Morning Report

The Hill’s Morning Report — Congress seeks Ukraine aid deal, but how?

The U.S. Capitol dome
Associated Press/Patrick Semansky
Sunlight shines on the U.S. Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Lawmakers say they will work this week to get bipartisan agreement to send billions of dollars in additional aid to Ukraine, underscored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) surprise Saturday visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Pelosi, joined by six House Democrats, told Zelensky the U.S. will stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians until they defeat Russian forces.  

“Our delegation traveled to Kyiv to send an unmistakable and resounding message to the entire world: America stands firmly with Ukraine,” Pelosi and the six other House members said in a statement following their meeting, adding that Zelensky told the delegation of the “clear need” for military and humanitarian aid in order to combat Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued push.

“Our delegation proudly delivered the message that additional American support is on the way,” Pelosi continued. 

Although the House is out of town this week, the Senate will work on President Biden’s request for $33 billion in aid for the war-torn nation. Included in that request is $20 billion in proposed security and weaponry funding, $8.5 billion in economic aid, and an additional $3 billion in humanitarian assistance. 

The main question centers on how the package will move through Congress. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Ukraine aid and COVID-19 relief do not need to be combined in a single bill. Only days earlier, Pelosi threw her support behind attaching the two packages, with an administration official telling reporters last week that the strategy “certainly makes sense.”

“I don’t think it does,” Kaine said when asked if the two priorities need to be paired together. “The procedure where you put bills together or separate them is quirky and sometimes unpredictable. … We need COVID aid. We need Ukraine aid. We should do them together or separately, but we shouldn’t wait around” (The Hill).

There’s support within Schumer’s caucus for linking them, as The Hill’s Jordain Carney notes. However, pairing the two legislative packages together would undoubtedly be a more time consuming process if the goal is to pass Ukraine aid right away as Republicans have promised a fight over the $10 billion COVID-19 proposal without a vote on an amendment vote related to Title 42. 

“In order to get the 60 votes they need, I think the strategy for the Democrats should be to split them. … If they want to get 10 Republicans, the best way to do that is to separate them,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said recently.

The Hill: Pelosi after Zelensky meeting: “Do not be bullied by bullies.”

The Hill: Pelosi secret visit to Ukraine highlights expanse — and limitations — of U.S. support.

Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added that the new round of aid could allow Ukrainians to drive Russian forces out of eastern Ukraine, an area Putin has prioritized after shifting attention away from taking over Kyiv (The Wall Street Journal). 

Another issue expected to be tackled in the upcoming aid package is the U.S.’s ability to seize assets and money held by Russian oligarchs and redirect that money to Ukraine, according to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

“Ukraine needs all the help it can get and, at the same time, we need all the assets we can put together to give Ukraine the aid it needs,” Schumer told reporters on Sunday in New York City (Reuters).

As for the White House’s response, Biden on Tuesday will travel to Alabama to visit a Lockheed Martin facility producing Javelin anti-tank weapons systems the administration is sending to Ukraine to help their cause. Most of Biden’s travel has been done to promote domestic issues or for campaign purposes, making Tuesday’s trip an unusual move, as he will highlight the administration’s foreign policy machinations. 

© Associated Press / Ukrainian Presidential Press Office | Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and House members in Kyiv on Saturday.

Here’s what else we’re watching this week:

The Federal Reserve will launch a series of interest rate hikes on Wednesday to try to calm inflation, while the government on Friday will report still strong U.S. employment in April. Recession is not out of the question amid the jumbled forecasts for the U.S. economy (Yahoo Finance). 

Related Articles


The Hill: Housing investments at risk as Build Back Better withers. 

The Wall Street Journal: Russia recasts fight in Ukraine as war with the West.


LEADING THE DAY

  UKRAINE CRISIS

Some civilians were evacuated from Mariupol on Sunday. Approximately 100 people were taken from a steel plant in the besieged port city to Zaphorizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled location along the Dnipro River.

According to some video posted by Ukrainian forces, the civilians, mostly elderly citizens, women and children, were evacuated from the Azovstal plant. Zelensky said in a pre-recorded address on Sunday that the evacuees will arrive in Zaphorizhzhia today.

“Today, for the first time in all the days of the war, this vitally needed (humanitarian) corridor has started working,” Zelensky said.

The Mariupol City Council added that more evacuations will continue today from other parts of the city. For weeks, Ukrainian officials have had issues moving people from the ravaged city, where heavy fighting has raged on. Many have accused Russian forces of shelling routes that negotiators have agreed to serve for evacuations (The Associated Press). 

“The Russian military tells them that Ukraine left them there. There’s no buses. That there is no help from Ukraine, that Ukraine doesn’t care about you,” Ukrainian dance instructor Nazar Shashkov said while describing trips he made into and out of Mariupol with his van to rescue his students and others trapped in the southern port city. “I was terrified” (NBC News).

While Moscow has struggled to impose its will across Ukraine, one place it has succeeded in is Kherson, one of the first major cities to fall to Russian forces following the late-February invasion. On Sunday, Russia replaced the hryvnia (Ukraine’s national currency) with the ruble as the official currency in the city. 

Ukraine said on Sunday that Russia cut off all mobile connection and internet services in the Kherson region, According to Ukraine’s defense ministry, Russia “has sought to legitimize its control of the city and surrounding areas through installing a pro-Russian administration” (Bloomberg News).

Axios: Mariupol steel plant evacuees recount dire scenes in bunkers.

■  The Hill: Ex-NATO commander: Loss of top Russian officers amid invasion unprecedented in modern history.

■  The New York Times: European Union countries are likely to approve as early as this week a phased embargo on Russian oil, officials say, sealing a long-postponed measure that has divided the bloc’s members and highlighted their dependence on Russian energy sources.

■  The Hill: Russia’s cyber warfare against Ukraine more nuanced than expected.

■  Bloomberg News: In response to sanctions, Russia is ending its work on the International Space Station.

  POLITICS 

GOP primaries kick off Tuesday in Indiana and Ohio, setting the stage for fresh political forecasts for November’s outcome and an actual gauge of whether candidate endorsements by former President Trump carry the punch he thinks they do. The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports that Republican senators, feeling optimistic about their chances of being in the majority next year but also wary of the known unknowns, worry the party could somehow wrest defeat from the jaws of victory.

In Ohio’s GOP Senate race, a Republican slugfest to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R) has been brewing for months, writes The Hill’s Max Greenwood. The eleventh-hour involvement of GOP heavyweights — including Trump — raised plenty of tensions and forced the primary into volatile territory. The race features author-turned-venture capitalist J.D. Vance, the former state treasurer Josh Mandel and self-funded businessman Mike Gibbons.

■  The New York Times: Once soft-spoken, Ohio conservatives embrace the bombast.

■  Reuters: Trump faces the biggest test of his “king-maker” clout since leaving the White House.

■  The Associated Press: Trump’s bid to shape GOP faces test with voters in May races.

© Associated Press / Joe Maiorana | Former President Trump and J.D. Vance, April 23.

There are many differences between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), but one of the biggest is how they approach Trump, the de facto leader of their party who lost the 2020 presidential election and falsely told his supporters he won. 

McConnell makes no moves to curry favor with Trump, publicly or privately. The former president has called the Kentucky conservative “Old Crow” and in a written statement on Sunday said, “Mitch McConnell and his RINO friends would rather see a Democrat like Biden be president than a Republican like me.” McCarthy has been a conspicuous flip-flopper, initially critical of the former president’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but subsequently eager to enlist Trump’s help to try to gain the House majority. Trump has not lashed out at McCarthy, despite recent taped revelations in which the minority leader said just days after Jan. 6 that he thought Trump should resign. The tapes corroborate information in a new book by New York Times political reporters titled “This Will Not Pass” (The Hill).

■  The Associated Press: Evidence mounts of GOP involvement in Trump’s presidential election schemes.

 ■  The Hill: Is the Justice Department’s Jan. 6 investigation building toward Trump’s role?

■  Reuters:Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), at odds with Trump, eyes 2024 U.S. presidential run.

■  C-SPAN: An 11 a.m. debate takes place today among four Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in the Georgia secretary of state contest, including incumbent Brad Raffensperger.

■  Fox 5 Atlanta: Grand jury selection begins today in Fulton County, Ga., to decide if Trump and others broke the law in trying to overturn 2020 election results, including pressuring Raffensperger (recording of Trump phone call on Jan. 2, 2021, is HERE).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

  ADMINISTRATION 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday defended the government’s preparations since last year for this month’s planned lifting of immigration restrictions known as Title 42, adopted by the Trump administration during the pandemic.

Congressional Republicans and some Democrats who recall past migrant surges at the U.S. southern border and have questioned Mayorkas and other administration officials say they are dubious. Mayorkas told “Fox News Sunday” that his department is prepared and has worked effectively with Customs and Border Protection and other partners (The Hill).

“Do not come,” Mayorkas told CNN when asked for his message to migrants, which echoed a June warning by Vice President Harris. “Because our border is not open. … What happens now is individuals are either expelled under the Title 42 authority or they are placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. And they are removed if they do not have a valid claim under our law to remain.”

The secretary said his agency is preparing for as many as 18,000 migrants daily after the lifting of Title 42 (The Hill).

Republican candidates in this election year are making immigration, crime and border security key themes in outreach to voters, particularly in GOP-controlled border states. McCarthy and other conservatives recently traveled to the border to underscore their misgivings about Biden administration management and policy. McCarthy has said Mayorkas could become a target for impeachment if Republicans win control of the House next year. The secretary on Sunday shrugged off the threat (The Hill).

More Americans trust Republicans than Democrats when it comes to crime (47 percent) and immigration (43 percent), according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Sunday. Biden’s job approval is 42 percent, according to the survey, a slight improvement over the past two months.

The Washington Post: Six months before crucial midterms, Biden faces many challenges.

The New York Times: Biden received early warnings that immigration and inflation could erode his support.


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


OPINION

■  The courage required to confront inflation, by The New York Times editorial board.https://nyti.ms/3y6Pdvu

■  America must work harder for homegrown talent, by Adrian Wooldridge, Bloomberg Opinion contributor. https://bloom.bg/3y5Vl7i

WHERE AND WHEN

The House meets for a pro forma session at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. and resumes consideration of the nomination of Joshua Frost to be an assistant secretary of the Treasury.

The president receives the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m. Biden will present the Presidential Rank Awards to federal employees during a virtual ceremony at 1:45 p.m. The president and first lady Jill Biden will host an Eid al-Fitr reception at the White House at 4 p.m.

The first lady will deliver remarks at 11 a.m. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s press launch for “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” the museum’s spring Costume Institute exhibition. She will tour the exhibit with museum interns. 

The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 2:30 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  

  CORONAVIRUS 

U.S. COVID-19 cases are on the rise, but the statistics likely reflect an undercount because of the use of at-home antigen tests, whose results may not be reported. Hospitalizations have increased, but serious illness is less of a worry for most adults (The Wall Street Journal).

In six states, unusual cases of pediatric hepatitis worry physicians, but there is (as yet) no known cause, although COVID-19 is unlikely the answer to the mystery, according to experts (Bloomberg News). 

Everything about China’s “zero-COVID” policy seems to be making news, in part because the nation’s efforts have been unsuccessful at stopping transmission in major cities. Travel is restricted, and lockdowns continue (The Associated Press). Shanghai residents are protesting the lockdowns (The Wall Street Journal). Beijing shuttered Universal Studios and banned restaurant dining (CNN). President Xi Jinping admits no doubts about China’s current approach to the coronavirus (The New York Times). 

The Hill: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) tests positive for COVID-19. He plans to quarantine in Denver and work virtually. Infections among senators last week delayed some Senate business.

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 993,733. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 308, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of today, 76.8 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 65.5 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 29.9.

  STATE WATCH

Western states are gearing up for another devastating wildfire season as blazes sweep through New Mexico and threaten Arizona, reports The Hill’s Reid Wilson

 IN THE KNOW

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner came and went Saturday, marking the first time the annual event was held since 2019 because of COVID-19 precautions. The Hill’s team had all bases covered, from “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s comedic set to all of the pre- and post- parties across Washington meant to honor the First Amendment. 

THE CLOSER

And finally … 👏👏👏 Here’s a positive trend that expands equity, prepares young people for real life, and tackles subjects that can improve career ambitions, wealth creation and economic know-how: 13 states now require courses in personal financial literacy for high school students and Georgia is the latest state to embrace the benefits. In the past 12 months, Florida, Nebraska, Ohio and Rhode Island have passed similar laws and are in the process of implementing them for all students, and Georgia’s move, more than 35 percent of students in the U.S. will have access to a financial literacy class. That’s more than double the share of students with access to such coursework in 2018, according to Next Gen Personal Finance. Similar legislation in South Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota and New Hampshire is percolating (CNBC). 

© Associated Press / Elise Amendola |$20 bills being counted, 2018.  


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Tags Biden Charles Schumer Nancy Pelosi Tim Kaine Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky

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