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The Daily 202

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

Biden faces three serious tests as his ‘Summit for Democracy’ starts

The Daily 202

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

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The big idea

Biden faces three serious tests as his ‘Summit for Democracy’ starts

President Biden opened his “Summit for Democracy” today as his conception of rule of, by, and for the people faced three major challenges: One from China, the biggest U.S. rival on the world stage; one from Russia, America’s Cold War foe; and one from former president Donald Trump.

Each crisis presents a different kind of leadership challenge for Biden, whose job approval has slipped amid an unabated resurgence of the pandemic, and with it a swelling American death toll. His central campaign promise was he would smother the coronavirus.

“In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy, universal human rights, and all around the world, democracy needs champions," Biden said in a speech as the virtual summit began. “Here in the United States we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort.”

Beijing, Moscow and Jan. 6

Beijing and Moscow have nuclear weapons and vast standing militaries, but Biden’s domestic test may be the most daunting. Republicans have mounted a coast-to-coast effort since Trump’s November defeat to rewrite the republic’s electoral DNA to their advantage.

The Jan. 6 riot that disrupted the official certification of Biden’s victory — and which Trump loyalists are now trying to whitewash — means there was no peaceful transfer of power between competing parties That’s a bar countries still building the habits of self-rule must clear to be seen as democracies.

Trump has escalated his baseless claims he was cheated out of a second term, undermining trust in the system among Republicans, more than two out of three of whom believe the 2020 election was “stolen,” by some estimates.

Trump failed in courtroom after courtroom, as well as in private pressure campaigns targeting Republican officials, to overturn the election. GOP actions since November suggest the party is taking steps to ensure Republicans could do so in the future.

Around the country, Trump loyalists have worked to install Republicans in control of state elections, pass laws curtailing electoral practices they blame for Biden’s victory and enlist candidates who profess to believe the falsehood that 2020 was rigged.

And CNN’s Fredreka Schouten reported Wednesday “[v]oting rights activists are sounding alarms about what they say is a broad effort to dilute the voting strength of people of color and sideline the Black elected officials across the South who have made inroads into local government in recent decades.”

Biden nodded to voting rights, my colleague John Wagner reported: “urging Congress to pass legislation to counter restrictions that have been enacted in many Republican-led states since last year’s election.”

“Biden said the Justice Department would double the number of lawyers defending and enforcing voting rights laws, adding: ‘We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.’”

But progressives have shown mounting impatience with Biden’s rhetoric. He has called GOP voting laws “Jim Crow in the 21st century” but only recently publicly envisioned changing Senate rules to empower congressional Democrats to pass a legislative response, sometimes dubbed “the nuclear option.”

Overseas, Biden’s current battle with Beijing is over the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, which are set to start in a couple of months amid widespread criticism of China’s human rights record, from smothering democracy in Hong Kong to what the U.S. calls “genocide” targeting the Uyghur Muslim minority.

He has announced American athletes will compete but no U.S. officials will attend the games in what is being called a “diplomatic boycott.” While Biden has trumpeted the return of global U.S. moral leadership, to date only Australia, Britain, Canada and Lithuania have followed suit.

Asked whether Biden’s goal was to get more allies on board, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters: “It's up to them to decide how they're going to move forward and if they’re going to boycott or not.”

Enlisting allies

Enlisting allies is also a central goal of Biden’s policy toward Russia, trying to convince President Vladimir Putin the costs of pushing further militarily into Ukraine would carry economic, diplomatic, and strategic costs far greater than any benefit.

After speaking separately on Tuesday to European allies and Putin, Biden’s schedule today includes a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has made no secret of his desire to acquire NATO membership over Moscow’s fierce objections.

Biden has rejected any “red line” from Moscow and says every country has a sovereign right to decide whether to try to join the alliance, a seemingly intractable difference with Putin, who has said he wants guarantees from Washington of no additional NATO forces on Russia’s border.

Asked about that seemingly irreconcilable conflict, Jean-Pierre told reporters: “I'm not going to predict or lay out any potential ways to get to the question that you’re asking.”

In each case, Biden finds himself facing serious challenges to the norms of the sort he has embraced his whole life. China defies Biden’s principles on how a government should treat its people. Russian actions run counter to Biden’s beliefs about how a powerful country should treat a weaker neighbor. Republicans are breaking with his understanding of the rules of U.S. politics.

What's happening now

Biden pays tribute to Dole: ‘America has lost one of our greatest patriots’

“[Former senator Robert J. Dole], who died Sunday at age 98, will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, returning to the heart of the place that shaped nearly three decades of his political career and where he, in turn, produced so much of the work that would form his legacy,” Amy B Wang and Mariana Alfaro report.

FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot for 16-and-17-year-olds

The “decision came the day after new data from the companies suggested that boosters may play a critical role in helping control the omicron variant by raising virus-fighting antibodies to block the pathogen, which echoed a finding by leading scientists in South Africa released earlier this week,” Laurie McGinley reports.

New York attorney general seeks Trump’s deposition as part of civil fraud investigation

“[New York Attorney General Letitia James] has requested to take his testimony on Jan. 7 at her New York office as part of a civil investigation into whether Trump’s company committed financial fraud in the valuations of properties to different entities, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing,” Josh Dawsey and David A. Fahrenthold report.

Capitol Hill staff member arrested with gun at Longworth House Office Building, police say

“Authorities identified the man as Jeffrey Allsbrooks, 57, a staff member with the House Chief Administrative Office. Police said in the statement that Allsbrooks told officers he forgot that the gun was in the bag,” Peter Hermann reports.

FBI may shut down police use-of-force database due to lack of police participation

“In an attempt to create a definitive database on how often police officers use force on citizens, the FBI launched the National Use-of-Force Data Collection program in 2019, imploring police departments to submit details on every incident, not just fatal shootings. But the failure of police and federal agencies to send their data to the FBI puts the program in jeopardy of being shut down next year without ever releasing a single statistic, a new report by the Government Accountability Office says,” Tom Jackman reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Low-profile heiress who ‘played a strong role’ in financing Jan. 6 rally is thrust into spotlight

“[Julie Fancelli, the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain,] is facing public scrutiny as the House committee investigating the insurrection seeks to expose the financing for the rally that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Fancelli is the largest publicly known donor to the rally, support that some concerned relatives and others attributed to her enthusiasm for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones,” Beth Reinhard, Jacqueline Alemany and Josh Dawsey report.

“The Washington Post previously reported that on Dec. 29, 2020, Fancelli donated $300,000 to Women for America First, a nonprofit group that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally, and $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which paid for a robocall touting a march to ‘call on Congress to stop the steal.’ On the same day, Fancelli gave $200,000 to State Tea Party Express, according to Sal Russo, a top consultant to the conservative group.”

… and beyond

Death, drugs and a disbanded unit: How the Guard’s Mexico border mission fell apart

“This is the story of a task force that left soldiers at isolated observation posts for hours on end without the night vision goggles they needed. They stared into the darkness and fell asleep on the job while awaiting shipments of equipment for months, and only assisted in less than one in every five apprehensions. Legal restrictions on the use of Guardsmen left them with little more than watching as a mission,” the Army Times’s Davis Winkie reports.

  • Alcohol and drug abuse became so widespread that senior leaders issued breathalyzers and instituted alcohol restrictions that tightened as the misconduct incidents piled up.”
  • “Leaders initiated more than 1,200 legal actions, including nonjudicial punishments, property loss investigations, Army Regulation 15-6 investigations and more. That’s nearly one legal action for every three soldiers. At least 16 soldiers from the mission were arrested or confined for charges including drugs, sexual assault and manslaughter.”
  • A 1,000-soldier battalion-level task force based in McAllen, Texas, had three soldiers die during the border deployment. For comparison, only three Army Guard troops died on overseas deployments in 2021, out of tens of thousands.”

The rise of omicron

CDC chief says omicron cases mostly mild so far

“[Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] said ‘the disease is mild’ in almost all of the cases seen so far, with reported symptoms mainly cough, congestion and fatigue. One person was hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported, CDC officials said,” the Associated Press’s Mike Stobbe reports.

More than 200 million people in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated, though deaths and cases are still rising

“The United States reached a significant milestone late Wednesday, with more than 200 million people now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — about 60 percent of the population,” Adela Suliman reports.

The Biden agenda

President Biden warns against ‘backward slide’ in global democracy at outset of two-day summit

“In my view, the choices we make … in this moment are going to fundamentally determine the direction our world is going to take in the coming decades,” Biden said. “Will we allow the backward slide of democracy to continue unchecked, or will we together have a vision and courage to once more lead the march of human progress and human freedom forward?John Wagner reports.

Congress calls on Biden to impose ‘first real costs’ over China’s genocide

“Congress on Wednesday sent the Biden administration and Corporate America an unequivocal message about the Chinese government’s repression of Uyghur Muslims: If this is genocide, as the U.S. has declared, the response can’t be business as usual,” Axios’s Zachary Basu and Sarah Mucha report.

Rapid coronavirus tests are still hard to find in many places, despite Biden vows

“While the Biden administration arrived late to its commitment to increase the U.S. supply of rapid tests, it has taken steps to increase their availability in recent months, including investing billions of dollars to buy the tests directly from manufacturers. Public health experts welcome those initiatives, but say more needs to be done,” Yasmeen Abutaleb, Lena H. Sun, Laurie McGinley, Dan Diamond and Tyler Pager report.

The Great Resignation, visualized

“In some industries, hiring can barely keep up with separations, a broader measure that includes retirements, layoffs and resignations. The pandemic has spurred not only a record number of resignations, but also has caused a wave of early retirements that has increased separations across the labor market,” our colleague Alyssa Fowers reports.

Hot on the left

Democrats just proved they can get around the filibuster — when they want to

The debt ceiling debacle has also blown a giant hole right through one of the principal arguments of certain senators who fervently defend the filibuster: that bipartisanship is a prerequisite for important matters that make it out of the Senate. To be clear: Democrats are the ones raising the debt ceiling. Republicans are just promising not to obstruct — this time, anyway. This is not a sustainable path, and it will only breed more distrust in the Senate, an institution already suffering from an approval deficit. Democrats who continue to treat the filibuster as some sacred feature of the Senate instead of what it is — a fairly arbitrary rule that can clearly be altered on a whim — should be asked what they’re actually defending,” Tré Easton writes for PostEverything.

Hot on the right

Opinion: Deter Russia by arming NATO allies

“So far, the punitive actions at which the White House has hinted are insufficient to deter the Kremlin from further aggression. How did we arrive at a point where the U.S.-led security system, which has protected Europe for more than 70 years, appears to be tottering in the face of Russian saber-rattling?” William Schneider Jr. asks in the Wall Street Journal

Schneider is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think thank, and has served as an undersecretary of state and chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board. His proposal has three prongs:

  • “The frontline states, especially Poland and the Black Sea littoral states of Romania and Bulgaria, must be protected and will need a modern surveillance and reconnaissance system linked to an integrated command-and-control network.”
  • “NATO should initiate the Article 4 process in the NATO Treaty to restore deterrence and stabilize the border region.”
  • “NATO should provide the frontline states with modern military capabilities.”

Today in Washington

At 12:30 p.m., Biden will hold a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, discussing the Russian military presence on the Ukrainian border.

Biden will hold a call with the leaders of the Bucharest Nine group of eastern flank NATO Allies at 1:45 p.m. to brief them on his Wednesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At 3:30 p.m., Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with the White House Covid-19 Response Team.

In closing

Someone set fire to the 50-foot Christmas tree outside of the Fox News headquarters in New York early Wednesday. No one was physically injured, but the late night hosts had a field day with the news.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.