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The big idea
Biden saves his most ardent diplomacy for restive Democrats in Washington
It’s been a week dominated by foreign relations, from efforts to mend Franco-U.S. relations, to the U.N. General Assembly, or expanding global access to coronavirus vaccines, and rally Indo-Pacific partners in response to China’s rise. But President Biden’s most ardent and important diplomacy could be to fellow Democrats.
At stake is the viability of his $4-trillion effort to expand the social safety net, overhaul the nation’s infrastructure and confront the climate crisis head on, while raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations.
I was going to say “it comes at a politically sensitive time,” which is not only a cliche but a silly way to put it. There is no such thing as a politically insensitive time for a project this vast and a Democratic majority this thin, even as some party faithful already mutter fears of getting thumped in 2022 midterms elections.
But Biden’s job approval rating, as calculated by Gallup, slipped six points over the past month to 43 percent, his lowest ever. It was 49 percent in August, 50 percent in July, 56 percent in June, 54 percent in May, 57 percent in April, 54 percent in March. It’s not a smooth downward slide, but it’s a pretty clear one.
“Among elected presidents since World War II, only [former president Donald] Trump has had a lower job approval rating than Biden does at a similar point in their presidencies,” Gallup noted.
It sure feels like a make-or-break moment for Biden, who took part in meetings with two dozen Democrats at the White House Wednesday in an effort to spackle over cracks in his party that could doom his ambitious domestic agenda.
A set of significant deadlines loom, starting with a big one next week for keeping the government open, and one on a to-be-determined day in October to ensure the U.S. doesn’t default on its debt and plunge the global economy into chaos.
Biden has leaned on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to make the case in Congress that a default would be catastrophic. But, as one Senate GOP aide told my colleagues Theodoric Meyer and Jacqueline Alemany, talking logic and economics to a party focused on the exercise of raw political power “will persuade a grand total of no one.”
But don’t say “make or break” at the White House. “I would never describe it that way,” Biden press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. Instead, she said, it’s “an important moment” or perhaps “a pivotal period of our negotiations.”
The president “sees his role as uniting and as working to bring together people over common agreement and on a path forward,” she said, ducking the question of whether progressive Democrats or their colleagues in the middle should bend.
“Sometimes there's need for compromise from every end, but he'll know more after these discussions today, in the coming days,” Psaki said.
Democrats go to the White House
My colleagues Tony Romm, Seung Min Kim, and Marianna Sotomayor reported Wednesday:
“Over a series of three meetings, spanning five hours, Biden sought to confront the schisms that have separated his party for months — a division between spending-wary moderates and ambitious liberals that has cast doubt on Democrats’ ability to deliver on the promises they made during the 2020 election.”
"Democrats returning to the Capitol after the sessions praised Biden’s involvement and pledged to work together in the weeks to come, as they seek to pass a roughly $1 trillion bill to improve the nation’s infrastructure and another roughly $3.5 trillion measure that includes major changes to federal health care, education, climate and tax laws.”
“But party lawmakers appeared no closer to resolving their fight over the size, scope and timing of those two tranches of proposed spending, creating renewed tension five days before the House is set to cast its first vote on one of the Democrats’ core proposals.”
“The immediate political standoff stems from a promise by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to hold a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill to improve the nation’s roads, highways, pipes, ports and Internet connections. The package is embraced by Democratic centrists, who secured a commitment from party leaders for the House to consider the measure by Monday.”
“The party’s liberals, however, are equally passionate about the separate $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending bill, which includes a slew of new programs to help low-income Americans. Some centrists reject that price tag as exorbitant — but liberals insist they won’t support the infrastructure bill without it, leaving Democrats worried that both bills could ultimately fail.”
In her briefing, Psaki declined to stick with the $3.5 trillion number, saying there was “a lot of agreement” on the goals but “we need to figure out what the path forward is,” implicitly suggesting a lower price tag could clear a way through the legislative hedgerows.
And Tony, Seung Min, and Marianna reported the number in Biden’s meeting with moderates bounced around the $2 trillion area, without reaching a breakthrough.
Over at Politico, you can find Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) describing the president as a supplicant, telling him “ ‘Please, just work on it. Give me a number, and tell me what you can live with and what you can’t,' ” in the senator’s recounting. That oughta just thrill progressives.
Biden was expected to keep up the outreach today. We could know soon whether he passes his biggest test yet.
What's happening now
The Biden White House is leaning toward releasing information about Trump and the Jan. 6 attack, setting off a legal and political showdown. “Trump has said he will cite ‘executive privilege’ to block information requests from the House select committee investigating the events of that day, banking on a legal theory that has successfully allowed presidents and their aides to avoid or delay congressional scrutiny for decades, including during the Trump administration,” Tom Hamburger and Jacqueline Alemany report.
- But, but, but: The current White House will err on the side of disclosure. A Biden spokesman said the president views the attack as a “a dark stain on our country’s history” and is “deeply committed to ensuring that something like that can never happen again, and he supports a thorough investigation.”
- The argument: “Members of the [Jan. 6] committee argue that Trump no longer enjoys the protection of executive privilege, encouraging the White House to push aside institutional concerns about sharing information with Congress and aid the panel.”
- What’s next: In response to the special committee's request, the National Archives identified documents from the Trump White House relevant to the inquiry. The material is being turned over to the White House and to Trump’s lawyers for review. “Trump has 30 days following the delivery of the documents to decide whether to object to their release, according to the statute. Even if he opposes turning them over, the Biden White House has decision-making authority and can release them, over Trump’s objections, after an additional 60 days has elapsed.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence said he’s hopeful that a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court will soon overturn abortion rights. “Pence spoke at a forum devoted to demographics and family values in Budapest, Hungary, where conservative leaders from central Europe expressed their anxieties about falling birthrates in the Western world,” ABC News reports.
- The key quote: “We may well have a fresh start in the cause of life in America," Pence said. “It is our hope and our prayer that in the coming days, a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court of the United States will take action to restore the sanctity of life at the center of American law.”
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- To sue the New York Times and his niece, Trump turned to a low profile attorney from New Jersey. Trump hired “Alina Habba, from a four-attorney firm with offices near Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club,” David Fahrenthold and Alice Crites report. “Habba … does not list media law among her specialties. She does not appear to have donated to Trump’s campaigns.”
- In Larry Nassar’s shadow, a larger sex abuse case at the University of Michigan that is receiving much less attention, reports Lenny Bernstein. “More than 950 people have come forward to accuse the late University of Michigan doctor Robert E. Anderson of abusing them while he was on staff between 1966 and 2003, according to lawyers who represent the survivors.”
… and beyond
- John F. Kerry, as the first presidential envoy for climate, faces a tough path. “Kerry needs to convince other countries to commit to sharply turn away in this decade from burning coal, oil and gas and cut the resulting carbon emissions, which are heating the planet to dangerous levels,” the New York Times’s Lisa Friedman reports.
- The European Union will impose a universal phone charger, in a blow to Apple. The E.U. Commission “believes a standard cable for all devices will cut back on electronic waste, but Apple says a one-size fits all charger will stop innovation and create more pollution,” rfi reports.
- The diplomat overseeing the “Havana Syndrome” response is out after six months. Pamela Spratlen, a State Department official, is leaving after facing "a public call for her resignation, and numerous U.S. diplomats said she had lost the confidence of affected employees,” NBC News’s Josh Lederman and Brenda Breslauer report.
The Biden agenda
U.S. special envoy to Haiti resigns
U.S. special envoy to Haiti resigned, saying he will not be associated with “inhumane, counterproductive” deportations of Haitians
- “Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed,” Daniel Foote said in the letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, John Hudson reports.
- Foote also criticizes the administration for backing Haiti’s de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, a move he said did not learn from the mistakes of previous ‘international political interventions in Haiti.’”
- The Department of Homeland Security is looking for a contractor to run a migrant detention facility in Guantánamo. The department is specifically looking for guards who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole, according to government records, NBC News’s Jacob Soboroff and Ken Dilanian report. “A little-known immigrant holding facility on the base has a capacity of 120 people, the records say, and it ‘will have an estimated daily population of 20 people,’ according to a solicitation for bids issued Friday by the Department.”
- DHS denied the facility is being prepared for Haitian nationals encountered at the southern border. “The request for information (RFI) recently posted is a typical, routine first step in a contract renewal, and unrelated to the Southwest Border,” the department said in a statement.
- “The deportation of Haitian migrants is a stark example of how Biden has deployed some of the most aggressive approaches to immigration put in place by former President Trump,” the Times’s Michael Shear, Natalie Kitroeff, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Eileen Sullivan report. “In case after case, he has shown a willingness to use tough measures. Part of the dilemma Mr. Biden faces is that his efforts to use the power of his office to enact lasting immigration change have been blocked by federal judges skeptical of executive power and slowed by a bureaucracy purposely hobbled by the former president.”
FDA approves booster shots for seniors
Americans are awaiting details after the FDA approved Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for some groups
- “The Biden administration got the green light it was waiting for to start rolling out some coronavirus vaccine booster shots next week,” Annabelle Timsit reports. “But another key decision is expected today, when advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are set to recommend who should get boosters and when.”
- We are still awaiting decisions on next steps for the nearly 68 million Americans who received the Moderna vaccine and the 14.7 million who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A decision on booster shots of those vaccines could come in the next few weeks.
The pandemic could be over in a year, according to the CEO of Moderna
- Stéphane Bancel told a Swiss newspaper that there should be enough vaccines for “everyone on this earth” by “the middle of next year,” Reuters reports. The unvaccinated, he argued, would largely acquire natural immunity “because the delta variant is so contagious.”
Yearly purchase of companies by tech giants, visualized
In July, the FTC was tasked with reviewing 343 deals across all industries — three times as many as in July 2020. The threshold for telling the FTC about a deal was established by law in 1976. Once notified, the agency can investigate or block deals it thinks would harm competition. But skyrocketing valuations and a general rise in the number of acquisitions has left the agency struggling to keep pace.
Hot on the left
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) paid rent and utilities with campaign funds, FEC filings show, violating federal campaign finance laws, the Denver Post’s Conrad Swanson reports. “The filings, submitted to the FEC on Tuesday, also indicate that Boebert reimbursed her campaign for the $6,650 worth of payments. Representatives for the congresswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.”
Hot on the right
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is capitalizing on Europe’s failing climate crusade, writes Victoria Coates, former deputy national security adviser for the Trump White House, for Fox News. “Russian natural gas giant, Gazprom, already supplies some 40 percent of natural gas to the Continent. It is looking to expand its market share via the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline running under the Baltic Sea... The United States, both through Congress and during the Trump administration, has strongly objected to the project on the grounds that it gives Putin a monopoly over European energy supplies—endangering our NATO allies. Europeans, however counter-intuitively, have insisted on going ahead with the project."
Today in Washington
Biden will receive the weekly economic briefing at 12 p.m. and have lunch with the vice president after. He has no other events listed in his public schedule.
Harris will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 3:15 p.m.
Seth Meyers explained how the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package would help combat climate change:
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.