Why Biden finally gave a speech about the Ukraine-Russia crisis
Plus: Why he keeps talking about Build Back Better even though there’s no progress to report.
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Let’s go ahead and get the latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis out of the way, yeah?
President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Wednesday in an 11-minute address from the East Room of the White House in a message that was meant for several audiences.
The first was Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Biden warned would open a self-inflicted wound if he chooses to invade its European neighbor.
“If Russia does invade in the days or weeks ahead, the human cost for Ukraine will be immense, and the strategic cost for Russia will also be immense,” Biden said. “If Russia attacks Ukraine, it’ll be met with overwhelming international condemnation. The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction.”
The president also spoke to the American people of the nation’s responsibility to defend democratic values around the world even though they seem to be teetering at home. He also reaffirmed America’s commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty that pledges each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state to be an attack against them all.
Biden also warned that a Russian invasion could raise energy costs, which could spike gas prices. He said his administration would use all the tools at its disposal to provide relief at the pump.
“I will not pretend this will be painless,” he said.
There was also an appeal to the Russian people: “You are not our enemy. And I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine — a country and a people with whom you share such deep ties of family, history, and culture.”
Finally, he spoke to the country’s allies and partners to let them know America is ready for whatever, whenever.
“The west is united and galvanized,” he said. “And the source of our unbreakable strength continues to be the power, resilience, and universal appeal of our shared democratic values.”
I’ve been reporting this story for a month or two now and I was curious why the President spoke to the American people now.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the speech wasn’t inspired by the desire to set a new foreign policy or in response to something new internally.
“It was very important to him to lay out very clearly what — the steps we’ve taken, the actions we’re prepared to take, what’s at stake for the United States and the world, and how this will impact us here at home,” she said.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Democratic and Republican senators released a joint statement of support for Ukraine in lieu of a sanctions package to support the measures that the Biden administration has prepared.
““In this dark hour, we are sending a bipartisan message of solidarity and resolve to the people of Ukraine, and an equally clear warning to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin,” the statement read.
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey signed — and one of the chief negotiators of the sanctions package — signed the statement too. But he also voiced displeasure at the Republicans’ proposal.
“A shame that Senate Republicans have decided to choose partisan posturing instead of working to reach consensus on a comprehensive bipartisan proposal that would demonstrate a united front to deter Putin from re-invading Ukraine,” he said.
So what does success look like?
Psaki said the White House and its NATO allies define it as a proven de-escalation at the border of Ukraine, where the Russians are pulling back their troops and making clear to the global community, media and public that they are not invading Ukraine.
“I’m not going to be in a position to give you a troop number, but I think it would be very clear if that were a step they were taking,” she said. “At the same time, we’ve seen this playbook before. And especially given the history of President Putin and the Russians, their history of false-flag operations, of misinformation, we need to verify.”
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Before his Ukraine-Russia remarks, Biden spoke at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference to underscore the critical partnership between counties and the federal government.
And although there are no public signs of life for his Build Back Better agenda that’s indefinitely stalled in the Senate, that hasn’t stopped the president from pitching it every time he gets a chance.
Apparently, there’s a method to the madness.
“The President continues to bring it up because, as we talk about the impact of inflation — which most people experience in their daily lives as rising costs — one of the ways that we can address that is by passing legislation that will help lower costs for Americans, whether it’s childcare or healthcare or the cost of prescription drugs,” Psaki said on Tuesday. “And we can do that and fully pay for it by making the tax system more fair.”
Another reason the administration keeps mentioning BBB: It believes public opinion is on its side.
But the legislative process boils down to a numbers game. And the White House still lacks the votes the president needs to pass one of his signature economic plans before voters take the polls for this November’s midterms.
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A quick follow-up to yesterday’s story on the White House’s broadband affordability program.
The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to crack down on exclusivity arrangements and internet providers that lock tenants into just one option for the internet.
These sweetheart deals, while preferred by landlords, are often awful for tenants because they require them to pay more for subpar service.
The Biden administration believes this the FCC’s move will have a substantial impact since more than a third of Americans live in apartments and condos, and many businesses operate in multi-tenant buildings like office buildings or malls.
In related news: A group of senators sent a letter to the FCC to make sure its maps are accurate so the broadband funding reaches the unserved and underserved areas the program is designed for. Read the full letter.
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— Three in four DC residents support the city’s vaccine requirement to enter certain businesses, which Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser ended on Tuesday.
Majorities across the city support the vaccine requirement, including 86 percent of white residents, 63 percent of Black residents, majorities across different age groups, income levels, educational attainments and across wards, Justin Wm. Moyer, Emily Guskin and Michael Brice-Saddler report for WaPo.
— The Senate voted 50-46 to confirm Robert Califf as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
Six Republicans voted for Califf, who held the same role during the Obama administration, while five Democrats and Independents were against him. Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota changed his vote to “present” since Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Lujan would have voted in favor. (Lujan is recovering from a stroke.) Califf was confirmed by a vote of 89-4 the first time around.
— Senate Republicans delayed a vote to advance a group of nominees for leadership posts at the Federal Reserve out of the Banking Committee.
The members want the Democrats on the committee to hold a separate vote on one of the nominees so she can answer more questions about her previous experience, Neil Irwin at Axios reports.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the move both an extreme step and reckless.
“It’s never been more important to have confirmed leadership at the Fed to help continue our recovery and fight inflation,” she said during a briefing. “So Republicans are out there saying, ‘Inflation is a problem. It’s a huge issue.’ We agree. And then they’re not even bothering to show up to even vote against these nominees to the Federal Reserve. What message is that sending to the American public?”
— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a congressional delegation to Israel, Germany and the United Kingdom.
“As threats to democracy grow more alarming and urgent, American leadership remains committed to advancing security and stability, economic prosperity and democratic governance around the world,” Pelosi, who was joined by 13 representatives on the trip, said in a statement. “We look forward to an informative and productive trip.”
— The Senate Small Business Committee passed a bipartisan bill to help increase support to female entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses.
The legislation would reauthorize an inactive women’s enterprise committee that coordinates federal resources and encourages the formation, growth and success of women-owned businesses.
— Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri and Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal sent a letter to the Biden administration for it to improve the health monitoring a COVID-19 infection.
“We are learning more about long COVID everyday,” Bush said in a tweet. “Our top health leaders must take steps to protect children with COVID-19.”
— Eight Senate Republicans sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland expressing their opposition to a “no-fly” list for disruptive passengers.
The senators claim it would equate opponents of mask mandates to terrorists, Felicia Sonmez and Lori Aratani at WaPo report.
Earlier this month, Delta Airlines CEO Edward Bastian wrote Garland requesting the list in response to the surge in “air rage” incidents that would ban unruly passengers from boarding any commercial carrier.
Justice Department Spokesperson Joshua Stueve said in a statement to Supercreator on Tuesday that it would be referring Delta’s letter to the appropriate departments.
The FAA welcomes input on additional steps we and our partners can take to stop unruly behavior that puts everyone at risk,” Kiiva Williams, spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration said in a separate statement to Supercreator. “We will continue to work with other federal agencies, airlines, airports, labor and law enforcement to continue the downward trend in unruly incidents.”
— Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York announced she won’t seek reelection this year.
The moderate lawmaker made the announcement on her 57th birthday and gave no indication as to what she may due next, John Wagner at WaPo reports.
Rice, who has represented New York’s 4th Congressional District since 2015, is the 30th House Democrat to leave after the current term.
AGENCIES & DEPARTMENTS
— Isabella Casillas Guzman, the head of the Small Business Administration, will visit New Orleans on Friday to highlight Black health and wellness during Black History Month.
She will be joined by Cedric Richmond, White House Director of Public Engagement and Democratic Rep. Troy Carter of Louisiana for a roundtable to discuss federal updates to support underserved and small disadvantaged businesses.
— The Justice Department issued guidance on ballot drop box accessibility requirements under the American Disabilities Act.
The ADA requires elections officials to select and provide accessible ballot drop box locations so that voters with disabilities can have the same voting opportunities as others.
“The right to vote is the fundamental right upon which our democracy is built. For too long in our history, many voters with disabilities have faced barriers in exercising their voting rights. Many of these barriers continue even today, including physical barriers that prevent them from entering polling places or accessing a ballot drop box,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general of the Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department is fully committed to vigorous enforcement of the ADA to ensure that voters with disabilities no longer face discrimination in the election process.”
— A jury rejected Sarah Palin’s libel claim against The New York Times.
Even had the jury sided with Palin, the judge dismissed the case on Monday while deliberations were ongoing. The former Republican governor of Alaska and the late Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential nominee in 2008 said she hoped there would be an appeal to the case, Tom Hays and Larry Neumeister at AP News report. Palin sued the NYT for an op-ed it published in 2017.
The judge dismissed the case on Monday while the jury was still deliberating. Palin, the former Republican governor of Alaska and the late Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, sued the paper for an op-ed it published in 2017.
RACE & IDENTITY
— San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin issued a statement against the city’s use of DNA from rape kits of sexual assault victims to identify suspects in crimes.
A woman was recently arrested on suspicion of a felony property crime, which made city officials aware of the practice. The DA’s office is unaware of how many times a sexual assault victim’s DNA may have been used to secure their arrest in a later case. Boudin later dismissed the woman’s case.
“Rapes and sexual assault are violent, dehumanizing, and traumatic. I am disturbed that victims who have the courage to undergo an invasive examination to help identify their perpetrators are being treated like criminals rather than supported as crime victims,” Boudin said. “We should encourage survivors to come forward—not collect evidence to use against them in the future. This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings. This is legally and ethically wrong.” Read the full statement.
— Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California nominated Patricia Guerrero to be the first Latina Justice on the state’s Supreme Court.
“Her story is what [California] is all about: Brilliant, accomplished & widely respected. The daughter of immigrants [and] raised in the Imperial Valley,” Newsom said in a tweet.
President Biden is set to nominate the first Black woman to the US Supreme Court by the end of the month.
CULTURE & CREATIVITY
— The families of nine Sandy Hook school shooting victims settled a lawsuit for $73 million against Remmington, the maker of the AR-15-style rifle used in the tragedy.
It’s believed to be the largest payout by a gun manufacturer in a mass shooting case, Rick Rojas, Karen Zraick and Troy Closson at The New York Times report. The lawsuit worked around the federal law protecting gun companies from litigation by arguing that Remmington’s marketing of the weapon had violated Connecticut consumer law.
“This progress is the result of the perseverance of nine families who turned tragedy into purpose,” President Biden said in a statement, in which he also called on Congress to pass meaningful gun reform. “Together, we can deliver a clear message to gun manufacturers and dealers: they must either change their business models to be part of the solution for the gun violence epidemic, or they will bear the financial cost of their complicity.”
— Americans’ trust in scientists has fallen below pre-pandemic levels.
29 percent of US adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public, Brian Kennedy, Alec Tyson and Cary Funk at Pew Research Center report. (40 percent said so in November 2020.) The share with a great deal of confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interests dropped from 39 percent to 29 percent. The military, K-12 public school principals and police officers also saw a decline in public confidence.
— Meta announced Facebook’s News Feed will be now known as “Feed.”
The company said the name change better reflects the diverse content people see in their feeds, Mitchell Clark at The Verge reports. The rebrand won’t have an impact on the app experience for your auntie who still uses Facebook.
— Related: Meta said its new slogan is “Move fast together.”
“The changes reflect Facebook’s pursuit of a new identity after years of controversies that have demoralized its workforce,” Elizabeth Dwoskin at WaPo reports.
The agreement is subject to court approval, Todd Spangler at Variety reports.
If finalized, it stands to rank as one of the top 10 largest data privacy settlements in US history. The money will be distributed among plaintiffs who submit verified claims that they were affected by Facebook’s web-tracking.
— Twitter expanded the test for its Safety Mode feature to the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.
Safety Mode is designed to give users a set of tools to defend themselves against the toxicity and abuse that is still far too often a problem on its app, Sarah Perez at TechCrunch reports.
The feature was first introduced to a small group of testers last September.
TODAY IN POLITICS
— President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning with Vice President Harris.
— The Vice President will also ceremonially swear in Cynthia Ann Telles to be Ambassador to Costa Rica and Reta Jo Lewis to be President of the US Export-Import Bank in her ceremonial office this afternoon.
— First Lady Jill Biden is in New York City to tape segments of Sesame Street’s upcoming season and Sesame Workshop’s social impact and military family initiatives. She traveled to NYC late Tuesday afternoon.
— The Senate is in and will vote on nominees to fill two Department of Defense positions.
— The House is out.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
[Executive producer/showrunner Morgan] Cooper’s decision to dramatize the [Fresh Prince of Bel-Air] could have effloresced into a genuinely moving story, teasing out dynamics of class, power, and coming of age in a society that’s never had the “racial reckoning” it believes it did. But we live in an exceedingly dark timeline, where Bel-Air is a byproduct of an industry unwilling to give these stories the radical political and social context they deserve. The show attempts to bottle swagger, taking the imagery and argot of Black neighborhoods to communicate a confused message: that Black excellence is equated with wealth. When it seeks to tease out the tensions between Will and his family’sclassed perspective on life, the drama unravels, its failures made all the more apparent by starkly ugly cinematography. To untangle the issues inherent in Bel-Air is to take a tour through the pitfalls of Hollywood itself when it comes to Black visual representation.
Petra Bartosiewicz on a father’s yearslong struggle to regain custody of his son:
Watkins had no history of violence or mental illness, no criminal record, and was not accused of putting Kenny in danger. He knew, however, that Kenny’s mother, Iris Rohlsen, had a complicated history of abusive relationships. She’d had nine previous children, all of whom either were in foster care or had been adopted.
Watkins invited the social workers inside. He showed them that Kenny was healthy and that he had a crib and diapers and clothes. He remembers saying proudly that Kenny was his first child. The social workers seemed satisfied, but as they left, they asked Watkins to come to their office the following day and to bring Kenny. They said they wanted to talk more about Rohlsen.
The next morning, Watkins, his mother, and Rohlsen brought Kenny to an ACS office in the Bronx. They were ushered into a windowless room, and an ACS worker asked Watkins to hand Kenny to another employee while they talked. Watkins did as he was asked.
A few minutes later, he learned the true purpose of the meeting. Because of Rohlsen’s fraught record, the agency had deemed Kenny to be in imminent danger and was taking immediate custody of him. The removal, as such separations are called, was already in effect. Watkins collapsed on the floor and started screaming and crying — “a perfectly normal thing to do,” his attorney, Yusuf El Ashmawy says, “for someone who has just been told, ‘Your baby is being stolen from you.’”
Li Zhou on the surge of bipartisan activity in Congress:
The bills under consideration also underscore the limits of bipartisanship.
Broadly, they target issues that are important but less likely to be “hot-button” ones. On topics like police reform, gun control, and immigration, for example, this degree of bipartisanship would be difficult — or impossible — to find. The bipartisan measures lawmakers are looking at now are on less contentious subjects: postal reform, elections reform, and investments in the United States’ supply chain.
These discussions also highlight the trade-offs that come with bipartisan lawmaking — many policies inevitably get watered down. For example, Democrats and Republicans recently reached a deal on a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, legislation aimed at combating domestic abuse and sexual assault. The agreement, however, cuts a pivotal gun control provision advocates have long pushed for, because Republicans opposed it.
Jonathan Chait on why the conservative movement has no idea of how the press actually works:
The answer is that the right has spent years nurturing a conspiratorial view of liberal media bias. Like sports fans who complain about bad officiating, conservatives focus obsessively on biased stories against the Republican Party while ignoring biases that run the other way. And while I’d agree that there is an imbalance between stories favoring the left and stories favoring the right, and that this imbalance has grown over the last couple decades, it simply does not work anything like the way conservatives imagine it does.
Reem Kassis on national cuisine:
I’ve now arrived at a quiet clarity. National dishes connect us to our specific, cherished history. They’re a way for diasporic communities to access an uncomplicated pride in our homelands, to enjoy a totem of culture that feels constant. When your birthplace is out of reach or your identity is questioned, a food heritage sometimes feels like all you have. But these cuisines—whose lineages are in fact wonderfully muddled—also connect us to a wider, interdependent world. When I add tahini and cardamom to my cheesecake, or flavor my schnitzel with za’atar, or wrap my shawarma in a tortilla, I’m both nurturing a connection to my homeland and paying tribute to the borderless nature of food cultures.
Kenny Torrella on the plant-based food industry:
For decades, the plant-based industry largely focused on alternatives to milk, ground beef, sausage, and breaded chicken. But the human diet is much more expansive than that. Now we’re seeing plant-based seafood and bacon, more kinds of chicken, and more varieties of dairy products like cheese and yogurt. And there’s only one good vegan egg product on the market. Eventually, some of these companies may produce products that rise to the level of popularity the Beyond and Impossible burgers have experienced, further bolstering the entire market.
And Gordon-Smith of Agritecture doesn’t necessarily think the “trough of disillusionment” phase is all negative for the industry — it may cause some startups to fail or get acquired by bigger players, which can in turn lead to improved efficiency and better products, leading to more growth down the road.
But longer-term obstacles to scaling up remain: according to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for alternative proteins like plant- and cell-based meats, the industry will remain vulnerable to ingredient shortages unless it invests more in ingredient sourcing, research for alternative ingredients so it isn’t so dependent on peas, wheat, soy, and coconut oil, and better relationships with ingredient manufacturers.
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