … live televised chaos. There were creative dresses, creative differences, a triumphant night for streaming movies vs. traditional cinema and a slap heard ‘round the world.
Will Smith, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “King Richard,” apologized with some tears to the 94th Academy Awards audience for slapping host Chris Rock on stage after the comedian made a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. That improvisation became the night’s headline (NBC News).
“CODA,” a heartwarming movie about a deaf family with a hearing daughter, won a landmark Best Picture prize at the Oscars (Reuters). Jessica Chastain earned the Best Actress award for her chameleonic turn as televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” And Jane Campion captured the Best Director statuette for “The Power of the Dog,” which was the most nominated film of the night (The New York Times).
Best Supporting Actress went to Ariana DeBose for playing the passionate Anita in a remake of 1961’s “West Side Story.” DeBose made history, becoming the first queer Afro-Latina actress to win an Oscar (Variety). Troy Kotsur won as Best Supporting Actor in “CODA,” which made him the first deaf man to win an acting Oscar.
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!