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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Biden to China: We do not want 'a new Cold War'

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1792, delegates to revolutionary France’s National Convention voted to abolish the monarchy. It was a prelude to King Louis XVI being, as my late French grandmother liked to put it, “shortened” (raccourci) the following January.

The big idea

Biden to China: We do not want 'a new Cold War'

President Biden told world leaders just now that he will confront China’s military and economic ambitions but promised “we are not seeking a new Cold War,” as he urged collective action to smother the pandemic and respond to the worsening climate crisis.

“All the major powers of the world have a duty, in my view, to carefully manage their relationships so we do not tip from responsible competition to conflict,” Biden said in his first speech as president to the annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA).

But “the United States will compete, and we'll compete vigorously, and lead with our values and our strength. We'll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technical exploitation or disinformation,” he said.

Biden also defended his withdrawal from Afghanistan as a necessary recalibration of American power and expressed hopes of reviving diplomatic efforts to roll back nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

No name calling

Biden never actually called out China by name. Its leader, President Xi Jinping, will be the final speaker to address UNGA on Tuesday, delivering a prerecorded message because he did not make the trip to New York.

But America’s tense relationship with the Asian superpower dominated the speech and yielded its most notable line: “We are not seeking a new Cold War, or a world divided into rigid blocs.”

The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges, even if we have intense disagreements in other areas, because we'll all suffer the consequences of our failure if we do not come together to address the urgent threats like covid-19 and climate change or enduring threats like nuclear proliferation,” he said.

Throughout the remarks, Biden highlighted sore spots between Beijing and other countries, notably those in its neighborhood. He expressed support for “freedom of navigation” as China increasingly extends its claims to control vast stretches of the Pacific. He obliquely criticized its use of conditions on development aid as a tool for gaining influence. And he forcefully denounced its repression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province.

We all must call out and condemn the targeting and oppression of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, whether it occurs in Xinjiang or northern Ethiopia or anywhere in the world,” he said. “The future will belong to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand.”

His speech came after United Nations Secretary General António Guterres urged the U.S. and China in a weekend interview to repair their “completely dysfunctional” relationship and work together to battle climate change and the pandemic.

“We need to avoid at all cost a Cold War that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage,” Guterres told the Associated Press.

(To get a sense of the stakes, check out this arresting Reuters graphic on the military dimension of what is happening in Asia: An escalating, multi-front arms race.)

Tackling climate change

The speech kicked off a long week of China-themed diplomatic engagement in New York and Washington. On the sidelines of UNGA, Biden planned to meet with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison before heading back to the White House, where he was to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

On Wednesday, Biden will host a virtual coronavirus vaccine summit. On Friday, his focus returns directly to China with an in-person White House meeting with the other leaders of the so-called “Quad” conceived as a counterweight to Beijing Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The climate crisis is likely to feature in those discussions, and Biden left no doubt at the United Nations that he sees it as an urgent challenge for the international community.

Will we meet the threat of challenging climate the challenging climate we're all feeling, already ravaging every part of our world with extreme weather, or will we suffer the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes, longer heat waves and rising seas?” he asked.

But Biden largely sidestepped the fact that his climate agenda faces an uncertain future in Congress, where one of the pivotal legislators is a coal-state senator with vast fossil fuel investments, though he said he would work with the House and Senate to double climate change aid for developing countries.

On Monday, Guterres had warned that “unless we collectively change course, there is a high risk of failure” at the much-anticipated U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, starting in about six weeks.

And that may be when we learn with greater certainty whether Biden’s speech was a success.

What's happening now

Mayorkas is ‘horrified’

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas are testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on 9/11’s impact on homeland security and on threats to the national security

  • Mayorkas said this morning he was “horrified” by images of horse-mounted Border Patrol agents attempting to grab Haitian migrants and use their animals to push them back toward Mexico and promised a “swift” investigation, according to John Wagner.
  • “I was horrified by what I saw,” Mayorkas said during an appearance on CNN. “I am going to let the investigation run its course, but the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly.”
  • Investigations are starting: DHSannounced a formal inquiry into the episode, which it said Mayorkas directed after seeing the videos. Mayorkas said he has also directed the Office of Professional Responsibility, DHS’s internal oversight office, to send personnel to the area full-time.”
  • Watch their testimony here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

As Taliban fighters celebrated their victory in Kabul, al-Qaeda’s leader was focused on a very long book on political corruption, described as “comically boring.” “An online excerpt released this month referred to the book as ‘Part I’ — suggesting that [Ayman al-Zawahiri, the 70-year-old global leader of al-Qaeda] has even more to write. He takes shots at rivals and includes an apology of sorts for his long absences, which had speculation that the al-Qaeda leader was seriously ill or even dead,” Joby Warrick reports

  • “On the Taliban’s triumph, Zawahiri said nothing at all. The strikingly low-key pronouncement stands in contrast with the alarms sounded by Western officials and terrorism experts in recent weeks about an al-Qaeda resurgence. …Yet it also has become increasingly clear that the group built by Osama bin Laden is no longer the force it once was. And, according to some analysts who have tracked al-Qaeda for years, the prospects for a return to global prominence as an Afghanistan-based terrorist movement are far from guaranteed.”
  • "Long disappearances while writing books have left Zawahiri’s severely depleted organization without a visible, hands-on leader. … In both messaging and tactics, the focus has largely shifted to local struggles and issues — the ‘jihad of the people,’ as some Islamist writers have termed it — with waning emphasis on … elaborate anti-Western plots.”

The FBI held back a ransomware decryption key from businesses for almost three weeks to run an operation targeting hackers. “The bureau refrained for almost three weeks from helping unlock hundreds of businesses’ computers this summer even if it had secretly obtained the digital key needed to do so,” current and former U.S. officials told Ellen Nakashima and Rachel Lerman. “Deploying it immediately could have helped the victims, including schools and hospitals, avoid million of dollars in recovery costs, analysts estimate.”

… and beyond

  • The Texas abortion law is facing pushback from some companies. “Dozens of businesses are going public with their opposition to a new Texas law that bars abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy,” the Wall Street Journal’s Chip Cutter reports. Employers like Lyft, cloud-storage company Box and retailer Stitch Fix signed a statement criticizing the bill. Some other companies declined to participate, including Starbucks and Microsoft.
  • A glitch revealed the ballot choices of some New York City voters, including the mayor’s son. The New York City Board of Elections inadvertently allowed a third-party lab to determine the votes of 378 New Yorkers in the mayoral primary. Those voters include Bill de Blasio’s (D) son and a former New York City deputy mayor, Robert K. Steel, the New York Times’s Dana Rubinstein reports.

The Biden agenda

Warning signs: Sixty-two percent of Iowans disapprove of the job Biden is doing as president 

  • Fewer than one third of Iowans approve of the Biden’s job performance, according to the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. That’s a 12 percentage point drop from June.
  • “Biden’s job approval has not been in net positive territory in Iowa since March, when 47% of Iowans approved of his performance and 44% disapproved,” the Register’s Stephen Gruber-Miller reports.
  • Key quote: "This is a bad poll for Joe Biden, and it's playing out in everything that he touches right now,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer.
  • Independents might be the canaries in the coal mine: 62 percent of them disapprove of his performance compared to 29 percent who approve.

Democrats are preparing an immigration overhaul backup plan. The odds are steep.

  • The alternative changing the “registry” law could allow immigrants to apply for a green card if they arrived in the U.S. before a certain year. “That date was last altered in 1986 to let undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before 1972. Some Democrats say simply updating that law with a more recent year, greatly increasing the number of immigrants eligible to apply for legal status, could pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian," Politico’s Marianne Levine and Sarah Ferris report.


Becerra takes a back seat in U.S. coronavirus response, according to a report

A second shot of the J&J vaccine boosts protection against symptomatic and severe covid-19 

  • The shots also generated additional antibodies, the drug company announced this morning, per Ben Guarino.
  • The news may come as a relief to the nearly 15 million Americans who received one of the J&J shots. Per the study, “efficacy was 100 percent against severe or critical covid-19 for two weeks after the booster. Efficacy against symptomatic disease in the United States was 94 percent.”
  • Regulators would have to authorize J&J booster shots before the public could receive them. Top infectious disease official Anthony S. Fauci, over the weekend, said the FDA review of J&J and Moderna boosters is “a couple to a few weeks away.”

Xavier Becerra, the nation’s top health official, has taken a back seat while others steer the coronavirus response 

  • “When Biden’s senior health officials gathered one Sunday in August to make the high-stakes decision that all adults should get Covid-19 booster shots, Becerra wasn’t included on the call,” Politico’s Adam Cancryn reports. “The nation’s top health official was instead preparing for a multi-day tour up the East Coast to tout Biden’s broader agenda, while others including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky mapped out the specifics of the government’s booster strategy.”
  • “The former lawmaker and California attorney general has ceded much of the authority to the White House and government scientists — and seldom been the one giving orders.”
  • “Administration officials say Becerra’s limited role has left the government without a strong intermediary between a fast-moving White House and HHS’ methodical scientific agencies … Becerra has steered clear of internal policy debates that have raged between HHS’ public health agencies … And he’s played a secondary role in selling those Covid-19 policies to the public.”
  • “That shift reflects the degree to which the White House has consolidated power over the response under coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients, a Biden confidant who oversee his own pandemic team.”

The U.S. pledge to vaccinate poor countries is stumbling amid logistical challenges 

  • The plan to donate hundreds of millions of vaccine doses “has been hampered in many developing countries by a lack of infrastructure to handle storage and distribution,” the WSJ’s Gabriele Steinhauser, Sabrina Siddiqui and Stephanie Armour report. “Many public-health experts are now urging the Biden administration to take a more hands-on role in providing that logistical and planning support, as well as funding to help pay vaccinators and buy needed equipment.”

Texas's laws are moving right while its population shifts left, visualized

Over the past decade, highly concentrated demographic shifts in and around Texas cities have diversified pockets of the traditionally red state. State legislators convened Monday to begin redrawing congressional and state legislative lines, which could allow Republicans to strengthen their grip on the state House majority, even as data show movement in Democrats’ favor.

Hot on the left

The Texas doctor who violated the state’s abortion ban was sued, launching a test of constitutionality. “The details of the civil suit against Alan Braid, a physician in San Antonio, are as unusual as the law itself, which empowers private citizens to enforce the ban on abortion once cardiac activity has been detected — often as early as six weeks into a pregnancy,” Ann Marimow reports

Hot on the right

San Francisco’s mayor was criticized for dancing maskless at a crowded club. She called her critics the “fun police.” After a San Francisco Chronicle reporter posted a video of Mayor London Breed (D) dancing in a room full of maskless people at a club last Wednesday, critics noted she may have been violating a city health order because she wasn’t wearing a mask, Julian Mark reports. Patrons must wear a mask when not drinking or eating indoors, the order says. The mayor then deflected criticism, saying she was nursing a drink when she was filmed. “She also implied that adhering to the city’s mask mandate might not be necessary. ‘Make sure you are vaccinated because of the requirements, but don’t feel as though you have to be micromanaged about mask-wearing,’ the mayor told reporters. ‘Like, we don’t need the fun police to come in.’”

Today in Washington

Biden is meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. At 2:15 p.m., the president will leave New York City en route to D.C. At 4:45, he will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

Harris will meet with Johnson at 3 p.m. 

In closing

Seth Meyers said it is hard to keep up with the right-wing rumor mill: 

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.