The Hill’s Morning Report — Putin tests ICBM, pulls back on Mariupol plant
Ukrainians on week eight are measuring their future: the number of Russian battalions amassed in the east, the tons of Western weaponry and spare parts entering the country as 5 million people have fled, hours until Mariupol falls, many hundreds of people now buried in Bucha and Borodyanka, and nuclear taunts from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Wednesday brought another of those: Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (with advance notice to the U.S.), saying it would “give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia,” Moscow’s state-run TASS news agency reported (The Hill).
The southern port city of Mariupol remains caught in the grip of a slow-motion yet partial obliteration as determined Ukrainian forces remain pinned down inside a cavernous steel plant in which civilians are sheltering. Putin today ordered his forces to block rather than storm the plant “so that not even a fly comes through.” He called the result a “success” as Russia’s defense minister declared everything but the Ukraine stronghold at the plant “liberated” (The Associated Press).
A forecast of remaining “days or hours” had been the plaintive communication from one Ukrainian soldier there (The Associated Press) as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tried on Wednesday without success to negotiate a pause in the Mariupol fighting to get trapped civilians out (The Associated Press). Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said today on the messaging app Telegram that “there are about 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded soldiers there. They all need to be pulled out.”
Reuters: Ukraine tried anew to start evacuation talks late Wednesday after Russia’s surrender-or-die deadline expired in Mariupol.
The number of globally important officials who assailed, sanctioned, protested or otherwise tried to talk to (or question) Putin on Wednesday was sprawling — in Washington, the United Nations, European capitals and in Kyiv. Even Kremlin insiders are growing alarmed at the mounting toll of Putin’s war (Bloomberg News).
The Washington Post: European Council President Charles Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, ventured to Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with Zelensky.
CNN: Protesting Russia with their feet, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and other finance ministers, including Ukraine’s guest participant, on Wednesday walked out of a closed-door Group of 20 meeting when Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov began his virtual remarks. The gathering took place in Washington to coincide with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meeting and the walkout was planned in advance.
The Hill: U.N. Secretary-General António Gutteres seeks meetings with Putin in Moscow and with Zelensky in Kyiv to try to end the war.
The Washington Post: The arrival of plane parts from allies helped Ukraine put 20 more fighter jets in the air.
Reuters: The United States levied additional sanctions on a Russian commercial bank, an oligarch and dozens of individuals, according to Treasury Department details posted on Wednesday.
The Hill: U.S. and international agencies warned of Russian cyber threats to critical infrastructure in Ukraine and “beyond.”
Niall Stanage, The Memo: U.S. faces a big test as Ukraine war enters new phase.
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LEADING THE DAY
POLITICS: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is considering a third bid for the White House in 2024, and is not ruling out another primary campaign against Biden, who says he will seek reelection.
Sanders would be 83 on Election Day in 2024. Faiz Shakir, a top political adviser, wrote in a campaign memo to allies on Wednesday that Sanders “has not ruled out another run” if Biden decides against seeking a second term. The president would turn 82 in November of 2024 (The Hill).
Shakir did not explicitly rule out a Sanders challenge to Biden after he raised the idea in his memo, according to NBC News. It’s yet another indication of frustrations among progressives with the Biden administration, coupled with a candid assessment that the president’s dismal poll numbers make him vulnerable within his party.
“While it’s frustrating this private memo leaked to the media, the central fact remains true, which is that Senator Sanders is the most popular officeholder in the country,” Sanders spokesman Mike Casca told The Washington Post.
Biden has said publicly and has told allies, including former President Obama, that he intends to run for reelection.
NBC News: Trump releases audio that appears to refute claim he walked out of Piers Morgan interview over 2020 questions.
Piers Morgan, New York Post: How all hell broke loose after my fiery showdown with Trump over his stolen election claims.
Hanna Trudo, The Hill: Five states that could take Iowa’s spot on the early primary calendar.
The New York Times: Trump campaign ordered to pay $1.3 million to Omarosa Manigault Newman in non-disclosure agreement case.
© Associated Press / Jacquelyn Martin | Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 2021.
➤ 2022 watch: Some far-right Republicans are looking over their shoulders after a federal judge’s decision greenlighted an effort to block Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) name from appearing on the ballot this year.
As The Hill’s Julia Manchester writes, the push to exclude the incendiary lawmaker from running this year could open up a new avenue of attack against some of Greene’s more like-minded fellow lawmakers. However, experts argue that it remains to be seen what the result of the single decision will be, with other Republicans warning that the effort to oust GOP lawmakers from the ballot could backfire in the future.
Some GOP figures are also downplaying the development and have chalked it up to a politicized effort as Judge Amy Totenberg, an Obama appointee, gave the challenge the go-ahead.
Daily Beast: Trump’s most loyal lawmakers are actually losing money.
The Hill: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible presidential contender in 2024, plans to stump for Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt.
➤ Time to grill: House Republicans are gearing up for key hearings with top Biden administration officials, offering them and political watchers more of what’s to come if the GOP retakes the lower chamber in November.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this week laying out questions that Republicans want to ask him when he appears before the panel next week. The hearing is expected to be tense, with the GOP looking to make the most out of these back-and-forths, as evidenced by a tweet from Judiciary Committee Republicans alongside the letter, saying that Mayorkas likes to “dodge questions.”
The Hill: White House ‘planning and preparing’ for Trump-era border policy to end in May.
NBC News: Biden administration faces budget shortfall when border COVID-19 ban lifts and migrants surge.
The Hill: Biden to make Arizona prosecutor Gary Restaino acting Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives director.
The Associated Press: GOP lawmakers vote remotely more often after initial scorn.
➤ D.C. freakout: Washington, D.C., was briefly on edge Wednesday night after Capitol Police issued an alert to evacuate the Capitol and other nearby buildings due to a “probable threat” from a nearby aircraft, before declaring minutes later there was “no threat.”
Officials indicated that the evacuation was triggered by a military aircraft carrying the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights for an event at Nationals Park to commemorate military night at the stadium (The Associated Press). Nationals Park is roughly a mile south of the Capitol (The Hill).
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted the Federal Aviation Administration in a statement hours later, calling its “apparent failure to notify” Capitol Police “outrageous and inexcusable,” adding that someone “will be held accountable” for the temporary mass hysteria.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: The Department of Justice on Wednesday said that it will appeal a Florida district judge’s ruling that strikes down the travel mask mandate aboard airplanes, trains and buses after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested the challenge.
“In light of today’s assessment by @CDCgov that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health, the Department has filed a notice of appeal,” a DOJ spokesman tweeted.
However, experts warn that a flawed legal decision could remain on the books and hobble a future U.S. response to a public health crisis.
The administration’s mandate, based on CDC guidelines, was already set to expire on May 3, 16 days after the judge’s ruling. The Transportation Security Administration has not enforced mask wearing since Monday and major airlines, Amtrak and many airports have made masks optional on the grounds that effective vaccines and COVID-19 variants that lead to fewer hospitalizations have rendered precautions a matter of personal choice.
For the administration, its decision to appeal the ruling has practical, political, scientific, economic and legal implications — and therefore risks, The Hill’s John Kruzel and Alex Gangitano explain in their analysis.
“I think that this is fairly radical administrative law,” Michael Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School, said of the Florida district judge’s ruling. “But it’s really radical administrative law for which there might be five votes in the Supreme Court.”
© Associated Press / David Goldman | Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport in Providence on Tuesday
Legal experts who derided the judge’s ruling as overly formalistic and divorced from the practical realities of a pandemic say there are good reasons why the administration should want to prevent a deeply flawed decision from prevailing. But the administration faces key challenges: first, an appeals process could drag out beyond any practical time frame and, second, the administration could lose again — in a higher stakes showdown.
Americans prior to the judge’s ruling lined up behind the administration’s effort to keep travelers masked, according to a recent poll. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey released on Wednesday found that 56 percent of respondents supported requiring individuals to wear masks while traveling compared to 24 percent who did not. Twenty percent said they did not favor or oppose the policy. The survey found a stark partisan breakdown indicating 80 percent support among Democrats for the government’s travel mask mandate compared with 33 percent among Republicans.
The Hill: Democratic senators press the National Institutes of Health on the “slow pace” of long COVID-19 research.
The Wall Street Journal: Alleged COVID-19 fraud totaling $150 million draws charges.
⚠ A new surge?: New York City is poised to raise its COVID-19 risk level to medium from low after a bump in case totals due to the BA.2 variant. According to the city’s new alert level system, case totals eclipsing 200 per 100,000 people per week or hospitalizations above 10 new COVID-19 admissions per 100,000 per week triggers the yellow level. The New York City health system is likely to recommend that New York Mayor Eric Adams (D)should consider reinstituting mandatory masking in schools and vaccine checking at indoor entertainment locales and restaurants (The New York Times).
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said on Wednesday that it’s hard to know where a “bump” in cases might lead.
“We’re not panicking,” Hochul said, noting that case totals are still far lower than they were at the apex of the omicron surge in January. “We’re not expecting that to happen here. But on the other hand, we don’t know” (The New York Times).
💉Vaccines: Novavax says its combination shot for COVID-19 and influenza shows early promise in clinical trials. The company said the dual-purpose vaccine is “feasible, well-tolerated and immunogenic” (MarketWatch).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 990,208. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 385, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Neither party is happy about Biden’s handling of the border, by Spencer Bokat-Lindell, staff editor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3xEcnt6
The Jan. 6 committee and Merrick Garland must protect our endangered democracy, by E.J. Dionne, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3vv4vHz
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets for a pro forma session at 9 a.m. Lawmakers return from their spring recess next week.
The Senate convenes for a pro forma session at noon. Senators are in recess until Monday.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will speak about Ukraine and Russia at 9:45 a.m. from the Roosevelt Room. He will travel to Portland, Ore., to promote federal investments in infrastructure with the Portland International Airport as his backdrop. In Portland, he will speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at 3:30 p.m. local. Biden will fly to Seattle to address another DNC fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. and remain overnight there.
Vice President Harris will fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco this morning to meet current and former maternal health patients and speak with members of the workforce at the William J. Rutter Center at the University of California at 12:50 p.m PDT, followed by a speech there at 2:30 p.m. She will return to Los Angeles tonight.
The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report filings for unemployment benefits in the week ending April 16. Analysts anticipate 175,000.
In Washington, Filmfest DC is back with a week of interesting cinema selections in theaters and streaming. The lineup is HERE.
➤ INTERNATIONAL: A judge in the United Kingdom on Wednesday approved the extradition to the United States of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to face criminal spying charges. The U.K. process is lengthy and Assange can appeal (Fox News). … On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen went head-to-head for two-and-a-half hours during a live, televised presidential election debate ahead of Sunday’s turnout at the polls. Both attempted to show they understood the economic worries of everyday French voters (The Guardian).
➤ IMMIGRATION: The Hill’s Reid Wilson details where more than 700,000 immigrants originated before coming to the United States in 2021.
➤ TECH: CNN+ is off to a slow start, raising questions about the future of the new service as well as the overall public interest in streamed news (The Hill). … Netflix on Tuesday reported a big drop in subscriber numbers in the first quarter, giving investors the jitters on Wednesday and leading some analysts to wonder if Meta might be another tech stock in the rough (CNBC and Yahoo Finance).
➤ DOROTHY’S DRESS ON THE BLOCK: One of the most iconic Hollywood costumes of all time, a blue gingham dress authenticated and thought to be worn by then-16-year-old Judy Garland in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” could be worth as much as $1.2 million at auction May 24 in Los Angeles, and the proceeds will benefit a new film program at Catholic University (WTOP). In 1973, actress Mercedes McCambridge, who had been artist-in-residence and a Garland friend, gave the dress to the university, but for years the costume was missing. It was eventually relocated stuffed inside a shoe box, which was inside a bag atop some faculty mailboxes (detailed photos are HERE and HERE). A version of the frock, which MGM costumers copied for the film’s stand-ins, sold for $480,000 in 2012 at auction in London.
© Associated Press / Warner Bros., Alastair Grant | Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.”
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! To mark today’s third anniversary of Ukraine’s election of President Volodymyr Zelensky, we’re looking for grade-A answers to some Zelensky-related trivia questions!
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
In which TV sitcom did Zelensky play the role of Ukraine’s president?
1. “My Time Has Arrived”
2. “House of Kyiv”
3. “Servant of the People”
4. None of the above
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, how many times has Zelensky left his nation’s borders?
Zelensky was once a reality show contestant on which program, viewed in Ukraine?
1. “The Bachelorette”
2. “Dancing with the Stars”
3. “Big Brother”
4. “Oryol i Reshka” (Ukrainian travel show)
In which big ticket animated film did Zelensky voice the main role in Ukrainian?
1. “Toy Story 3”
3. “Cars 3”
© Associated Press / Ukrainian Presidential Press Office | Zelensky on Monday.
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