Russia, Russia, Russia: The White House explains why you should care about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Plus: The latest on Biden’s process for picking the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
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SCOTUS WATCH — President Joe Biden has not made a decision on the Black woman he plans to nominate to the Supreme Court, per the White House. But he remains on track to announce his selection by the end of the month. Read the backstory here and here.
Biden has met with Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson and Judge J. Michelle Childs, Sean Sullivan, Seung Min Kim and Tyler Pager at The Washington Post report. As I mentioned in yesterday’s newsletter, both judges have been before the Senate Judiciary Committee before, which could expedite the confirmation process if one of them becomes the nominee.
The president has also interviewed the other frontrunner: Judge Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, Katie Rogers at The New York Times reports.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE LATEST — It took a little longer than some would probably have liked, but the White House finally called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hostile move into Ukraine an “invasion,” thereby triggering several of the severe sanctions President Biden has been promising for weeks.
“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors?” Biden said with his trademark folksy incredulity during a speech outlining the sanctions. “This is a flagrant violation of international law and it demands a firm response from the international community.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart to discuss what could have been an off-ramp for Putin had he not started the invasion. The summit President Biden agreed to in principle over the weekend is also off the table. The White House said it is willing to reconsider if and when Russia deescalates its Ukrainian invasion.
The sanctions are part of a strategy the White House said will “start high and stay high” to deter Putin from further escalation.
The measures will fully block two large state-owned Russian financial institutions that hold more than $80 billion in assets and finance the Russian defense sector and economic development, effectively shutting them out of the global financial system. They will also foreclose their access to the US dollar and place restrictions on five Russian elites and their family members.
Germany, in coordination with the US, also halted Nord Stream 2 — a pipeline that would have allowed Russia to bypass Ukraine in exporting natural gas to Europe. The White House called it an $11 billion investment on Putin’s part.
“It sacrifices what would have been a cash cow for Russia’s financial coffers,” a senior administration official said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration welcomed the announcement.
“[President Biden] made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward,” Psaki said.
The senior administration official said the White House was deliberate to make sure that the pain of its sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy, not the US’s.
“So none of the measures are designed to disrupt the flow of energy to global markets,” the official said. “And we are now executing a plan in coordination with major oil consumers and oil producers towards our collective interest to secure the stability of global energy supplies.”
Still, for the second time in less than a week, President Biden warned that the international response to Russia’s aggression could have effects here at home.
“Defending freedom will have costs for us as well,” he said. “We need to be honest about that.”
Psaki was asked why you should have to bear the economic impact of the chaos overseas during her daily briefing on Tuesday.
“That should matter because that is a fundamental value that we, as a country, stand up for, and we stand up against that type of action. That goes back to World War II,” she said. “And we have repeatedly throughout history been leaders in the world in rallying support [against] any efforts to seize territory from another country.”
— What other politicians are saying:
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer: “President Biden and the international community see right through Putin's theater and false pretexts. … These sanctions are just the beginning if Putin continues this dangerous land grab.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: “All the free nations of the world will be affected if Putin’s aggression is allowed to stand unchallenged. The world is watching. Our allies, our adversaries and neutral countries will all judge the west by our response — and plan their futures accordingly.
House Foreign Relations Chair Gregory Meeks: “The signals and concrete action so far by the Biden Administration and European capitals have been encouraging. There is more on the table. Contrary to the Kremlin’s goals of dividing us, its fomented crisis is swiftly reaffirming our commitment to the NATO Alliance and bringing the transatlantic community together.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “You said a couple years ago that Putin does not want you to win because you’re the only person who could go toe-to-toe with him. “Well right now, Mr President, you’re playing footsie with Putin and you’re losing. He’s walking all over you and our allies.”
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have begun — in a flurry of lies and bluster, whining and belligerence from the Kremlin. The US government is poised to impose economic sanctions for this aggression. There are no plans for our troops to directly engage militarily with Russians.”
GUILTY AGAIN — After roughly four hours of deliberations, a jury found the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man who was jogging on the public streets of a Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood, guilty of federal hate crimes. Some jurors wept when the verdict was read aloud in court.
Although hate crimes are especially difficult to prove, as Tariro Mzezewa, Audra D. S. Burch and Richard Fausset at the NYT report, federal prosecutors in the Georgia trial introduced evidence of the defendants’ racism, which left some jurors visibly shaken.
The men were convicted in Georgia state court last November and sentenced last month to life in prison.
Vice President Kamala Harris called the verdict a measure of justice that holds the men accountable for the pain they inflicted on Ahmaud and his loved ones.
“It also reminds us of the work we have left to do,” Harris said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said his heart goes out to Arbery’s parents — Wanda Cooper Jones and Marcus Arbery — for their loss.
“Although we welcome the jury’s verdict, the only acceptable outcome in this matter would have been Mr. Arbery returning safely to his loved ones two years ago,” Garland said. “His family and friends should be preparing to celebrate his 28th birthday later this spring, not mourning the second anniversary of his death tomorrow. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today.”
During a post-verdict press conference, Cooper-Jones said she was confident her son’s killers would be held accountable for their crimes.
She also called out the Justice Department for originally accepting a plea deal before the trial against the family’s wishes:
As I reported earlier this month, Cooper-Jones was referring to a provision that would have allowed Travis McMichael, the man who shot Arbery, to transfer to federal custody instead of serving his entire sentence in a Georgia state prison, which is the family’s preference. The deal would have also forfeited his right to an appeal had McMichael pleaded guilty.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement to Supercreator at the time that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department consulted with the victims’ attorneys before signing the agreement, which included the McMichaels’ confessions to federal hate crimes charges.
The defendants could face up to life in prison for the federal crimes — on top of the life sentences they received in state court in January. Tuesday’s verdict is also significant because the defendants will receive serious prison time even if their state convictions are overturned or their sentences are reduced on appeal.
— Related: “The impact of a minute”
SCOTT’S UNFORCED ERROR — Democrats have had a tough time zeroing on a villain not named Donald Trump to message against ahead of the November midterms.
And if current polling and past elections are to be trusted, then all Republicans are on their way back to the majority party in at least one if not both chambers of Congress.
But Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida may have offered Democrats a lifeline — while giving his own party an unneeded headache — when he released an 11-point proposal outlining the GOP’s policy priorities if they retake the majority.
The plan is notable because Senate Republican leaders did not plan to release a policy agenda ahead of the midterms based off the belief they wouldn’t need one to win. But Scott’s proposal could me messaging manna from heaven for Democrats as campaigns kick into high gear.
“I’ll warn you: This plan is not for the faint of heart,” Scott, who also serves as chair of the committee responsible for electing Republicans to the Senate, wrote in the proposal’s introduction. “It will be ridiculed by the ‘woke’ left, mocked by Washington insiders and strike fear in the heart of some Republicans. At least I hope so.”
A few of the most controversial items:
Scott claims Republicans will eliminate racial politics in America. “Government will never again ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity or skin color on any government forms,” the proposal reads. “We are all made in the image of God” and thus “to judge a person on the color their epidermis is immoral.” He would also ban diversity training in the military: “Our fighting force must be completely united and completely colorblind.”
Scott also wants to sunset all federal laws within five years of their passage. “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”
Additionally, Scott believes if low-income Americans pay higher income taxes, it will give them “skin in the game.” This is the one Democrats will probably look to hammer Scott on the most — especially since President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better plan promises not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 per year and because raising taxes on the wealthy is popular among Democratic voters.
“To those who’ve been waiting for Republicans to unveil an agenda, wait no more,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s press office said in a statement. “In a splashy eleven-point plan unveiled by a top Senate Republican leader, the GOP declared its explicit intent to raise taxes on ‘over half of Americans’ — doubling down on the long-standing GOP ambition of making seniors and families already struggling to make ends meet pay higher taxes.”
Pelosi holds her weekly press conference this morning so I’m sure she’ll have more to say about this soon.
THE ANTI-LGBTQ ASSAULTS CONTINUE — Although Florida state lawmakers dropped an amendment from its controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it’s still a terrible piece of legislation that puts LGBTQ youth in harm’s way to score political points.
The amendment would require school principals to disclose a student’s sexual orientation to parents within six weeks if they find out a student has come out as other than straight.
The amendment was scheduled to be debated and voted on the Florida House floor Tuesday afternoon, Jim Rosica at USA Today reports. But Rep. Joe Harding, who introduced it, pulled the amendment less than an hour before the House was set to convene.
“Nothing in the amendment was about outing a student,” Harding said in a statement. “Rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the primary bill that empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives.”
The bill would ban certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
Earlier this month, The White House said that the legislation is one of several efforts across the country to regulate what students can or cannot read, learn or be. And since members of the LGBTQ community are already vulnerable to bullying and mental health challenges, these bills can make matters worse for these students.
President Biden is opposed to the bill and posted a tweet in solidarity with the LGBTQ community after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested he supported it. Read the backstory.
— Watch this 75-second explainer on why the bill is so dangerous:
— It’s not just Florida, btw: Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton inaccurately characterized some types of medical care for transgender children as abuse, Sarakshi Rai at The Hill reports.
— Related: “I’m worried this is going to kill our kids” [Justin Kirkland / Esquire]
— LGBTQ rights are on the docket this fall: The Supreme Court has agreed on Tuesday to hear the case of a Colorado web designer who says her religious beliefs prevent her from offering wedding website designs to gay couples, Jessica Gresko at Associated Press reports.
NO UPDATE ON HBCU BOMB THREATS — It’s been a few weeks since the FBI said that Joint Terrorism Task Forces are leading the investigation in the three waves of threats to several Historically Black Colleges and Universities and houses of worship earlier this month.
I reached out to the bureau for an update but when reached for comment, an FBI spokesperson said the bureau did not have an update on the investigation at this time.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. But this is the kind of story that too often gets swallowed by the news cycle. So I plan to stay on it and keep you posted.
— IN THE KNOW:
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa will deliver the party’s response to President Biden’s State of the Union address next Tuesday, Brianne Pfannenstiel at the Des Moines Register reports. Reynolds has reportedly been on the front lines of Republican governors pushing back against what they call government overreach throughout the pandemic, which seems to be the only prerequisite to national notoriety for the party these days.
Companies are now looking for properties that will enable them to serve more customers in their cars, Kate King at WSJ reports. Drive-through lane competition heated up during the pandemic and shows few signs of slowing down.
Meta rolled out its short-form video format Facebook Reels to all its users, Queenie Wong at CNET reports. Reels, which is designed to compete with Snapchat and TikTok, could be Meta’s attempt to attract more daily users to its flagship social app.
The Wendy Williams Show is officially canceled, the insiders at Love B. Scott report. Williams is recovering from chronic health issues and will step aside to make room for Sherri Shepherd, who will premiere her own show this fall. Shepherd has served as Williams’ permanent guest host in recent months. Read Williams’s statement … Read Shepherd’s statement.
— Best of Supercreator: “We gotta start holding white women accountable for their violence towards Black women”
TODAY IN POLITICS
— President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing with Vice President Harris.
— The vice president will also meet with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators to discuss the administration’s work on a range of issues.
— First Lady Jill Biden will travel to San Antonio, Texas with National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Ned Sharpless for a tour and listening session focused on addressing cancer health disparities in the Latino community. The event is part of the administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. Biden will also visit a military base to tour a child development center and participate in another listening session in support of military children with disabilities. This event is part of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative. Biden and Dr. Sharpless will return to DC this evening.
— The House is out.
— The Senate is out.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
— Rebecca Jennings on “creators”:
“Creator,” though, is so utilitarian to the point where it is almost meaningless. It is the stuff of airport business magazines (“Does your startup have a maker, a doer, and a creator? Here’s why you need all three”) and insidious public transit advertisements (“You’re a doer. You eat coffee for lunch. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice.”). (I made up the first example but the second one is an actual advertisement for Fiverr, a freelancing platform that’s been accused of promoting exploitative labor practices.) There are creators who exist to educate the public on deeply important topics and manage to do so in a nuanced, meaningful way. There are also creators who spout hatred, racism, and bigotry, but are creators nonetheless.
— Jason Diamond on gaudiness:
Whatever your position on gaudy, there’s never been a better time to give it a try than right now. It feels like men’s style is trying to make up for its historical gaudy shortages, and how heritage brands, browns and blues, and the toughest selvage denim were often the name of the game. While old workboots or whatever Carhartt gear you copped to go drink natural wine looks great, it can all get a little rigid — a desperate grasp at the idea of masculinity.
— Faith Hill on the nocturnals:
According to most psychologists, humans are inherently social creatures; contact with others isn’t just a want — it’s a need. Deprived of it, people’s physical and mental health tends to decline. But the nocturnal people I spoke with feel they don’t need much interaction at all.
I could understand why people might wonder, though, whether a near-total retreat from daytime society would be motivated by more than just introversion. When does a desire for solitude cross into something unhealthy? If we take the nocturnals at their word — that they simply like living this way — they complicate one of our core assumptions about human psychology: that all people have the same fundamental needs.
— Jake Blumgart on the mom-and-popcalypse:
This is very specifically a downtown problem. At the macro level, the national retail market is proving resilient two years into the pandemic, with many of its weaker performers already culled by the “retail apocalypse” of 2018 and 2019. For the first time since 2014, the real estate analytics company CoStar Group tracked more store openings than closings last year.
Buoyed by unprecedented amounts of federal support for households and businesses in 2020 and early 2021, paired with increased savings due to inactivity earlier in the pandemic, Americans pounded down the doors of national retailers last year.
— Pam Segall on Donald Trump’s dead tweets:
The past year has been comparatively calm online, no longer full of concern that a war could be incited by an errant tweet. But Trump’s absence presents something of a conundrum. During his four years in the White House, Trump’s tweets were treated as matters of grave national and global importance. But now we live without an official record. Years’ worth of online stories and blog posts are littered with phantom spaces where embedded tweets once lived. And without the primary sources, how will historians judge the Trump years?
— Jenny Xie on the bidding wars for popular NYC apartments:
Renting an apartment in New York right now is, by all accounts, a fairly harrowing task. According to a recent Streeteasy report, there has been a “record drop” in rental inventory (Q4 of 2021 had about 50 percent fewer units than the same time in 2020). Which means when a remotely desirable apartment (a decent location and maybe a fireplace or updated kitchen) does come on the market, it is met with a barrage of aggressive New Yorkers willing to do what they can to secure the deal. Realtors are reporting terse bidding wars (some resulting in apartments going nearly $1,000 over asking), extremely personal letters to the landlord, lines out the door at open houses, and absolutely no pushback on 15 percent broker fees.
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