“Let’s use this moment to reset”: Biden’s SOTU stakes new ground in the middle
From Ukraine to the economy to the pandemic to social issues, the president attempted to offer something up for everyone. Plus: A lawmaker rolls out legislation to limit no-knock warrants.
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1. First Things First: SOTU recap
President Joe Biden on Tuesday evening unveiled a “unity agenda” in his first State of the Union address in hopes of inspiring a nation worn down by a protracted pandemic, high costs for basic goods and a European conflict that’s certain to have domestic ramifications.
“Let’s use this moment to reset,” he said as he spoke of the steps his administration will take as most of the country returns to their normal routines.
What’s happening in Ukraine is anything but normal though. And while the president was at his best expressing solidarity with the Ukrainians and talking tough against Putin, I think the administration missed an opportunity to dive deeper into detail why the world is galvanized in support of Ukraine and why your taxpayer dollars
To be clear, Biden did hit on this last week. But again, I thought the speech could have been a showcase to paint a stronger picture. Perhaps they thought doing so would worry Americans more than already are. I’m unsure.
— Allow me to explain: In Tuesday’s newsletter, I wrote that Biden’s speech would signal if he planned to govern from the left or closer to the center in the months ahead. We got our answer: The White House is staking ground in the middle.
The four themes of his plan to bring together Democrats and Republicans in Congress and around the country — while building back his support with independents — is proof: Beat the opioid epidemic, take on mental health, support our veterans and end cancer as we know it. Each of these issues is an area where the administration feels it can generate consensus.
However, these priorities are sure to disappoint as many voters as they will satisfy. But the president and most Democrats have no choice but to fix their gaze on legislative items they believe they can campaign on in the months ahead. We’ll see if their bet is a winning one soon.
“We can’t change how divided we’ve been,” Biden said. “But we can change how we move forward.”
— The counterpoint: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa delivered the GOP response to Biden’s speech and hammered Democrats on foreign policy, saying the president’s shaky withdrawal from Afghanistan contributed to the chaos we see in Ukraine and North Korea.
“Weakness on the world stage has a cost,” Reynolds said, as she called Biden’s actions in Ukraine “too little, too late.”
Reynolds also positioned her party as the one with the cheat codes on inflation, crime, COVID and immigration
“This is not the same country it was a year ago,” she said before pivoting to an optimistic tone as she called on Americans to deliver both houses of Congress to Republicans in this year’s midterms. Watch the response.
— In the know:
First Lady Jill Biden hosted the US Ambassador of Ukraine Oksana Markarova in her viewing box in the House chamber last night. She was also joined by the president’s sister Valerie Biden Owens and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.
In a sign of support for the Ukrainian people, the first lady had an embroidered appliqué of a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, sewn to the sleeve of her dress near her wrist. She also wore a mask with a sunflower at the Black History Month event on Monday at the White House.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was the designated survivor, aka the cabinet member in the presidential line of succession, selected to stay at an undisclosed secure location, away from the event.
— What’s next:
Biden will travel to Wisconsin today to promote the economic agenda he outlined during the speech.
Vice President Kamala Harris will sit for interviews this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s TODAY Show and CBS Mornings to speak about Biden’s speech, the crisis and Ukraine and more.
The White House COVID response team will hold a press call to detail Biden’s new pandemic strategy.
2. Biden to Putin: “You were wrong”
President Biden unsurprisingly devoted substantial portions of his speech to condemning President Vladimir Putin of Russia for his ongoing attack on Ukraine.
The newsiest development of the night: President Biden announced he has closed Russian aircraft from US airspace. Several other countries have already done so.
“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden said. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”
— Allow me to explain:
Prior to his speech, Biden spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine about how the US and its allies and partners are working to hold Russia accountable for the attack. He also committed to sustaining the ongoing deliveries of security assistance, economic support, and humanitarian aid America has offered to the country.
Harris, the first woman vice president to attend the State of the Union, had five separate calls on Tuesday afternoon with European leaders from NATO’s eastern flank to discuss the global response to Russia.
The takeaway: Administration officials say the consistent engagement from Biden, Harris and cabinet members has been key to unifying the world against Putin after four years of frayed international relationships under the previous administration.
— In the know:
Airstrikes hit a Holocaust memorial in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, President Zelenskyy said. At least five people were killed in the attack. “To the world: what is the point of saying «never again» for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?” Zelenskyy tweeted.
At least 136 civilians have been killed during Russia’s assault on Ukraine, according to the United Nations. 600,000 people have fled the country so far.
Russia could isolate Kyiv in a week, a US official says after a deadly attack on the city’s main TV tower, CBS News reports
About 100 diplomats walked out of a speech by Russia’s foreign minister in protest over his country’s invasion of Ukraine, Nick Cumming-Bruce at NYT reports. The diplomats, assembled at the UN Human Rights Council, were mostly from Western countries.
Apple announced it has stopped selling products in Russia, Bobby Allyn at NPR reports. The move represents an estimated two percent of the company’s global revenue, worth $7 billion in sales.
— See also:
“How Ukrainians have used social media to humiliate the Russians and rally the world” (Drew Harwell and Rachel Lerman / WaPo)
“The Ukraine invasion reveals Putin to be shockingly weak” (Timothy Noah / The New Republic)
3. Omar introduces bill to restrict no-knock warrants
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Tuesday introduced a bill that would establish strict limitations on the use of no-knock warrants in drug-related investigations.
It comes after the murder of Amir Locke, who was shot and killed one month ago today by the Minneapolis Police Department.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Omar said on a press call with reporters and the families of Amir Locke, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Deshaun Hill Jr. “Enough is enough.”
— Allow me to explain:
The legislation also bans quick-knock warrants, all nighttime warrants, as well as the use of flash-bang stun grenades, other explosive devices, chemical weapons or any other military-grade firearm. Read the full bill text.
Four MPD officers were convicted of killing Floyd. And Philando Castile, a 32-year-old Black man, was fatally shot in 2016 during a traffic stop by a police officer from the St. Anthony police department in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metropolitan area.
During the press call, Philonise Floyd said Locke may still be alive today had Congress passed a police reform bill named after his brother that bans no-knock warrants.
— What they’re saying:
Andre Locke, Amir’s dad, shared the anger, disbelief and grief he feels after losing his son during the call. He described the bill introduction as a surreal experience because he never imagined a piece of legislation would be named after Amir under these circumstances.
Karen Wells, Amir’s mom called her son a shining light in his family’s life. She said he planned to move to Texas to be closer to her and pursue his passion for music and fashion before he was killed.
Brandon Williams, the nephew of George Floyd, called on Congress to pass the Amir Locke Act so no other family has to endure what the families on the call have been through.
— In the know:
Omar said the increase in no-knock warrants coincided with the war on drugs, both of which criminalize Black and brown people at disproportionate rates.
The circumstances of Locke’s case, Omar added, are similar to Breonna Taylor, who was also fatally shot in Kentucky in 2020 during the execution of a no-knock warrant. Taylor was not the target of the investigation that led to the warrant.
— What’s next:
Omar said she hopes President Biden dedicates meaningful energy to helping get the bills to his desk by lobbying members of Congress as he’s done with other priorities like the bipartisan infrastructure deal and Build Back Better.
She said she also would like to see the president sign companion executive orders that immediately address the issue while her bill and the George Floyd Act continue working through the legislative process.
4. LGBTQ advocacy groups sue TX
Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas filed a lawsuit in a Texas court to block the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services from investigating parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent children with gender-affirming medical care.
The suit comes follows a DFPS investigation into one of its employees with a transgender child after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called for such inquiries, J. David Goodman at NYT reports.
Abbott’s order followed a nonbinding opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, that parents who provide their trans teenagers with treatments — ranging from surgery to speech therapy, that support a transgender or nonbinary person in their gender transition — could be investigated for child abuse. Read the full complaint.
“For Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton, it seems the cruelty is the point,” Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Paul Castillo, said in the release announcing the lawsuit. “They are joining a politically motivated misinformation campaign with no consideration of medical science and seem determined to criminalize parents seeking to care and provide for their kids, and medical professionals abiding by accepted standards of care for transgender youth.”
— Allow me to explain:
Gender-affirming care isn’t new, but it’s become a target of attacks from state lawmakers in Republican-led states.
Culture wars, like this one, Texas’s six-week abortion ban and Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, have replaced most efforts to put forth any serious policy proposals that make life easier for the constituents these politicians were elected to serve.
The suit was anonymously filed by the family, which had an investigator already arrive at their house.
A court has yet to rule on the suit.
— In the know: Biden reiterated his support for the LGBTQ community during last night’s State of the Union and called on Congress to send the Equality Act to his desk. (It would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.)
“The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong.”
“As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your president, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”
— The reaction:
Rebecca Marques, Texas State Director at Human Rights Campaign: “Abbott’s order is a shameful attempt to score political points by attacking Texas’s transgender youth — who are, again and again, the Governor’s target — in an attempt to one-up and outdo other radical anti-equality politicians by attacking best practice, age-appropriate, medically-necessary care that in many cases is lifesaving.”
Amit Paley, CEO & executive director of The Trevor Project: “The Trevor Project exists to support LGBTQ youth in crisis. The notion that any government official would want our counselors to report a transgender young person’s parents to the state for providing the kind of care that can save lives is unconscionable.”
Trevon Mayers, The Center's Senior Director of Advocacy & Community Engagement: “Loving a child by affirming who they are is not abuse. Plain and simple. All children deserve to feel safe and supported regardless of their gender, gender identity, or gender expression. The order in Texas is part of a concerted, nationwide attack on the humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming children and their families. It is discrimination and is rooted in disinformation.”
When reached for comment, Alexis Torres, press secretary for Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, pointed me to this tweet from the congressman:
Erin, Trail Mom @ErinInTheMornGreg Abbot has officially directed Family and Protective Services to begin investigating all trans children in Texas and prosecuting their parents as child abusers. He has also instructed all teachers, doctors, and caregivers to begin reporting any trans students they see. https://t.co/AO4FdYNuym
“These aren’t the actions of a ‘small government conservative,’” Joaquin’s twin brother Julian, who led the Department Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration, said on Twitter.
— See also:
“How Texas came up with its new anti-trans directive” [Mary Harris / Slate]
5. Vaccine protection for kids fell as Omicron surged
Many vaccinated kids experienced breakthrough infections during the Omicron surge, though protection against hospitalization remained stronger, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported by Brenda Goodman at CNN.
Kids ages five to 11 were about 46 percent less likely to seek treatment for COVID-19 at an urgent care clinic or emergency room, compared to children who were unvaccinated. (Clinical trials showed the vaccines to be about 91 percent effective at preventing disease for this age group, which is the youngest and most recently vaccinated.
Study author Dr. Nicola Klein said the rapid evolution of the virus, not the dosage or response to the vaccines by age, was behind the dropoff in effectiveness.
— Allow me to explain:
Vaccinated grade-schoolers continued to be less likely to be hospitalized for their infections than children who were unvaccinated.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine authorized for people younger than 18.
— What’s next: Klein said she thinks it’s reasonable that boosters may soon be recommended for younger kids.
— Related: Most Americans have fully or mostly returned to their normal, pre-coronavirus activities despite feeling like the coronavirus is not yet under control, Amy Goldstein and Emily Guskin at WaPo report.
Nearly six in 10 US adults think it is more important to control the virus with some restrictions in daily life, while four in 10 prefer no restrictions.
The 34 percent overall who say they regard the pandemic as largely controlled is among the highest proportion since early in the pandemic.
6. KBJ travels to the Capitol
Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, will make her way to the Capitol today for her first round of “courtesy meetings” ahead of her confirmation hearings later this month.
— Allow me to explain: Jackson will meet on Wednesday with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Jackson will be joined at her meetings by former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who has been designated as her advisor through the confirmation process.
— In the Know: Jackson submitted her questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Included are a few more details on her selection process:
Jan. 30: White House Council Dana Remus contacted Jackson concerning her potential nomination head of Justice Stephen Breyer’s announced retirement. She was also in contact with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and officials from the White House Counsel's Office and the White House Office of Presidential Personnel regarding my potential nomination and the nominations process.
Feb. 11: Jackson met with Vice President Harris over Zoom concerning the nomination.
Feb. 14: Jackson met with President Biden and Remus at the White House.
Feb. 24: President Biden offered Jackson the nomination, which, as we now know, she accepted.
Feb. 25: Biden announced his intent to nominate Jackson.
The questionnaire also has an exhaustive look at Jackson’s legal record, if you’re interested. Read the 149-page document.
— Facts and figures: At this point in President Biden’s presidency, Senate Democrats have confirmed 46 total circuit and district court judges, more than any president since John F. Kennedy. Among the confirmations is:
The first LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal circuit court.
The first Muslim American federal judge in history.
The first Korean-American woman to serve as a federal appellate judge.
The first Black judge to serve on the Federal Circuit.
At this point in their presidencies, 24 Donald Trump nominees were confirmed, 15 for Barack Obama, 39 for George W. Bush and 33 for Bill Clinton.
“Now, Senate Democrats plan to build on this progress by confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice,” Schumer said in a statement.
— What’s next: Senate Democrats are looking to Mar. 21 to start confirmation hearings.
— See also:
“The maddeningly limited vision of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s guidance counselor” [Michele L. Norris / WaPo]
7. Today in Politics
— President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning before traveling to Superior, Wisconsin with the first lady to speak on the impact of his bipartisan infrastructure law. The Bidens will return to the White House this evening.
— Vice President Harris will travel this morning to Durham, North Carolina to tour an apprentice program and speak on the administration’s investments in workers. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will also speak. Harris will return to DC this afternoon.
— The House is in. Members will continue work on legislation to expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
— The Senate is in. Senators will continue work on US Postal Service reform.
8. Read All About It
— Otillia Steadman on the dilemma OnlyFans creators face of how to handle abusive fans who help pay their bills:
After building a massive audience in recent years as a destination for porn, OnlyFans has pushed to move beyond its reputation, courting mainstream creators, promoting accounts like musicians and fitness influencers, and even going so far as to briefly jettison explicit content, saying that banks had objected to it, before swiftly reversing course last August. But the expectations OnlyFans established during its rise to popularity have remained in place, and creators of all stripes say that trying to set boundaries with fans exposes them to harassment. Despite facing that pressure from site users, creators said they believed that the company’s moderation features are more focused on policing their behavior than on protecting them from abusive fans. Five told BuzzFeed News that they felt forced to choose between accepting requests they are uncomfortable with and alienating users whose tips pay their bills.
— More Wednesday must-reads:
Hanna Matyiku-Nuñez on why Love is Blind is the only reality dating show where you can find true love
Megan Marples on how to help kids better process their feelings
Howard Megdal on how airplanes became the WNBA’s biggest scandal
— Best of Supercreator: “The pandemic has made life especially miserable for LGBTQ people”
9. Wednesday’s reader question
In honor of Women’s History Month, which woman has made the biggest impact on your life and why?
Reply to this email with your comments and you may be featured in the next issue. Your response may be edited or shortened before publication. Be sure to include your first name and location.
10. Last Not Least: Schumer pops up prematurely
President Biden received a standing ovation one minute in his SOTU. And Leader Schumer was a willing participant of most of them — even popping up during a chorus of GOP-led boos ahead before the president touted his American Rescue Plan. If you missed it, here’s a quick meme that captures his mood:
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