with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1943, the Supreme Court rules 6-3 in W.Va State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students cannot be forced to salute the U.S. flag.

President Biden waited four weeks after inauguration before speaking by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what was widely interpreted as a diplomatic snub.

On Sunday, he barely waited two hours after Netanyahu’s ouster to warmly welcome his successor, Naftali Bennett, evidence of how keenly the White House seems to desire a diplomatic reset with America’s closest Middle East ally.

Neither the official U.S. summary of the call, nor a separate statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcoming the new Israeli government’s formation, even mentioned Netanyahu, who has vowed to return to power.

The White House “readout” of the conversation said Biden offered his “warm congratulations” to Bennett, who replaced a right-wing leader frequently at odds with President Barack Obama on Iran and Middle East peacemaking.

But the language of the summary also suggested an eagerness to de-personalize the U.S.-Israel relationship after 12 years of Netanyahu, while reaffirming the president’s bona fides as a friend to Israel.

“President Biden highlighted his decades of steadfast support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” it said. “He expressed his firm intent to deepen cooperation between the United States and Israel on the many challenges and opportunities facing the region.”

“The leaders agreed that they and their teams would consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran,” and Biden “also conveyed that his administration intends to work closely with the Israeli government on efforts to advance peace, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians."

Where Biden hopes to restore and strengthen the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu’s political identity hinged in part on becoming the agreement’s No. 1 enemy, notably denouncing it in a fiery speech the prime minister gave to the U.S. Congress six years ago, ahead of Israeli elections.

For his part, the politician known everywhere as Bibi savaged his successor on the way out the door and, my colleagues Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin report, “compared the Biden administration’s push to renew the Iran deal to the U.S. failure during World War II to bomb the Nazi trains that took European Jews to the gas chambers.”

‘Bennett hasn’t got the international standing, the integrity, the capability, the knowledge and he hasn’t got the government to oppose the nuclear agreement,’ Netanyahu said. ‘An Israeli prime minister needs to be able to say no to the leader of the world’s superpower.’”

(A senior Israeli diplomat told Barak Ravid of Axios Netanyahu “decided to damage the U.S.-Israel relationship for his own personal interests and is trying to leave scorched earth for the incoming government.")

When it comes to differences on Iran, the new prime minister reportedly plans a less publicly confrontational approach. 

But he’s no friend to the deal.

In a speech to the Knesset before lawmakers ratified his coalition’s power-sharing deal, ending Netanyahu’s tenure, Bennett said the 2015 agreement “emboldened Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, and with international legitimacy.”

“Renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake,” Bennett said. “Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Israel is not party to the agreement, and will maintain full freedom to act.”

After years of Netanyahu cultivating support from American conservatives, to the detriment of Democratic support for his administration, Bennett explicitly vowed in his speech to cultivate “bipartisan” relations.

“If there are disputes, we will manage them with fundamental trust, and mutual respect,” he underlined.

Biden, who has known Netanyahu for years, most recently clashed with the pugnacious former prime minister in mid-May, bluntly insisting Israel de-escalate its strikes on Gaza in retaliation for rocket attacks by Hamas.

On Twitter, the new prime minister thanked Biden for his message.

Steve and Shira flesh out the complexities of the current moment in Israeli politics:

Under the coalition’s power-sharing deal, Bennett is to be replaced in the top job after two years by Yair Lapid, a centrist politician and former TV news anchor who clinched the second largest number of votes after Netanyahu’s Likud party in March.

Lapid brokered the power-sharing deal among eight parties with little in common beyond a determination to end the contentious rule of Netanyahu, who has clung to power despite being on trial for corruption and failing to secure a majority after four inconclusive elections in two years.”

Blinken spoke by phone with Lapid, underscoring “the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, the importance of maintaining a cessation of hostilities, opportunities to deepen and broaden normalization of diplomatic relations, the threat posed by Iran, and other regional priorities.”

The two men “acknowledged the strong partnership between the United States and Israel, and the Secretary noted that he looked forward to welcoming the Minister to Washington soon as the two governments work to build an even stronger relationship between our countries and our peoples.”

What’s happening now

Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine is 90 percent effective, a study found. “Novavax, a Maryland biotechnology company that endured delays in developing a coronavirus vaccine, revealed results Monday showing that the world is close to having another shot that prevents illness and death, stops virus variants — and proves easy to store,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “The two-shot regimen was 90 percent effective at preventing people from falling ill in a 30,000-person trial conducted when variants had begun to complicate the pandemic in the United States and Mexico.”

“The United States is not planning to support Afghan forces with air strikes after the U.S. troops withdrawal is complete, and counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan will be limited to instances when attack plans have been discovered to strike the U.S. homeland or the homelands of our allies, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East,” VOA’s Carla Babb reports. “The general’s comments appear to refute a report by the New York Times that said the Pentagon is considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan security forces if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban.”

The Supreme Court put off a decision on reviewing Harvard’s race-conscious admissions system. “The court asked the Biden administration’s acting solicitor general to weigh in on whether the court should take the case. The Trump administration had supported Harvard’s challengers in lower court, but it is likely the new administration will side with the university,” Robert Barnes reports. “The court’s request on the Harvard case means the justices likely would not consider it again until the fall. But it could mean only that acceptance of the case is delayed, and it could still be heard in the term that begins in October.” 

The court also ruled that low-level crack cocaine offenders can’t benefit from sentencing reforms under a criminal justice bill signed by Trump in 2018 known as the First Step Act, per Reuters’s Lawrence Hurley

The court had no more decisions today, but it still has more than 15 cases in its docket that must be cleared before July. 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Biden’s vow to limit ethics conflicts finds a test case: the Ricchetti brothers,” by Michael Scherer and Sean Sullivan. “When Biden flew to Detroit last month to highlight his infrastructure plans for a new network of electric car-charging stations, a White House official announced on Air Force One that senior counselor Steve Ricchetti had stayed behind to negotiate the bill with Republicans. Left unmentioned was that Ricchetti’s brother, Jeff Ricchetti, was also working on the infrastructure bill as a lobbyist for General Motors, hired to push funding for charging stations in the House, the Senate and at the U.S. Commerce Department, according to federal documents. …
    The separate efforts by one of Biden’s most influential advisers and his brother, with whom he partnered in a lobbying firm until 2012, had been popping up for weeks on the radar of White House ethics lawyers. … They required Steve Ricchetti to recuse himself from involvement with ‘particular matters’ for four companies that paid his brother to lobby Biden’s executive office. ... But under White House ethics guidance, Jeff Ricchetti’s work with General Motors did not trigger a recusal for his brother, both because his lobbying targeted a Cabinet agency and not the Executive Office of the President, and because the issue of electric charging stations applied broadly to the car industry and was not considered a matter specific to the company. … The booming business and political influence of the Ricchetti brothers have served as an early test case of just how far Biden will go to make good on his promise to turn the page on the Trump administration’s approach to ethics."
  • Temp checks, digital menus and ‘touchless’ mustard: The maddening persistence of ‘hygiene theater,’ ” by Marc Fisher: “At McDonald’s outlets along I-95 in Virginia, yellow police-style tape cordons off self-serve beverage stations. And at Nationals Park, baseball fans use a QR code and digital menu rather than ordering directly from the person who hands them their hot dog. None of these precautions provide meaningful protection against the spread of the coronavirus, safety experts say. Instead, they are examples of what critics call ‘hygiene theater,’ the deployment of symbolic tactics that do little to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but may make some anxious consumers feel safer.”
  • Central American women are fleeing domestic violence amid a pandemic. Few find refuge in U.S.,” by Paulina Villegas: “Scores of Central American women who — after fleeing brutal violence from boyfriends, spouses and others in one of the world’s most dangerous regions for women — have recently arrived at the southern U.S. border only to encounter an uphill battle to be let in. Though Biden quickly signed several executive orders to roll back some of President Donald Trump’s most draconian policies — including one that sent asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their court hearings — a number of other restrictive measures and rulings that directly affect domestic violence survivors remain in place.”

… and beyond

  • US assessing reported leak at Chinese nuclear power facility,” by CNN’s Zachary Cohen: “The warning included an accusation that the Chinese safety authority was raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province in order to avoid having to shut it down, according to a letter from the French company to the US Department of Energy obtained by CNN.”
  • Saudi assassins picked up illicit drugs in Cairo to kill Khashoggi,” by Yahoo News’s Michael Isikoff ”What the drugs were — and who provided them in the middle of the night at Cairo’s airport — remains a mystery. But the previously undisclosed Cairo connection points for the first time to the possible existence of Egyptian accomplices in Khashoggi’s death. It also provides compelling new evidence of what the Saudi government had long denied: that the hit team, dispatched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, intended to kill the journalist before the plane ever took off from Riyadh and well before Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul later that day.”
  • Ralph Northam reflects on his journey back from the edge,” by the New York Times’s Astead Herndon: “Just two years ago, nearly every national politician in the Democratic Party was calling for Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia to resign. A racist picture was discovered on Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page, and the physician-turned-politician said he did not know which person he was in the photograph — the white man dressed in blackface or the one in Ku Klux Klan regalia. ... Northam sat down for an extended interview to discuss his 2019 scandal ... [Herndon asked] ‘I hear what you’re saying. I also think — as a Black person — isn’t this also a story of how someone can rise to be governor without ever learning that history? Isn’t there also a story of immense privilege here?’ [Nordstrom replied] ‘There’s no question about that. And I think if you look at my life, it’s been a story of privilege. I have had a life of privilege, and that’s why I want to level the playing field.’ ”

More on Biden's trip

Biden is meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. He will give him a list of demands, but Putin may ignore them. 
  • Biden plans to press Putin “in their upcoming meeting to rein in ransomware attacks launched from Russian soil. He is expected to demand that Russia withdraw from Ukraine. He will almost certainly tell the Russian president to stop interfering in U.S. elections,” Ashley Parker, Anne Gearan and Isabelle Khurshudyan report. “But those demands raise a question that is vexing U.S. policymakers and the United States’ European allies: What happens if Putin ignores the demands, as he has signaled he will do?”
  • “Putin is unlikely to agree substantially to cut back his aggressive activities, diplomats say, and may not even acknowledge that they’re occurring. ... Biden has imposed sanctions on Russia for its cyberattacks and election interference, and he said last week he will take action whenever Russia engages in ‘harmful activities.’ But he also acknowledged the limits of his power. ‘There’s no guarantee you can change a person’s behavior or the behavior of his country,’ Biden told reporters Sunday. ‘Autocrats have enormous power, and they don’t have to answer to a public.’ ”
  • “Few issues better illustrate Biden’s dilemma than the recent ransomware attacks on U.S. companies from cybercriminal collectives in Russia. ... Putin is likely to be dismissive, however.”
  • “While Biden said last week that his meeting with Putin will enable him to ‘let him know what I want him to know,’ some analysts suggested Putin is likely to be impervious to Biden’s communication style. ... Because one of Biden’s aims is simply to signal a tougher stand, the White House is likely to cast any strong showing by the president as a success, even if the meeting yields no specific breakthroughs.”
Biden, arriving at NATO, reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to NATO, calling it “essential for America.”
  • “NATO is critically important,” Biden said after he was greeted by Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, John Wagner reports. “Article 5, we take as a sacred obligation.”
  • “Under Article 5, an attack on one NATO ally is considered an attack on all allies. The tenet was at times questioned under Trump. ‘I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there,’ Biden told Stoltenberg. ‘I just want to thank you for your leadership.’”
  • Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Biden’s presence at NATO “emphasizes the renewal of the transatlantic partnership.” Croo's comment “was a thinly veiled contrast to Biden’s predecessor, Trump, who questioned at times why the United States should protect smaller countries and constantly needled other NATO members to boost their defense spending,” Wagner notes.
Amid strained U.S.-Turkey relations, Biden and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit. 
  • “Erdogan took the high road at a Sunday news conference as he left home for a meeting with Biden at the NATO summit in Brussels, dismissing ‘rumors’ about the state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship and suggesting they ‘leave all these behind and speak about what we can do together,’” Karen DeYoung and Kareem Fahim report.
  • “The last time Biden met with the Turkish leader, during a vice-presidential visit to Ankara in 2016, it was to deny Erdogan’s charges that the United States had helped plot a coup attempt against him. In Istanbul earlier that year, Biden publicly criticized Erdogan’s arrests of journalists, political opponents and academics.”
  • “In the months leading up to the summit, relations between Ankara and Washington under Biden have often been acrimonious, reaching a nadir in April, when Biden recognized the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, in a break with previous presidents. But Erdogan’s reaction was unexpectedly muted.”
  • “[This meeting’s] agenda includes last year’s U.S. cancellation of Turkey’s participation in the U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and congressionally mandated sanctions on the Turkish defense industry for Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.”
As Biden meets with world leaders, lawmakers back home are focusing on infrastructure. 
  • Congressional lawmakers are returning to the Capitol today ahead of a pivotal week for the future of infrastructure reform, Tony Romm reports
  • “At the center of the debate is an infrastructure compromise brokered by 10 Senate Democrats and Republicans. The bloc, largely composed of moderates, now faces the new, tough task of selling their deal to both fellow lawmakers and the White House, just days after talks between Biden and another group of GOP leaders reached a political impasse. ‘We're talking to folks, one by one, and just asking folks to be open,’ said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) in advance of the new plan's release.”
  • “Some Democrats already have expressed discomfort with the early details of the nearly $1 trillion, five-year package, arguing it should be bigger and more robust in scope. Republicans, meanwhile, signaled there may not be widespread support for it within their own party, either. And the White House said at the end of last week it has ‘questions’ about lawmakers’ approach.”
  • “But congressional Democrats have said they are not willing to wait much longer in courting Republicans. They’ve already started laying the groundwork to proceed on infrastructure potentially on their own.”

Quote of the day

“I think we’re in a contest, not with China per se, but a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden told reporters during the first news conference of his trip.

The future of the GOP

Republican candidates are being warned not to fake a Trump endorsement. 
  • “Lynda Blanchard donated nearly $1 million to pro-Donald Trump political committees, served as his ambassador to Slovenia and launched her Alabama Senate campaign with a video spotlighting her Trump bumper sticker-adorned pickup truck. But the former president was annoyed after hearing from donors that Blanchard was hyping her connections to Trump and giving them the impression she had his backing,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports. Trump endorsed longtime ally Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) instead.
  • “Candidates up and down the ballot are portraying themselves as staunch Trump loyalists, showing off photos they've taken with the former president, divulging private conversations they’ve had with him and, in Blanchard’s case, brandishing Trump-signed nomination papers. But some candidates are taking it too far — and Trump and his team are aggressively letting them know it.”
  • “ ‘Lots of candidates pretend to have the support of President Trump. Most are full of s--t. You will know when President Trump endorses someone,’ said former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.”
In Congress, Republicans are shrugging at warnings of democracy in peril. 
  • “Almost daily, Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing racist, Jim Crow-inspired voter suppression efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of citizens, mainly people of color, in a cynical effort to grab power,” the Times’s Jonathan Weisman writes. “Republican lawmakers have systematically downplayed or dismissed the dangers, with some breezing over the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest, and many saying the state voting law changes are to restore ‘integrity’ to the process, even as they give credence to Mr. Trump’s false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election. They shrug off Democrats’ warnings of grave danger as the overheated language of politics as usual.”
Rep. Tom Rice (S.C.) is testing whether Republican voters will support a conservative who crossed Trump.
  • “[Rice] has been a reliable conservative during his five terms in Congress, and he was a strong supporter of Trump and his agenda,” Marianna Sotomayor reports. “But on Jan. 13, Rice shocked Washington and voters here in a district that includes coastal communities that thrive on tourism and rural areas focused on farming: He voted to impeach Trump.”
  • “Now that vote threatens to end his career as he faces several potential primary opponents who strongly support the former president. ... A Republican strategist familiar with House races explained that while Rice may try to save his seat, his ruby-red district may not make it crucial to invest in his race, given that voters are expected to choose whoever ends up having an ‘R’ next to their name on the ballot in November 2022.”

Hot on the left

Kayleigh McEnany claims she never lied during her tenure as Trump’s White House press secretary. “McEnany claimed Sunday her faith in God barred her from ever telling a lie during her time working under former President Donald Trump,” the Washington Examiner reports. "As a woman of faith, as a mother of baby Blake, as a person who meticulously prepared at some of the world's hardest institutions, I never lied. I sourced my information,” McEnany told a crowd at conservative group Turning Point USA's Young Women's Leadership Summit. “Despite her past claims, multiple fact-checking media sites have pointed out misleading statements made by the former press secretary, and some have been categorized as outright lies.”  

Hot on the right

“How will the courts respond to states’ new restrictions on the vote?” writes the Bulwark’s Kimberly Wehle: “As of late last month, fourteen states had passed twenty-two new laws restricting voting. Sixty-one other bills are still moving through eighteen state legislatures, and nearly four hundred such bills have been proposed in total. There will presumably be many court battles over the new legal barriers to the polls enacted by Republican legislatures across the country. But barring passage of legislation pending before Congress, it’s the Supreme Court that once again holds the cards when it comes to the success or failure of those lawsuits.”

600,000 dead, visualized

Even as the number of Americans dying of covid has plummeted from thousands to hundreds each day, the death toll keeps climbing. With normal life in reach, covid’s late-stage victims lament what could have been. Here are their stories.

Today in Washington

Biden will meet with Erdogan today at 5 p.m. local time. He will hold a press conference at 6:50 p.m.

Vice President Harris will deliver remarks at a vaccination event in South Carolina at 12:15 p.m. At 3:50 p.m., she will participate in a conversation on voting rights. 

In closing

John Oliver warned about prison’s failure to provide proper air-conditioning to inmates during the hot summer months: 

And a Pekingese named Wasabi won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show last night: 

“What’s not to like about this dog? ... He stood there as though he was a lion,” said Wasabi’s handler, breeder and co-owner, David Fitzpatrick.