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President Biden on Thursday weighed the risks of looking soft on crime or angering members of his party and informed Democrats that the first potential veto of his term would not be to battle the GOP over easing punishments for violent offenses in the nation’s capital.
The president told Democratic senators during a closed-door lunch in the Capitol that he would sign D.C. legislation that Republicans want to undo. The local law, which D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) vetoed, had been approved unanimously by the D.C. City Council. It voted 12-1 to override her disapproval and the mayor then defended the law as a matter of District home rule (The Hill).
? The Hill’s Brett Samuels and Alex Gangitano unpack how the White House handled the politically charged issue of crime.
? The Washington Post: Biden says he would sign a GOP-led resolution blocking a D.C. crime bill.
? Politico: What Biden said and what Senate Democrats heard during Thursday’s private lunch. “He’ll run again. And he’ll get full support from the caucus,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters afterward. “It’s a good feel overall.”
In the House, perhaps a different story: Anger among some Democrats aimed at Biden and the White House was immediate, report The Hill’s Al Weaver and Mychael Schnell. Members of the president’s party in the House felt blindsided. Most had voted against the GOP measure, which would undo parts of a District bill to ease punishments for crimes. They believed Biden would veto the conservative measure, which second guesses the city’s decision making. Others saw the turn of events as a stinging rebuke of a democratically elected City Council and to decades of advocacy for home rule, which the president says he supports.
The crime bill Biden and Republicans want to block would eliminate most mandatory sentences, lower penalties for some violent offenses, including carjackings and robberies, and expand the requirement for jury trials in most misdemeanor cases. What looked like reform to the City Council was seen as politically incendiary inside the West Wing.
“It’s smart politics. He was running into a buzzsaw,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday. “You don’t want to get left of the D.C. mayor.”
Some Democrats groaned that the city’s measure was a self-inflicted and poorly timed mistake, further compounded by a White House that failed to communicate Biden’s intent before House Democrats cast their votes this week. Democratic candidates are seen as vulnerable among voters who want leaders to crack down on violent crime in their communities.
“I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden tweeted. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
Biden has entered a phase of his term when his veto threats may increase along with GOP determination to test his sway ahead of the 2024 elections. Former President Obama used his veto pen to reject a dozen measures during two terms. Congress overrode him 8 percent of the time. Former President George W. Bush, who enjoyed a consistent Republican majority until the 2006 elections and waited to use his veto authority, eventually issued 12 vetoes, 33 percent of which were overridden. Political scientists debate whether vetoes and their outcome are signs of party cohesion and presidential strength (chart HERE).
? ABC News: How Biden leaves wiggle room to opt against a reelection bid.
? The Hill: Washington, D.C., Attorney General Brian Schwalb rips Biden over his crime bill decision.
? The Hill: A federal immigration detention facility in New Mexico is in the headlines because of the high number of reported suicides and suicide attempts. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Internal Investigations called for the facility’s closure.
? The Hill: What Biden might try next if the Supreme Court strikes down the administration’s student loan forgiveness program.
? Bloomberg Businessweek: How one member of the Fugees hip hop group got entangled in a U.S.-China scandal featuring the FBI: “They can’t kill me in the Four Seasons.”
LEADING THE DAY
? STATE WATCH
Biden said Thursday that he will visit East Palestine, Ohio, “at some point” as the area recovers from a train derailment that released toxic chemicals, though he didn’t specify when.
“I’ve spoken with every official in Ohio, Democrat and Republican, on a continuing basis, as in Pennsylvania,” Biden told reporters at the Capitol. “I laid out a little bit in there what I think the answers are … and we will be implementing an awful lot to the legislation here.”
Since a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed on Feb. 3, prompting environmental and health concerns, the president has been under political pressure from both Republicans and some Democrats to visit the site (ABC News). One lawmaker calling for Biden to visit East Palestine is Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who said he has spoken with Biden a number of times but added the president has offered no explanation for why he has not yet visited the town (The Hill).
“I just think now is the time, the president needs to come,” DeWine said. “It’s just important.”
Scientists from Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon University this week said that the levels of nine chemicals are higher than they usually would be in the area. If the levels remain high, they could pose health risks, according to the researchers. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state officials have said that the air quality of the area is safe and that the chemicals should subside with time, residents have reported health reactions, including rashes and respiratory issues. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) wants the EPA to expand a one-mile radius around the East Palestine derailment site and asked EPA Administrator Michael Regan to respond to specific questions by March 15 (WFMJ).
Frustrations boiled over on Thursday night in the largest public confrontation yet between the people of East Palestine and Norfolk Southern, with angry residents in an emotional town hall lashing out at the only representative from the company who took questions at the meeting. Residents interrupted and shouted over Darrell Wilson, a top government relations official for Norfolk Southern as he tried to apologize, demanding that he commit to getting them out of the area, and that the company “do the right thing” (The New York Times).
“We are sorry,” Wilson said. “We’re very sorry for what happened. We feel horrible about it.”
“Evacuate us!” one attendee yelled, over Wilson’s apologies. “Get my grandchildren out of here!” another man yelled. “If you care about us, get our grandkids out.”
Meanwhile, as cleanup gets underway, officials in other states have questioned the waste disposal plans. A number of hazardous chemicals were spilled in the East Palestine derailment, most notably vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic compound used in production of plastics, and their shipment to states such as Michigan, Texas and Indiana is raising questions among environmentalists and local officials, reports The Hill’s Zack Budryk. Lisa Wosniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, called the delivery of waste to her state “a terrible idea for a number of reasons.”
“First and foremost, Michigan decision makers were completely taken off guard by this plan,” she told The Hill, and while Wosniak said she “certainly want[s] to” trust the EPA, “I think they’re in a really tough spot where now they have to find an answer to a problem… nobody wants this waste in their backyard, whether it’s contained in East Palestine or it’s shipped to Romulus or Texas or wherever.”
? WKBN: Air quality study after East Palestine train derailment raises concerns about health effects.
? The Hill: A bipartisan bill would tighten federal oversight of trains carrying hazardous materials. Biden, in a Thursday statement, said he would sign the legislation if he gets the chance. “This legislation provides us with tools to hold companies accountable to prevent terrible tragedies like the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine and to make those communities whole,” he said.
? Truth & Consequences? Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is back in the headlines.
The House Ethics Committee has established an investigative subcommittee to look into issues surrounding Santos, who has admitted to numerous fabrications about his background and has faced scrutiny over his campaign and personal finances. The committee said the panel will look into whether Santos “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office.”
In a brief statement, Santos’s office said that the congressman is “fully cooperating” with the Ethics Committee’s investigation (The Hill).
Amid the controversies, the embattled freshman lawmaker has introduced his first piece of legislation. Santos on Tuesday proposed The SALT Relief Act, which would increase the deduction limit for State and Local Taxes (SALT). Trump’s tax cut law imposed a $10,000 annual limit on the SALT deduction, but both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the New Jersey and New York suburbs have chafed at the limit, arguing it hurts constituents in their areas, given high housing prices. If enacted, Santos’s legislation would raise the cap to $50,000 (The Hill).
? The New York Times: Santos tries a new tack in Washington: He introduces a bill.
? New York magazine: Santos, MAGA’s new “It Girl.”
? CNN: “Have not heard of him”: Santos has a new campaign treasurer but questions persist.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she is hospitalized in San Francisco for treatment of shingles and hopes to return to Washington “later this month.” At 89, she is the longest serving senator and has announced her retirement at the end of her term (Politico).
Politico: House Democrats strategize how to achieve a Speaker Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke briefly on Thursday during a meeting of top diplomats from the Group of 20 nations in India.
The roughly 10-minute conversation marks the first time the two counterparts have come face-to-face since Russia launched its war on Ukraine. According to a U.S. official, Blinken used the conversation in New Delhi to make three points to Lavrov: that the U.S. would continue to support Ukraine in its defense against Russia for as long as it takes to end the war; that Russia should rejoin the New START nuclear treaty; and that Russia should release imprisoned American Paul Whelan (Politico and Reuters).
In The Memo, The Hill’s Niall Stanage breaks down why the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov was so important.
? BBC: India G20: Bitter divisions over Ukraine war mar talks.
? The Guardian: Russia accuses west at the G20 of blackmail and claims it has China’s support.
The Kremlin funded at least 20 torture centers to harm Ukrainian civilians and soldiers in Kherson, which Russian forces occupied for many months before the city was freed during a Ukrainian counteroffensive late last year, according to a new report (The Hill). The study by Mobile Justice Team, a group created as part of multilateral initiative of the State Department, European Union and United Kingdom to provide advice to Ukraine’s investigators, revealed Thursday that Ukrainian war crime inspectors found a direct link between torture chambers in Kherson and the Russian government. More torture centers exist in other occupied parts of Ukraine, all funded by the Kremlin.
“The mass torture chambers, financed by the Russian State are not random but rather part of a carefully thought out and financed blueprint with a clear objective to eliminate Ukrainian national and cultural identity,” said Wayne Jordash, the managing partner of the nonprofit international legal practice Global Rights Compliance. “The torture centers are the tip of the iceberg in Russia’s inherently criminal plan to subjugate or destroy Ukrainians.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are signaling a potential retreat from the embattled town of Bakhmut, which would give Russia a symbolic victory and deliver Moscow its largest advance in months, but wouldn’t significantly change the dynamic of the war, The Hill’s Brad Dress reports. A top Ukrainian presidential adviser hinted at a potential withdrawal on Tuesday, telling CNN that Kyiv was weighing the costs and benefits of holding the city. The warning came after Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky said the battle for Bakhmut was becoming increasingly difficult amid a new Russian offensive and that Ukraine wouldn’t pay “any price” to hold the city in the eastern Donetsk region.
Bakhmut has become a major focal point in the war for the last few months as Russia threw waves of troops at Ukrainian defenses, losing countless soldiers for incremental gains. Moscow was able to seize the salt mining town of Soledar through sheer force in January and has applied the same pummeling tactic to nearby Bakhmut.
? The New York Times: “Unjustifiable delays”: Rail safety upgrade in Greece had stalled for years.
? Politico EU: EU tightens ethics rules for staff as Qatar controversy grows.
? The Atlantic: How do you stop lawmakers from destroying the law? Mexico’s president is destroying democracy from the inside.
? The Wall Street Journal: North Korea suffers one of its worst food shortages in decades.
? WHERE & WHEN IN POLITICS
Author Marianne Williamson, 70, who brought spiritual eccentricities and positive thinking to the 2020 presidential race, announced this week that she’s again a national candidate, becoming the first major Democrat to challenge Biden for his party’s nomination in 2024 (ABC News).
The campaign by the self-help provocateur is being greeted with eye rolls among political strategists and radio silence within the White House and Democratic National Committee ahead of her Saturday launch in Washington (The Hill).
Biden’s party has largely come together behind his expected race for reelection while taking into account a stronger-than-imagined midterm showing, anxieties about House conservatives now in the majority, an uncertain economy and former President Trump‘s candidacy.
? Slate: [Williamson] “has said, over and over again, that politics and policy are not the answer to America’s problems, even as she (purportedly in all earnestness) has sought the nomination of a major political party to run the U.S. government.”
? FiveThirtyEight: Democrats are open to ditching Biden in 2024. But that won’t help Williamson.
? The Hill: Fox News and its parent company face financial and reputational jeopardy as a result of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit.
? Puck News: Will Rupert make a blood sacrifice?
GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley boasts of a busy speaking schedule, telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewittduring an interview, “You can’t outwork me.” She’ll be in Iowa Wednesday through Friday next week, appearing at two town halls and with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in Des Moines.
Trump will be in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday to discuss education policy at a ticketed campaign event at the Adler Theater in the evening.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who says he’s mulling his options about a presidential bid, will speak on Sunday at a sold-out event at the Reagan Library in California. He’s on a book tour. He’s also on a tear along with the Republican-led Florida legislature, where a proposed bill would require bloggers who are paid for their work to register details with the state while writing about DeSantis, his Cabinet officers or members of the legislature (The Hill).
? The Ukraine divide threatens the GOP’s unwavering legacy on defense, by former Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3ZB4D60
? The excellence of Kamala Harris is hiding in plain sight, by Donna Brazile, guest essayist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3Zfvftc
WHERE AND WHEN
? Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene for a pro forma session at 9 a.m. and resume work on Tuesday.
The Senate meets at 3 p.m. on Monday and resumes consideration of the nomination of Robert Ballou to be a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Virginia.
The presidentwill receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden at 11:30 a.m. will award the Medal of Honor to 83-year-old Ret. U.S. Army Col. Paris Davis for heroism during the Vietnam War. Biden will welcome German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the White House for discussions at 2 p.m. The president will depart the White House for Wilmington, Del., at 3:45 p.m. to spend the weekend.
Vice President Harris will fly this morning to San Francisco to speak at a fundraiser at 12:30 p.m. PT in Hillsborough, Calif., accompanied by second gentleman Doug Emhoff. The vice president will hold a roundtable at 1:50 p.m. PT to discuss federal support for small businesses. Separately, Emhoff at 4 p.m. PT will visit East Oakland Development Center to talk to students about pursuing studies and careers in STEM fields, accompanied by NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle and NASA Ames Center Director Eugene Tu. Harris and Emhoff will depart San Francisco tonight and fly to Los Angeles, arriving at 8:45 p.m. PT.
The secretary of State is in New Delhi. He participated in a morning breakfast meeting of Indo-Pacific quad foreign ministers from the United States, Australia, Japan and India. Blinken took part in a morning Raisina Dialogue conference panel about geopolitics among quad foreign ministers. He meets employees and families of the U.S. Mission in New Delhi at 10:30 a.m. local time, then meets with a group of female leaders from India before departing India today.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 12:45 p.m.
? HEALTH & PANDEMIC
A new study published this week in the journal Nature Human Behavior, showed that across a group of mostly high-income countries — such as the United States, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark and Switzerland — there were about 4 percent fewer preterm births than expected in spring 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study’s authors estimated that at a global level, the change most likely added up to nearly 50,000 premature births averted in the first month of lockdown alone, findings that could help researchers better understand the causes of preterm birth, which remain frustratingly elusive to medical science (The New York Times).
? The Hill: Bipartisan senators introduce bill to close pharma competition loophole.
? The Washington Post: Almost 200 rights groups call on the United Nations to intervene over U.S. abortion access.
? Forbes: COVID-19’s enormous death toll: Worldwide life expectancy has experienced a steep decline.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Total U.S. coronavirus deathsreported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,121,667. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,290 for the week, according to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … ????? Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! With the luck of March and the magic of spring in mind, we asked for some smart guesses about mythical imps and petite fancies flitting through headlines, past and present.
Here are the mighty puzzlers who went 4/4: Amanda Fisher, Patrick Kavanagh, Jaina Mehta, Peter Sprofera, Jeremy Serwer, Stan Wasser, Paul Harris, Richard Baznik, Steve James, Pam Manges, Joe Atchue, Robert Bradley, Luther Berg and Harry Stulovici.
They knew that former President Reagan, blending fiscal policy with Irish whimsy, said during a 1988 speech (foreshadowing this month’s Congress): “The great economic expansion our country has enjoyed has had more to do with low tax rates, deregulation and responsible federal policies than with leprechauns. In fact, the only people who still seem to believe in … leprechauns are those who’ve tried to tell us that if we only raise taxes, the budget deficit will disappear.”
In Mexico this week, President Andr?s Manuel L?pez Obrador claimed to have photographic “proof” of an alux, a mythical Mayan creature.
The European League of Football, or ELF, appeared in recent reporting about the Paris Musketeers.
“PIXY” in headlines referred to a popular K-pop girl group, plus a stock symbol for a human resources platform, as well as a drone. Thus, the best answer was “all of the above.”
Biden hosts German leader to discuss Ukraine support
Fallout from toxic Ohio spill lingers a month later
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