Biden tries to be the adult in the room after Putin’s ominous temper tantrum
The president issued an executive order over what his administration called a “blatant violation of international law.” And the White House says more consequences are on the way.
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We’re coming off a holiday weekend with several big stories dominating the news cycle. So let’s take stock of where we’re at to make sense of where we’re going.
Countdown to Russia’s moment of truth — Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a defiant speech on Monday during which he announced Russia would immediately recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
The announcement is significant for three reasons:
First, it’s a dramatic escalation towards a horrific invasion of Ukraine at a time when US and international governments are attempting to deescalate tensions through diplomacy.
Second, it demonstrates how Putin is attempting to redraw international borders with force — an antithetical move to democratic values.
Third, it could allow the separatists who call the shots in the region to invite Russian troops to attack Ukrainian forces.
“This was a speech to the Russian people to justify a war. In fact, [Putin] once again explicitly threatened one,” a senior adminstration official said. “We’ll continue to pursue diplomacy until the tanks roll, but we are under no illusions about what is likely to come next. And we are prepared to respond decisively when it does.”
President Joe Biden issued an executive order in response to Putin’s announcement. The order will:
Prohibit new investment, trade and financing by Americans to, from or in the Ukrainian regions that Putin is attempting to recognize as independent states.
Provide authority to impose sanctions on anyone determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the administration had anticipated a move like this from Russia is ready to respond immediately.
“To be clear: These measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine,” Psaki said. “We will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.”
The US, France, UK, Norway, Ireland, Albania and Mexico called a United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting last night at Ukraine’s request to discuss the crisis.
“Russia’s decision is yet another example of President Putin’s flagrant disrespect for international law and norms,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Blinken said Biden’s executive order isn’t directed at the people of Ukraine or the Ukrainian government, which will continue to allow it to receive humanitarian support. The president’s actions are specifically designed to prevent Russia from profiting off what the US government describes as a blatant violation of international law.
“The thing that is most striking to me about this speech is how deeply angry Putin is,” Paul Sonne, a national security reporter at The Washington Post, tweeted. “He’s seething. This is personal and emotional — not simply geopolitical.”
The speech even earned this commentary from this parody account of Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster:
Biden spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following Putin’s speech during a call that lasted roughly 35 minutes. Biden strongly condemned Putin’s decision and updated Zelenskyy on the US response, including the administration’s plans to issue sanctions, according to a White House readout of the call.
Andrea Mitchell at NBC News reports that Biden officials have discussed plans with the Ukrainian government for President Zelenskyy to leave Kyiv, the country’s capital city, in the event of a Russian. A White House official did not respond to a request for confirmation from Supercreator.
The president then spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Scholz for another 30 minutes to coordinate their response on the next steps.
The calls followed a meeting with Biden and his national security team at the White House. The meeting was confirmed after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley were spotted on the grounds. A White House administration official said Biden continues to be regularly briefed on the latest developments.
On Friday, President Biden said he believed Putin had already decided to invade Ukraine based on intelligence assessments on the ground. Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated Biden’s position while she was in Germany for the Munich Security Conference in Germany over the weekend. As did Blinken and Austin during multiple appearances on the Sunday shows two days ago.
Blinken is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. If Russia hasn’t invaded Ukraine, the two are expected to iron out details of a possible meeting between Biden and Putin. The White House agreed to the Biden-Putin meeting in principle on Sunday.
“As the president has repeatedly made clear, we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins,” Psaki said on Sunday in a statement. “We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.”
Go deeper on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:
“Why it matters if Russia recognizes Donetsk and Luhansk” [Valerie Hopkins and Andrew E. Kramer / NYT]
Countdown to Biden’s historic nominee — We’re a week away from Biden’s self-imposed deadline to announce the Black woman he’ll nominate to the Supreme Court.
The White House said Biden has every intention of making a decision this month when it was asked if a Russian invasion of Ukraine could delay the announcement. It also noted that when he makes the announcement, he will have chosen a nominee faster than any Democratic president in decades.
Democratic Sen. Dirk Durbin of Illinois, the chair of the committee that will consider Biden’s nominee first, said last Thursday he wants the Senate to confirm her by April 8.
If the Senate misses Durbin’s target, the soonest it will be able to confirm the nominee is the week of April 25 after it returns from a two-week recess.
Durbin also told reporters that he preferred Biden to announce his selection prior to his end-of-the-month deadline. Durbin expressed concern that the nominee could take longer to confirm if she hasn’t been through the committee before. (Of the three front runners — DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and South Carolina District Judge J. Michelle Childs — have already been before the Judiciary Committee. California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger has not.)
CNN reported on Monday that Biden has started interviewing candidates. And Ken Thomas at The Wall Street Journal reports the process began in recent days.
Administration officials have sidestepped questions about the process thus far. We’re unsure whom Biden has interviewed, when or where the interviews took place, and of the format in which they occurred.
“I can tell you that February is not that much longer,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during last Friday’s briefing. “And we remain on track to make an announcement about a the President’s selection for a qualified and credible nominee to serve on the Supreme Court before the end of the month.”
The nominee will replace Justice Stephen Breyer, the dean of the liberal flank of justices that includes Sonia Sotomayor and Elana Kagan.
— Related: “‘A singular focus’: Durbin is determined to make history as he works to confirm Biden’s Supreme Court pick” [Mike DeBonis, Seung Min Kim and Rhonda Colvin / WaPo]
Countdown to SOTU 2022 — The president is also in the home stretch of drafting the State of the Union address he’ll deliver a week from today.
As with the Supreme Court nominee, details on the speech are in short supply.
But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last Friday that Biden would be working on it over the weekend and the administration would have more to share as the in the days ahead.
All members of Congress are invited to attend the address, according to the House sergeant-at-arms, the chief law enforcement officer in the House wing of the US Capitol. (Capacity was capped at about 20 percent for Biden’s address last year.) Guest attendance is still prohibited.
Attendees will be required to submit a negative PCR test one day before the speech, wear a KN95 or N95 mask at all times and follow social distancing guidelines.
In addition to fulfilling the Constitutional requirement for presidents to update Congress on the state of the union, it’s also an opportunity to highlight an administration’s achievements and outline its priorities for the future.
President Biden was invited by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in January to deliver the speech.
— Best of Supercreator: “It’s not enough to just hire and elect us”
TODAY IN POLITICS
— President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning with Vice President Harris. Then he will host a virtual event on supply chains. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, and California Governor Gavin Newsom will also attend.
— The House is out.
— The Senate is out.
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IN THE KNOW
— The John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation announced its launch on Monday, which would have been the late congressman’s 82nd birthday. The organization will hold a gala in May in Washington, DC. The event will serve as a fundraiser and celebration of Rep. Lewis’s life as a civil rights activist and politician. [Tia Mitchell / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
— Jury deliberations started in the case against the three white men who were charged with federal hate crimes in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The men were convicted in Georgia state court last November and sentenced last month to life in prison. [Russ Bynum / AP News]
— Yale Law School announced it will begin covering full tuition for its lowest-income students next fall. Students from families with income below the federal poverty line will receive annual scholarships that cover tuition, fees and health insurance. Students will still be responsible for their own living expenses. [Melissa Korn and Sara Randazzo / WSJ]
— John Oliver debunked a lot of misinformation on critical race theory during the latest episode of Last Week Tonight. CRT is a graduate-level academic framework that interprets race as a social construct argues that racism is embedded in American legal systems and policies. White parents have weaponized the concept to remove books from school, limit how teachers can discuss race in their classrooms and prevent students from learning the complete truth about our country’s history. [Last Week Tonight / YouTube]
— Britney Spears signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster that’s said to be worth $15 million. The agreement comes after a bidding war with multiple publishers over her book and is “one of the biggest of all time, behind the Obamas,” according to an insider. [Emily Smith / Page Six]
— Instagram increased the minimum daily time limit setting to 30 minutes. The limit, which triggers a notification when you’ve reached your usage threshold, was 10 or 15 minutes. It’s unclear why Meta, Instagram’s parent company, increased the limit. But it could be an attempt to keep people on the app after Meta reported lagging metrics for the last quarter of 2021. [Kris Holt / Engadget]
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Rev. Al Sharpton on police reform:
Looking at a young person’s body in a casket, and watching grief-stricken parents, siblings and loved ones break down over such a tremendous loss are difficult to do; it stays with you forever. These deaths should never have occurred, and police reform must be implemented at the national level on down if we are to ever put an end to such institutionalized behaviors and protect all of our children.
Rachel Gutman on mask mandates:
One common (though not definitively proven) argument against mask mandates is that they don’t actually change people’s behavior: People who would’ve masked anyway cover up, and people who don’t want to mask wear theirs badly or ignore the rules. “Anyone who has been in any sort of public location at any time during the pandemic recognizes that mask mandates are not followed consistently,’ says David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. But even disregarded mandates could affect people in other, helpful ways. “From my perspective, the main benefit is not so much the masking itself, but the message to society that this wave is not yet over,” Dowdy told me. A mask mandate may not magically swaddle the faces of everyone in its jurisdiction, but it could remind already enthusiastic maskers to avoid large gatherings, or lead non-maskers to give the people around them a little more space.”
Alexander Zaitchik on Big Pharma:
“In using its influence to manage two rounds of intra-party conflict and compromise, Big Pharma has done it again. Whether the reforms pass as part of Build Back Better or become law as a stand-alone bill, the industry will have added to its highlight reel of impossible escapes from attempts to place meaningful limits on its monopoly power. How do the drug companies do it? How have they been doing it for as long as anybody alive can remember?”
Matt Ford on the Republican war on local government:
The episode highlighted the degree to which right-wing politics has organized around a war on local governments, dragging members of the once-mundane bodies that oversee public schools, elections, and other basic government functions into maelstroms of threats and intimidation. With an energized base that’s willing to use violence to achieve its goals and a conservative media ecosystem that prioritizes outrage, the results could be debilitating for basic functions of American democracy.
Justin Kirkland on breaking up with your favorite shows:
“For the most dedicated of pop culture fanatics, it's an act of self-care, because those of us who really really love television? You've stuck with something too long. It's not too different from a relationship, honestly. You end up on the couch, kind of bleary-eyed because you're supposed to be there but not particularly because you want to be. You get to the point where you don't even remember what you watched because you don't care. Where would The Office exist in your mind if it had ended when Michael Scott left? Or if How I Met Your Mother got to the damn point around Season Six? Choosing your own end point means that you can remember that feeling of a good TV show for all the things it was, as opposed to all the ways it eventually failed.”
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