President Biden’s shoo-in nominee to be CIA director, William J. Burns, delighted senators considering his confirmation by taking a hard line on Beijing. In doing so, however, he went further than Biden has publicly on the question of how to counter an alleged Chinese propaganda campaign inside the United States.
Republicans have been hunting high and low for evidence to support their contention that “Beijing Biden” favors appeasing China. Nothing significant has materialized to date, but the GOP appears to see the issue as an electoral winner at a time when both parties consider global Sino-U.S. rivalry as the defining foreign policy issue for the foreseeable future.
That’s the context for Burns’s comments yesterday about Confucius Institutes, Chinese-language instruction centers operating in partnership with American institutions but funded and controlled by Beijing. The connection has raised bipartisan U.S. concerns that their actual purpose is to influence public opinion as well as major institutions of higher education.
Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, newly confirmed, had faced Republican fire over an October 2019 speech at Savannah State University that was part of a lecture series sponsored by the Confucius Institutes.
As my colleagues John Hudson and Anne Gearan reported yesterday:
“Thomas-Greenfield said she knew of the affiliation when she accepted the engagement but became alarmed afterward at what she saw as a predatory effort by the Chinese organization to exert influence at the historically Black university.”
In his confirmation hearing, Burns placed China at the top of the list of global challenges he would confront if he is confirmed to lead the Central Intelligence Agency — as the well-regarded career diplomat almost certainly will.
“Out-competing China will be key to our national security in the decades ahead,” Burns said. “For CIA that will mean intensified focus and urgency, continually strengthening its already impressive cadre of China specialists, expanding its language skills, aligning personnel and resource allocation for the long haul and employing a whole of agency approach to the operational and analytical challenges of this crucial threat.”
Various senior Chinese officials have publicly called on Biden to soften his approach to bilateral ties, notably on trade, where tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump have roiled relations, and on what Beijing calls people-to-people contacts.
“I hope the new administration will remove the stumbling blocks to people-to-people exchanges, like harassing Chinese students, restricting Chinese media outlets, shutting down Confucius Institutes and suppressing Chinese companies,” China’s senior foreign policy official, Jang Yiechi, said earlier this month. “These policy measures are not only wrong but also unpopular.”
In response to a question from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Burns said Confucius Institutes exist “to build sympathy” for Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s rule and constitute a “genuine risk” as a foreign influence operation.
“And so, my advice for any institutions in the United States, including academic institutions, is to be extraordinarily careful” when engaging them, Burns said.
Asked by Collins whether he would recommend shutting them down, Burns replied: "If I were president of a college, a university and had a Confucius Institute, that's certainly what I would do.”
Asked whether Biden shared Burns’s view, the White House provided a statement that described the institutes as part of “China’s use of information operations and other coercive and corrupting efforts to undermine and interfere in democracies” but did not explicitly say yes or no.
It was the same language State Department spokesman Ned Price used earlier this month in response to fierce Republican criticisms of the administration’s decision to freeze, and effectively kill, a requirement that schools disclose their financial connections to Confucius Institutes.
“When it comes to this administration, we’ll treat Confucius Institutes as part of our overall approach of how best to respond to China’s use of information operations and other coercive and corrupting efforts to undermine and interfere in democracies,” Price said. He declined to say whether the administration would try to revive the requirement.
At the time, Republicans had denounced the move.
But the look at Confucius Institutes is part of a wholesale assessment of Chinese connections to American higher education.
In 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency had “concerns” about Confucius Institutes. “It is something that we’re watching warily,” Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Last year, a wave of Confucius Institute closures reached Biden’s home state, when the center at the University of Delaware shut down.
What’s happening now
Trump's tax returns and other related records have been turned over to the Manhattan district attorney. The records Trump fought to keep secret for years are now in the hands of New York District Attorney Cy Vance, CNN reports. Prosecutors obtained the documents on Monday just hours after the Supreme Court denied Trump’s last-ditch effort to keep them private. The files include Trump's tax returns “from January 2011 to August 2019, as well as financial statements, engagement agreements, documents relating to the preparation and review of tax returns.” Vance is investigating whether Trump and the Trump Organization “engaged in tax fraud, insurance fraud and other schemes to defraud.”
CPAC is here, and the focus is not on ideas, but on Trump’s grievances. The conference, which began today and will end Sunday with Trump’s first speech since leaving the White House, features seven main-stage panels or speeches that will litigate the 2020 election, with speakers who mostly — and incorrectly — argue that Trump won, David Weigel reports.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) faces new blowback from other Republicans after saying Trump shouldn’t play a role “in the future of the party or the country.” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said it’s time for the GOP to evaluate Cheney’s position among House Republicans, arguing that she has lost her right to serve as House Republican Conference chairwoman following her comments. (John Wagner and Mike DeBonis)
The acting Capitol Police Chief said her “department was not ignorant of intelligence indicating an attack of the size and scale we encountered on the Jan. 6.” “There was no such intelligence,” Yogananda Pittman told the House. “Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol. Nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat.”
The president and Vice President Harris will headline the House Democrats’ first-ever virtual retreat next week. Democrats will gather remotely Tuesday and Wednesday, with Biden speaking Wednesday and Harris, as well as Secretary of State Tony Blinken, addressing the crowd on Tuesday. (Politico)
And former House Speaker John Boehner’s audiobook might have a kick to it:
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “A Capitol rioter texted his ex during the insurrection to call her a ‘moron,’ feds say. She turned him in,” by Timothy Bella: “Standing on the Capitol steps on Jan. 6, Richard Michetti allegedly took a break from the rioting to argue with his ex-girlfriend over text message. After sending photos and videos of the mob and boasting how he had avoided tear gas, Michetti parroted Trump’s false claims of election fraud… The next day, the woman he had insulted promptly told the FBI that her ex was at the Capitol, handing over to law enforcement the string of texts, photos and videos he had sent to her.”
- “Shhh: No cheering or shouting at Tokyo Olympic torch relay. But clapping allowed,” by Simon Denyer: “Spectators aren’t being discouraged from attending, organizers stressed. But crowds are, if you can work out when a group of spectators becomes a crowd.”
- “This rural liberal set out to talk to his pro-Trump neighbors,” by Bill Donahue, who lives in Gilmanton, N.H., a town that, as of 2019, is 96.5 percent White and that, last November, supported Trump. Donahue took the task of discussing race with White neighbors who criticized his liberal positions on social media: “I was allying with the decentralized racial justice movement, which decries violence against Black people, because I wanted to suggest that, even in a tradition-bound small town, change is possible. … But I knew that I was taking a controversial stance… All told, I write to 13 detractors. … So I’m happy when I get a warm reply from local conservative Valerie Cote, whose Facebook screen name is Tocho A’Hagi. … I’d contacted Cote because she followed up my rally announcement with a post asking, ‘Are you tired of anti-law enforcement nonsense?’ … Her great-grandmother was a Mi’kmaq Indian … I ask her if she feels any solidarity with the Black Lives Matter notion that historical wrongs must be righted. ‘I can understand that people are a product of where they come from,’ she says, ‘and the inner city, where drugs are available left and right — it’s a lot like an Indian reservation. But the question is, ‘How do you pull yourself up out of it?’ … Look, white privilege exists only if you let it exist.’ … [My friends are] horrified and suggest that, simply by communing with such a gunslinger, I’ve slipped over to the dark side. … [But for me], great conversations are rooted in courage and trust. We need them to keep our nation civil and stable, and during the past few weeks I’ve seen just how difficult it is to make them happen. Over and over, I’ve been stonewalled and reminded that a lot of people would rather say cruel things online than talk in person.”
… and beyond
- “Trump plots future - and revenge - from sunny Florida links,” by CNN’s Kate Bennett: “He typically spends mornings on his nearby golf course, making and taking calls from a golf cart that doubles as his mobile, and self-driven, office. The multiple trips to the links in the last few weeks have served to accomplish a long-promised goal, says someone who spent time with him recently: Trump claims he has increased his drive by 20 yards, a new favorite brag to golfing partners, or anyone who will listen.”
- “Key Biden aide said pandemic was ‘best thing that ever happened to him,’ book says,” by the Guardian’s Martin Pengelly: “The remark, made to ‘an associate’ by Anita Dunn, a Washington powerbroker who the Atlantic called ‘The Mastermind Behind Biden’s No-Drama Approach to Trump’, is reported in Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes … Though “both Trump and Biden were comfortable with the stylistic and substantive contrasts of their … responses to the coronavirus”, Allen and Parnes write, “Trump led loudly, Biden calmly said Trump misled.'"
Quote of the day
“What we are seeing here is the cruelty and inhumanity of Joe Biden’s immigration policies,” Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s family separation policies, said without an ounce of irony in an interview with Fox News. Biden "came into office and announced that there’s an open door and that young people who come into this country illegally are going to be resettled instead of returned. He is forcing thousands of young children into the arms of smugglers.”
Biden’s nominations to his administration are moving at a glacial pace — and the president blames Trump. “I blame it on the failure to have a transition that is rational,” Biden told reporters. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Biden had no Cabinet secretaries who lead the largest federal departments confirmed on Day 1. So far, only nine of Biden’s 23 Cabinet-level nominees who require Senate approval have been confirmed.
Many of Biden’s nominees of color are running into Senate blockades.
- The president’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American nominees are encountering more political turbulence than their White counterparts, Annie Linskey reports.
- Neera Tanden, who would be the first Indian American to lead the Office of Management and Budget, has run into a buzz saw of opposition because of her mean tweets, attacking lawmakers left and right. Her allies say that's unfair because the line of attack focuses on Tanden's tone rather than her qualifications or policies. Trump nominees who also had a history of mean tweets, they point out, did not go through similar grilling.
- The White House continues to publicly back Tanden. Last night, Chief of Staff Ron Klain told MSNBC that Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who may have sunk Tanden’s nomination when he announced his opposition to her, “doesn’t answer to us at the White House. He answers to the people of West Virginia.” All eyes are still on Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
- Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Biden’s pick to be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, is being cast by Republicans as a “radical.”
- Vanita Gupta, who is Indian American and the nominee to be associate attorney general at the Justice Department, has become the target of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign by conservative groups labeling her “dangerous.”
- Conservatives argue that Xavier Becerra, who is Latino and Biden’s nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department, isn’t qualified for the job because he’s not a doctor. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who told Becerra during his confirmation hearing that being a lawyer disqualifies him for the job, voted for Trump’s health secretary, Alex Azar, even though he is also not a doctor. (Just three of the agency’s secretaries have been physicians). Still, Cassidy thinks Becerra will be confirmed.
- A data point of particular note to civil rights groups: Republicans have required Senate test votes for three of Biden’s Cabinet-level nominees of color, which has contributed to a longer confirmation process.
- The Republican defense? “Republicans are opposing these people because they are out of the mainstream and it has nothing to do with race,” said a Senate GOP aide.
- Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), noted that 41 Democrats voted against then-Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson and six voted against former transportation secretary Elaine Chao.
Team Biden tapped Asian American groups to mount a last-minute campaign to save Tanden.
- These groups are calling and sending letters to the Senate and advocating for Tanden online to try to combat what they call “structural racism,” Politico reports.
- The campaign’s targets are the three senators who have yet to declare their intentions: Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa); Murkowski and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
- Meanwhile, a possible Tanden replacement is privately touting her own Senate support. Ann O’Leary, who recently served as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) chief of staff and is a leading fallback option, has publicly and privately rallied behind Tanden. At the same time, however, she has told Democratic associates she’s a skilled policy architect and a less partisan alternative, Politico reports. She has gone as far as telling them that she could be confirmed by the Senate.
Manchin will support Haaland's nomination, confirming his role as the Senate’s pivotal vote.
- Manchin's role as Senate kingmaker in a 50-50 chambers continues. “Given the political divisions currently facing our country, I believe that every Presidential nominee and every Member of Congress must be committed to a new era of bipartisanship," he said, Amy B Wang reports.
Biden named two Democrats and a voting rights advocate to the USPS board of governors, signaling that Louis DeJoy’s time as postmaster general may soon be over.
- DeJoy, the Republican donor put in charge of the U.S. Postal Service by Trump, defiantly told Congress yesterday he would press forward with plans to raise prices and slow the mail, all while brushing off calls for him to resign, Jacob Bogage, Christopher Ingraham and Hannah Denham report.
- Soon after, the White House announced three nominees to fill openings on the Postal Service’s governing board: Ron Stroman, the Postal Service’s recently retired deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union.
- If they’re confirmed by the Senate, the nine-member board would be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, with McReynolds as the lone independent. The new slate would create a Democratic advantage and potentially have the votes to oust DeJoy.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Mexico and Canada — virtually.
- Blinken will begin his first “virtual trip” abroad tomorrow, filling an itinerary of videoconferences with Mexican and Canadian leaders, John Hudson reports. Though the first trip of the top U.S. diplomat is typically imbued with fanfare, the pandemic will keep Blinken and his entourage behind TV monitors in D.C. “We’re trying to make diplomatic lemonade out of the lemons that 2020 and 2021 have dealt us,” said a State Department official.
- Conversations on immigration and energy challenges are at the top of the agenda.
The first 100 days
Biden, who is being slammed for following through on his pledges of bipartisanship, is courting GOP governors.
- In his first five weeks in office, Biden has spent as much time — if not more — courting GOP governors as he is wooing the senators he needs to pass legislation, Matt Viser reports. It is part of a strategy that lays the groundwork to make something of an end-run around Republicans in Congress, looking outside the Beltway for allies who might help him make good on his promises of bipartisanship.
- Today, he will deliver virtual remarks to the National Governors Association. Still, some GOP governors are aggravated that Biden’s White House has not given them a heads-up on energy or immigration policies with a big impact on their states, and they bristle at the lack of personal outreach so far. But Biden is still receiving higher marks from many for his handling of the pandemic.
Biden, squeezed by his own immigration promises, is bracing for a border crisis.
- The White House has infuriated some supporters by expelling tens of thousands of migrants, restoring an unlicensed shelter for migrant children and struggling to implement policy changes without a full staff in place, Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff report. Biden is scrambling to explain to some Democrats that his “Day One” promises for a gentler immigration system will take more time with health and economic crises engulfing the United States.
- Meanwhile, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement email obtained by The Post shows the administration has already entered crisis mode on the southern border. “We need to prepare for border surges now,” Timothy Perry, ICE’s new chief of staff, wrote in a Feb. 12 email. “We need to begin making changes immediately.”
- The administration is so worried about running out of shelter space for migrant minors that shelters have been authorized to purchase airplane tickets and cover other transportation costs for minors whose relatives are already living in the U.S.
Congressional leaders are split over how the balance the panel tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for the independent commission that is expected to study the attack to be made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, Felicia Sonmez reports. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s initial proposal of a panel calls for seven Democratic appointees and four GOP appointees.
Hot on the left
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was blasted for attacking a colleague’s transgender daughter. “After a contentious debate on the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community, Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) on Wednesday raised a transgender pride flag outside her office — which happens to sit directly across from the office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of the bill’s most vocal opponents,” Katie Shepherd reports. “Greene, who lost her committee memberships by promoting false and extremist claims, quickly responded with her own video mocking Newman’s earlier tweet as she hung up a poster that said: ‘There are TWO genders: Male & Female. Trust The Science!’” Newman's child is transgender. This morning, Newman noted that Facebook removed a video of her putting up the trans flag while Greene's video showing her placing her sign remained online:
Hot on the right
Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), accused him of sexual harassment. In a Medium post, Boylan, who eventually resigned from Cuomo’s team, described deep discomfort with Cuomo starting in 2016, when she says her boss told her the governor had a “crush” on her. She outlined several episodes of behavior she says left her “nauseous” going to work.
Cuomo “has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected,” Boylan wrote. “His inappropriate behavior toward women was an affirmation that he liked you, that you must be doing something right. He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences.”
In response to Boylan’s Medium post, Cuomo spokeswoman Caitlin Girouard reiterated that Boylan's “claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false.” Girouard focused on the former’s aide’s anecdote about Cuomo allegedly suggesting they “play strip poker” while seated close together on Cuomo’s jet in October 2017. Four people listed as taking flights with Cuomo and Boylan that month issued a statement through the governor’s office saying that the conversation Boylan described “did not happen.” Girouard did not comment on other specifics of Boylan’s account, Hannah Knowles and Reis Thebault report. Some New York lawmakers have called for an investigation, and the Democratic leader of the state Senate said the ex-aide’s claims were “deeply disturbing.”
Boylan’s allegations come as Cuomo faces a scandal over withholding of data on coronavirus deaths in the New York's nursing homes. New York City tabloids plastered Cuomo’s face all over their front pages:
Vaccines to watch, visualized
This week in Washington
Biden and Harris will receive a coronavirus briefing this afternoon before participating in an event commemorating the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccine shot at 2:30 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., Biden will participate in the National Governors Association’s winter meeting.
The Senate will vote at 12:10 to confirm Jennifer Granholm as Energy secretary. This morning, the Senate confirmed Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade representative. Vivek Murthy, Biden’s pick for surgeon general, appeared before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this morning.
The House will vote on the Equality Act at around 4 p.m.
Seth Meyers shamed those cheating their way into a coronavirus vaccine:
And Pelosi, who often shades others by pretending to not know their names, called Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) “Don” (à la “Miami Vice”):