Russia’s war with Ukraine is in a different place in President Biden’s thinking than it was seven weeks ago. The United States has shifted from its early assessment that Ukraine would likely fall to its mighty neighbor to a conviction that Russia must be defeated with muscular help and U.S. weapons — short of fighter jets and a no-fly zone.
On Wednesday, Biden again responded to appeals from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, now widely praised as a savvy and persuasive advocate for bringing Moscow to its knees and saving Ukrainians’ freedom. One day after taunting Russian President Vladimir Putin as guilty of “genocide,” Biden told Zelensky that Ukraine will get $800 million more in “sophisticated” U.S. weapons, including artillery systems, artillery rounds and armored personnel carriers, and he said the U.S. would “transfer” more helicopters to Ukraine and continue providing strategic intelligence to its forces fighting in the east (The New York Times).
The administration may go back to Congress this spring for additional military funding to support Ukraine, White House chief of staff Ron Klain told NBC News on a podcast this week with Chuck Todd. “We’re going to stand with Ukraine for as long as Ukraine’s in this war,” he vowed. “We’re going to need more help because these weapons are not free.”
Klain hinted at the surprise inside the administration as the war grinds on. “We are seeing Ukraine defeat the second-largest army in the world. … That’s a military victory that almost every expert would have told you was completely and totally impossible,” he said. Klain credited the Ukrainian people as well as the military hardware supplied by the U.S. and other nations.
The Washington Post: Russia has continued to inflict heavy losses on Ukraine from the sky.
The Washington Post analysis: The administration’s demarcation between proxy war and real war while helping Ukraine is getting fuzzier.
The Hill: Less than half of Americans (39 percent) believe Biden has done a good job handling the Ukraine crisis, according to a Quinnipiac poll published Wednesday.
Politico: Should Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken or Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin head for Kyiv to meet in person with Zelensky? This question is being explored in the West Wing.
Klain described the Western sanctions on Russia as an effective, albeit slow-acting, weapon against Moscow. “The Russian economy has been set back decades by what we’ve done to them,” he said. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen conceded damage from the effects of sanctions on European households and businesses. “The war between Russia and Ukraine has redrawn the contours of the world economic outlook,” Yellen told the Atlantic Council, adding that U.S. sanctions will remain in place against Russia (CNN). The United Nations released a report on Wednesday describing the disruption of fuel, food and money around the world tied to the war in Ukraine.
Yellen frowned on countries that are still doing business with Moscow, and she urged China specifically to try to persuade Putin to end the war — something the Russian president on Tuesday sounded disinclined to do.
“Let me now say a few words to those countries who are currently sitting on the fence, perhaps seeing an opportunity to gain by preserving their relationship with Russia and backfilling the void left by others. Such motivations are short-sighted,” Yellen said.
It’s unclear when Europe’s tolerance for the blowback from sanctions might end. The alliance remains delicate. U.S. intelligence has predicted the war could continue for months or years. Nevertheless, the European Union on Wednesday agreed to contribute $544 million in additional military support for Ukraine (The Washington Post).
The U.S. and its allies insist that based on Putin’s long-perceived fears about NATO neighbors, the war with Ukraine has not gone as he envisioned. The Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine strengthened the alliance, broadened the defense of Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO, emboldened the desire of former Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO, and is driving militarily nonaligned countries such as Sweden and Finland into the arms of the alliance (The New York Times).
The Washington Post: French President Emmanuel Macron, embroiled in a tough presidential election runoff with nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen, warned against the “escalation of rhetoric” by the leaders of the U.S. and Estonia accusing Putin of genocide. Le Pen has proposed closer ties between NATO and Moscow after a conclusion to the war and says she would pull France out of the military command of the U.S.-led alliance (The Guardian).
The Associated Press: When Biden’s “speaking from the heart” does not speak for the United States.
In a tit-for-tat move on Wednesday, Russia sanctioned 398 unnamed members of the U.S. Congress.
The Associated Press: Ukraine says it damaged Russia’s flagship vessel in Moscow’s Black Sea fleet, forcing the crew to evacuate. Russia said Thursday the entire crew of the Moskva, a warship that would typically have 500 sailors on board, was forced to evacuate after a fire overnight. It did not acknowledge any attack. Russia’s forces are trying to regroup for an offensive in eastern Ukraine.
© Associated Press / Carolyn Kaster | President Biden in Des Moines on Tuesday.
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LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: The administration announced on Wednesday it will extend for two weeks a federal mask requirement for travelers on airplanes, buses, trains and in public travel hubs such as airports. The government said the mandate, which was set to expire on Monday, remains a necessary precaution amid a rise in COVID-19 infections in some parts of the country (The Hill).
“In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC Order will remain in place at this time. At CDC’s recommendation, TSA will extend the security directive and emergency amendment for 15 days, through May 3, 2022,” a CDC spokesperson told The Hill.
The development was not the only one pertaining to the airlines. Delta Air Lines announced on Wednesday that it will no longer institute a $200-per-month surcharge it had imposed on unvaccinated employees on the company’s health plan. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on a call with reporters and analysts that the change was made due to “the fact that we really do believe that the pandemic has moved to a seasonal virus.”
“Any employees that haven’t been vaccinated will not be paying extra insurance costs going forward,” Bastian said.
Delta had been the only airline to issue that charge but credits it with the company’s push to get more than 90 percent of its U.S. workers vaccinated (The Associated Press).
Ed Yong, The Atlantic: The pandemic has trapped millions in unending grief.
Interview with New York magazine: White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, who is leaving government this week, says, “We need more money” from Congress. He called legislative efforts to block or drastically shrink Biden’s funding request of $22.5 billion “really shortsighted” because of the potential consequences ahead.
Bloomberg News: Chinese President Xi Jinping says nation must stick to COVID-19 zero even as costs mount.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 987,560. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are down to 452, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CONGRESS & POLITICS: Biden on Wednesday declined to assert executive privilege over another batch of White House documents from former President Trump’s time in office, giving the green light to the National Archives to turn the documents over to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
David Ferriero, archivist of the U.S., wrote in a letter released by the Archives on Wednesday that the documents will be delivered to the committee on April 28, ahead of the panel’s live public hearings slated for May and June.
“The President has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified,” Dana Remus, White House counsel, wrote in a letter.
The move comes nearly two months after Biden initially declined to invoke executive privilege over Trump-era documents, including White House visitor logs from Jan. 6 (The Hill).
The Hill: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.): Jan. 6 panel’s report will include “crimes that have not yet been alleged.”
The Columbus Dispatch: Trump announces April 23 rally outside of Columbus, Ohio.
The New York Times: Blaming Trump, Jan. 6 suspect says he fell down a “rabbit hole” of lies.
The Hill: Mark Meadows removed from North Carolina voter rolls.
➤ Absentee lawmaker: Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday issued a defense of his dismal voting record since the start of the year, saying that he has almost exclusively voted by proxy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Kahele’s office said that he has not voted in person at the Capitol since January due to COVID-19 variants, noting that he lives in a multigenerational family home.
“To limit his exposure to COVID-19 and the potential to spread the virus, our office has tried to reduce Rep. Kahele’s cross-country travel while ensuring he fulfills all of his responsibilities in Congress,” Kahele’s spokesperson said in the statement. “The Congressman has not missed a single vote this year. He continues to participate in HASC and T&I Committee hearings and maximizes his time back home by engaging with his constituents and addressing their concerns at the federal level,” the spokesperson added, referring to his work on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee(CNN).
© Associated Press / Audrey McAvoy | Rep. Kai Kahele, 2020.
Since the start of the year, Kahele, who works part-time as an airline pilot, has only appeared at the Capitol to cast five votes, all coming during a three-day stretch in January.
In addition, Kahele’s office defended his work for Hawaiian Airlines, saying that he earned $29,151.79 during 2021. That total falls in compliance with the House Rules Committee, which says that lawmakers may only earn only $29,895 in outside income during a single year. Kahele has flown three flights for a total of 14.2 flying hours and has earned $2,861.90, according to his office (New York Magazine).
The Wall Street Journal: Democrats move closer to dropping Iowa’s early slot in presidential nomination process.
The Hill: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) faces grumbles from right over Biden impeachment remarks.
Alexander Bolton, The Hill: Democrats face pressure from left, center on student loans.
After rapid recovery, watch for sudden slowdown, by Greg Ip, chief economics commentator, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3Eb8htz
Why experts can’t seem to agree on boosters, by Markham Heid, opinion contributor, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/38IR7rz
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets for a pro forma session at 1 p.m. Votes are not scheduled until after the House recess April 26.
The Senate convenes for a pro forma session at 11 a.m. Senators are in recess until April 25.
The president willreceive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden will travel to Greensboro, N.C., to speak about the administration’s efforts to curb inflation, fix supply chains, and encourage the manufacture and production of goods and resources in this country. Biden will depart in the evening for Camp David to spend the Easter weekend.
The vice president and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will deliver remarks at the White House’s virtual Passover celebration at 6:10 p.m.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a 7 a.m. ET breakfast event hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
The Labor Department will report at 8:30 a.m. on filings for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ending April 9. Analysts expect to see continued improvement. U.S. unemployment is 3.6 percent; the government says about 6 million people are jobless.
📺 Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at http://thehill.com/hilltv, on YouTube and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.
➤MANHUNT: Law enforcement officials on Wednesday made an arrest in connection with the shooting on the New York City subway that wounded 10 individuals a day earlier after a day-long manhunt. Frank James was taken into custody in Manhattan after a day-long search after investigators announced that he was the prime suspect, after he was believed to have rented a van connected to the violence (The Associated Press).
➤SPACE: NASA on Wednesday confirmed that the Hubble Space Telescope spotted the largest icy comet nucleus ever seen by astronomers. Named comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), the comet’s nucleus has been traveling 22,000 miles per hour from the edge of the solar system and is estimated to have a diameter of roughly 80 miles across — making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. The nucleus of the comet is about 50 times larger than found at the heart of most known comets, according to NASA, and its mass is estimated to be 100,000 times greater than that of a typical comet. The comet was first identified in 2019 by astronomers in Chile (The Hill).
© Associated Press / NASA | Hubble Space Telescope orbits Earth.
➤IT’S ELECTRIC: California is pushing to triple its sales of electric vehicles in four years as a new proposal by the state’s Air Resources Board calls for 35 percent of all new cars sold in the state to be e-vehicles by 2026. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has set a target of fully phasing out new fossil fuel-powered cars, the source of about 25 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, by 2035, with California becoming the first state to implement a phaseout plan of this kind for vehicles (The Hill).
And finally … 🚢 It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! On this date 110 years ago, the RMS Titanic, the world’s largest passenger ship at the time,struck an iceberg and has fascinated the world ever since. Let’s rewind history with a brief Titanic trivia puzzle!
Email your responses to email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
More than 1,500 men, women and children died when the ship, on its maiden voyage, sank about two and a half hours after sustaining a huge gash in its hull while sailing at night off the coast of Newfoundland. How many people survived the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable luxury steamship?
Wallace Henry Hartley, 33, the Titanic’s bandleader, perished with his fellow musicians when they continued to play for passengers as the ship sank. What musical instrument did Hartley play?
Millionaire passenger John Jacob Astor IV survived the Titanic disaster, but his young bride, Madeleine, died.
In 1997’s “Titanic,” socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater was fictional. Which actress soared to stardom after portraying Rose in the Oscar-winning film?
© Associated Press / file photo |Titanic leaves Southampton, England, April 10, 1912.
Morning Report journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a message and/or SUBSCRIBE!