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The Daily 202: In the Biden era, everything is ‘under review’

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with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, it feels like the Biden White House has everything “under review.” But don’t miss the latest on Trump’s impeachment trial, Joe Biden’s nominations, coronavirus vaccines and variants. Sometimes local or regional news is national news in disguise, so send me your most interesting items from outside the Beltway. And tell your friends to sign up here.

The Afghan peace effort. Policy toward Cuba. Whether former president Donald Trump should be denied customary intelligence briefings. Relations with Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and now Myanmar (a.k.a Burma). Domestic violent extremism. U.S. restrictions on the “Nordstream 2” pipeline. Leases for drilling and mining on federal lands. Prospects for beating back systemic racism. Temporary protections for Venezuelans in the United States. Arms sales to the United Arab EmiratesRestrictions on climate science. Possible waivers from travel restrictions for unmarried couples and students.

These are just some of the policies and positions “under review” as the young Biden presidency strives to tear down parts of the Trump presidency and build from its own blueprint for government.

These assessments got underway even as Biden issued scores of executive actions and pressed Congress to adopt his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package. Taken together, they highlight the scale and complexity of the Delaware Democrat’s undertaking not quite two weeks into his term.

Everything that the past administration has put in place is under review, as it relates to our national security approach,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday when asked about Trump’s trade deal with China.

The “review” tag hints at — and sometimes promises — action. But most of the reviews lack a deadline by which they’ll be complete. 

A review isn’t a guarantee that Biden is going to undo part of Trump’s legacy. And indeed it will be difficult to unravel some Trump actions in a closely divided Congress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it plain in public remarks that he agrees with the previous administration’s decision to declare that China is guilty of “genocide” against its Muslim-majority Uighur population.

Career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, told senators the genocide designation was under review but for reasons of process, not policy.

“The State Department is reviewing that now because all of the procedures were not followed, and I think that they're looking to make sure that they are followed to ensure that that designation is held,” she said at her confirmation hearing.

And the White House has made clear that sometimes an almost certain Trump-policy reversal doesn’t require a presidential review.

I can confirm for you here the president has not spent a moment thinking about the color scheme of Air Force One,” Psaki said Jan. 22.

But at least two consequential reviews have time elements. 

One is the Biden team’s look at whether the Taliban is keeping its end of a February 2020 agreement calling for a U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal by May. Implicit there is the possibility that the president could hold off, but that decision would have to come in the next three months.

Last week, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the Islamist militia was not meeting its requirements, notably to reduce violence and sunder ties with al-Qaeda.

“Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces, it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement,” Kirby said. “But we’re still committed to that.”

He later added on Twitter that no decision had been made:

The other is the assessment of how to respond to Russian repression of Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s highest-profile critic, and the demonstrations supporting the opposition leader. Russia’s prosecutor general has said Navalny should receive jail time when he faces the court, as early as Tuesday. That could hasten U.S. action.

Asked by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC whether the United States was looking to impose sanctions on Putin’s backers presumably a reference to powerful Russian oligarchs with international, and therefore vulnerable, investments. “We’re reviewing that,“ Blinken said.

Actually, we’re reviewing a series of Russian actions that are deeply, deeply disturbing,” Blinken went on. He listed the assassination attempt against Navalny using the chemical agent Novichok, which the activist has pinned on Putin; Russian interference in U.S. elections; the so-called “SolarWinds” hack for which U.S. officials blame Moscow; and reports Russia offered bounties on American troops in Afghanistan.

“We’re looking into all of these things. All of them are under review,” Blinken said. “And depending on the findings of those reviews, we will take steps to stand up for our interests and stand against Russian aggressive actions.

Navalny wants Washington to go after Putin allies.

My old friend Alex Finley, a former CIA officer, not only agrees but has some suggestions.

“Individual sanctions are the best options for a quick response to the ongoing repression against Navalny and the demonstrations,” agrees Dan Fried, a retired diplomat who crafted punitive measures against Moscow as State Department Coordinators for Sanctions Policy.

If the United States and the European Union jointly block a Russian’s assets, they could effectively freeze them out of Western financial markets.

“They can’t sail their yachts to Barcelona because they cannot do business, even in euros, no European bank can do business with them,” he told me in an interview. “It also means that their property in the West, their houses, that’s all basically locked down.”

Fried, who is now with The Atlantic Council, said that would have an impact.

“The Russians probably wouldn’t give me a visa to go to Moscow. I haven’t asked. But I can live without that. It’s not hard for me not to go to Moscow. But it is hard for the Russian, sort of, elite not to go to the West,” he said.

There’s a long tradition of powerful Russians sending their kids to Western schools, going on vacation in the West, “parking your ill-gotten gains, your dirty money, in London or E.U. real estate or, for that matter in Miami or in New York City real estate,” Fried said.

“So going after individuals and meaning it, because you have to enforce this stuff is a good way of hitting the Russian elite,” he said.

What’s happening now

Two FBI agents were fatally shot while serving a warrant in Sunrise, Fla. Three other agents were wounded in the shooting that occurred as law enforcement officers tried to serve a search warrant in a “violent crimes against children case” at an apartment complex this morning, Matt Zapotosky and Paulina Firozi report. The suspected shooter was also killed, the FBI said. (Matt Zapotosky and Paulina Firozi)

House impeachment managers describe Trump’s actions leading up to Jan. 6 as “a betrayal of historic proportions.” House Democrats filed an impeachment brief this morning, in which they accuse Trump of whipping his supporters into a “frenzy” and describe him as “singularly responsible” for the Jan. 6 Capitol mayhem, Amy Gardner and Karoun Demirjian report. The nine House impeachment managers argue Trump’s actions aren’t protected by the First Amendment, since it was never intended to allow a president to “provoke lawless action if he loses at the polls.” Democrats also rejected Republicans’ claims it is unconstitutional to convict an ex-president. Trump’s team is expected to file its initial response to the impeachment trial summons later today. The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 9. Read the House brief.

Republicans divided, part Z: House Republicans will hold a meeting tomorrow on the fate of their No. 3 leader, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who is the target of vociferous calls for her ouster after she voted to impeach Trump. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended Cheney's right to to support impeachment and denounced “loony lies and conspiracy theories" permeating the GOP without directly naming their latest messenger, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

From Cheyenne, Wyo. our Robert Samuels found anger on a quick boil for Cheney: “When she did that, I felt disenfranchised,” Jim Lish, an Iraq War veteran from Cheyenne, Wyo., who works at the local American Legion, told Samuels. “I love the Cheneys, both Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney. But she has to represent the people.” Like Lish, many of Cheney’s constituents now see her as a traditional Republican who may no longer have a home in a party dominated by Trump. “I don’t think Wyoming needs the Cheney name anymore,” said Ocean Andrew, a newly elected state representative who organized a rally last week at the Wyoming Capitol for Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and Trump ally. The rally drew hundreds. “Matt Gaetz kind of represents the new Republican Party that is very anti-establishment, more individualist and more noninterventionist,” Andrew said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) revealed she’s a sexual assault survivor and recounted the “trauma” of the Capitol riot. In an Instagram Live, she told about 150,000 viewers she tried to hide after hearing someone bang on her office doors while asking, “Where is she? Where is she?” “And this was the moment where I thought everything was over,” she said. The person turned out to be a police officer trying to move her to a secure location, she said, but the harrowing moment was just the first of many, Jaclyn Peiser reports. Ocasio-Cortez also compared lawmakers like Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), whom she said are playing down the riot's seriousness, to abusers attempting to silence their victims. “These folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize. These are the same tactics of abusers. And I’m a survivor of sexual assault."

Quote of the day

“I was like, ‘Can I help you? What are you looking for?’ and she said, ‘I’m looking for where I’m going to hide,’” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) told MSNBC about the moment Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) came to her office searching for refuge during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. “I said, ‘Well don’t worry, I’m a mom, I’m calm’ … and she said, ‘I just hope I get to be a mom.’”

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

… and beyond

  • Clyburn: Why have OSHA, meatpackers failed to protect workers from Covid-19?” by the Counter’s Joe Fassler: “Taken together, the four letters appear to seek answers to an unresolved mystery: Why have the Covid-related fines issued by OSHA so far been so paltry? And how exactly did the agency make its determination to seek only five-figure financial penalties, amounts that critics say are nominal considering the unprecedented outbreaks of disease?”
  • “Capitol rioter asks court to let her vacation in Mexico,” by the Daily Beast’s Adam Rawnsley: “In a court filing on Monday, Jenny Cudd’s attorneys said their client ‘planned and prepaid for a weekend retreat with her employees’ in Riviera Maya, Mexico, later this month and would like to attend. Cudd, the owner of a Midland, Texas, flower shop, told the court that the trip is ‘a work-related bonding retreat for employees and their spouses.’”
  • “A Pennsylvania mother’s path to insurrection,” by the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow: “Before the pandemic, Rachel Powell, a forty-year-old mother of eight from western Pennsylvania, sold cheese and yogurt at local farmers’ markets and used Facebook mostly to discuss yoga, organic food, and her children’s baseball games. But, last year, Powell began to post more frequently, embracing more extreme political views. Her interests grew to include conspiracy theories about covid-19 and the results of the Presidential election.”

The first 100 days

Biden will announce new immigration orders today while signaling a cautious approach. 

The executive actions will: 

  • Order the review and reversal of Trump’s deterrent policies along the Mexico border and barriers it created in the legal immigration system, Nick Miroff, Seung Min Kim and Maria Sacchetti report. This includes a “review,” not a cancelation, of the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program.
  • Create a homeland security task force to reunite families separated by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policies. Biden officials didn’t yet have details on the scope or timing of this reunification effort, Kevin Sieff reports.
  • Keep the emergency pandemic measure known as Title 42, which allows border authorities to rapidly “expel” back to Mexico individuals who cross the border illegally. Administration officials said they intend to replace Trump border measures with more humane policies, but they need more time.
  • But: A Texas federal judge last week placed a restraining order on Biden's deportation pause, which means Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has already deported hundreds of immigrants and scheduled more deportation during Biden's presidency, the AP reports. The federal judge’s blockage of the moratorium did not require the government to schedule the deportations.
  • The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to cancel upcoming arguments on two of Trump’s key immigration policies: a funding dispute over the border wall and the “Remain in Mexico” program, Robert Barnes reports.
  • One of Trump’s former homeland security officials, Ken Cuccinelli, tried to limit Biden’s immigration agenda by handing policy controls to the pro-Trump union representing ICE, the Times reports. In a complaint, a whistleblower said Cuccinelli signed a labor agreement the day before Biden’s inauguration requiring homeland security leaders to obtain “affirmative consent” in writing from the ICE union on changes to policies and functions affecting agents. The pact also allows the union to argue it can reject Biden's policy changes.
Biden and Senate Republicans failed to agree on a coronavirus relief bill. 

The 10 GOP senators with their own proposal last night left a White House meeting hopeful it could lead to compromise, Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report

  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who led the group, said Biden explained his $1.9 trillion proposal more thoroughly while her group pitched a more narrow $618 billion proposal. “It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting,” Collins said. “But what we did agree to do is follow up and talk further.”
  • The meeting posed a test for Biden, who campaigned on his ability to cut bipartisan deals. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Biden “seemed really happy to be in the game of negotiating.”
  • Though several Republicans left the meeting with the impression Biden was open to negotiating, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president pointed out deficiencies in the GOP plan and any changes to Biden’s proposal “cannot leave the nation short of its pressing needs.”
  • Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the nation’s unemployment rate will not return to its pre-pandemic levels through the rest of this decade, Stein and Andrew Van Dam report.

Tracking Biden's nominations

Kathleen Hicks, Biden’s nominee for deputy defense secretary; Thomas Vilsack, his nominee for agriculture secretary; and Denis McDonough, the nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, testified today before the Senate.

  • Read more from our colleagues on Vilsack's plans
Miguel Cardona, Biden’s pick for the Education Department, led a full-court press for schools to reopen in Connecticut. 
  • Cardona saw all but one school district in his state adopt some sort of in-person education last fall, reopening schools even as teachers staged noisy protests and U.S. districts remained online only, Laura Meckler and Nick Anderson report.
  • That helped the ex-school commissioner become Biden’s education nominee, since the president says a top goals is to open most schools. Cardona faces a Senate confirmation hearing tomorrow. 
The Biden administration is eyeing former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a high-profile ambassadorship. 
  • Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff and a well-known figure among Democrats, would bring notoriety as U.S. ambassador to China or Japan, NBC News reports. But he has often clashed with progressive Democrats. He was at one point considered as a nominee for transportation secretary, but the post ultimately went to another former mayor: Pete Buttigieg.

The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service are tracking Biden's appointees including Cabinet secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions.

Hot on the left

“Biden’s first days in office were way better than I expected,” writes MSNBC columnist Mehdi Hassan. “During the Democratic presidential primaries, I was one of [Biden’s] fiercest critics on the left. … The former vice president, I averred, ‘would be a disaster.’ Well… maybe… perhaps... I was wrong. There, I said it. The new president has been far from a disaster. … Do Biden’s slew of executive orders go far enough? Of course not … Nevertheless, we cannot afford to lose sight of the big picture. Now is a moment for the left to be emboldened, not embittered. … I am well aware of the fact that Biden is not Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. … And I have no doubt whatsoever that one day soon, Biden and company will deeply disappoint me. That day, however, is not today.” 

Hot on the right

“Biden is the most radical left-wing president in U.S. history, period,” writes New York Post columnist Rich Lowry. “The fact is that Biden is governing as he promised — further to the left of his own record, further to the left of his ex-boss, former President Barack Obama, and further to the left of any Democrat who made his career prior to the ascendency of the cultural left … The lesson is that the most important thing that any movement can do is influence the direction of a major political party. If the center of gravity of a party moves, the entire establishment moves with it. So it is that Biden, who has never been woke or surrounded himself with radicals, is attempting to deliver victories to the left-wing of his party almost unimaginable eight or 12 years ago — and do it quickly.” 

Coronavirus relief plans, visualized

This week in Washington

Tomorrow morning in the Senate, confirmation hearings for Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Biden’s nominee for commerce secretary; Isabella Guzman, nominated to lead the Small Business Administration, and Michael Regan, nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

In closing

The infamous Wendy's stationed on Dave Thomas Circle will soon be gone, and D.C. residents prepared their goodbyes:

New York City is in the midst of a historical nor'easter, but at least one resident was staying cozy while enjoying the snow: