President Biden promised to restore alliances and soften the tone from Washington to its foreign partners. Diplomacy and warmth were certainly on display as he held his first meeting with another world leader, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But hours before the virtual summit even launched, the White House had made clear that much of Trudeau’s wish list would go unfulfilled.
You might call it Biden’s “America First” approach.
The meeting underlined that, while Biden’s tone in world affairs differs sharply from former president Donald Trump’s, America’s interests and those of its allies won’t always line up, as I wrote a day after the Democrat’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Presidents’ first foreign-leader meetings tend to be highly symbolic affairs, sending a message about priorities and the tone of Washington’s relations with the world. George H.W. Bush visited Canada, where he met with then-prime minister Brian Mulroney. Bill Clinton also went to Canada, where he met with Mulroney, as well as Russia’s then-president, Boris Yeltsin. George W. Bush traveled to Mexico, Barack Obama to Canada. Trump’s first foreign sojourn was in Saudi Arabia.
The virtual nature of the Biden-Trudeau meeting left it unclear who was hosting whom, but observers on both sides of what is sometimes dubbed “the world’s longest undefended border” were keen to take stock of the diplomacy at work.
Could Trudeau, who has come under fire for a wobbly coronavirus vaccine roll-out, count on the new president to help America’s neighbor to the north get doses from Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Mich. plant? Not so much.
“The president's first priority is ensuring every American is vaccinated. And our focus right now is getting shots in arms at home,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her midday briefing, hours before the summit.
Might Biden use the meeting to grant Canada’s application for a waiver from his “Buy American” executive order, which echoed a similar government procurement policy from Trump? Not right now.
“I don't expect him to make any commitments during the meeting today,” Psaki said.
What would Biden say to Canadians who will lose their jobs as a consequence of the president’s decision to scrap the Keystone XL pipeline? Trudeau declared himself “disappointed” by that much-expected step, while one prominent Canadian newspaper described it as “rewarding his domestic political base by kicking Canada”? Well….
“The president was very consistent through the campaign, and even before then, about his view that it should be revoked,” Psaki said. “This is a commitment he has made in the past, that it's not in the interest of the United States, and that we want to try to address our climate crisis while also creating good-paying union jobs.”
Biden did hand Trudeau an important symbolic victory by calling publicly for the first time on China to release two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor, arrested in December 2018. Their detention appears to have been in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecommunications executive at Washington’s request.
“Human beings are not bartering chips,” said Biden, who promised “we're going to work together until we get their safe return.”
The two leaders also celebrated their shared commitment to battle the climate crisis and struck a cordial tone largely absent in the era of Trump, who once tweeted that Trudeau was “very dishonest and weak.”
“The United States has no closer and no more important friend than Canada,” the president said.
“U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” Trudeau said.
The meeting was also notable for the prominent role taken by Vice President Harris, who spent some of her teenage years in Montreal.
Deputy Canadian Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also noted the vice president’s time in Canada, expressed hope for a post-pandemic meeting in person and shared a moment over the French language.
“I am, myself, an English speaker, and French is a difficult language to learn, but I do believe that is well worth it,” Freeland said.
“Moi aussi. Merci beaucoup,” Harris replied. (Me too. Thank you very much.)
That led Biden to joke about his experience learning — or perhaps not learning — the French language.
“I took five years of French in school and college, as well. And every time I tried to speak it, I'd make such a fool of myself, I stopped trying,” he said. “At least when I try Spanish and I make a fool of myself, they laugh with me.”
On vaccines, Keystone, and Buy American, Biden seemed to recall at least one word: “Non.”
What’s happening now
Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are at odds over whether Trump should speak at CPAC this weekend. House Minority Leader McCarthy says Trump should, while Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, she believes that Trump should not play a role in the party’s direction but that the decision is up to the conference organizers. (Felicia Sonmez)
The FDA confirmed the safety and efficacy of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine. The review sets the stage for a third vaccine to be authorized as soon as this weekend, Carolyn Johnson and Laurie McGinley report, a point of hope in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than a half-million people in the United States.
Biden’s relief plan is backed by more than 150 top business leaders. The group of executives supporting the $1.9 trillion package includes leaders across industries, from Goldman Sachs, to Google, to American Airlines, CNN reports.
The president will order a 100-day government review of potential vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains for critical items today, including computer chips, medical gear, electric-vehicle batteries and specialized minerals, David Lynch reports.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and former president George W. Bush will be among the speakers at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference this year, the organization announced this morning. Buttigieg will be one of the keynote speakers at the online event, which will run March 16-20. He will “will emphasize SXSW’s continued focus on how technological innovations are transforming mobility,” Hugh Forrest, the SXSW chief programming officer, said in a statement. SXSW had previously announced that voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams would be a keynote speaker. Bush will sit down with Texas Tribune co-founder Evan Smith.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Trump’s politics hurt his businesses. Will he sell as he looks to a potential 2024 campaign?” by David Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey and Jonathan O’Connell: “The Post spoke with four investors who said they are exploring efforts to buy Trump’s properties or the loans he has taken out on them. They believe Trump has fatally wounded his brand — a view shared by some independent analysts — and they are hoping he will cut his losses by selling them luxe properties for cheap. ‘The first thing you do is you take the Trump name off them — which, by the way, could be a multiple-week effort, because it’s on everything,’ said one of the four, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no offer has been made yet. ‘Once it’s gone, it’s a competitive asset.’"
- “Major Trump backer Rebekah Mercer orchestrates Parler’s second act,” by Rachel Lerman: “[Mercer] is working to revive the site. It came back online last week with her new handpicked CEO, former tea party patriots leader, Mark Meckler, at the helm. It’s the latest in a long line of maneuvers by the Mercer family to create an alternative media industry that pushes a version of the news that fits with their right-wing, populist political agenda — while keeping a low profile themselves … Observers of the Mercer family say her interest in Parler coincides with the family’s efforts to erect an alternative media system that aligns with their political views. ‘She wants to influence the public narrative,” said Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, who has studied the Mercers for years. 'She doesn’t just give money, she is involved in every entity she invests in.’"
- “Former senator Perdue won’t run in 2022, kicking off another competitive Republican primary race in Georgia,” by Reis Thebault and Josh Dawsey: “Perdue’s announcement kick-starts what may be a crowded Republican primary, whose winner will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael G. Warnock. The early maneuverings in one of the country’s newest swing states could foreshadow a fraught struggle between Republican candidates allied with Trump and those who would like to see the party move beyond the former president’s divisive rhetoric.”
… and beyond
- “Tacoma teacher group plans sick-out over COVID-19 safety concerns for in-person learning,” by the News Tribune’s Allison Needles: “A post on Instagram Sunday by a group called Safe Return Tacoma encouraged Tacoma Public Schools employees to request a sick day, set students up with independent work and join in ‘mini actions’ throughout the day.”
- “ERCOT board members who live outside of Texas are resigning in the aftermath of the power outage, winter storm,” by the Texas Tribune’s Erin Douglas and Mitchell Ferman: “ERCOT board members had come under fire last week when it was reported that some did not reside in the state. … The board has been criticized for last week's mass power outage during a winter storm that has claimed the lives of dozens of Texans.”
- “Remote Controlled Workers,” by Jamie K. McCallum at The American Prospect. “These services create minute-by-minute audio, video, and photographic evidence of a particular worker and workstation. This new level of granularity allows managers to decide what counts as payable work time, and to exclude “unproductive” periods like bathroom breaks.”
At the table
Today we're lunching with Nealin Parker, founder and co-director of the Bridging Divides Initiative. They just completed a report on political violence in America – a timely topic, given the investigations into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and fears for the future. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Knox: Let’s start off nice and slow. What is the Bridging Divides Initiative?
Parker: The Bridging Divides Initiative is a research initiative, nonpartisan, at Princeton University that tracks and tries to help mitigate political violence in the United States.
Knox: You studied politically motivated violence between Election Day 2020 and inauguration day 2021. What were some of your central findings?
Parker: I think the main one is that what happened on Jan. 6 was foreseeable and, in many ways, foreseen, that it fit within a broader pattern. And we looked at what was happening post-election, but within the context of what had happened over the course of the year, and of course within the broader history of the United States. So ... Jan. 6 fit in terms of timing both around the election and around a procedural event that in previous elections might have been not a big deal. Those were rally points for this election. In terms of increased paramilitary and armed groups, and the fact that it was “Stop The Steal,” that it was at the Capitol building and in the capital.
Knox: Congress has opened its investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. What’s your sense of how organized this was versus how organic or spontaneous?
Parker: I think we did see around “Stop The Steal” events in the election period some energy, and in the post-election, organized events that were multi-city that did have leadership and that were kind of recurring. So you on Jan. 6, for example, it was the third “Million MAGA March” that had been organized in Washington, D.C., and you did see some recurring leadership throughout those periods. So in that sense it was organized.
But there is always, with violence, a certain element of the spontaneous that is involved. And so there were undoubtedly some elements that were not planned. Having said that, the situation really did lend itself to having violence and it was not the first time in the post-election period.
Knox: Merrick Garland, the president’s choice to be attorney general, said yesterday “we are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City and at that time.” Is that right? Do we face a worse environment, in terms of politically motivated violence, than we were the mid-1990s?
Parker: I think I would largely agree with that. The context that I’m looking at, there is one where the broad trends put us in a higher-risk environment; things like distrust of government, distrust of the security sector, of elections, of media, a much more active misinformation and disinformation context and even distrust of each other, to such a degree that you psychologically need to be able to do that to do harm to one another.
Knox: Sounds like we should see the congressional investigation into Jan. 6th as looking forward at least as much as looking backward.
Parker: Unfortunately, I do think that, absent a real change in our trajectory we [will] be looking at more political violence. But I want to make an important point here, which is that if an investigation is focused entirely on security and doesn’t push back to more upstream solutions, I think we will be missing a huge number of tools and options available to us.
When I see Jan. 6, I think of that as a call to action to address the underlying issues that ail us. I don’t think that a security solution on its own is ever going to be able to pull us out of a situation like this.
Knox: President Biden has made these appeals to “unity.” I’m a cynical reporter, but I also haven’t looked at the issue as closely as you have. Does that sort of thing work, appeals from a political leader?
Parker: If the question you’re asking is ‘does political leadership matter?’ the answer there is yes. The role of political leadership in tense, contentious, and violent circumstances in countries absolutely matters.
If your question is ‘can you bring people together and unify when they’re as polarized as they are in the United States?’ there again I would say yes. This is not the largest hole that a country has pulled itself out of. This is not the greatest polarization that a country has had to recover from, nor even the greatest polarization that our own country has had to deal with.
But it takes a lot more than calls from one or even all politicians. It’s a whole-of-society approach that is required, and reforms that address both the triggers for violence and the underlying conditions.
It is really important to note that political mobilization across the political spectrum has been overwhelmingly peaceful from the beginning of collecting data this year. And I think that says something about what Americans want. And so there is nothing inevitable about political violence, but you do have to change the trajectory that you’re on.
The Biden nominations
Two Senate committees postponed votes on Neera Tanden’s controversial nomination.
Biden's Office of Management and Budget nominee hangs by a thread after Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W,Va.) announced he won't support Tanden (look what's making the rounds again on Twitter). Tanden's mean tweets, double standard or not, also prompted opposition from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
When in doubt, delay:
- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee postponed a 10 a.m. vote on her because members wanted more time to consider the nomination, John Wagner reports. The Senate Budget Committee, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), also postponed a vote today, Seung Min Kim reports. Neither Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who sits on Homeland Security, nor Sanders have voiced support for Tanden.
- But the White House still stands by its nominee, who would be the first to go down in the Biden presidential era. “Tanden is a leading policy expert who brings critical qualifications to the table during this time of unprecedented crisis,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.
- Tanden’s fate still depends on a save from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). But even if Murkowski were to vote in her favor, the Tanden saga would “still mark one of the biggest missteps of Biden’s still-young presidency,” Politico’s Natasha Korecki and Burgess Everett report.
- No hard sell: “One senior Democratic Senate staffer complained that even early on in her confirmation fight, the White House was lackluster in its advocacy for her and tone-deaf to the chillier reception she was getting on the Hill. There were questions about how many champions she even had at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “'Who does she have? Ron Klain. That’s her constituency,' the staffer said.”
Three other Biden Cabinet picks face confirmation hearings today.
- William Burns, Biden’s choice to lead the CIA, testified this morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burns is a unique choice for the agency, since he has no training or experience in espionage. He is, however, a seasoned diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia and Jordan and was most recently a deputy secretary of state. He is expected to cruise through the confirmation process.
- Xavier Becerra, the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, will testify before the Senate Finance Committee at 2 p.m., his second Senate hearing. Yesterday, Becerra made clear to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee he would adhere to Biden’s goal of expanding health coverage through existing law, jettisoning his own support for a government-paid health-care system, Wagner, Amy Goldstein and Darryl Fears report. Read more about why GOP moderates appear on board with Becerra's nomination from my colleague Paige Winfield Cunningham.
- Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), the nominee to lead the Interior Department, will once again answer questions before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her first hearing morphed into a proxy fight over the future of fossil fuels as lawmakers grilled her on the Biden administration’s embrace of green energy.
Mitch McConnell will support Merrick Garland’s nomination for attorney general.
- “I do,” the Kentucky Republican told Politico when asked if he plans to back Garland.
- The past is the past: It was McConnell who, as Senate majority leader in 2016, declined to consider Garland’s nomination by President Barack Obama to fill Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is concerned over Biden’s Pentagon policy pick.
- Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Iowa) has “serious concerns” over Biden’s pick to run the Pentagon’s policy shop, Colin Kahl, Politico reports. Kahl is drawing Republican opposition over his role in crafting the controversial 2015 Iran nuclear deal and his Middle East record during the Obama administration. The committee is planning on holding a confirmation hearing for Kahl on March 4.
Investigating the Capitol attack
Top Capitol security officials blamed intelligence agencies for the failures of Jan. 6. But the FBI did alert them about a possible “war” against Congress.
- During Tuesday’s hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, top officials responsible for Capitol security said intelligence agencies failed to properly warn them of what they’d be up against.
- But an FBI bulletin warning that extremists were calling for violent attacks on the Capitol landed in a D.C. police department email inbox at around 7 p.m. on Jan. 5, less than 24 hours before the angry mob assaulted the building. The alert was also sent to a member of the Capitol Police. The message, however, was not flagged for top officials at either agency, Beth Reinhard and Matt Zapotosky report.
- The bulletin, which came from the FBI’s Norfolk field office, relayed credible calls for violence. “Go there ready for war,” read one of the messages. “We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”
- What’s next? Officials from the Defense Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security will have to answer for these failures before the Senate. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) plan to convene another hearing next week featuring these officials. They have yet to name specific witnesses.
Big questions on the attack remain.
- The most glaring discrepancy, per Politico’s Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney, is Irving says he received no requests for National Guard help when Sund says he spoke to him at around 1 p.m. that day.
- The cause of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick’s death also remains a mystery, even though it’s become a symbol of the day’s intense violence.
Quote of the day
"I don’t know if he’ll run in 2024 or not, but if he does, I’m pretty sure he will win the nomination,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said of Trump’s 2024 chances.
Hot on the left
Stephen Miller, Trump’s immigration hawk, will brief House Republicans today. Miller, the architect of Trump’s controversial policies like the one leading to families being separated at the border, will discuss immigration with House Republicans as they mull Biden’s sweeping immigration overhaul, Politico reports. The meeting was organized by the Republican Study Committee, a group of traditionalist conservative lawmakers. Republicans, including Miller, have criticized Biden’s ambitious immigration plan, which was introduced last week by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). Miller, during a Fox News appearance, said the Democrats’ plan is “the most radical immigration bill ever written, drafted, or submitted in the history of this country.”
Biden’s immigration moves are also drawing criticism from liberals. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) lashed out against yesterday’s news that a camp for migrant children reopened in Texas:
Hot on the right
Heidi Cruz was “pretty pissed” her texts about the family’s Cancún sojourn were leaked, Sen. Ted Cruz said. The Texas Republican, who’s still on an apology tour over his trip to Mexico, also complained about his family’s treatment by the media, saying some of it was “really creepy,” Politico reports. The Cruzes were particularly upset over a reporter’s picture of their dog left at home and paparazzi shots of Heidi at the beach. “I will tell you, that she is pissed about,” Cruz said, adding: “Heidi is smoking hot, so I looked at the pictures and said, ‘Man, you look great.’ ”
Vaccination doses, visualized
This week in Washington
Biden and Harris will meet today with a bipartisan group of House and Senate members to discuss U.S. supply chains.
Harris will today swear-in Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture.
Biden will sign an executive order on the economy this evening.
The NASA Mars landing was a nice distraction from everything happening in our planet. Stephen Colbert agrees: