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Tonight’s the night
President Biden is set to deliver his first State of the Union address, and in the process, reset his agenda at home as he manages a dangerous crisis abroad.
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FIRST THINGS FIRST
BIDEN’S CHANCE TO MEET THE MOMENT — President Joe Biden tonight will deliver the first State of the Union address of his presidency. It’s a prime opportunity to speak to voters and he’ll have a lot of ground to cover.
Here’s a preview of the themes of his speech:
Biden will remind people of his administration’s progress in its first year against intense challenges. Expect to hear phrases like “it’s never a good bet to bet against the American people” and “when given half a shot, ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” as he attempts to re-inspire a weary nation with his trademark optimism.
The president will make the case for his economic vision that grows from the bottom up and the middle out. A White House official said there are two key pillars to this vision. The first is making more goods in America to rely less on supply chains the US doesn’t control. Pillar two is lowering costs for American families. Biden will hit on several proposals of his stalled Build Back Better plan even if he doesn’t refer to BBB by name.
Biden will outline areas where he believes Republicans and Democrats can work together. Additionally, he’ll issue a call to action for Congress to send bills to his desk to demonstrate government still works for the people.
The president will also discuss the promises he’s kept in his first year in office and the work left to do ahead.
And, of course, Biden will also sum up the efforts America is taking to unite the world for democracy and against Russian aggression.
Biden’s State of the Union is also a chance to reset the tone with Congress. Democrats passed the president’s coronavirus rescue plan and bipartisan infrastructure deal, representing two huge legislative wins.
But gridlock on party priorities like human infrastructure, voting rights, reproductive justice, police reform, immigration and student loan debt have soured lawmakers on the president’s dealmaking prowess.
Whether he reiterates his support for or distances himself from these issues will signal if Biden plans to govern from the left or closer to the center in the months ahead.
— After the speech: As critical as the speech is, what happens in the days, weeks and months after are just as, and possibly more, significant than the words you’ll hear from Biden tonight.
The Office of Management and Budget will release the president’s 2023 budget soon, which will define how the president will ask Congress to pay for his priorities. And expect Biden to sign executive orders for what he’s unable to get passed in Congress. And you’ll also see Biden on the road much more, especially as pandemic restrictions continue to ease, heading to battleground states to campaign for Democrats and promote his agenda.
— The Republican response: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa will deliver her party’s response to the president’s speech. Reynolds has reportedly been on the front lines of Republican governors pushing back against what they call government overreach throughout the pandemic, so expect plenty of criticism of the Biden administration’s COVID strategy.
— The Democratic response: The party in power doesn’t typically respond to the president’s speech, but Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will deliver a formal response on behalf of the Working Families Party. As I reported last Tuesday, the response runs the risk of resurfacing internal dissent among the progressive and conservative wings of the Democratic Party. But progressive lawmakers see this year’s midterm elections as an opportunity to expand the House Democratic majority by electing more outsiders who share their politics and can turn them into meaningful policies.
— How to watch: You can stream the State of the Union live tonight 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.)
RUSSIA-UKRAINE LATEST — A Ukrainian delegation and officials from Russia met on Monday at the border of Ukraine and Belarus for six hours but did not reach a resolution.
Ukraine is asking for a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal. Russia did not disclose its position but indicated its openness to striking a deal that’s in the interests of both sides.
While the talks were taking place, Russia’s military hammered Ukraine — another indication that it’s wise to watch what the Russians do not what they say.
At home, President Biden convened a call with allies and partners, including leaders from Canada, Europe and Japan, to discuss the crisis. The call lasted just over an hour and 20 minutes.
— US imposes another round of sanctions: The Treasury Department announced on Monday it will block any US dollar transactions with the Russian Central Bank to prevent Russia from using $630 billion in reserves to offset its weakening ruble, which is less than 1 US cent after it the Russian currency fell about 30 percent against the dollar.
The new sanctions were taken with Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Canada, the European Union and others.
A senior administration official called the situation a “vicious feedback loop” that Putin’s own choices triggered and his own aggression accelerated.
“We said if Putin continued to escalate, we would escalate. We said all options are on the table, including the most severe sanctions ever contemplated against Russia,” a senior administration official said on a press call with reporters. “We said that as we implement these costs, we would impose them in an historic and unprecedented show of coordination with countries across the world that wish to defend the core principles that underpin peace and security. And so, that's the context in which our actions to sanction the Russian Central Bank should be seen. We're doing exactly what we said we’d do.”
The White House seemed confident that the sanctions wouldn’t corner Putin into pushing back against the US or its allies. Putin raised his nuclear alert over the weekend, but President Biden said that Americans should be unconcerned about nuclear war.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US has no desire for conflict and wouldn’t respond wtih in inflammatory rhetoric. The US also hasn’t raised its nuclear threat level.
— New data on the sanctions: 83 percent of Americans said they favored increased economic sanctions in response to the invasion, according to a new CNN poll conducted by survey and research firm SSRS. (17 percent are opposed to the heavier penalties.)
The support of the sanctions is notable because just 67 percent of Americans supported the restrictions when Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014 to annex Crimea, a peninsula in Ukraine that lies between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
Additional finds from the survey:
62 percent want to see the US do more to stop Russian military action, the survey also found. 38 percent say the US has already done enough.
58 percent are opposed to direct military action by the US.
The same number would favor military action if the sanctions failed.
Also notable: Despite overwhelming support for the sanctions, Biden’s poll numbers still dramatically lag. This disconnect is something the administration is attempting to reconcile ASAP.
— Switzerland hits Russia too: In another blow to Putin, Switzerland has frozen Russian assets in its country, Nick Cumming-Bruce at NYT reports. This is a major development for two reasons:
Switzerland is a favorite destination for Russian oligarchs and their coins.
It’s a departure from Switzerland’s policy of neutrality, another signal of the global opposition to Putin’s attack on Ukraine. (The country’s president added that it would help mediate the conflict.)
The freeze includes Putin, Russia’s prime minister, foreign minister and all 367 individuals sanctioned last week by the European Union.
Switzerland also closed its airspace to Russian aircraft, except for humanitarian or diplomatic purposes, joining its European neighbors. But it did not commit to imposing future EU sanctions, saying it would evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.
— Embassy update: The State Department authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency employees and family members at the US embassy in Russia’s capital city of Moscow due to what it described as security and safety issues stemming from the Russian attack on Ukraine.
The Department also suspended operations at the US embassy in Minsk, the capital city of the eastern European country Belarus.
“We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens,” Secretary Blinken said in a separate statement. “And that includes our US government personnel and their dependents serving around the world.”
— Airbnb to house 100K refugees: The homestay company announced it will offer free short-term housing for up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees who are fleeing the Russian invasion of their country, Michael Tobin at Bloomberg reports.
The program will be funded by the company, donors and hosts on the app.
CEO Brian Chesky wrote to the governments of Poland, Romania, Germany and Hungary to extend Airbnb’s support as the countries work to resettle the refugees. (More than 300,000 Ukrainians have reportedly left the country and the European Commission estimates that the number could grow to millions.)
The White House said last week that the government would be able to accept Ukrainian too. But similar to Airbnb, the administration is working with neighboring countries to facilitate housing for Ukrainians who want to stay in Europe.
— FLOTUS shows solidarity: At the Black History Month event at the White House on Monday (more on the event below), First Lady Jill Biden wore a mask with a sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine, to show support for the Ukrainian people.
— See also:
“The improbable rise and endless heroism of Volodymir Zelensky” [Michael Idov / GQ]
“The west’s plan to isolate Putin: Undermine the ruble” [Jeanna Smialek / NYT]
“Why the US won’t send troops to Ukraine” [Zack Beauchamp / Vox]
IPCC ISSUES AN AWFUL CLIMATE OUTLOOK — The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a damning report on the devastating toll of climate change with a stark warning: We’re almost to the point of no return before it’s too late to reverse the legitimate threats facing communities and the environment.
The report includes an emphasis on disadvantaged populations, including the elderly, the poor, the homeless, outdoor laborers and indigenous people. Dr. Jeffrey Hicke, coordinating lead author of the North America chapter and a professor at the University of Idaho, said that these populations often experience the disproportionate impact of climate change, and they’re quite vulnerable to future climate change.
“This report finds that the impacts of climate change are here,” Dr. Robert J. Lempert, a director at RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank, and coordinating lead author on one of the report’s chapters, said. “In many cases, they are worse than expected, and they’ve been hitting every area of the world.”
Dr. Lisa Levin, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and a review editor of another chapter, said that science offers a clear message that climate impacts on people and nature are really tightly connected and that climate will affect us both directly.
“The report makes it also very clear that climate change is an emergency that we have on our hands now. It’s not background noise or something in the future,” Levin said. “And that our window to tackle this problem is very rapidly closing. We need to take care of this now.”
This is the second IPCC report issued in less than a year on the effects and future implications of climate change. And as I wrote last August, what we now consider extreme weather events — extreme rainfall, heatwaves, wildfires, drought — will become routine occurrences without meaningful intervention.
WH CELEBRATES BHM — The White House hosted a celebration in the East Room to close out Black History Month.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to be delivering the State of the Union Address. And today, I simply want to thank you for all you’ve done for me, for all of the country. So much has been accomplished in the people in this room,” President Biden said during the event. “Black History Month is more than a celebration. It’s a powerful, powerful reminder that Black history is American history. Black culture is American culture. Black stories are essentially an ongoing story of America.”
The president acknowledged the Black members of his cabinet: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 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.
He also gave Vice President Kamala Harris kudos for her work and spoke of his Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, who, if confirmed, would be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.
“So, as we gather here today, and as we prepare to confirm another historic first to our nation's highest court, let us always remember: We stand on the shoulders of giants in our history, giants in American history, and giants right here in this room,” Vice President Harris said. “This Black History Month, let us recommit to honoring their legacy with action. Let us continue their fight and our fight for justice and equality and opportunity for all so that generations to come may stand on our shoulders and reach even greater heights.”
SCHUMER HOLDS A DOOMED WHPA VOTE — Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a vote to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act in a 46-48 vote.
The WHPA would codify into law that seeking abortion care is a fundamental right.
“From the moment that Roe was decided in 1973, the most extreme elements of the Republican Party have plotted its demise,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech of the landmark Supreme Court decision that protects a person’s freedom choose to have an abortion without excessive government overreach. “The Federalist Society was founded with the intent of cultivating a generation of judges loyal to conservative causes. Sadly, it seems like the Supreme Court is posed to severely limit abortion rights in the coming months.”
Schumer said the vote was the first time the Senate took action on a stand-alone bill to proactively codify Roe. He said he held the vote because every American deserved to know where their senator stood on an issue as important at the right to choose.
The urgency to pass federal protections on abortion care is due to state laws across the country that ban the procedure before some people discovered they’re pregnant.
“These bans are riddled with systemic racism and misogyny,” Christian F. Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women, an organization that promotes equal rights for women, said in an interview with Supercreatorlast week. “They are bans that are targeting communities that are already struggling to find access to health care.”
President Biden and Vice President Harris both support the WHPA.
KBJ’S FIRST MEETINGS SCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY — Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to serve as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, will meet on Wednesday with Leader Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley, the top Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
“Judge Jackson encapsulates the two Bs: brilliant and beloved,” Schumer said on Monday. “That’s a rare combination. And her nomination is a cause for immense celebration.”
Schumer said he is working with Chairman Durbin to schedule confirmation hearings on Judge Jackson, which could begin on Mar. 21.
Once the Judiciary Committee completes its consideration of Judge Jackson, Schumer said he said the Senate would immediately put her nomination up for a vote. The goal is to have Jackson confirmed by Apr. 8 before the Senate leaves for a two-week recess.
“We are going to have a fair but expeditious process, where members from both sides will get to ask their questions and explore the judge’s record,” Schumer said.
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.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told Laura Barrón-López at Politico that Jackson began doing prep on Saturday and Sunday.
“She’s looking forward to her first meetings with senators of both parties,” Bates said.
— See also:
“Ketanji Brown Jackson shatters stereotypes while making history” [Robin Givhan / WaPo]
“Prominent conservative judge who advised Pence on the 2020 election endorses Biden's Supreme Court nominee” [Jamie Gangel and Ariane de Vogue / CNN]
— One of the casualties of partisan gerrymandering is the primaries have become the de-facto general election, encouraging more extreme candidates to run and only campaign to their base voters. Shane Goldmacher at NYT reports on how the disappearance of competitive congressional districts is deepening America’s divide.
— Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and NAACP President Derrick Johnson wrote an op-ed for BET calling on the Biden administration to cancel student loan debt. The leaders explained that the financial burden it causes weighs especially heavy on Black borrowers. Read the full op-ed
— Best of Supercreator: “I wish we stopped asking unqualified talking heads to answer questions about racism”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
— President Biden this morning will receive his daily intelligence briefing. He will then deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol. Vice President Harris, the first lady and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend.
— The House is in. Members will begin work on legislation to expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
— The Senate is in and will continue work on legislation to reform the US Postal Service.
— CORRECTION: In yesterday’s Today in Politics, I misidentified Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the first Black person to serve in his position, as Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. I apologize for the error.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
— Agya K. Aning on Black women and gun ownership:
Black Americans carried guns before the Founding Fathers gathered in secret to draft the Constitution. They carried them during the Civil War and again afterward as members of the Buffalo Soldiers, established in 1866 as the nation’s first all-Black military regiments. They carried them for protection after their emancipation from slavery, although the Black Codes of the Reconstruction Era tried to put a stop to that. They carried them out west on what was then America’s frontier, in search of greater freedoms. They carried them throughout the South to guard against white lynch mobs. Later, they carried them to protect scions of the civil-rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr., who famously preached nonviolence; less well known is that King applied for, and was denied, a permit to carry a gun, and his Alabama home at one point held so many firearms it was described as “an arsenal.”
What much of this history shares in common is that Black people were arming themselves, choosing to become self-reliant, in reaction to the vacuum of safety left by the state’s unwillingness to protect them from harm. Throughout the nation, from restless cities to rural backwaters, this attitude, to some degree or another, has remained over time. In the fields of sociology and criminology, this outlook is called legal cynicism. It “is the belief that the law and its agents are unable, unwilling, or ill-equipped to provide for one’s safety,” says Michael Sierra-Arévalo, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He says this may explain part of why Black women are buying guns, but not all of it. “They experience violence of different kinds, or at least at different intensities, than even Black men do.”
In comparison with their white counterparts, Black women are three times as likely to be murdered; twice as likely to be killed by an acquaintance; and almost twice as likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner. Neither Sierra-Arévalo nor Onnie Brown is too surprised by these stats. “Nobody protects us,” Brown says, likening these disparities and the overall lack of concern over them with the public’s seeming indifference toward missing Black girls. “When a Black woman is missing, no one will care,” she says. “But you get a white girl up there missing and they get all prime-time news, everything’s all over the internet.”
As James runs for reelection, two of the most merciless politicians in the country are breathing down her neck. These are battles between people who feel entitled to their positions of influence and a person who believes she can use hers to hold them accountable. It remains an open question whether James — who not only is the first Black woman to hold her office but also uses her authority in markedly different ways from the brash, overweening white men who preceded her — will win and what the fight will cost her.
— Jackie Snow on why age verification is so difficult for websites:
As parents, lawmakers and activists push for stronger rules to keep children off websites meant for adults, the question of how to verify age online has taken on new urgency. More sites are asking users to certify they are over 18, and companies are rolling out innovations aimed at better age checks.
The trouble is that most methods of verifying age create new problems of their own. Requiring material such as a user’s credit card or driver’s license to buy alcohol or view pornography, for instance, creates privacy issues and new opportunities for data leaks. They also make it hard for users to browse anonymously. What’s more, enterprising children will be able to find ways to defeat all but the most intrusive verification processes.
Despite the hurdles, a number of countries are exploring stricter laws about age verification for sites that have adult content or sell products such as tobacco.
Many of the memes are lighthearted and silly — in direct juxtaposition to the serious and stressful realities of the show, such as Rue’s relapsing drug addiction.
“I think what [a meme] does is it tries to defuse some of the tension,” said Tilton, an associate professor of writing and multimedia studies at Ohio Northern University.
He said the chaos and anxiety of the show, distilled into still images, can convey a number of emotions in a variety of situations, which is ideal fodder for meme makers.
Perhaps the soft-pedaling makes the scams feel less icky for viewers, or maybe it’s an overcorrection of Hollywood historically being too quick to paint real-life women as villains. But what it does show is that Inventing Anna just isn’t equipped to tell this story.
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