As Putin escalates, global leaders continue to isolate the erratic Russian leader
Plus: Leftover notes from KBJ’s Supreme Court announcement, what to expect from Biden’s first State of the Union and how the CDC developed its new masking guidance.
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FIRST THINGS FIRST
CONGRESS IS BACK — Lawmakers return to Washington with a full plate. Major legislative priorities include passing an “omnibus” bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year and provide additional dollars for COVID relief and aid to Ukraine. Congress will also look to pass a separate bill to better compete with China on technology and diversify our supply chains.
They’ll also welcome President Joe Biden to Capitol Hill to deliver his first State of the Union address. And the Senate will look to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson, the president’s nominee to serve as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, before a two-week break in early April.
On the margins, a small group of Senators is likely to continue to work behind the scenes to reform narrow parts of our electoral system after Senate Democrats were unable to pass a broader voting rights bill. And White House aides will look to work with Congress to salvage any of the president’s Build Back Better agenda ahead of the midterms.
All of these issues are important. But I also know you already have a lot going on in your personal and creative lives. So I’ll use each issue of Supercreator to distill these complex issues into insights you can understand and help you feel as vital to the political process as you are. Thanks, as always, for trusting my reporting.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE LATEST — The United Nations Security Council voted on Sunday to convene an emergency session of the UN General Assembly to debate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Eleven nations voted in favor of the session, while Russia voted against it. India, China and the United Arab Emirates abstained.
It’s the 11th time since 1950 that the General Assembly convened a special session.
— Putin escalates again: President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine agreed on Sunday to meet with Russian officials at the border his country shares with Belarus but was pessimistic that there would be a diplomatic breakthrough with Russia.
Prior the announcement, Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert, a move the White House says manufactures a nonexistent threat to justify further aggression.
“The global community and the American people should look at it through that prism. We’ve seen him do this time and time again,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Sunday during an interview on ABC’s This Week. “We have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we're seeing here from President Putin.”
Earlier this weekend, Russian troops entered Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second-largest city — leading to street fights, Yuras Karmanau, Jim Heintz, Vladimir Isachenkov and Zeke Miller at The Associated Press report.
While President Joe Biden was in Delaware for the weekend to attend the memorial service of the mother of his late son Beau Biden’s widow, a White House official said he spoke with his national security team regularly to receive updates on Russia and Ukraine.
The Senate is expected to receive a classified briefing on the latest developments this evening.
— Another round of sanctions: The White House announced on Friday individual sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move President Biden said a day earlier remained on the table. Administration officials declined to comment on if the White House knows where Putin hides his wealth. So it’s unclear if the sanctions will have a material impact on the Russian leader’s finances or are just a symbolic measure to show that President Biden is willing to use all the tools at his disposal. (Mike McIntire and Michael Forsythe at NYT have more on Putin’s hidden wealth, which is estimated well over $100 billion.)
A senior administration official said during a call with reporters on Saturday that the White House will launch this week a task force in partnership with multiple European countries to identify, locate, and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs.
“As part of our new task force, we’re committed to fully implementing sanctions and other anti-money-laundering financial and enforcement measures to maximal effect on sanctioned Russian officials and elites close to the Russian government, as well as their families and their enablers, to identify and freeze the assets they hold in our jurisdictions,” the official said.
The US, Canada, Japan, and European allies this weekend also cut off certain Russian banks from the SWIFT bank messaging system, a key tool that supports millions of daily secure messages to facilitate bank transactions worldwide.
“We stand with the Ukrainian people in this dark hour,” the global leaders said in a joint statement. “Even beyond the measures we are announcing today, we are prepared to take further measures to hold Russia to account for its attack on Ukraine.”
Psaki said that taken altogether, the sanctions against Russia are on par with Iran and impact 80 percent of Russia’s banks and their financial sector. (The senior administration official said this has been the worst week for the Russian stock market on record.)
“This makes it very difficult for President Putin and the Russian government not only to do business, but also help fund a greater expansion of their military and innovation in their country,” she said. “But, of course, there’s more we can always consider doing.”
— Voters back the sanctions: Nearly half of US voters support sanctions against Russia even if it leads to increased prices, according to a Morning Consult poll taken last Thursday. Fewer than one in 10 voters say they are opposed to sanctions altogether. A few other data points:
More voters approve than disapprove of how Biden is handling the Ukraine crisis
More than four in five Americans blame Putin for escalating the crisis into a full invasion
An overwhelming majority is also concerned about a military conflict between Russia and the US, despite the White House’s commitment to not put American troops on the ground in Ukraine
Only 19 percent of voters prefer direct US military aid to Ukraine as America’s primary response to the situation.
64 percent of registered voters said President Biden is “too lenient” with Russia, according to a Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released Friday, Tal Axelrod at The Hill reports. 31 percent said he is handling the crisis “just right,” while five percent said he’s “too tough.”
Former President Barack Obama weighed in too: “Every American, regardless of party, should support President Biden’s efforts, in coordination with our closest allies, to impose hard-hitting sanctions on Russia — sanctions that impose a real price on Russia’s autocratic elites.”
— Americans and Canadians try to do their part: Bars and liquor stores across the US and Canada are refusing to sell Russian vodka and other Russian liquor, an attempt to further squeeze Russia’s economy on top of the official government sanctions, Chloe Folmar at The Hill reports.
— US provides $54M for more humanitarian aid: The State Department announced on Friday another round of humanitarian assistance, with $26 million coming from the department and $28 million from the US Agency for International Development. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also authorized on Saturday up to $350 million for immediate support to Ukraine’s defense.
“This package will include further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing,” Blinken said in a statement. “It is another clear signal that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereign, courageous, and proud nation.”
The White House asked Congress for $6.4 billion for additional assistance, Shawna Chen and Sophia Cai at Axios report. $2.9 billion would support security assistance, humanitarian aid, economic stabilization needs and regional efforts to counter Russian cyberattacks. The Pentagon would receive $3.5 billion to finance the Defense Department’s response to the crisis. Congress is looking at including a Ukraine assistance package in the big bill lawmakers are currently negotiating to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.
— See also:
“How to help the people of Ukraine” [Bindu Bansinath / The Cut]
“Biden’s theory of escalation” [Gabriel Debenedetti / Intelligencer]
“A prayer for Volodymyr Zelensky” [Franklin Foer / The Atlantic]
“13 days: Inside Biden’s last-ditch attempts to stop Putin in Ukraine” [Ashley Parker, Shane Harris, Michael Birnbaum and John Hudson / WaPo]
NOTES FROM THE KBJ ANNOUNCEMENT — After following up Friday’s regularly scheduled newsletter with a newsbreak on President Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, I spent the rest of the day updating the post with details from the announcement event and reactions from the political power brokers. Read the update if you missed it.
The president interviewed Judges Jackson and J. Michelle Childs, a federal district court judge in South Carolina and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger in person on Valentine’s Day. He made his final decision and called Judge Jackson Thursday night. Then he called Senate Leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn, the number-three House Democrat, on Friday morning to inform them of his decision.
Vice President Kamala Harris called former President Obama and former President Bill Clinton to share Biden’s decision and called a range of members of Congress as a part of the announcement process.
A White House official confirmed to Supercreator that Harris also interviewed Judges Jackson, Childs and Kruger one-on-one via video conference separate from the President’s in-person conversations. Jasmine Wright at CNN was the first to report the news.
— See also:
“Inside the Congressional Black Caucus’s plan to defend the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court” [Marianne Sotomayor / WaPo]
“The GOP’s real fear about Judge Jackson? That she’s every bit as good as Biden says” [E.J. Dionne Jr. / WaPo]
“Four Black women became classmates, roommates and lifelong sisters. One of them is now a historic nominee for the Supreme Court” [Errin Haines / The 19th]
“How Ketanji Brown Jackson found a path between confrontation and compromise” [Marc Fisher, Ann E. Marimow and Lori Rozsa]
“The other first” [Irin Carmon / Intelligencer]
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM BIDEN’S SOTU — President Biden will deliver his State of the Union on Tuesday night and while I’ll be reporting today to bring you a more contoured preview tomorrow, here’s what we know so far:
Biden will speak about his optimism and his belief in the resilience and strength of the American people, especially within the context of the pandemic, economic recovery and Russia-Ukraine crisis.
He’ll also speak to the moment in time. “If you look back when President Obama gave his first State of the Union, it was during the worst financial crisis in a generation,” Psaki said during her interview on This Week. “When President Bush gave his first State of the Union, it was shortly after 9/11.”
The president will speak about how leaders lead and times of crisis, wherein he’ll likely contrast himself to former President Donald Trump and the leaders of the modern Republican Party.
— Security details: The fencing that was set up around the Capitol for months after the Jan. 2021 insurrection will be reinstalled before Biden’s address to deter violent demonstrations.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas met with Democratic Mayor of DC Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee III on Friday to discuss how federal, state and local law enforcement will secure the event amid reports of potential the Canada-inspired convoys that are reported to be traveling to the nation’s capital ahead of Biden’s speech.
DHS said it is closely coordinating resources to ensure the safety and security of the event while also respecting everyone’s rights under the First Amendment.
“Throughout 2021, DHS has worked with federal, state, and local partners to strengthen the security of the National Capital Region,” DHS said in a statement. “This work includes enhanced intelligence sharing and operational planning, a Critical Incident Response Plan for the U.S. Capitol, and a regional security assessment.”
— How to watch: You can stream the State of the Union live tomorrow on the White House website, YouTube channel, Twitter profile and Facebook page. The speech will also be available from @POTUS, President Biden’s official Twitter handle. (The White House feed will include ASL interpretation for accessibility.)
CDC RELAXES ITS MASKING GUIDELINES — The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on Friday lifting its indoor masking recommendation for the seven in 10 Americans who live in areas with low or medium COVID-19 community levels.
“None of us know what the future may hold for us and for this virus and we need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing last Friday. “We wanna give people a break from things like mask wearing when our levels are low and then have the ability to reach for them again, should things get worse in the future.”
Critics of the new guidance say it leaves behind immunocompromised people and kids under five. The CDC recommends those who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions, those who have disabilities, or those who live with people who are at risk, should talk to their healthcare provider about taking additional precautions.
The CDC said its new framework was developed with current data and insights from the Alpha, Delta and Omicron waves and can be relied on to predict if and how the agency should update its guidance for weeks into the future. Some of the criteria CDC considered:
Do the data measure severe disease or healthcare strain?
How well do they provide data that is available at the local level where it can really inform local decisions?
Do we have national coverage for all counties in the United States?
Are they reported frequently enough to be able to inform timely decisions?
“And based on that thorough review, we refined the list and came up with these indicators, including new hospital admissions and hospital beds utilized and complimented them with case incidents to really create a package of metrics to be able to understand happening at the local level,” Dr. Greta Massetti, a member of the CDC’s COVID 19 Incident Management Team, said during the briefing.
Go to www.cdc.gov or call 1-800-CDC-INFO to find your community level and what prevention strategies are recommended, including where or when to mask.
— Senate Dems asks for fourth-dose guidance: Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Tina Smith of Minnesota and Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and FDA Administrator Robert Califf calling on the agencies to educate the public about a fourth COVID-19 shot for moderately or severely immunocompromised Americans.
“We have heard from constituents who are immunocompromised — or have loved ones who are immunocompromised — that they are being wrongfully turned away from pharmacies when they try to get their fourth shot,” the senators wrote. “Others remain unaware that they should be seeking a fourth shot.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, said during a briefing earlier this month that a fourth dose is recommended for immunocompromised people.
“The potential future requirement for an additional boost or a fourth shot for mRNA or a third shot for [Johnson & Johnson] is being very carefully monitored in real time,” Fauci said. “And recommendations, if needed, will be updated according to the data as it evolves.”
— Made in America: Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sent letters to three Biden administration cabinet secretaries urging them to enter into long-term contracts for American-made masks and other personal protective equipment to support domestic PPE manufacturers.
“American companies have stepped up throughout the past two years, retooling manufacturing lines to help compensate for supply chain weaknesses and meet the need for essential products, including N95 respirator masks and other PPE,” the senators wrote to Xavier Becerra of Health and Human Services, Denis McDonough of Veterans Affairs and Mayorkas of Homeland Security. “These companies saved American lives. Domestic PPE production is resilient in the face of global supply chain disruptions like those caused by COVID-19, ensures PPE meets the highest quality standards and supports American industry.”
— See also:
“More than 5 million children have lost a caregiver to the pandemic, a study says” [Eduardo Medina / NYT]
“Long COVID is just getting started. We’re not ready for it” [Abdul El-Sayed / The New Republic]
“Peer pressure is ending mask usage in schools” [Hannah Natanson / WaPo]
“Discord’s new policy will ban harmful medical advice, taking aim at anti-vaxx groups” [Tom Warren / The Verge]
— In other news:
A House bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans has the votes to pass after decades of lobbying, Emmanuel Felton at WaPo reports. The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate though.
Ahead of Tuesday’s Texas primary, about 30 percent of absentee ballots were rejected in the state’s most populous counties, Nick Corasaniti at NYT reports. The statewide rejection rate was less than one percent in 2020.
Starbucks workers in a Mesa, Arizona won their union election 25-3, becoming the 3rd unionized location in the country, More Perfect Union reports. Starbucks workers have now filed to unionize in 107 stores in 26 states.
Chris Licht, CNN’s new president, is expected to focus the network’s primetime coverage on hard news-gathering instead of the lefty opinions shows that the recently ousted Jeff Zucker embraced, Mike Allen at Axios reports.
A long-term pet companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline, according to a new study, Sandee LaMotte at CNN reports.
— Best of Supercreator: “Amateur creators need more than just creative tools and money to make it”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
— President Biden will return to the White House from Delaware this morning and receive his daily intelligence briefing with Vice President Harris. Then he will host a secure call with American allies and partners on Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The president, First Lady Jill Biden will then host a Black History Month celebration at the White House. Vice President Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Defense Secretary Doug Emhoff, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan, the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young, the Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse, members of the Congressional Black Caucus members, state and local elected officials, civil rights leaders, and Divine Nine leadership will join them.
Biden’s week ahead:
Tue Mar 1: Biden will deliver the State of the Union address. The vice president, first lady and second gentleman will attend.
Wed Mar 2: The president and first lady will travel to Superior, Wisconsin for their first trip after the State of the Union to promote his economic agenda.
Thu Mar 3: Biden will hold a cabinet meeting. Vice President Harris will attend.
— The House is in. Members are scheduled to take several. votes this evening including on an antilynching bill in Emmett Till’s name, legislation that would ban discrimination based on an individual’s texture or style of hair and an act to designate methamphetamine as an emerging threat.
— The Senate is in and will vote to advance legislation on access to abortion services and to reform the US Postal Service.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
— Brandon Tensley on America’s disdain for Black men and boys, which hasn’t diminished in the decade since Trayvon Martin was killed:
History is filled with examples of the sometimes lethal consequences that racist perceptions have for Black boys. Maybe the most infamous example occurred in 1955.
In August of that year, 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, was accused of flirting with or making advances at a 21-year-old White woman, Carolyn Bryant (later Bryant Donham). Four days later, her then-husband and his half-brother kidnapped Till, beat him, shot him in the head, tied a 75-pound cotton-gin fan to his neck with barbed wire and then discarded him in the Tallahatchie River -- all punishment for the boy's alleged violation of the state's racial order, for the danger he, a mere child, posed to it.
An all-White jury acquitted the two men not even a month after Till's swollen and mangled body was retrieved from the river.
Till's story exemplifies a wider truth: Black boys are often viewed differently than their White peers simply because of their race.
— Nirmeen Anver on letting her trans daughter be who she is:
After turning 5, I saw Shahrick looking in the mirror wistfully while singing a song from Mulan. In the movie, Mulan’s mother takes her to a matchmaker and in preparation for marriage, they put a lot of makeup on her and fix up her hair. When Mulan gets back home, she wipes the makeup off and sings, “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” I felt teary watching my kid. Shahrick had been interested in being a girl for two years now, so I talked with my pediatrician and called the 1-800 number for PFLAG, asking them both the same question: “Is this a phase he will outgrow, or is this an indication that my child is transgender?” Every person I had seen on reality TV who got a gender-affirming operation said that on some level, they had known since they were 3 or 4 years old. Both the pediatrician and PFLAG answered the same way: “Keep an eye on it and love him.” They said I couldn’t know for certain, but the longer it lasted, the less likely it was that he was going through a phase. Although there would be some bumps in the road, it wasn’t a phase.
Of course, this was more than ten years before Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate any reported instances of children undergoing elective gender-transitioning procedures. The directive opines that this gender-affirming care amounts to “child abuse” and seeks to investigate parents helping their child secure it. Governor Abbott also reminded teachers, doctors, and other individuals who interact with children that they are mandatory reporters under the Texas Family Code, so they could face criminal penalties and loss of licensure for not reporting the “abuse.”
The Governor’s logic is flawed. Supporting a child as they struggle to figure out who they are can never be child abuse. No parent wants to make their child’s life harder. Every parent wants their kids to have a simple life where things come easily. But at the same time, you have to love the kid you are given and do the best you can for them. You are their advocate—sometimes, their only advocate. When being their advocate means seeking medical intervention like hormone therapy, or mental health counseling, a parent should be—needs to be—entitled to seek it. The government has no place in such healthcare decisions.
— Clay Skipper in conversation with Daniel Pink on the four core regrets:
Foundation, boldness, moral, and connection regrets. Foundation regrets are about stability. If only I’d done the work. If only I’d done the things that allow me to have some stability in my life. Boldness regrets are about meaning: I’m not going to be alive forever, when am I going to do something? If only I had taken the chance. You’re at a juncture in your life, you can play it safe, or you can take the chance. When people don’t take the chance, they often regret it. And even in follow-up interviews with people who took a chance and it didn’t work out, they’re generally okay on that. Because at least they did something. Connection regrets are all about love. We want people who we love and who love us. And moral regrets are partly about, In my limited time here, it’s important for me to be a decent human being, because part of what gives me a sense of meaning is that I am trustworthy, I am honest, I am a contributor. Those four core regrets are ultimately about meaning, purpose, and love.
— Sindya N. Bhanoo on baby boomers and retirement:
Baby boomers, a group now between the ages of 57 and 76, make up a large percentage of entrepreneurs. While there are no precise numbers, 30 percent of business owners are between the ages of 55 and 64 and another 20 percent are over 65, according to the Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey — that’s more than 2 million businesses in total.
Like Lehrer, many of these entrepreneurs have chosen to make exits in the past year, their decision to do so perhaps accelerated by pandemic-related reasons: dissatisfaction with remote work, fears of contracting the coronavirus and a greater appreciation for just how fragile and precious life is.
“For the first time in well over 25 years, we see a marked decline in labor force participation of older Americans and a marked rise in the share of them that are retired,” said Richard Fry, a labor economist with the Pew Research Center.
— Emily Stewart on sports betting:
The goal of sportsbooks and casinos, whatever marketers tell you, is to separate people from their money. The push coming from companies indicates they believe there’s a lot of cash to be had here, and that pulling out all the stops to acquire customers — including taking the risk of ultimately losing the turf war — is worth it. The more customers they get, the bigger they get, and the better they become at figuring out exactly who they need to be targeting and how. The goal is to get their hooks in and then have at it with more offers and options to keep extracting cash.
— ICYMI: “Supercreator Conversation: Amani Wells-Onyioha”
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