Biden finally calls Cherelle Griner
The president reassured Brittney Griner’s wife that his team was hard at work to bring her home. Plus: Schumer puts reconciliation back in play and the White House rebuffs forecasts of a recession.
Moments before President Joe Biden this afternoon exited the East Wing garden en route to Cleveland to speak about a program to protect worker pensions, he called Cherelle Griner to tell her his administration was doing all it could to bring her wife Brittney home from Russia where the US basketball star has been wrongfully detained since February.
During the call, the president read Cherelle a draft of the letter the White House said he would send to Brittney today, a response to the handwritten message he received on July 4th that I covered in Tuesday’s newsletter. (White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to get into the specifics of Biden’s letter.) He also extended support to Griner’s family while his national security team works to reunite Brittney with her loved ones and secure the release of Paul Whelan, a US citizen and corporate security director arrested in Russia in late 2018 on accusations of being a spy, and other US nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage around the world.
Vice President Kamala Harris was on the call too, which is worth noting, given Harris — the most powerful woman in the history of the country — and the Griners are Black women. After all, as I mentioned yesterday, Brittney’s WNBA coach argued on Monday that her identity as a queer Black woman has shaped the politics around her detainment and the government’s measured response. Administration officials vehemently dispute this characterization and have said their actions are in the best interest of Brittney, the other detainees and hostages around the world, and America’s national security. The White House did not disclose if Harris asked to be on the call or if Biden invited her. A spokesperson for the Vice President declined a request for comment and referred me to the White House’s readout of the call.
Politically speaking, one of the recurring critiques of the president is his methodical decision-making process. Cherelle Griner has been asking for Biden to call her works to demonstrate the urgency he speaks about when it comes to her wife. It’s beyond me and those to whom I’ve spoken about why the call didn’t occur sooner. I haven’t received a response from the White House to satisfy my curiosity. And to be clear, it’s easy for me to armchair quarterback the president’s choices from the comfort of my sofa. I can only imagine the intense calculus Biden is attempting to solve from the Oval Office amid myriad other domestic and international crises.
I’m also aware that the call probably would have had little influence on the negotiations to bring her home no matter when it happened. But for a chief executive short on political capital, a conversation with Cherelle sooner would have probably generated some much-needed goodwill with a coalition of voters that sees itself as part of the reason Biden was elected in the first place.
Schumer revives reconciliation for a July sprint
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters a few weeks ago that any provisions congressional Democrats could pass before the midterms would be worth whatever compromise it would require from her members because the policies would come from a package designed to lower everyday costs and promote economic justice.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer took a step toward proving the speaker’s theory when he filed an agreement to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug costs to the chamber’s parliamentarian who will decide if the deal falls under reconciliation — a Senate budget procedure that enables certain bills to advance with a simple majority, or in this care without the support of a single Republican.
Schumer brokered the pact with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a key swing vote in any final reconciliation bill, and is a serious indication that the Senate leader will try to shepherd a piece of legislation that’s been on life support since Manchin killed it at the end of last year before Congress goes on a month-long recess in August.
If the agreement holds, it would give Medicare the green light to begin negotiating the price of prescription drugs next year and keep these terms in place during a future Republican administration. It would also place a $2,000-per-year cap on out-of-pocket costs while offering patients the flexibility to make monthly payments. Seniors would receive their vaccines for free and low-income individuals would be eligible for increased assistance for their premiums and co-payments. Additionally, the proposal also includes language that would make drug companies responsible for the difference if they raise prices beyond inflation.
Punchbowl News was the first to report the news that Schumer filed the agreement with the parliamentarian.
Schumer and Manchin still have plenty of work to do though. There is still no agreement on climate provisions or tax reform, which are necessary to attract support from House progressives and pay for the bill. (Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the other swing vote to watch on the tax piece.) And there’s also no guarantee yet that the enhanced Obamacare tax credits will be extended in reconciliation before they expire at the end of the year, a failure that would increase premiums for millions of Americans and exclude some three million people from health care coverage altogether.
But some Senate Democrats, including Dick Durbin, Schumer’s second-in-command, aren’t getting their hopes up just yet after seeing Manchin dash them over and again.
Durbin told Politico’s Burgess Everett in March that he invested a year of his legislative life to squeeze a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants into reconciliation with nothing to show for it.
“I wish Chuck well on reconciliation. I’m going to focus my legislative efforts in the 60-vote world,” he told Everett, referring to the threshold most Senate bills have to achieve to pass out of the chamber.
When reached for comment, his press secretary Maddie Carlos referred me to this tweet:
If Senate Democrats work out a deal on reconciliation, it would force Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to follow through on his threat to kill a bill that would invest in American innovation, accelerate our competitive edge with China and lower the costs of consumer electronics.
The White House would prefer Senate Democrats to rescue as much of President Biden’s stalled economic agenda through reconciliation as possible. But not at the expense of the innovation bill.
“The Bipartisan Innovation Act is good for workers, good for business, and good for communities,” Jean-Pierre, the president’s spokesperson said during a Q&A to reporters on the flight to Cleveland. “[Republican Sen. John] Cornyn [of Texas] is joining Minority Leader McConnell in holding a bipartisan bill hostage that would make more in America in order to protect pharmaceutical companies’ profits.”
New data helps The White House beat back recession forecasts
As record inflation keeps gas prices and food costs high, fears of a recession have hiked up as well.
A White House official pointed to data from the latest job openings and labor turnover survey (aka “JOLTS”), a monthly report from the Labor Department that counts job vacancies and separations, including people voluntarily quitting their jobs, to tamp down talk of an economic downturn.
Job openings fell for a second consecutive month but there are still almost two for every available worker, contributing to the perception that the current labor market favors workers over employers.
“The overall strength in the labor market, including strong job creation, low levels of layoffs, and now two months in a row of substantial reductions in job openings positions our economy to transition from a historic economic recovery to steady, stable growth,” the administration official said. “That means bringing down inflation, without giving up the gains we have made.”
The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates in recent months to cool down the economy, a move that makes it more expensive for consumers and businesses to borrow money. And aforementioned inflation is weakening the average American’s purchasing power since the cost of goods is outpacing any growth they’ve seen in their wages in the past year.
The administration official pointed to the percentage of prime-age workers — ages 25-54 — in the labor market though, which is higher than during all of 2018 and most of 2019. When people are quitting, the data says they’re moving to better jobs, not leaving the labor force, the official added.
But what about the unease about a recession?
“This is not what a recession looks like,” Nick Bunker, director of economic research at employment website Indeed's Hiring Lab, said to Christopher Rugaber at AP News. “Clouds can move in quickly and darken the outlook for the US labor market, but for now, the sun is still shining.”
The June jobs report is scheduled to be released on Friday morning, which will provide another snapshot of where the economy is headed.
Today in Politics
— President Biden received his daily intelligence briefing this morning before traveling to Cleveland to speak to a group of union workers and retirees about a pension protection program funded by the American Rescue Plan. He will return to the White House this evening.
— Vice President Harris is in DC and had no events on her public schedule.
— The House and Senate are out.
In the Know
— The man charged with killing seven people and injuring dozens more at a July 4th parade in Illinois confessed to the mass shooting. He fled to Wisconsin, where he thought about committing another act of domestic terrorism at an event there, before returning back to Illinois once he decided he was unprepared to pull off another attack. (Andy Grimm and Manny Ramos / Chicago Sun-Times)
— A 32-year-old man was found guilty of first-degree murder for the 2019 fatal shooting of rapper Nipsey Hussle. Hussle’s murderer was also convicted of two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter for the gunfire that hit other men at the scene and two counts of assault with a firearm on the same men. (Andrew Dalton / AP News)
— The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that Labcorp will begin testing for Monkeypox using the CDC’s test, doubling the nation’s capacity to 10,000 tests per week. The CDC recommends anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox talk to their healthcare provider about whether or not they need to get tested, even if they don’t think they had contact with someone who has monkeypox.
— The Education Department released proposed regulations that would offer student loan debt relief to borrowers whose schools closed or lied to them, who are totally and permanently disabled, and for public service workers who have met their commitments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. While not the broad student debt cancelation people are hoping for, the Department said the proposals are part of the Biden administration’s work to provide borrowers with an affordable and effective path out of debt.
— The Department of Defense announced $28.5 million in awards to 60 minority-serving institutions to enable them to invest in research and scientific equipment for future innovation. “The acquisition of state-of-the-art scientific and research equipment enables universities to advance current research capabilities and develop new competencies aligned with defense priorities, all while training the next generation of diverse STEM talent and guiding them toward research careers,” Evelyn Kent, Director of the Department’s HBCU/MSI Program and Outreach, said in a statement.
Read All About It
— Jennifer Medina on the rise of the far-right Latina: “Representative Mayra Flores is one of three Republican Latinas vying to transform South Texas politics by shunning moderates and often embracing the extreme.”
— Amanda Mull on why other countries have better sunscreen: “Newer, better UV-blocking agents have been in use in other countries for years. Why can’t we have them here?”
— Allie Volpe on how to be a little less judgmental: “When you silently cast judgment on someone from afar based on an Instagram story, you don’t get feedback from other people — or even the subject of your judgment — and you don’t learn how to make comments or critiques in a constructive way.”
— Saahil Desai on Uber Pool: “Shared rides are back for the first time since March 2020. Did anyone notice?”
— Alex Abad-Santos on how to date when it feels like everyone forgot how to date: “The pandemic ruined romance. It doesn’t have to be this way.”