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The Daily 202

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

Getting it right, wrong, and in between: A Year of The Daily 202

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. On this day in 1793, King Louis XVI of France, having been convicted of treason by a French Revolutionary court, was executed by guillotine. Or, as my late mother used to say, “il a été raccourci” (“he was shortened”).

The big idea

Getting it right, wrong, and in between: A Year of The Daily 202

Thursday marked one year since my first column for The Daily 202: 12 months of trying to bring you a fresh take on the news and smart, insider analysis, while looking around corners at what’s coming in politics and policy. To borrow from the late New York Mayor Ed Koch (D): How’m I doing?

Ultimately, it’s up to readers and subscribers to make that determination. And (oh yeah) my editors. But I thought it might be a good exercise for me to highlight a couple of columns that worked, a couple that didn’t and a couple of in-betweens. Your own assessment may vary.

Let’s start with a mixed review. The debate over the state of covid seems to have reached a turning point. Some politicians cling to military-style “crush the pandemic” language. But more and more experts and governments are gingerly suggesting it’s time to accept the virus and its variants will stick around and the question now is how best to live with it, easing some restrictions and maintaining others.

The mixed …

Back in November, I predicted this state of affairs, and specifically compared the pandemic to another foe politicians constantly made ALL-CAPS PROMISES to destroy, defeat, wipe out, etc. — terrorism — and predicted that “victory” over covid would probably look as vague as “victory” over extremism.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it holds up in some important ways. I’m still happy with it. So why is this a mixed review? Well … I had first noted the same exact parallels in a column in September. Sigh.

The bad …

If you’ve been reading me for a year, or maybe know my work even from before that, you know there are themes and issues that I find particularly interesting and important. One of them is the question of who gets to decide when the government will hurl young Americans into harm’s way — the question of war powers.

That can be a blind spot, and that’s where this column from November, about Biden maybe ending the war in Iraq, gets a failing grade.

“Doing so will require the bitterly divided Congress to do its part by getting the proposal to his desk, so don’t bet the cryptocurrency farm just yet. But for the first time since 9/11, a president may actually take concrete steps to rein in, not expand, executive branch war-making powers.”

As it happens … well, it didn’t happen. Even with my crypto caveat, I got carried away and oversold the idea.

The good …

This entry from early October is an example of a good column, even though citing it here is bound to generate hate mail. I was among the first reporters (I think) to connect the disrupted supply chains to potential political pain for President Biden.

“Biden’s problem is this: Severely disrupted global supply chains sending prices skyward (and not in Santa’s sleigh), playing havoc with inventory, and potentially making it harder for Americans to be certain they’ll have the desired presents come the holidays.”

The administration swept into action, the private sector mobilized, and while smaller businesses struggled, the problem was less unavailable toys than it was price increases across the board — from the gas pump to the grocery store — in the face of skyrocketing demand.

Speaking of prices, this November column is another mixed bag. In it, I made the case Biden’s economy can be defined by two numbers: The jobs recovery and inflation. I still think it’s a useful frame, even though there are (as the piece noted) many other indicators.

So what’s my beef this time? I noted the significant upward revisions to the August and September jobs reports and declared those numbers “perhaps more important” than the October jobs figures. But in retrospect, the revisions — a year’s worth of them — deserved a column of their own.

I wrote a lot this year about Republican efforts to rein in voting practices they blame for former president Donald Trump’s loss, while installing Trump loyalists in key election certification jobs and enlisting candidates who spread his “big lie” that he was cheated out of a second term. The GOP’s state-by-state effort remains one of the biggest political stories today.

Let’s wrap things up on two positive notes, even if the columns themselves weren’t exactly uplifting.

As it raced to exit Afghanistan, the Biden administration shared several sets of figures to defend its handling of the withdrawal. In this column, I wrote about three important numbers the administration was not sharing related to the evacuation. They started to share some of them after the piece published.

Finally, there’s this column, which lets me end with a question: Will there ever be any accountability for the phalanx of senior officials who told the public over two decades the war in Afghanistan was being won, when they knew otherwise? I can’t say I’m hopeful, but I’m watching.

What's happening now

At least 60 reportedly killed, including children, in airstrikes in Yemen, aid agency says

“More than 60 people were killed and more than 100 others injured in airstrikes in Yemen, according to aid organizations and a Houthi official on Friday, as the death toll mounts in a particularly violent week for the war-torn country,” Siobhán O’Grady reports.

In crisis talks, U.S., Russian top diplomats trade demands on Ukraine

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s hastily arranged meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which capped a series of crisis talks this week with Ukrainian and NATO leaders, signaled the Biden administration’s urgency in attempting to avert what U.S. officials say could be an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Missy Ryan reports.

Minimum wage for federal employees raised to $15

“The guidance will impact almost 70,000 federal employees, most of which work at the Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Veterans Affairs. OPM is directing agencies to implement the new wage by Jan. 30,” Axios’s Oriana Gonzalez reports.

Homicide rates have soared nationwide, but mayors see a chance for a turnaround in 2022

“The past two years have been dreadful for public safety in U.S. cities as homicide numbers soared — in some cases to record levels. Experts say a constellation of factors is to blame, including the pandemic’s scars and a breakdown in trust between police and the communities they serve during the social unrest of 2020. But as 2022 kicks off, city leaders from coast to coast say the stars may be aligning in a very different way,” Griff Witte reports.

Flush with federal pandemic-relief funds, mayors are pumping money into crime prevention programs that have demonstrated early promise. Police chiefs are using advanced data to target places and people for intervention, even as they attempt to mend badly strained neighborhood ties.”

With eyes on Roe, antiabortion activists gather in D.C.

“Thousands of protesters are expected to gather in downtown Washington on Friday for the annual March for Life. For 49 consecutive years, antiabortion activists have traveled from all over the country on or around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, determined to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn it,” Caroline Kitchener, Ellie Silverman and Michelle Boorstein report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Biden’s first year brought a cascade of foreign policy challenges, undermining his goal of projecting calm competence

“After a year of earsplitting challenges, President Biden’s foreign policy record is mixed. As promised, the administration has retaken a prominent U.S. seat at a number of international forums dismissed by President Donald Trump and has spearheaded several major new international agreements, including on taxes and climate. It has smoothed the ruffled feathers of some longtime allies and partners,” Karen DeYoung reports.

“But Biden and his team have been less successful in what the president set as a prerequisite for restoring the United States’ preeminent place in the world: the projection of calm competence, both at home and abroad, after four years of turmoil.”

Biden vowed to do more for Black Americans. Some say it’s already too late.

“As he enters his second year in office, President Biden said he would make a stronger push for voting rights: more travel, more vitriol, more ‘making the case’ for what happens if voters continue to support Democrats. But for many Black Americans whose energetic campaigning and votes helped propel Biden to the White House and secure Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the president’s impassioned vow this week came too late,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports.

They are frustrated by his inaction on issues of equity and see a familiar carousel: a politician who promises to amplify Black voices and issues before Election Day, followed by maddening silence and inaction afterward.”

… and beyond

Following investigation, $600 million proposed to fix housing program for native Hawaiians

“Hawaii legislators are seeking to infuse $600 million into the state’s native land program. The move follows a Star-Advertiser/ProPublica investigation that found that the state wasn’t returning many low-income beneficiaries to their ancestral land,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Rob Perez reports.

“As the state government faces what is expected to be a budget surplus, House Speaker Scott Saiki on Wednesday proposed what he called historic legislation to provide the so-called Hawaiian Homes program with funding to address a huge demand for affordable housing among Native Hawaiians. The appropriation would be more than seven times the amount the legislature provided the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the state agency that administers the program, for construction last year.

Omicron

Booster shots in U.S. have strongly protected against severe disease from omicron variant, CDC studies show

“Vaccine boosters provide robust protection against severe disease from the omicron variant in the United States, according to three reports released Friday that offer the first real-world data in this country showing the utility of the additional shots in keeping vaccinated people out of the hospital,” Lena H. Sun, Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating report.

  • “One CDC report analyzed data from hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits, urgent care visits and hospitalizations between August 2021 and Jan. 5, 2022. It showed that a third dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots was 90 percent effective at preventing hospitalization, and 82 percent effective in preventing a trip to the emergency room or urgent care. On average, people had received their booster within about 44 days of seeking medical help.”

An encouraging possibility: Covid might be retreating in the U.S.

“New coronavirus cases are falling in parts of the United States hardest hit by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data, offering an early indication the virus might once again be on retreat,” Maria Caspani reports.

The Biden agenda

Biden defends his Bull Connor analogy after Republicans charge him with crossing a line

President Biden on Jan. 19 responded to Republicans who have taken issue with Biden’s rhetoric on voting rights. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Speaking last week in Atlanta to push voting rights legislation, President Biden asked elected officials how they hoped to be remembered. ‘Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” Biden said. 'Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?’ The response was outrage,” Ashley Parker reports.

  • John Meacham enters the chat: “Biden’s series of historical comparisons seemed inspired by remarks that Jon Meacham, a historian who has advised Biden on messaging, gave during a panel in Congress’s Cannon Caucus Room on the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attacks earlier this month. At the time, speaking alongside a fellow historian and the librarian of Congress, Meacham spoke of the need to 'incentivize' democratic behaviors … ‘How do you do that? I would argue that one idea is history itself,’ Meacham said at the time. ‘What do you want the world to say of you? Do you want to be Bull Connor, or do you want to be John Robert Lewis? Do you want to be Jefferson Davis, or do you want to be Abraham Lincoln?’”

Confronting the reality of Capitol Hill gridlock, Biden is shifting his strategy

“Mr. Biden will retreat from the tangle of day-to-day negotiations with members of his own party that have made him seem powerless to advance key priorities, according to senior White House advisers. The change is part of an intentional reset in how he spends his time, aimed at emphasizing his power to govern as president, rather than getting trapped in a series of congressional battles,” the New York Times's Michael D. Shear, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Katie Rogers report.

Biden’s approval rating sinks to lowest of his presidency

The latest Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, conducted Jan. 19-20, found that “43% of U.S. adults approved of Biden's performance in office, while 52% disapproved and the rest were not sure. The prior week's poll had put Biden at a 45% approval rating and 50% disapproval,” Reuters’s Jason Lange reports.

Pro-Trump influencers followers, visualized

“Pro-Trump commentators’ hopes of developing major followings on right-leaning websites after they left Facebook and Twitter have run up against a harsh reality: Their audiences on those sites have stagnated,” our colleagues Jeremy B. Merrill and Drew Harwell report.

Hot on the left

Kyrsten Sinema’s volunteers and ex-staff are fed up — and speaking out

“VICE News talked to more than a dozen Arizona Democratic activists and former staffers who actively worked to elect Sinema during her 2018 race. Many expressed their frustration not just with her voting record but with her inaccessibility, her seeming delight at infuriating her party’s base, and her unwillingness to meet. All said that they’d likely vote against her in a primary if she runs in 2024,” Vice's Cameron Joseph reports.

Hot on the right

Republicans pitch ‘election police’ as they continue the search for voter fraud

“Reprising the rigged-election belief that has become a mantra among their supporters, Republican politicians in at least three states are proposing to establish police forces to hunt exclusively for voter fraud and other election crimes, a category of offenses that experts say is tiny at best,” the NYT's Michael Wines reports.

  • “The most concrete proposal is in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the State Legislature last week for $5.7 million to create a 52-person ‘election crimes and security’ force in the secretary of state’s office. The plan, which Mr. DeSantis has been touting since the fall, would include 20 sworn police officers and field offices statewide.”

Today in Washington

Biden will speak to the nation’s mayors at 1:30 p.m. at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting at the Capital Hilton.

The president will depart the White House at 4 p.m. for Camp David.

In closing

The M&M’s mascots are getting a controversial makeover

“Each of the anthropomorphized candies has been assigned a fresh personality and look that seems like it would be right at home in the cast description for a new CW drama,” Emily Heil reports.

And columnist Alexandra Petri is asking the right questions, as always: 

“How is designing M&Ms that better reflect the world before I eat them supposed to be a sign of progress? Isn’t there something kind of quietly devastating about the fact that the anthropomorphic chocolate I just devoured had a rich inner life and feelings and was the sort of entity a corporation thought might relate to Gen Z? Is it good that, before I devoured them, I knew that they had made huge strides toward self-acceptance? Does it improve the flavor?

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

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