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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

More Russia sanctions expected as Biden meets with NATO leaders

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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Good morning, Early Birds. We encourage you to remember Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state who died on Wednesday at 84, by reading our colleague Jessica Contrera's 2018 story on how she became an icon for young women. 

Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

At the White House

More Russia sanctions expected as Biden meets with NATO leaders

President Biden is meeting today with the leaders of the NATO countries in an extraordinary summit at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels held a month after Russia invaded Ukraine — and he's expected to announce new measures to hurt the Russian economy while he’s in Europe.

At the top of the list is a plan to “direct shipments of liquefied natural gas to Europe” as “part of a broader effort to help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the plan,” our colleagues Tyler Pager, Ashley Parker, John Hudson and Jeff Stein report.

  • “Biden is also expected to use his stop in Brussels on Thursday and Friday — where he is meeting with NATO, the Group of Seven and the European Council — to announce additional sanctions against Moscow, as well as a crackdown on evasions of the current sanctions.”
  • “The sanctions are expected to hit numerous members of Russia’s parliament, defense companies and subsidiaries, and additional sectors of its economy, according to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe matters not yet made public. They cautioned that planning was fluid and subject to change.”

The U.S. and its allies have already imposed sanctions on Russia’s banking sector as well as on Russian President Vladimir Putin, other top Russian and Belarusian officials and a long list of Russian oligarchs. The Biden administration has also barred U.S. imports of Russian oil.

As our colleagues write, the new penalties expected to be unveiled this week “amount to an escalation of the sweeping push by a U.S.-led coalition of democracies to punish and deter Russia as it pursues its war against Ukraine.”

Pressure to do more

The expected actions also raise the questions of how much pain has been inflicted on Russia so far, what more could be done and what’s the cost of further escalation?

On “a 10-point dial, I’d say we’re at a five or a six, maybe,” said Gerard DiPippo, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. To get to 10 would require "basically a full embargo with secondary sanctions threatening anyone,” including China, from trading with Russia at all.

Many lawmakers are urging the administration to increase the pain.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke with Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.)  on Wednesday about their bill to impose sanctions on Russia’s gold reserves, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

And Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is pushing for tougher sanctions on Russian energy, writing on Monday that the sanctions imposed so far have been “economically damaging to Russia, but not crippling.”

“To cut off Mr. Putin’s oil and gas sales globally, the administration and Congress should impose secondary sanctions on the entirety of Russia’s financial sector,” Toomey wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “These penalties would effectively prohibit foreign banks anywhere in the world, under the threat of U.S. sanctions, from making payments to Russian banks, including for oil and gas.”

The risks of crippling Russia

But there are downsides to imposing sanctions as punishing as those placed on Iran — which DiPippo rated an eight or a nine — on an economy as big as Russia’s. A full blockade of the Russian economy could cause prices of commodities such as wheat and metals to skyrocket in addition to oil and natural gas — and even plunge the world's economy into recession.

Are the U.S. and its allies really willing to pay that price?

“The Western sanctions are not out of ammo in a technical sense,” DiPippo said. “It’s just that they're running up against the wall politically.”

The administration still has sanctions options left that wouldn’t turn the dial all the way to 10.

Richard Nephew, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and former sanctions official in the Obama administration, said one potential step would be targeting Russia’s use of international insurance and transportation systems, which would hurt its ability to trade without cutting it off completely.

“Crippling Russia in one go could also cripple the global economy in one go,” he wrote in an email to The Early. “Better to be measured, thoughtful and sober about this. This is likely to be a long crisis no matter what so important to keep something in reserve to keep every day a bad day in Moscow. That way too they won't get used to the pressure and inured to its impact.”

“After all,” he added, “sanctions are as much psychological as material weapons.”

On the Hill

How progressives are responding to the war in Ukraine

How the left views Ukraine: How should progressives — traditionally suspicious of American military intervention — think about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a virtual town hall with a few guests on Wednesday evening to talk it through.

The panelists — Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); Ben Rhodes, former president Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser; the writer Peter Beinart and Georgia State University's Maria Repnikova — broadly supported the Biden administration's efforts to arm Ukraine.

But they also had some complaints.

Rhodes criticized the White House for not doing more to make the case for investing in clean energy in response to the surge in oil prices rather than urging Saudi Arabia to increase production. “This is the missing piece that progressives, I think, really need to push this administration on,” he said.

And Sanders said he worried that a prolonged standoff with Russia would lead to higher defense spending and crowd out progressives' others priorities.

“For some of my colleagues, what's going on now brings forth a sigh of relief,” he said. “We don't have to talk about ending childhood poverty. You don't have to talk about transforming our energy system. You don't have to talk about taxing billionaires, or dealing with child care or education, or creating universal health [care]. … Because we can go back to the good old Cold War.”

From the courts

Jackson says she would recuse herself from Harvard affirmative action case

Day Three: “Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson sparred with Republican senators Wednesday in a series of charged, sometimes caustic encounters over their assertions she is a judicial activist who is soft on crime, insisting that she would not be a policymaker on the bench,” our colleagues Ann E. Marimow, Seung Min Kim and Robert Barnes report.

  • One big thing: “Jackson said that, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, she plans to recuse herself from a case examining the role race can play in Harvard University’s admissions policies because she serves on the governing board for her alma mater,” per our colleague Amy Wang. “It was the first time Jackson had publicly stated what she planned to do in the case, which some GOP senators had highlighted as a potential conflict of interest after her nomination.”
  • “But the heart of the Republicans’s attack was child sex crimes, a fraught, deeply uncomfortable subject that speaks to all Americans but carries special weight with the conservative fringe, fed on a diet of false QAnon conspiracy theories that hold that a cabal of pedophiles rule Washington,” the New York Times’s Carl Hulse and Jonathan Weisman write.
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faced questions from senators on March 23 during the second day of her confirmation hearing. (Video: Mahlia Posey, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Happening today: “The final day of hearings will include a broad lineup of outside witnesses called by both Democrats and Republicans who will either speak to their support for Jackson or reinforce GOP criticisms of the nominee,” Marimow, Kim and Barnes write.

  • Mark your calendar: The committee is expected to vote on Jackson’s nomination April 4. “It’s almost certain that Jackson … won’t be able to win more than a few Republican votes, meaning it could be one of the closest confirmation votes in U.S. history,” CNN’s Manu Raju writes.

Where senators stand on confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court:

The Data

The weapons that have drawn the world’s attention, visualized: “Russian officials claimed Wednesday to have fired long-range naval cruise missiles into Ukraine,” our colleague Adam Taylor reports. “If confirmed, that would add to the roster of weapons Russia has used in its invasion — some new or cutting-edge — that have drawn the attention and concern of analysts.” Here are all the weapons Russia is or has been accused of using: 

Hypersonic Missiles: “In theory, a fast-moving, maneuverable missile like this could be used to devastating effect, potentially even at long range.”

Cluster Munitions: “Because they end up indiscriminately hitting a wide area, they can pose a large risk to civilian populations, even if they are not specifically targeted.”

Thermobaric Weapons: “They are infamous for being nearly impossible to escape because the flammable gas can seep into enclosed structures.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 


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