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The Daily 202

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

U.S. warns Russia it may punish kids of officials and oligarchs over Ukraine

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 1790, the U.S. Supreme Court convened for the first time. It recessed the next day, because only three of the six justices were present.

The big idea

U.S. warns Russia it may punish kids of officials and oligarchs over Ukraine

If Russian President Vladimir Putin further invades Ukraine, the resulting U.S. sanctions could get intensely personal, targeting not just advisers and oligarchs in his inner circle, but their adult children, who may find themselves locked out of Western universities, U.S. officials say.

Specifically invoking the idea of punishing Russian oligarchs by barring their offspring from schools in the West is attention-grabbingly unusual. It’s more common to take aim at those who actively facilitate financial transactions by their parents to help them skirt sanctions.

“We have developed specific sanctions packages for both Russian elites and their family members,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at her briefing on Monday, confirming part of reports in outlets like The Financial Times.

“The individuals we've identified are in or near the inner circle of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision-making, or at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin's destabilizing behavior,” Psaki said.

But it’s not just oligarchs close to Putin, or his foreign policy and national security aides who should worry, according to senior U.S. officials, though many could be on the list. It’s their relatives, including those far away from the brinkmanship in the Kremlin.

Putin intimates “will no longer be able to use their spouses or other family members as proxies to evade sanctions,” according to an explanation from senior administration officials. “Sanctions would cut them off from the international financial system and ensure that they and their family members will no longer [be] able to enjoy the perks of parking their money in the west and attending elite western universities.”

“The Russian elite should fear the consequences that would befall them should Russia further invade,” according to the sanctions sketch provided to The Daily 202 on the condition of anonymity.

To be sure, the meat of the sanctions package is far more ambitious, potentially hitting Russia’s biggest banks and other financial institutions, with aftershocks for the West, notably Europe’s economies. U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted this retaliation will inflict far more pain on Moscow than the response to its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

And the use of individual sanctions targeting the relatives of prominent Russians is not a new tool.

Between 2014 and 2018, when the United States used sanctions in response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, “Washington has levied sanctions against roughly 250 individuals, including top officials, oligarchs and their family members, and hundreds of companies and associated entities,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The idea of adding laser-focused individual sanctions to measures targeting vast economies or even whole sectors of Russia’s economy enjoys support among some experts — as well as from the imprisoned Alexei Navalny, the country’s foremost opposition figure. The argument is that they would hit influential Russians’  quality of life.

I discussed them a year ago tomorrow with Dan Fried, a retired diplomat who crafted punitive measures against Moscow as State Department Coordinator for Sanctions Policy and is now with The Atlantic Council.

“If the United States and the European Union jointly block a Russian’s assets, they could effectively freeze them out of Western financial markets.”

“‘They can’t sail their yachts to Barcelona because they cannot do business, even in euros, no European bank can do business with them,’ he told me in an interview. ‘It also means that their property in the West, their houses, that’s all basically locked down.’”

“The Russians probably wouldn’t give me a visa to go to Moscow. I haven’t asked. But I can live without that. It’s not hard for me not to go to Moscow. But it is hard for the Russian, sort of, elite not to go to the West,” he said.

There’s a long tradition of powerful Russians sending their kids to Western schools, going on vacation in the West, “parking your ill-gotten gains, your dirty money, in London or E.U. real estate or, for that matter in Miami or in New York City real estate,” Fried said.

As for Navalny, he urged the European Union in late 2020 to go after oligarchs rather than “colonels or generals or people who are definitely not travelling a lot or have bank accounts in Europe,” The Guardian reported at the time.

“Navalny singled out the billionaire metals magnate and former Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov, and said ‘no one in the Kremlin will treat European sanctions seriously’ as long as Usmanov could moor his yacht in Barcelona or Monaco. He said sanctions against oligarchs such as Usmanov and Abramovich would be welcomed by 99% of Russians.”

“‘Just target Russian oligarchs,” The Guardian quoted Navalny as saying. “‘Guys, you are acting against Russian people, you are acting against Europe, you are all of the time advocating that Europe is something bad. So please, take your yachts and get them somewhere to the nice harbours of Belarus Republic.’”

What's happening now

4.3 million Americans left their jobs in December as omicron variant disrupted everything

“Some 4.3 million people quit or changed jobs in December — down from last month’s all-time high but still near record levels, as the labor market remained unsettled and the omicron variant swept through the United States,” Eli Rosenberg reports. “Employers reported some 10.9 million job openings in the survey, well above pre-pandemic averages.”

  • The elevated quitting data, which represented nearly three percent of the country’s employed population, is another window into how the labor market’s patterns have been upended by the pandemic. While the crisis was originally marked by mass joblessness — more than 20 million people lost their jobs in the earliest days of the pandemic, many temporarily — 2021 was defined by a strong labor market recovery as well as complaints by employers about difficulty finding available workers.”

Putin expected to publicly address tensions with West for first time this year, as diplomacy over Ukraine crisis continues

“Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to publicly address tensions with the West for the first time in more than a month on Tuesday, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at averting a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Isabelle Khurshudyan and Rachel Pannett report.

“Putin will hold a joint news conference after a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he expects Putin to address Russia’s demands that the United States and NATO not expand their military alliance eastward.”

Trump says congressional investigators should examine why Pence didn’t reject electoral college results

“Former president Donald Trump on Tuesday advocated a new focus for congressional investigators: why then-Vice President Mike Pence did not take steps on Jan. 6, 2021, to reject electoral college votes from several states won by Joe Biden,” John Wagner, Josh Dawsey and Felicia Sonmez report.

Critics slam Cruz for saying Biden’s vow to nominate first Black woman to Supreme Court is ‘offensive’

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) says President Biden’s vow to nominate and confirm the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court is ‘offensive’ and ‘an insult to Black women,’ becoming the latest Republican to question what’s expected to be a history-making nomination to the high court,” Timothy Bella reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

On a potential invasion path, Ukrainians watch, worry, plan — and some dance

“As Ukrainian, U.S. and NATO officials debate the likelihood of a Russian invasion, Ukrainians along the highway are split on whether their homes will be in the path of potential tank convoys. An escalation is unlikely, some argued, while others waxed nostalgic about the Soviet Union, which included Ukraine as one of its republics. And as talk about destruction reaches a fever pitch, some Ukrainians have hit the dance floor in clubs to escape a sense of dread for a fleeting moment,” Alex Horton reports.

One of [Kateryna] Ponomarenko’s concerns is what she sees as a sense of complacency. She said many people in the region around Chernihiv have been untouched by the conflict in the east, where Russian-backed separatists carved out two enclaves. If people in her region have not been personally affected by the deaths of nearly 14,000 people since 2014, the conflict can be an afterthought.”

“‘Most people are not taking it seriously,’ she said.”

… and beyond

Is there a Constitutional crisis on the horizon?

“Donald Trump is already signaling that he will run for president in 2024. A Biden-Trump rematch risks worsening our country’s already deep divisions. But there’s more to be worried about: The next election will provoke a genuine constitutional crisis, unless decisive steps are taken soon to prevent it,Bruce Ackerman and Gerard Magliocca write for Politico Magazine.

“Section 3 of the 14th Amendment — the Disqualification Clause — expressly bars any person from holding ‘any office, civil or military, under the United States’ if he ‘engaged in insurrection’ against the Constitution after previously swearing to uphold it ‘as an officer of the United States.’ These terms definitely apply to Trump, and some Democrats are exploring the use of Section 3 against him.”

Years into the pandemic, covid-19 widows are still struggling to get Social Security benefits

“Across the country, Social Security Administration offices have been closed since the start of the pandemic and with nearly 900,000 additional deaths caused by coronavirus, there are thousands of people seeking Social Security survivors benefits, some who know little about the process. The majority of people seeking survivors benefits, by far, are women,” the 19th's Chabeli Carrazana reports.

The latest on omicron

Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children under 5 could be available by the end of February, people with knowledge say

“Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, the manufacturers of the vaccine, are expected to submit to the Food and Drug Administration as early as Tuesday a request for emergency-use authorization for the vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old, which would make it the first vaccine available for that age group. Older children already can receive the shot,” Laurie McGinley, Lena H. Sun and Carolyn Y. Johnson report.

The Biden agenda

Biden to meet with Sens. Durbin, Grassley as search proceeds for next Supreme Court nominee

“Biden will host Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and ranking Republican Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) at the White House ‘to consult with them and hear their advice about this vacancy,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday,” Amy B Wang and Seung Min Kim report.

Biden begins crackdown on power plant pollution

“On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency affirmed its authority to curb mercury from smokestacks, reversing a 2020 Trump administration policy. The move signals a broader effort by the administration to cut greenhouse gases and other pollutants from U.S. power plants, which rank as the nation’s second-biggest contributor to global warming,” Dino Grandoni reports.

U.S. sends Venezuelan migrants to Colombia under Biden’s new border plan

Venezuelans have crossed into the United States in recent months in record numbers, typically after flying to a Mexican border city and walking across to surrender to American authorities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped 24,819 Venezuelans in December, up from 206 a year earlier,” Nick Miroff reports.

Ron Klain reportedly leaked Breyer’s retirement news to a ‘limited’ group

“Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin told reporters he received a ‘surprise’ call on Wednesday morning from White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who ‘said that President Biden wanted [Durbin] to know that Stephen Breyer was about to announce his retirement from the court,’” the Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports.

Inside the all-out effort to keep Biden covid-free

“It’s no surprise that unusual steps are taken to protect any president. But the strict precautions could also threaten to undercut the Biden administration’s own efforts to tell Americans — especially those who are vaccinated and boosted — that they can get on with something closer to their normal lives in the face of the omicron wave,” the Associated Press’s Zeke Miller reports.

The White House is retooling its Manchin strategy

“White House officials are planning a more subtle approach to try to win pivotal U.S. Senator Joe Manchin's support for a key part of President Joe Biden's legislative agenda, hoping that keeping matters private and avoiding public spats can help salvage the ambitious Build Back Better climate and social spending bill,” Jarrett Renshaw and Richard Cowan, Andrea Shalal write for Reuters.

How well do you know Biden's environmental record?

Take our quiz to find out.

Hot on the left

Most Senate Dems are backing off Manchin and Sinema. Not Bernie.

Bernie Sanders is still encouraging liberal primary challengers to Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. The rest of the Democratic caucus is ready to move on and try to keep hold of their fragile majority,” Politico's Burgess Everett and Marianna Levine report.

“Mere days after their two centrists’ high-profile refusal to change chamber rules in order to pass election reform, Democrats say there’s no more time for infighting in a 50-50 Senate. With zero margin for error, the party now desperately needs Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Manchin (D-W.Va.)’s votes for both a Supreme Court confirmation and a potential revival of President Joe Biden’s climate and social spending bill.”

Hot on the right

Airing 2020 election grievances, Trump appears in first TV ad for Georgia gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue

Donald Trump speaks directly to the camera, flanked by a pair of American flags, in the first television ad aired by Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue, underscoring how much that race centers on the former president and his grievances about the 2020 election,” John Wagner reports.

“The 30-second spot, which debuted Tuesday, opens with ‘a message from President Trump’ in which Trump excoriates the state’s incumbent Republican governor, Brian Kemp, for not intervening to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.”

Today in Washington

At 1:45 p.m., Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will host Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in the Oval Office to talk about the forthcoming Supreme Court opening.

In closing

Why did the chicken cross the road?

“To pose a threat to national security, obviously,” the Military Times's Sarah Sicard writes. “On Monday morning, an unnamed chicken was caught snooping around security, looking for a way to get into the Pentagon.”

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which rescued the adventurous bird, is accepting name suggestions.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.