with Mariana Alfaro

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Two Biden administration stumbles this week one over whether the U.S. might shun the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, another over whether Major League Baseball should boycott Georgia due to its new voting restrictions highlight the difficulty of trying to harness sports for political ends.

The Georgia miscue raises questions about the White House’s contacts with its closest allies in the Peach State like former gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who warned against a boycott.

The Olympics dust-up raises questions about American communications with allies and partners, with whom President Biden has promised to form a united front to contain Beijing’s rising influence.

After months of sidestepping questions about a potential Olympics boycott, the State Department indicated Tuesday the United States and its allies were discussing whether and how to do so in retaliation for Beijing’s allegedly genocidal repression of the Uyghur minority.

I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it, but these discussions are underway,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in a back and forth about the U.S. withholding its participation in the Games.

It [a boycott] is something that we certainly wish to discuss and that it is certainly something that we understand that a coordinated approach will be not only in our interests but also in the interests of our allies and partners,” Price said. “So this is one of the issues that is on the agenda both now and going forward, and when we have something to announce, we will be sure to do that.” 

A day later, on Wednesday, the White House unequivocally walked back those comments. 

“We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We of course consult closely with allies and partners at all levels to define our common concerns and establish a shared approach.” 

“But there's no discussion underway of a change in our plans regarding the Beijing Olympics from the United States' point of view,” Psaki said.

Hours before Psaki spoke, Japan America’s closest ally in Asia, and the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics, now postponed to July 2021 because of the pandemic  denied it was part of any such conversations.

And China warned it would have an unspecified “robust” response to any boycott.

"The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. "The international community including the U.S. Olympic Committee will not accept it."

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee sternly repeated its opposition to a boycott, declaring “we do not believe that Team USA's young athletes should be used as political pawns.” (Last year, USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland apologized to America’s 1980 Olympians who were denied the chance to compete because of the U.S. boycott of the games in response to the U.S.S.R.’s invasion of Afghanistan.)

Some Republicans, like former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, have called for an Olympics boycott. But Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has pushed for letting U.S. athletes compete while embracing “an economic and diplomatic boycott.”

The Olympics weren’t the Biden administration’s only sports-themed political mulligan this week.

President Biden told ESPN’s “SportsCenter” last week he would “strongly support” Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the state’s new restrictions on voting, which he denounced as “Jim Crow on steroids.”

“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said. “People look to them. They’re leaders.”

Biden changed his tune on Tuesday, when asked whether the Masters golf tournament should also quit the Peach State.

I think that’s up to the Masters,” he told reporters. I think it’s a very tough decision for a corporation to make or a group to make, but I respect it when they make that judgment, and I support whatever judgment they make.”

And asked whether Biden regretted his All-Star Game remarks, Psaki told reporters Biden “was simply conveying that he would support that decision if that decision was made by Major League Baseball, just like he would support decisions made by private sector companies.”

“We're not standing here and calling for companies to boycott,” Psaki said.

That’s closer to where Abrams stands. In a March 31 USA Today piece, she argued “[i]nstead of a boycott, I strongly urge other events and productions to do business in Georgia and speak out against our law and similar proposals in other states.”

As for the state’s two new Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff has declaredI absolutely oppose and reject any notion of boycotting Georgia,” while Raphael Warnock said “It is my hope that businesses, athletes, and entertainers can protest this law not by leaving Georgia but by coming here and fighting voter suppression head on, and hand-in-hand with the community.”

What’s happening now

Biden is speaking in the Rose Garden to formally announce executive actions focused on curbing gun violence. "Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “But no amendment to the Constitution is absolute... The idea is just bizarre that some of the things that we’re recommending are contrary to the Constitution... Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment.”

The measures are his first major presidential actions on guns, Annie Linskey reports, and they include “new rules on firearms that are assembled at home, which lack serial numbers and are harder to track, among other moves designed to make it harder for unqualified people to obtain dangerous weapons.” Vice President Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland, first lady Jill Biden, Parkland and Newtown parents and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) are also at the event.

A breathing expert said George Floyd died from a “low level of oxygen” after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on his neck. Chauvin’s trial resumed this morning, and “Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist and national breathing expert ... offered testimony as an unpaid witness that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for the ‘vast majority of the time’ and that the pain from the pressure applied by the officer to Floyd was comparable to that of a surgery to remove a lung,” Timothy Bella and Kim Bellware report.

U.S. jobless claims rose to 744,000 last week, signaling that the virus is still forcing layoffs. “Jobless claims have declined sharply since the virus slammed into the economy in March of last year. But they remain stubbornly high by historical standards: Before the pandemic erupted, weekly applications typically remained below 220,000 a week,” the AP reports

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • We tested the first state ‘vaccine passport’ at Yankee Stadium. It’s not quite a home run,” by Geoffrey A. Fowler: “The good news: For the digitally savvy people who figure it out, using Excelsior Pass doesn’t appear to pose major privacy risks. The system, designed for the state by IBM, cannot be easily used by the state to track you. And it’s more discreet than the alternative of showing your medical records to a bouncer. But I question how effective Excelsior Pass will be at keeping everyone safe. For one, it’s pretty easy to set up a fake pass.”
  • Democratic governor in deep-red Kentucky signs bill to expand voting, bucking national trend,” by Tim Elfrink: “[Gov. Andy Beshear] signed the measure, which mandates three days of no-excuse early voting, ballot drop boxes in every county and an online portal to register for absentee voting, among other changes. ... [Beshear] made a subtle dig at the GOP legislatures that have taken an opposite tack, saying, ‘While some states have stepped in a different direction, I’m really proud of Kentucky.’”

… and beyond

  • After pandemic, shrinking need for office space could crush landlords,” by the New York Times’s Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag: “In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan, home to the country’s two largest central business districts, has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday, contributing to an estimated $1 billion drop-off in property tax revenue. ... Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent ... the highest in about a decade.”
  • Obligatory jabs ‘necessary in democratic society,’ ” by the AFP: “The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday ruled that obligatory vaccinations can be seen as necessary in democratic societies, in a landmark judgment after a complaint brought by Czech families over compulsory jabs for children.”
  • Table for none,” by Washington City Paper’s Laura Hayes: “Several D.C. restaurants survived the pandemic without letting customers cross the threshold. Was only offering takeout the right decision?”

The first 100 days

The White House is playing down the impact of Sen. Joe Manchin’s III (D-W.Va.) op-ed on Biden's infrastructure push. 
  • In the Post op-ed, Manchin said he will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster and lamented the use of budget reconciliation process by both parties to pass legislation without bipartisan support.
  • Speaking on CNN this morning, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said Biden expects “a little bit longer” process on the new bill and wants to work with Republicans, John Wagner reports. She declined to say when was the last time Biden and Manchin spoke.
  • “This is how the process plays out,” she said. “This is how it’s supposed to work. Senators raise their issues and concerns, and we’ll work through the process. I mean, President Biden has said himself many times that his preference is to do this through regular order.”
The White House and U.S. companies could agree on a 25 percent tax rate, officials and business groups say. 
  • The president continues pitching his $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure package, with his administration yesterday revealing details of a tax plan that would raise as much as $2.5 trillion over 15 years by, among other measures, raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. “Few people in Washington, including inside the White House, really think the rate will land there,” Reuters’s Jarret Renshaw reports.
  • “Biden made it clear on Wednesday that he is open to compromise, after a reporter asked if he would be willing to agree on a tax rate below 28%. Reuters interviewed more than a dozen corporate and White House officials engaged in the infrastructure push. Most expect the White House and business groups to compromise on a 25% corporate tax rate a level neither side would have chosen, but both can live with.”
  • Remember: “The U.S. corporate tax rate dropped to 21% from 35% after the 2017 tax cut pushed by former President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans, but many big U.S. companies pay much less.”
Biden wants to ease the housing shortage with a $5 billion approach. 
  • “Biden is seeking to ease a national affordable housing shortage by pushing local governments to allow apartment buildings in neighborhoods that are currently restricted to single-family homes,” Reuters’s Andy Sullivan and Renshaw report. “The $5 billion plan ... would provide financial incentives to local governments that change zoning laws restricting many neighborhoods to single-family homes.” The measures would be part of $2 trillion infrastructure bill.
The administration slapped export controls on Chinese firms for aiding weapons development. 
  • Seven Chinese firms and government labs are now under U.S. exports controls “for their involvement in China’s effort to build supercomputers that help develop nuclear and other advanced military weapons,” Ellen Nakashima reports.
  • “All seven are linked to China’s ambition to build the world’s first exascale computer, Commerce Department officials said. An exascale computer — the next frontier in high-performance computing — can handle a million trillion calculations per second. That’s the sort of speed necessary to more accurately model the heat and drag on hypersonic vehicles, a field of advanced weapons research in which the Chinese military is already engaged.”
The White House is considering pledging to cut U.S. emissions by 50 percent or more by the end of the decade. 
  • “The emissions-reduction goal, which is still being developed and subject to change, is part of a White House push to encourage worldwide action to keep average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels,” Bloomberg’s Ari Natter, Jennifer Dlouhy and Will Wade report. “The administration is expected to unveil the target before a climate summit later this month.” 

More on the pandemic

U.S. intelligence officials’ forecast for a post-pandemic world is pretty bleak. 
  • Today, “the National Intelligence Council, a center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that creates strategic forecasts and estimates, often based on material gathered by U.S. spy agencies, released its quadrennial ‘Global Trends’ report,” Shane Harris reports. “It finds a world unsettled by the coronavirus pandemic, the ravages of climate change — which will propel mass migration — and a widening gap between what people demand from their leaders and what they can actually deliver.”
  • “The report sees the international stage as largely being shaped by a rivalry between China and the United States, along with its allies. No single state is poised to become the dominant global force, the authors write.” The report imagines five scenarios:
  • Scenario 1: The rosiest picture says we’re headed towards a “Renaissance of democracies,” ushering a new era of U.S. global leadership.
  • Scenario 2: In the darker end of the future, the U.S. is no longer the dominant player, “and a global environmental catastrophe prompts food shortages and a ‘bottom-up’ revolution, with younger people… embracing policies to repair the climate and tackle long-standing social inequality.”
  • Scenarios 3, 4 and 5 are the inbetweeners: “China becomes a leading state but not globally dominant; the United States and China prosper and compete as the two major powers; and globalization fails to create a single source of influence, and the world more or less devolves into competing blocs.”
The rise of virus variants will define the next phase of the pandemic in America. 
  • “The highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the United Kingdom now accounts for 27 percent of all cases in this country. It is the most common variant in the United States, [said] Rochelle Walensky, CDC director,” Lenny Bernstein, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Terrence McCoy and Jacqueline Dupree report. “Two other variants, which took root in South Africa and Brazil and also are more transmissible, are cropping up with increasing frequency in parts of the United States.”
Biden officials have rebuffed appeals to surge the vaccine to Michigan amid growing infections. 
  • “Instead, the federal government is sticking to a vaccine-allocation strategy that largely awards doses to states and territories based on their population,” Stat News’s Lev Facher reports
  • White House officials yesterday “acknowledged that Michigan’s situation is dire. They gave no indication, though, that they would send additional vaccines there to help quell the surge. ... They argued that it is too early in the national vaccine campaign to begin targeting supply based on case rates.”

Health-care workers on covid-19, visualized

Health-care workers shared the hardest parts of working during the pandemic, which had a  negative impact on their mental health, a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found. 

Trump, post-presidency

The Trump Organization hired a criminal defense lawyer.  
  • “Ronald Fischetti, an experienced New York criminal-defense attorney, [will] represent [the organization] in Manhattan prosecutors’ investigation into the business dealings of the former president and his company,” the Wall Stree Journal reports. “Fischetti, 84 years old, is a former law partner of Mark Pomerantz, the former federal prosecutor working on the [Manhattan prosecutors’] investigation.” 
Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is advising Caitlyn Jenner on a potential run for California governor.
  • Talk about worlds colliding: “Specifically, he is conferring with the reality star on who should fill what roles in her campaign organization as she builds out a team,” the Daily Beast reports. Jenner has “enlisted other Republican consultants and was mulling a run for the state’s highest office as Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall campaign that is gaining momentum but has not won widespread popularity. Jenner supported Trump in his first campaign for presidency.”

Quote of the day

“The bottom line is this: To save New York, Andrew Cuomo’s gotta go,” said New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, a staunch conservative and Trump supporter who announced this morning that he’s entering the 2022 race for New York governor. 

Hot on the left

Independent Nebraskan journalist Ross Benes doesn’t think Democrats will be able to regain territory in the Cornhusker State in the near future. In an interview with the American Prospect, Benes said that, “In rural areas, what has driven partisanship is perception of government. It’s frustrating because rural areas tend to receive more government investment per capita than urban areas. ... They definitely are receiving a lot of government help already; otherwise, their towns would not exist. I don’t see the Democratic Party coming back in the near term, not on a statewide basis. Their best chance is to win some big races in Omaha, build some momentum, and get people excited about running again and donating to the party.” 

Hot on the right

Alabama Republican Secretary of State John Merrill admitted to an affair and dropped his Senate bid. He did so hours after denying the affair on a local conservative radio show, Katie Shepherd reports. What made him recant? An Al.com reporter, who confronted him with a recording of an explicit phone call between him and a woman. “It’s clear that I had an inappropriate relationship with her, and it is not something that I am proud of or something that is something that — I’m very disappointed in myself,” Merrill, who is married with two children, told AL.com. “I’m also disappointed that I allowed my family to be embarrassed by this action.” Merrill was one of several likely GOP contenders to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who is retiring. Others in the running include Rep. Mo Brooks (R).

Today in Washington

Biden and Vice President Harris will receive a coronavirus briefing today at 4:15 p.m. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is kicking off a two-day visit to Utah, where she will discuss the potential restoration of national monuments slashed in size by the Trump administration.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is heading to the border today, his third trip there since taking office. He will meet with NGOs, law enforcement officials and front-line DHS employees, among others. This morning, Biden officials said border agents took more than 172,000 into custody in March, making it the busiest month along the Mexico border in nearly two decades, Nick Miroff reports

In closing

Stephen Colbert joked that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) is “about to get arrested by the real police – and the fashion police”: 

And a D.C. local got a bit of work done: