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The Daily 202

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

Biden faces the time-to-retool news conference on eve of first anniversary

The Daily 202

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

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. Via the Associated Press: On this day in 1993, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was observed in all 50 states for the first time.

The big idea

Biden faces the time-to-retool news conference on eve of first anniversary

President Biden holds his first news conference of 2022 on Wednesday, a question-and-answer session against the backdrop of Democrats’ deepening angst about their party’s fortunes in the midterm elections and pressure for the White House to embrace, or at least announce, a course-correction. It’s not at all clear they’ll get either.

He's bound to be asked about major headlines -- Russian antagonism towards Ukraine, North Korean missile launches, natural disasters, supply chain disruptions and the like. And he'll likely be pressed about whether he plans a staffing shake-up or, in a time-honored tactic of dubious effectiveness, a change in communications strategy."

Some of the calls for change are coming from inside the House. My colleague Marianna Sotomayor reported Monday that Democratic members of Congress representing competitive districts are pushing Biden to embrace a new strategy they think will help come November.

“Among the requests of these so-called ‘front-liner’ Democrats is to break up President Biden’s sprawling Build Back Better spending bill that has stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and hold votes on a series of politically popular provisions that would appeal to centrist voters and core Democrats alike.

As Marianna notes, they haven’t convinced Democratic leadership in Congress. The White House’s public stance is it’ll keep pushing for some (leaner) version of Build Back Better to get through, not adopt a piecemeal approach.

My colleague Jeff Stein, meanwhile, chronicled the progressive wing of the party in full gnashing-of-teeth-and-wringing-of-hands mode as it contemplates the chasm between the health care, housing, climate and education promises of 2020 and the landscape of 2022.

“The scale of their ambition startled Washington and captivated millions of voters. The establishment candidates were forced to move left in response, adapting to incorporate the new policy energy pouring out of the party’s base.”

“But with the 2022 midterms months away, the intellectual optimism and energy that defined the American left during that window has been markedly deflated. During the Trump administration, the party’s progressives dreamed of returning to power and enacting generational policy change — national health care; more than doubling the minimum wage; cancellation of student debt; a complete overhaul of the immigration system; major new social and education programs.”

(Ask a White House aide about Biden wrapping up 2021 with many progressive goals unmet, and you will most likely get a recitation of the limits of the Democrats’ razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate and the need to be realistic about what can be done with them.)

Biden has been here before

Neither moderates nor progressives sound happy. And history doesn’t offer Democrats a lot of comfort. The good news for Democrats is Joe Biden has been here before. The bad news for Democrats is that Joe Biden has been here before.

It’s far from a perfect analogy, but Biden faces a similar conundrum to President Obama’s situation heading into the 2010 midterms. Obama, too, had driven a massive economic stimulus bill through a bitterly divided Congress but got little credit from the public for preventing things from getting worse. (And Republicans hammered Obama over the Affordable Care Act, which he signed into law in March of that year.)

Here’s how Biden defended Obama’s record in December 2009:  “My deceased wife used to have an expression. She’d say, ‘The greatest gift God gave mankind, Joey, is the ability to forget.’ And my mother would quickly add, ‘Yes, if it weren’t for that, all women would only have one child.’ But all kidding aside, it’s amazing — amazing what we’ve forgotten already in 10 months just how dire and bleak things looked 10 months ago.

Republicans captured 63 House seats and six Senate slots in 2010. To cite another popular Biden quote, one he delivered at the May 2015 Yale University Class day: “Reality has a way of intruding.”

My colleague on the Opinion side, Karen Tumulty, has this state of play as Biden’s first anniversary in office looms:

Biden’s first year has brought some major achievements: a $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package; a vaccine rollout that has resulted in nearly 63 percent of the population fully immunized; a modern record for the number of new federal judicial vacancies filled by a first-year president. But of his big successes, only one — the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill he signed in November — made it over the finish line with bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, as his presidency approaches its first anniversary on Thursday, it appears to be running out of gas. Biden’s job approval numbers are underwater, averaging in the low 40s. The Democrats’ push for voting rights is headed for defeat on the Senate floor. His ambitious Build Back Better legislation is stymied. As a new variant of the coronavirus is sending record numbers to the hospital, the Supreme Court has struck down his administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private business. Inflation is running at its highest rate since the 1980s, dampening an otherwise robust economic recovery.”

Asked last week whether Biden takes responsibility for inflation the same way he claims credit for job recovery, White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied: “I think any president should own everything happening in the country. And the president certainly sees it that way.”

Where Republicans are eager for November to be a referendum on Biden — pandemic school closures, inflation, covid running rampant, immigration, the Afghanistan withdrawal — the White House needs it to be more of a choice.

So expect to hear a lot of “whose side are you on” rhetoric come Wednesday. After all, that defined the past two midterms in which the sitting president’s party gained seats — 1998, 2002. In 1998, voters punished Republicans for impeaching Bill Clinton. In 2002, Republicans convinced voters Democrats couldn’t be trusted on terrorism.

What's happening now

Former Trump administration officials strategize against former boss's efforts in 2022 and 2024

“Around three dozen former Trump administration officials, disillusioned with their former boss and concerned about his impact on the GOP and the nation, held a conference call last Monday to discuss efforts to fend off his efforts to, in their view, erode the democratic process,” CNN's Jake Tapper reports. The highest-ranking participant was former White House chief of staff and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, who told CNN that because of a prior commitment he was only able to "monitor" about 10 minutes of the call, which lasted about an hour.\

  • Other participants included former Trump White House communications directors Alyssa Farah Griffin … and Anthony Scaramucci, former Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Pence Olivia Troye, former Department of Homeland Security official Elizabeth Neumann, and former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, among others."

Chris Sununu explains going from ‘pretty close’ to no on New Hampshire Senate bid

“Everything changed after the governor consulted with Republican senators about the aspects of serving on Capitol Hill and what to expect for at least the first two years on the job. Sununu did not like what he heard,” the Washington Examiner's David M. Drucker reports.

The governor said the message from virtually every GOP senator he chatted with — and he chatted with most of them — was that they plan to do little more with the majority they are fighting to win this November than obstruct President Joe Biden until, ‘hopefully,’ 2024 ushers a Republican into the White House. ‘It bothered me that they were OK with that,’ Sununu said.”

Ex-NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio won't run for governor

“Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday he will not run for governor, but will instead devote himself to fighting inequality in New York. His decision to not enter the Democratic primary further strengthens the campaign of Gov. Kathy Hochul, who already has a commanding start locking up endorsements and fundraising,” the Associated Press’s Michelle L. Price reports.

Oil prices hit seven-year high on rising geopolitical tensions

“Crude prices rose to their highest level since the 2014 shale-induced oil crash, a milestone in a rally that is gathering momentum as geopolitical tensions threaten to knock supply,” the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Wallace reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Florida governor proposes special police agency to monitor elections

“A plan by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would establish a special police force to oversee state elections — the first of its kind in the nation — and while his fellow Republicans have reacted tepidly, voting rights advocates fear that it will become law and be used to intimidate voters,Lori Rozsa and Beth Reinhard report.

“The proposed Office of Election Crimes and Security would be part of the Department of State, which answers to the governor. DeSantis is asking the GOP-controlled legislature to allocate nearly $6 million to hire 52 people to ‘investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation’ of election laws. They would be stationed at unspecified ‘field offices throughout the state’ and act on tips from 'government officials or any other person.’”

Inside a pioneering U.S. site authorized to monitor people using drugs

“In nondescript commercial buildings in Washington Heights and East Harlem, workers watch people use illegal drugs and step in when they overdose, a solution to the drug crisis once considered too fringe to operate in the open. Years of legal battles and debate delayed efforts by cities and states to supervised consumption sites, forcing the facilities to operate underground. These new locations, approved by the then-mayor of New York City, could spur a shift toward offering services nationwide, drug policy experts say. But these sites still present a tangled knot of concerns: The federal government has not approved overdose-prevention centers, still considered an untested concept, and neighbors worry about drawing crime to their area,” Meryl Kornfield reports.

“The Biden administration’s silence on the issue is not expected to halt potential sites supported by local officials. Now that New York City has claimed the title of first, more could be planned, experts say.”

… and beyond

Black mothers in Martin Luther King Jr.’s neighborhood will soon receive monthly cash payments

“A new program is launching in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward — the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. — that could help build the case for the idea he popularized half a century ago: guaranteed cash payments as a vehicle out of poverty,” the 19th’s Chabeli Carrazana reports.

“The program, which will launch early this year in King’s neighborhood, will send monthly payments of $850 to 650 Black women over two years, making it one of the largest guaranteed income programs to date.”


U.S. households can order 4 free COVID-19 tests starting Jan. 19

“U.S. households can order four free at-home COVID-19 tests from the website starting on Jan. 19 with shipping expected within seven to 12 days of ordering, the White House said on Friday,” Reuters’s Jeff Mason and David Shepardson report.

The Biden agenda

U.S. examining Alibaba’s cloud unit for national security risks

“The Biden administration is reviewing e-commerce giant Alibaba's cloud business to determine whether it poses a risk to U.S. national security, according to three people briefed on the matter, as the government ramps up scrutiny of Chinese technology companies' dealings with U.S. firms,” Reuters’s Alexandra Alper reports.

With new nominees, Biden attempts to assemble most diverse Fed in history

“Late Thursday, President Biden completed his set of Fed picks, choosing Sarah Bloom Raskin, Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson to fill the remaining open slots. If confirmed by the Senate, the nominees would make the Fed board the most diverse in the central bank’s 108-year history. Biden’s picks, primarily his choice for the Fed’s banking cop, would also bring focus to the risks climate change poses to the country’s economic and financial stability,” Rachel Siegel reports.

Sen. Mitt Romney says Biden was elected ‘to stop the crazy’ and argues that voters weren't asking him 'to transform America’

“During an interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ the Utah Republican — who was also the party's presidential nominee in 2012 — told the host Chuck Todd that Biden needed to adhere to his commitment to bridge partisan divisions in the country in the wake of the president's fiery voting-rights speech in Atlanta last week,” Business Insider’s John L. Dorman reports.

Job growth, visualized

“The 6.4 million jobs gained this year, while a record in absolute terms, represents only a 4.5 percent increase in the workforce. That’s smaller than the 5.0 percent growth seen in 1978, when a much smaller labor force added 4.3 million jobs. In fact, relative to the size of the workforce, it’s only the 11th best calendar year since record-keeping began in 1939,” our colleague Andrew Van Dam reports.

Hot on the left

How Manchin and Sinema completed a conservative vision

“The decision by Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to block their fellow Democrats from passing new federal voting-rights legislation clears the path for years of tightening ballot restrictions in Republican-controlled states. It also marks a resounding triumph for Chief Justice John Roberts in his four-decade quest to roll back the federal government’s role in protecting voter rights,” the Atlantic's Ronald Brownstein writes.

“With crucial help from Manchin and Sinema, Roberts’s triumph now appears complete. And that could trigger a decade of struggle over access to the ballot, unmatched since the days of Jim Crow segregation.”

Hot on the right

How a GOP majority in Congress might handle Biden in 2023

“With Biden and Democrats floundering right now, the GOP is increasingly favored to vault back to partial power in Washington by flipping the House, and potentially also the Senate, in the coming midterms. What comes next isn't quite clear: Some Republicans are mulling ways to collaborate with Biden on issues like trade, energy or tech; others are prepared to go scorched-earth as their party eyes the bigger prize of retaking the White House in 2024,” Politico's Olivia Beavers and Burgess Everett report.

“Given those dynamics, there’s no unified GOP agenda for voters to examine this fall — other than an up-or-down vote on Biden and congressional Democrats’ record. Republicans aren’t sure what will happen next if they actually win.”

Today in Washington

The president does not have any public events scheduled for the afternoon.

In closing

Trump had a rally, so the late night hosts naturally had a ball. After the former president turned on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (a move our Philip Bump predicted in June) Jimmy Fallon wondered whether Trump’s insults are losing some of their pizazz.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.