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The Daily 202

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

Stalled policing reform looms over Biden’s NYC visit

The Daily 202

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

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The big idea

Stalled policing reform looms over Biden’s NYC visit

President Biden heads to New York City on Thursday eager to highlight his efforts to battle gun crime and violence against police. But another major issue looms large over the visit: what he can do without Congress to overhaul law-enforcement practices decried as racist against Black Americans.

The politics of the midterm elections color Biden’s tour, during which he’ll visit New York City Police Department Headquarters with Mayor Eric Adams (D), a former police captain. The GOP has seized on rising crime to attack the White House and Democrats more broadly, even though the surge began in 2020, under President Donald Trump.

The visit comes after two New York City police officers were shot dead last month. The Biden counter to Republican attacks on crime is emphasizing administration efforts to curb gun violence — and GOP resistance to that Democratic push.

But the president also heads to the Big Apple with progressive advocates publicly pushing him, in sometimes exasperated tones, to take executive action on a range of law-enforcement reforms — a prospect the White House played down but did not rule out in Tuesday’s briefing.

We have not even finalized, nor do I have a preview of exactly when it would be, a police reform executive order,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “So, I would also encourage people to wait to assess what that looks like.”

Psaki also said Biden had held off on acting alone last year because he had hoped to sign the policing overhaul bearing the name of George Floyd, who was killed by police in 2020. “We wanted to leave room and space for that process to proceed in a bipartisan manner,“ she said.

It didn’t.

As my colleagues Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis chronicled in September, bipartisan talks collapsed, with Democrats citing GOP demands for ever more concessions and Republicans saying Biden’s allies wanted to “defund” law enforcement. As Felicia and Mike noted, “Biden, Democratic congressional leaders, [and lead Democratic negotiators] have rejected the idea of slashing police departments’ budgets.”

Activists signaled in December they are running out of patience. In a 12-page letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who will join Biden Thursday, a coalition of groups praised Biden’s verbal commitments but chided “the action taken is not always reflective of the stated objectives” and sometimes “doubling down on the failed policies of the past administration.”

Their demands included more action to hold police accountable for deaths in custody; a formal commitment to ending the federal death penalty, building on Garland’s July 2021 halt of executions; ending the war on drugs and mandatory minimum prison sentences; and decriminalizing marijuana.

While a visit to NYPD headquarters — the first by a sitting president since Barack Obama in 2010 — may be an inauspicious spot for announcing steps on any of those priorities, Biden could do so in the coming weeks, a stretch capped by his State of the Union address on March 1.

There’s some political urgency. As Black History Month dawns, Biden is in trouble with Black voters — the constituency that saved his presidential ambitions in the primaries and that Democrats need to turn out in November if they are to rescue their razor-thin congressional majorities.

A mid-January Quinnipiac public opinion poll found 57 percent of Black voters approved of the job he’s doing, down from 78 percent in April 2021, adding to the pressure to deliver on voting rights and police reforms.

Biden knows. In remarks to South Carolina State University’s fall commencement in December, he declared: “On criminal justice reform: We need it from top to bottom.” “On police reform, I share the frustration,” he said, promising “additional executive actions.”

But he noted his Justice Department had banned chokeholds, restricted use of no-knock warrants, required federal agents to wear and use body cameras, and moved to limit the use of for-profit prisons.

“We’re just getting started,” he said.

What's happening now

CNN president Jeff Zucker announces resignation over undisclosed “relationship” with colleague

“CNN president Jeff Zucker announced to stunned staff on Wednesday morning that he is immediately resigning from his role at the cable news network, which he has led since January 2013,” Jeremy Barr reports.

  • “He said in a statement that his decision stemmed from him not disclosing a ‘consensual relationship’ with his ‘closest colleague’ when it first began. ‘I certainly wish my tenure here had ended differently,’ he wrote. ‘But it was an amazing run. And I loved every minute.’”

Biden is dispatching additional U.S. troops to Eastern Europe

“President Biden is dispatching additional U.S. military personnel to Eastern Europe at the recommendation of the Pentagon, and about 3,000 service members are expected to deploy in the coming days, U.S. officials said Wednesday,” Steve Hendrix and Rachel Pannett report.

“The deployments of U.S. troops from Germany and Fort Bragg, N.C., are temporary moves intended to reassure NATO allies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal Pentagon announcement. The moves reflect concerns that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine, and other service members could also be ordered to go and remain on a heightened alert status, the officials said.”

Trump is ‘absolutely’ tampering with witnesses, January 6 committee member says

“A member of the House panel investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol said Wednesday that former President Donald Trump is tampering with witnesses by vowing to pardon those involved in the riots if reelected in 2024,” CNN’s Chandelis Duster reports.

“‘Absolutely,' Rep. Pete Aguilar of California told CNN's Brianna Keilar on ‘New Day’ when asked if Trump was tampering with witnesses by dangling pardons in front of January 6 defendants. ‘And I think the question is more from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, you know where — where are they? Do they support this? When is enough enough?’”

Washington’s NFL team announces ‘Commanders’ as its new name

“Eighteen months after dropping its longtime nickname, the Redskins, and beginning an extensive search for a new one, Washington’s NFL team revealed Wednesday that it will be the Commanders, a tribute to Washington’s military ties,” Nicki Jhabvala reports.

White House wades into Spotify controversy as India. Arie and more artists pull music

“Press secretary Jen Psaki called it a ‘positive step’ that Spotify had decided to add disclaimers about covid misinformation in response to criticism from medical professionals and musicians that some content, in particular from provocative podcaster Joe Rogan, spreads false information about the coronavirus and vaccines,” Eugene Scott and Adela Suliman report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Fear, anxiety follow third wave of bomb threats targeting HBCUs

“For the third time in just a month, Howard University warned its campus on Tuesday of a bomb threat. Each time, a law enforcement search found no sign of the threatened explosives,” Lauren Lumpkin and Susan Svrluga report.

“The bomb threats at Howard are part of a wave to hit historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) this year. On Jan. 4, at least eight HBCUs were threatened. On Monday, at least six were. Tuesday’s threats, most coming early in the morning on the first day of Black History Month, broadened and deepened the sense of unease: At least 16 universities closed or swept their campuses. In all, more than two dozen have faced similar threats this year.”

Why it’s not so easy to slap sanctions on Vladimir Putin

“Broader U.S. sanctions against Russia could indeed sting. The New York Times reported that U.S. officials are prepared to take a ‘sledgehammer’ to Russia’s financial system by targeting state banks and cutting off foreign lending, sales of sovereign bonds and technologies for critical industries, among other steps. Sanctions on that scale aimed at a country the size of Russia are novel and risk disruptions to the global financial system as well as Russian retaliation … But if fully imposed, such sanctions could serve as serious punishment for Russian transgression,” columnist Anthony Faiola writes.

Sanctions targeting Putin himself might be more difficult to make count. For one, to even consider freezing his assets, you’d have to know where they are. And Putin has buried his wealth better than any James Bond villain.”

… and beyond

Up to 15 million people could lose Medicaid when pandemic ends

“States expect the current federal public health emergency to expire this year, triggering a requirement that they must comb through their Medicaid rolls to see who is no longer eligible. Those audits, which have been suspended for the past two years, could lead to as many as 15 million people losing their health insurance, including 6 million children, according to an analysis from the Urban Institute,” Politico's Megan Messerly reports.

The latest on omicron

The U.S. covid death rate is far higher than that of other wealthy countries

“Two years into the pandemic, the coronavirus is killing Americans at far higher rates than people in other wealthy nations, a sobering distinction to bear as the country charts a course through the next stages of the pandemic,” the New York Times's Benjamin Mueller and Eleanor Lutz report.

The Biden agenda

Biden to relaunch ‘cancer moonshot,’ aiming to reduce death rate, administration officials say

“President Biden, renewing his pledge to ‘end cancer as we know it,’ plans Wednesday to announce a multipronged effort to bolster prevention, screening and research, with the goal of reducing the death rate from the disease by 50 percent during the next 25 years, senior administration officials said,” Laurie McGinley reports.

  • The plan includes: “Urging Americans to resume cancer screening, to make up for the millions of tests missed during the coronavirus pandemic; providing more equitable access to care; and improving the lives of patients during treatment and beyond. The blueprint calls for a new ‘cancer Cabinet’ of officials from across the federal government to coordinate activities, and for the speedup of liquid biopsies to detect multiple cancers through blood tests.
  • The plan does not include: Plans on how to pay for it.

In Guantánamo trial, the Biden administration rejects testimony obtained from torture

“The Biden administration has pledged to no longer invoke statements made by a prisoner during his years in C.I.A. custody in his death-penalty proceedings, repudiating an earlier effort to use evidence obtained from torture in a case at Guantánamo Bay,” the NYT’s Carol Rosenberg reports.

“A 37-page filing submitted Monday night at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the law governing military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay ‘prohibits the admission of statements obtained through torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at all phases of a military commission.’”

Biden is lagging on his plan to forgive student debt

“Legislative efforts to forgive student debt have sputtered in Congress, and progressive lawmakers are ratcheting up pressure on Mr. Biden to take executive action, calling on him to cancel up to $50,000 in debt per borrower,” the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Restuccia and Gabriel T. Rubin report.

White House taps Doug Jones to guide Supreme Court nominee

“For Mr. Biden’s nominee, the path ahead could indeed be treacherous: The president has promised to name a Black woman, a decision that has drawn complaints from Republicans and foreshadowed a contentious process. With his selection of [former senator Doug] Jones, Mr. Biden appears to be offering a pre-emptive olive branch. Mr. Jones was the first Democrat in decades to hold a Senate seat in deep-red Alabama, and he frequently co-sponsored bipartisan legislation during his three years in the Senate,” the NYT’s Katie Rogers reports.

New York’s current and proposed congressional maps, visualized

Democratic state legislators in New York released a congressional redistricting map Sunday that redrew House lines to give Democrats as many as three more seats at a time when the party’s majority is in jeopardy,” our colleagues Colby Itkowitz and Adrian Blanco report.

Hot on the left

One of Biden’s possible Supreme Court nominees has had her criminal justice rulings repeatedly overturned

“At the moment, South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs is the only person confirmed by the Biden administration to be under consideration for the soon-to-be-vacant Supreme Court seat. A favored pick of fellow South Carolinians Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the highest-ranking Black leader in Congress, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Childs’s work during her time as an attorney has recently come under scrutiny, as she defended employers against racial and gender discrimination allegations while working as a partner at the anti-union South Carolina law firm Nexsen Pruet,” the American Prospect's Alexander Sammon writes.

“Childs’s track record as a district court judge, a post she has held since 2010, has received less inspection. On numerous occasions, Childs issued such punitive decisions on criminal justice issues that those rulings were eventually overturned on appeal by higher courts. Throughout the 2010s … Childs ruled against both plaintiffs and defendants who alleged everything from excessive force by prison guards to ineffective legal counsel to sentencing errors.”

Hot on the right

Is DeSantis next in line?

“There was something different next to the ‘TRUMP WON!’ T-shirts, the ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN’ hats and the ‘LET’S GO BRANDON’ flags for sale at former President Donald Trump’s recent Texas rally: a collection of ‘DeSantis 2024’ bumper stickers,” the Associated Press's Jill Colvin reports.

“As Trump aims for a political comeback, the [Ron] DeSantis memorabilia signaled a shift emerging among the MAGA faithful. While the vast majority of the more than two dozen people interviewed at his rally at a Texas fairground cheered the prospect of another Trump White House bid, some began to concede that there might be better options.”

Today in Washington

Biden, Vice President Harris and first lady Jill Biden are hosting an event “to reignite the Cancer Moonshot” at 1:30 p.m. in the East Room. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also attend.

In closing

Breaking: Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow

Six more weeks of winter it is, folks. (If you're a believer.)

“While Phil’s handlers claim he is right ‘100 percent of the time, of course!’ data shows the supersized squirrel has about a 40 percent accuracy rate over his career. It remains to be seen if the prognostications of the ‘Great Oz of Weather Forecasting’ should be chucked, but we can offer our insight by looking at stuff like numbers and weather models, at least until we can get our own forecasting groundhog,” our Capital Weather Gang's Kasha Patel writes.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.