Ukraine calls Russia’s latest proposal “an immoral stunt”
Plus: Senate Dems haven’t given up on reconciliation yet and why public officials still say it’s too early to declare victory over the pandemic.
👋🏾 Hi, hey, hello! Good Monday afternoon. As promised, I’m back with an afternoon update on the crisis in Ukraine, the Senate Democrats’ plan to lower your everyday costs and COVID as we enter year three of the pandemic. Know someone who would enjoy Supercreator? Forward today’s issue to them and invite them to sign up.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Russia announced a cease-fire on Monday after it reneged on two previous commitments to temporarily suspend its attack in certain parts of Ukraine to allow civilians to flee the country, Yaras Karmanau at AP News reports.
But here’s the thing: The evacuation routes the Kremlin proposed mostly feed into Russia and Belarus, leading Ukraine to call the proposal an “immoral stunt.”
Russia and Belarus share a land border. And the former is the latter’s largest and most important economic and political partner.
The relationship has tightened in recent years due to Belarus’s strained relations with the West, which has isolated the country in response to human rights violations.
Russia needs Belarus since its one of their only reliable transporters of European energy resources available to Russia.
The White House imposed sanctions against Belarus for what it describes as enabling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as I reported last week.
The State Department also suspended operations at the US embassy in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus.
Meanwhile, the third round of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia were scheduled this afternoon.
Ahead of the talks, Russia listed its demands:
Ukraine must amend its constitution to prohibit joining an alliance like NATO or the European Union
Ukraine must recognize Crimea as Russian territories
Ukraine must recognize two pro-Russian separatist regions that declared independence from Kyiv in 2014 as sovereign states
“And that’s it,” Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, as if those extreme stipulations were reasonable requests. “[The attack] will stop in a moment.”
There’s still no update on the well-being of Women’s National Basketball Association star Brittney Griner, who we learned over the weekend has been held in Russia since last month after being accused of carrying hash in her luggage.
Michael Crowley and Jonathan Abrams have the backstory in case you missed it this weekend.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday during a press conference in Moldova, a European country between Romania and Ukraine, that the State Department has an embassy team that works on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia, including Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.
Whelan is a US citizen and corporate security director arrested in Russia in late 2018 on accusations of being a spy.
Reed is a former US Marine who was sentenced last year to nine years in prison over a drunken 2019 he says he doesn’t remember. Reed, who is from Texas, has requested to meet with President Joe Biden ahead of his visit to Fort Worth on Tuesday.
Blinken said he’s focused on keeping the lines of communication open.
”In times like these, it’s important that we maintain our diplomatic contacts, that we maintain the diplomatic support, particularly support that we can provide to Americans who need it,” he said on Sunday.
— See also: “How war in Ukraine drives up inflation at US farms, supermarkets, retailers” [Patrick Thomas and Alistair MacDonald / WSJ]
Senate Dems to give reconciliation another go
Although Build Back Better is dead, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer plans to give the procedure his party intended to use to pass the bill new life.
In a letter to Senate Democrats, Schumer said Senate Democrats have introduced additional legislative proposals not named Build Back Better that focus on lowering the rising cost of energy, prescription drugs and health care, and the costs of raising a family.
The bill would pass in reconciliation, which is a wonky process that enables a simple majority to pass certain types of legislation related to spending and taxes, instead of requiring the 60 votes most bills require.
Senate Democrats used reconciliation to pass the American Rescue Plan a year ago. And in 2017, Senate Republicans made the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy possible through reconciliation.
In theory, this is a powerful tool in a split Senate because it means Democrats wouldn’t need any Republican support to pass some of their policy priorities.
“Our goal is to have the wages that have increased continue to go up and see costs go down so the average American has more money in their pocket,” Schumer wrote in the letter.
But Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who will be a key swing vote on any future reconciliation bill, said on Sunday that he is focused on driving down inflation and the war in Ukraine. This is despite floating a counteroffer last week he indicated he’d be willing to support.
“There’s no formal talks going on right,” Manchin said of whatever BBB 2.0 will be branded as.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is scheduled to brief reporters at 2 PM this afternoon and I’m sure she’ll be asked about all of this.
Schumer also previewed the retreat Senate Democrats will hold in DC later this week.
The Caucus will spend “a great deal of time” on strategies to make prescription drugs, semiconductor chips, gas and groceries more affordable.
These “kitchen-table issues will form the argument that congressional Democrats will make on the campaign trail that they’re best-suited to meet the moment.
House Democrats will also have a retreat, but theirs will be in Philadelphia. (President Biden will deliver the keynote speech on Friday.)
Schumer added that he hopes Congress reaches an agreement on a comprehensive government funding package — aka an “omnibus” — ahead of Friday night’s deadline.
The omnibus would fund the government through the end of September and also provide additional assistance to Ukraine.
Democrats hope to include the White House’s $22.5 billion request for the next phase of its COVID strategy. But several Senate Republicans are opposed to the price tag, as I reported last Friday.
The global pandemic death toll surpasses 6M
While Americans pine for a return to so-called normalcy, the world faces a grim reminder of the pandemic’s human toll as we head into year three.
Six million people around the world have lost their life to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
One million of these deaths have been recorded over the past four months.
It’s true many places in America are seeing the lowest rates in the past year, public health officials say it’s still too early to declare victory.
“Many countries are facing high rates of hospitalization [and] death,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization tweeted on Sunday. “With high transmission, the threat of a new, more dangerous variant remains real. We urge all people to exercise caution and all governments to stay the course.”
Jen Psaki was asked on Friday if the White House had plans to commemorate the American lives lost to COVID with a memorial or holiday, as some loved ones have called for.
She said President Biden feels it’s important to remember the lives that have been lost and there’s an openness to the idea of a memorial.
“But right now, we’re still battling a virus and still battling the pandemic snd working to get funding from Congress to make sure we can continue to do that and moving towards hopefully getting vaccines approved for kids under five,” Psaki said. “So, there’s more steps we’re taking.”
IN THE KNOW
— The White House will host a roundtable this afternoon on a Treasury Department report that found corporate concentration, anti-competitive practices have stifled wages for workers and reduced their power in the marketplace.
The report was issued in consultation with the Justice and Labor Departments and the Federal Trade Commission.
The event will feature Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, FTC Chair Lina Khan, Council of Economic Advisors Chair Cecilia Rouse and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.
The discussion will also include workers who have experienced anticompetitive barriers firsthand.
— Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tim Kaine of Virginia sent a letter to President Biden urging his administration to include a public option to Obamacare in his next budget.
The senators say a public option, administered by the government, not private insurance companies, would promote competition, improve health equity and guarantee access to low-cost, high-quality insurance for more people.
— The US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it would no longer deport child victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or similar parental maltreatment who turn 21 while their petition is pending.
“Today, we are taking action to help immigrant children in the U.S. who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and offer them protection to help rebuild their lives,” USCIS Director Ur Jaddou said. “These policies will provide humanitarian protection to vulnerable young people for whom a juvenile court has determined that it is in their best interest to remain in the United States.”
USCIS is also updating its requirements to streamline the pathway for Special Immigrant Juvenile recipients to apply for lawful permanent residence status.
— After a four-day strike, the GMG Union reached what it describes as a fair contract with G/O Media, which owns a portfolio of digital publications including Jezebel, The Root, The A.V. Club, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Deadspin and The Onion.
G/O Media agreed to raise salary minimums, severance, and parental leave; maintain workers’ healthcare while requiring it to be trans-inclusive; and ensure annual increases for the union’s Unit members.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
— Lenny Bernstein on why it’s so hard to find mental health counseling right now:
It is even more difficult to find specialized care for children or those with lower income. Assistance of any kind is in short supply in rural areas, where all health-care choices are more limited than they are for residents of cities and suburbia. Those hoping to find a Black or Latino therapist face even more limited options.
— Yoree Koh on how YouTube Kids cleaned up its act:
A continuing question for YouTube — and other tech companies thinking about creating a youth version of their main products — is tweens. The 9 -to-12-year-olds, the group of kids advertisers most want to reach as they start to acquire more pocket money, have largely stuck with the main site because they think the other one is for preschoolers, the internal research and company analysis showed.
It would have been one thing for the Atlantic to drill MBS on his role in [Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist] Jamal [Khashoggi]’s assassination. Instead, MBS was allowed to denigrate Jamal, saying he wasn’t important enough to kill. “Khashoggi would not even be among the top 1,000 people on the list.” It’s hard to imagine that they would have done this if Jamal had been American.
— Osita Nwanevu on if proportional representation can fix American democracy: “
A proposal to reform House elections and give more power to the people is gaining traction with activists. Now they just have to convince the electorate to fight for it.
“But in practice, consequences for being charged with a hate crime can vary considerably, the results of such cases show — with pronounced differences between boroughs. The alleged perpetrators in many cases are young people exempt from the hate crimes penal code or those who have mental illness at the root of their conduct.”
— Mihir Zaveri on the end of “pandemic rent”:
While rents plunged at the start of the pandemic, they are now surging, and the increase is double the national rate, amplifying the city’s affordability crisis.
But with price increases outstripping wage gains, the contrast between the pessimism of consumers and the optimism of executives is understandable. “Sky-high inflation isn't bad news for everybody,” said Bloomberg chief economist Tom Orlik. For companies with market power, Orlik explained, “rising prices means rising profits — one factor that explains CEO confidence.”
— Jason Gay on Troy Aikman, Tony Romo and the NFL’s million-dollar-a-game announcer club:
The timing couldn’t be better. These football voices are benefiting because A) they’re very good and B) increased competition and C) the fact that the NFL exists in a totally different financial stratosphere, because of its position as the country’s most essential entertainment obsession.
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