Wonkbook: U.S. action on Ukraine advances

March 7

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(Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA)

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: One in 10. That's the fraction of uninsured people eligible for Obamacare exchanges who had enrolled as of last month.

Wonkbook's Chart of the Day: The 33 countries waiting for a U.S. ambassador, in one map.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) U.S. action on Ukraine advances; 2) Obamacare outreach struggles; 3) Senate rejects military sexual assault bill; 4) climate change action heats up; and 5) Obama pressed on immigration, while conservatives silent.

1. U.S. pushes forward with Russia sanctions, Ukraine aid

Obama orders sanctions against Russia; House approves Ukraine aid package. "President Obama on Thursday authorized the Treasury Department to impose sanctions against 'individuals and entities' who are responsible for Russia’s military takeover in Crimea or for 'stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.' The financial measures, and a separate ban on U.S. visas, are part of the administration’s efforts to squeeze Russia into pulling back its troops in Crimea, the autonomous, pro-Russian region of Ukraine that does not recognize the country’s new, Western-backed leadership....The White House is pressing Congress to support a $1 billion aid package for Ukraine’s interim government. The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a financial aid package for Ukraine, authorizing up to $1 billion in loan guarantees. The 385-to 23 vote was the first congressional action on Ukraine, and the bill will now go to the Senate, where some members may propose a broader package of relief."  Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan in The Washington Post.

Read: The executive order.

Video: Desk-to-desk: Explaining the crisis in Ukraine.

Congress condemns Russia's recent actions against Ukraine. "The House Foreign Relations Committee's resolution condemns Russia for its occupation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and called on the Obama administration to enact tough financial and trade sanctions against Russia." Aamer Madhani and Susan Davis in USA Today.

Obama urges diplomatic resolution in phone call with Putin. "President Barack Obama held an hour-long telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday afternoon in an effort to resolve the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, according to the White House. The White House statement indicated no breakthrough or even any progress in the dispute about Russian troop movements into Ukraine's Crimea region and Russia's support for a referendum on making Crimea a part of Russia. However, the statement said Obama urged Putin to work towards a diplomatic resolution to the standoff." Josh Gerstein in Politico.

Republicans could add Iran sanctions, natural gas exports amendments to Ukraine bill. "The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is currently working on an aid package for Ukraine following the incursion by the Russian military into Crimea after a popular uprising ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin....Some Senate Republicans said the upcoming aid package for Ukraine could draw an amendment adding sanctions on Iran, although others cautioned against that approach....Thune and other Republicans also said to expect an amendment to expedite natural gas exports to Ukraine." Humberto Sanchez in Roll Call.

Explainer: Know More: John Boehner's misleading argument on natural gas and Ukraine.

Ukraine crisis stokes fears about closing European bases. "With U.S. policymakers increasingly alarmed by Russia's military occupation of Ukraine, some lawmakers have expressed concern about another round of base closures the Pentagon wants to start in 2017 — including some in Europe. But how far lawmakers are willing to go out on limb to interfere with foreign base closures is another matter." Stacy Kaper in National Journal.

Understanding Team Obama’s personal gibes over Ukraine. "There is something about the way the White House has been attacking President Vladimir Putin in the past week that makes Ukraine feel more like the Iowa Caucuses than a strategic economic and military foothold on the Black Sea. The rhetoric against the Russian leader has become that personal....Some American experts in foreign policy say the White House could overplay its hand with the strategy, given his likely role in any regional resolution to the conflict....At the same time, it is clear that Putin has not accurately described the situation on the ground when describing his justifications for Russian involvement in Crimea." Zeke Miller in Time Magazine

KISSINGER: How the Ukraine crisis ends. "Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins. Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them." Henry Kissinger in The Washington Post.

KRAUTHAMMER: Obama, Russia and the wages of weakness. Vladimir Putin is a lucky man. And he’s got three more years of luck to come. He takes Crimea, and President Obama says it’s not in Russia’s interest, not even strategically clever. Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness. Really? Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia conquered it 20 years before the U.S. acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot."Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post.

VINIK: Republicans are playing politics while Ukraine faces default. "Republicans are tripping over themselves to propose ideas to hit Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. But at the same time, they are limiting Ukraine’s ability to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund. That makes it more likely Ukraine will default on its debt, which could destabilize the country and invite exactly what the Republicans want to prevent: further Russian aggression." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.

Bitcoin interlude: Man denies he's Bitcoin's founder.

Top opinion

KRUGMAN: The hammock fallacy. Mr. Ryan used to rely on 'scholarship' from places like the Heritage Foundation. Remember when Heritage declared that the Ryan budget would reduce unemployment to a ludicrous 2.8 percent, then tried to cover its tracks? This time, however, Mr. Ryan is citing a lot of actual social science research. Unfortunately, the research he cites doesn’t actually support his assertions. Even more important, his whole premise about why poverty persists is demonstrably wrong." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

PONNURU: Free-market bashers aren't helping the poor. "There's a more basic flaw in the thesis that markets have done nothing to help the poor while government programs have done a lot: Where does the government get the money to fund these programs?...Both markets and government are necessary to improve the lot of the poor, and we ought to reform government programs so that they do a better job of helping the poor participate in markets. That's just common sense, and no study or statistic has given us a good reason to reject it." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View.

McARDLE: Will Obama ever enforce his health law? "The Barack Obama administration announced [Wednesday] that it was extending the 'grandfathering' of noncompliant health-care plans for two more years. In other words, everything is proceeding as I have foreseen....This latest maneuver is supposed to help midterm Democrats, who are facing a very tough landscape in November. But there will always be an election coming that Democrats will want to win. The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to activate the unpopular parts of the law. Especially if Republicans gain the trifecta — House, Senate, presidency — they are going to have no incentive to save Obamacare by sacrificing their own political fortunes. Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

EMANUEL: In health care, choice is overrated. "Despite the fact that so many Americans are already in selective networks, they are nervous that the Affordable Care Act, which I helped design as an adviser to the Obama administration, will further restrict their choice of doctors or make them pay higher out-of-network charges. There was a similar backlash in the 1990s, when managed care was on the rise. But selective networks themselves are not a problem. The problem is that not all networks are of consistently high quality." Ezekiel Emanuel in The New York Times.

MILKEN: Housing programs aren't the way to the American dream. "The American dream traditionally meant that anyone could get ahead based on ability and hard work. But over the past few decades, the United States government created incentives through housing programs and the tax code that changed the dream for many Americans. Middle-class families began to think of homes as investments, not just shelter. When the housing market crashed, everyone suffered—homeowners, investors, wage-earners and taxpayers....Investments in quality education and improved health will do more to accelerate economic growth than excessive housing incentives. That will give everyone a better chance to achieve the real American dream." Michael Milken in The Wall Street Journal.

NATIONAL REVIEW: Debo Adegbile: Exit stage left. "A clutch of Senate Democrats joined Republicans in defeating the nomination of Debo Adegbile to the position of assistant attorney general for civil rights, the Justice Department’s lead man on matters racial. The president fumed that the Senate had denied the nation the services of a gifted public servant, but what the Senate has done is deny Barack Obama the chance to install yet another pet radical in the commanding heights of government. Good riddance to Mr. Adegbile." The Editors.

BOYLAN: Save us from the SAT. "I sympathize with college-admissions deans who want a simple, accurate measurement of student potential. But no such measurement exists, as I can attest from 25 years as an English professor....The only way to measure students’ potential is to look at the complex portrait of their lives: what their schools are like; how they’ve done in their courses; what they’ve chosen to study; what progress they’ve made over time; how they’ve reacted to adversity. Of course colleges try to take these nuanced portraits into account, but too often they’re overshadowed by the SAT. Our children, precious, brilliant, frustrating, confused souls that they are, are more than a set of scores." Jennifer Finney Boylan in The New York Times.

Astronomy interlude: Saturn's rings, moon dazzle in new photo.

2. Obamacare outreach efforts limp along

Health insurance marketplaces signing up few uninsured, surveys say. “The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal, according to a pair of new surveys. Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month, one of the surveys shows. The other found that about half of uninsured adults have looked for information on the online exchanges or planned to look.” Amy Goldstein in The Washington Post.

Still, number of uninsured to enroll is higher than it was before. "The overall share of uninsured people gaining coverage remains low, but the trend suggests more people could get coverage as the enrollment period approaches its final weeks. Most people must pick health plans by the end of March." Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, one-fourth of uninsured adults don't know about the Obamacare exchanges. "Nearly one quarter of uninsured adults don't know about Obamacare's health insurance exchanges, according to a recent study. Some 23 percent of uninsured adults reported having not heard of the health law's marketplaces, say researchers at the Urban Institute, an economic and social-policy think tank. And among adults in low-income families, 27 percent said they had not heard of the exchanges." Clara Ritger in National Journal.

Another poll: Fraction of Americans saying Affordable Care Act hurts them inches up. Gallup.

@sarahkliff: It would be bizarre if a majority of people thought Obamacare helped them. It doesn’t touch the vast majority of insurance.

Official in charge of federal health marketplace is resigning. "Gary M. Cohen, the official in charge of the federal health insurance marketplace, who repeatedly told Congress before its troubled rollout that it would work well, said on Thursday that he was resigning. Mr. Cohen is the chief architect of federal rules regulating the operations of private health insurance under the new health care law. He said he would leave his post to return to California at the end of this month, when the open enrollment period closes for individuals and families shopping for insurance." Robert Pear in The New York Times.

GOP seeks to pay for permanent Medicare doc fix by repealing Obamacare individual mandate: "House Republicans are planning to bring up a permanent “doc fix” bill next week — paid for by repealing the individual mandate in Obamacare. It puts House Democrats in an awkward position. They have to either vote against repealing a Medicare payment formula that has long vexed doctors — or against a key, but unpopular piece of the Affordable Care Act. And because the bill isn’t likely to come up in the Democratic-led Senate, the problem will still be unsolved. Jennifer Haberkorn in Politico

Rob Ford interlude: He went on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

3. Senate sets back controversial bill to address military sexual assaults

Senate rejects further revamp of how Pentagon handles sex assault, advances more modest measure. "The Senate rejected a controversial proposal Thursday to remove military commanders from decisions on whether to prosecute major crimes in the ranks as the concerns of Pentagon leaders trumped calls from veterans groups to dramatically overhaul how the Defense Department handles assault and rape cases. Congress has already voted to revamp the military’s legal system by ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape. But on Thursday senators rejected a plan by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would go further by taking away from military commanders the power to refer serious crimes to courts-martial....The proposal fell five votes short of the 60 votes necessary to clear a procedural hurdle and proceed to a final vote....A separate, more modest proposal by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), cleared a procedural vote and is expected to be approved Monday night." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

@StevenTDennis: Women voted 17-3 for Gillibrand military sexual assault bill. Men voted 42-38 against http://blogs.rollcall.com/wgdb/senate-votes-on-dueling-sexual-assault-proposals/

@kwelkernbc: A rare sight: Sens.Gillibrand & Cruz join together. They are slamming the failure of a bill to crack down on sex assault in the military.

How Gillibrand won by losing. "She bolsters her liberal credentials....She's boosted her standing in the Senate....She bolsters her standing with women and the gay community....She can say 'I told you so' if the Pentagon doesn't fix the problem." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

What's the controversy about? "At issue is one key question: When a member of the military reports a sexual assault, who should have ultimate say over whether to prosecute it? Historically, the military has left that decision to unit commanders. Critics charge that this can discourage victims from coming forward, and leads to fewer prosecutions. Representing that way of thinking is Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic Senator from New York and author of the Military Justice Improvement Act. Her measure would give prosecutors, outside the chain of command, the power to decide which cases go to court. McCaskill wants to leave the authority with unit commanders, but mandate some additional review. Nora Caplan-Bricker in The New Republic.

@kasie: Gillibrand bill aside — this lengthy debate & still significant changes re: military sexual assaults reflect influence of Senate women

The same day: The Army’s top sex-crimes prosecutor faces groping allegation. "The Army is investigating its top sex-crimes prosecutor on allegations that he groped a female lawyer at a sexual-assault conference in 2011, Army officials disclosed Thursday. Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, who supervises 23 other special-victims prosecutors for the Army, was recently placed under criminal investigation after the female lawyer reported the alleged 2011 incident, officials said. News of the case was first reported Thursday by Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that covers military affairs. Morse has not been charged in the case, but the revelation is the latest blow to the Pentagon as it struggles to cope with what some leaders have acknowledged is a epidemic of sexual assaults in the ranks. News of the investigation surfaced just hours before the Senate was scheduled to vote." Craig Whitlock in The Washington Post.

@sahilkapur: you had ONE JOB RT @kaysteiger Army’s top sexual assault prosecutor accused of groping a subordinate AT a sexual assault legal conference

'Back to the Future' interlude: Tony Hawk rides a "Back to the Future" hoverboard...or does he?

4. Climate change in the spotlight

House GOP moves to block EPA climate rules on power plants. "Aiming at the heart of President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting climate change, the Republican-controlled House voted Thursday to block the administration’s plan to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. The bill targets Obama’s proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency to set the first national limits on heat-trapping carbon pollution from future power plants. It’s part of the GOP’s election-year strategy to fight back against what Republicans call a 'war on coal' by the Obama administration....A similar measure is pending in the Senate but faces a more difficult path." The Associated Press.

But the EPA administrator defended the rules. "Economic growth and reducing carbon pollution can go hand in hand, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy insisted Thursday....Looming new power plants will not 'put the brakes on business,' McCarthy told the crowd. But McCarthy said she still expected bad reviews — from both environmentalists and business....Beyond the technical and legal challenges of writing the regulation within the scope of the Clean Air Act, McCarthy noted the difficulty acting on a major climate space amid huge economic concerns. But she stressed that climate action can yield economic dividends." Jennifer Dlouhy in the Houston Chronicle.

New report warns of 'cascading system failures' from climate change. From roads and bridges to power plants and gas pipelines, American infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a pair of government reports released Thursday. The reports are technical documents supporting the National Climate Assessment, a major review compiled by 13 government agencies that the U.S. Global Change Research Program is expected to release in April. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory put together the reports, which warn that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause 'cascading system failures' unless there are changes made to minimize those effects." Kate Sheppard in The Huffington Post.

Obama signs bill funding drought forecast program. "President Obama on Thursday signed a bipartisan bill reauthorizing a federal program that provides forecasts and support to communities vulnerable to drought....The legislation flew through Congress, earning a 356-21 vote in the House and passing via unanimous consent in the Senate. The bill will require the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to report to Congress on how the government can reduce problems stemming from drought more quickly, and it calls for the creation of an early warning system. The reauthorization comes as California continues to be plagued by a massive drought that has threatened crops and could result in wildfires." Justin Sink in The Hill.

Poll: Keystone XL pipeline project overwhelmingly favored by Americans.. Americans support the idea of constructing the Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States by a nearly 3 to 1 margin, with 65 percent saying it should be approved and 22 percent opposed, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The findings also show that the public thinks the massive project, which aims to ship 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta and the northern Great Plains to refineries on the Gulf Coast, will produce significant economic benefits....At the same time, nearly half of those interviewed — 47 percent — say they think Keystone will pose a significant risk to the environment. That so many Americans back the pipeline, even with environmental risks, highlights the quandary facing President Obama and his top aides as they weigh whether to approve the proposal." Juliet Eilperin and Scott Clement in The Washington Post.

Pro-Keystone XL ad visible on White House website. “The oil and gas industry got some prime online real estate for their ad pressing President Barack Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline: The White House’s official website. Obama held a virtual town hall Thursday about Latino health care enrollment, organized by Spanish-language TV networks. Some users tuning in through www.whitehouse.gov were shown an ad from the American Petroleum Institute. The ad urges viewers to tell Obama to approve the pipeline.” The Associated Press.

ICYMI: Meet John Podesta, the man behind President Obama’s new environmental push. "New White House counselor John Podesta is playing a central role in pushing the Obama administration to adopt a more aggressive posture on environmental policies this year, including rules that would provide greater protections for public lands, support for state and local efforts to cut carbon emissions and stricter oversight of mining near pristine waterways, according to a dozen administration officials and outside allies. The Democratic strategist’s role at the White House, which includes steering climate and public lands policies, provides the clearest indication yet that President Obama and his top aides are increasingly focused on cementing a presidential legacy on the environment during his remaining time in office. That focus was on full display Tuesday in the administration’s budget proposal." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Dinosaurs interlude: Did dark matter kill the dinosaurs? Maybe.

5. Obama pressed on immigration, while conservatives silent on it

Obama placed on defensive in appearance before Latino groups. "Whenever President Obama has sought to turn up pressure on Republicans on issues important to Latinos, he has found reliable partners in Spanish-language TV networks Univision and Telemundo. On Thursday, Obama came calling again — but this time, his partners became adversaries. Obama was appearing at a town-hall-style event at the Newseum to encourage the Latino community to sign up for health-insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. But the hosts, Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo and Enrique Acevedo of Univision, turned their sights on another issue: immigration." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

Obama calls self 'champion-in-chief' on reform, but says nothing he can do about deportations. "President Barack Obama called himself the 'champion-in-chief' of comprehensive immigration reform Thursday but said once again that there’s nothing he can do stem the flow of deportations....Obama passed the buck on deportations to Congress, which he said is responsible for funding government positions responsible for deportations." Reid J. Epstein in Politico.

Meanwhile, conservatives were quieter on immigration this year at CPAC. "The main speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference almost entirely ignored immigration. Even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who co-authored the Senate immigration bill, dodged the issue. The one major exception was Donald Trump, who denounced Rubio for wanting to 'let everyone in' and repeated the oldest of all anti-immigration slogans. 'They’re taking your jobs!' Trump declared. It was a far cry from last year’s CPAC, where immigration was arguably the number one issue among speakers and attendees." Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC.com.

Rocket cat interlude: 16th-century manual shows "rocket cat" weaponry.

Wonkblog roundup

The end of the traditional supermarket. Jia Lynn Yang.

Atlanta Fed's Lockhart talks to us about weather, jobs and the taper. Ylan Mui.

The inside story of how the White House learned to love the minimum wage. Zachary Goldfarb.

Know More: John Boehner's misleading argument on natural gas and Ukraine. Max Ehrenfreund

The 33 countries waiting for an ambassador, in one map. Christopher Ingraham.

A personal note on the surgeon general nomination fight. Harold Pollack.

Unions can't get an Obamacare win, but insurers are getting help. Jason Millman.

This is why the Fed should start worrying about inflation again. Ylan Mui.

Et Cetera

Abortion law pushes Texas clinics to close doors. Manny Fernandez in The New York Times.

Jobless claims hit three-month low. The Associated Press.

Pentagon unveils proposal for pension changes. Andrew Tilgham in the Military Times.

Providers of medical marijuana fear wider legalization. Kirk Johnson in The New York Times.

Plans for new SAT draw mixed reviews. Eric Hoover in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The story behind the new SAT overhaul. Todd Balf in The New York Times Magazine.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail us.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Ylan Q. Mui · March 7