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The Early 202

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

The congressman who took Zelensky's plea to heart

The Early 202

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

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Good morning, Early Birds. Thank you, Zach! Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

In today’s edition: Union advocates on Capitol Hill want a vote next week on a resolution that would allow them to organize and bargain collectively … President Biden’s blunt comments on Ukraine can veer from U.S. policy … Steny Hoyer protégé Jazz Lewis drops bid to succeed Rep. Anthony Brown … TikTok just created an alternate universe (kinda) ... but first …

On the Hill

Zelensky asked lawmakers to pressure companies to stop doing business in Russia. How many listened?

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed members of Congress last month, he made a specific request of every lawmaker: Use their influence to convince American companies to stop doing business in Russia.

“Ladies and gentlemen, members of Congress, please take the lead,” Zelensky said. “If you have companies in your districts who finance the Russian military machine in Russia, you should put pressure.”

At least one lawmakers took Zelensky’s plea to heart.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), who represents an affluent district in Chicago’s northern suburbs, asked his staff to survey the district's biggest companies and see if they did business with Russia. His office reached out to 22 companies, according to a Schneider aide.

A few health care firms were still active in Russia, which Schneider thought was understandable. But his office identified one company that hadn’t left Russia and didn’t do anything essential: Tenneco, a Lake Forest, Ill., auto parts manufacturer with four plants in Russia.

So Schneider sent a letter to Tenneco, citing Zelensky’s “compelling, passionate and clear” appeal to Congress.

  • “I respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision and to take steps to suspend the company’s sales and business operations in Russia,” Schneider wrote to Brian Kesseler, Tenneco’s chief executive. “Your action on this matter is an important step in ratcheting up economic pressure on Putin’s evil regime and will set an example for the many small businesses across Illinois looking for guidance during this war.”

Tenneco ultimately cut ties with its Russian operations — a decision Bill Dawson, a Tenneco spokesman, said was made before Schneider wrote to the CEO. The company has idled two of its Russian plants “and the other two we have ceased communications with and have no information on their status,” Dawson wrote in an email to the Early.

“We haven’t shipped anything in or out of Russia since the conflict started,” he added.

The impact of Zelensky's plea

It’s not clear how many other lawmakers Zelensky inspired.

A Yale University team of 30 or so researchers has compiled a continuously updated database of companies and ranked them on how much they’ve done to extricate themselves from Russia. 

The Early reached out to lawmakers who represent states and districts in which about two dozen American companies that received the lowest grade, “F,” are headquartered. While many of them — including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) — said they encourage companies to leave the Russian market, none of them reported lobbying individual companies the way Schneider did.

While congressional ethics rules forbid lawmakers from using their offices to apply undo pressure on private companies, the rules are unlikely to prevent them from lobbying companies to stop doing business in Russia, according to Robert Walker, a former chief counsel and staff director of the House and Senate ethics committees who now of counsel at the law firm Wiley.

If lawmakers “were to request, or even urge, that the private entity consider not doing business with Russia, I think that would be OK from a congressional ethics perspective,” Walker wrote in an email to the Early.

But there are other obstacles to lawmakers trying to convince American companies to leave the Russian market firm by firm.

  • It's not always apparent which companies are still active in Russia and which aren’t. An aide to Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said he had no idea the Donaldson Company — a filtration company based in his suburban Minneapolis district that “continues sales to Russia,” according to the Yale database — was doing so. (Donaldson didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Lawmakers might also be reluctant to pressure companies that employ their constituents and, in some cases, have PACs that contribute to their campaigns.

Among the American companies that the Yale database lists as “still operating in Russia” is Koch Industries. The political network overseen by Koch’s chairman and chief executive, Charles Koch, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars backing Republicans.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), in whose state Koch Industries is headquartered, said in a statement that he had “called on all companies to stop doing business with Russia.”

“That said, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and in some instances, there may be security concerns for workers of American businesses who abruptly walk away,” Marshall said. “Additionally, there may be food security concerns for the American companies that are selling things like seed and fertilizer — already we are going to have a huge worldwide shortage of food because so much wheat, corn and fertilizer comes from Ukraine and Russia.”

Tracking ties to Russia

The Yale researchers who created and update the database of companies doing business with Russia don’t subscribe to the idea that companies that sell medicine and seeds should be exempt from pressure to leave the country.

“We take a very absolutist position on this,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at Yale’s School of Management who leads the project.

  • “Analgesics and antihistamines and hand creams, lotions for dry skin and stuff — that's not life sustaining,” he told the Early. “And even if it were life sustaining, it doesn't matter. Gandhi was in favor of stopping ambulances to bring civil society to a halt.”

Many of the American companies that Sonnenfeld’s team has identified as still active in Russia — including Ambarella, Carter's, Dover Corporation, Enovis, FM Global, Nature's Sunshine, Parker Hannifin and Tenneco — told the Early that's not the case. 

Others argued that their presence in Russia is limited or that they're in the process of extricating themselves from the country.

Such explanations don't satisfy Sonnenfeld, who said his team stands firm when companies and their lawyers reach out to protest. His team will only reconsider the grades they hand out if companies publicly state that they’re leaving Russia, he said.

“We could not give a damn what they claim their private positions are,” he said. “They are, in many, many cases, false, and they're making statements that they won't then live by later.”

Parker Hannifin, an Ohio manufacturing company, published a statement on its website on Tuesday after the Early reached out saying it has closed its office and warehouse in Moscow on March 31 and would “no longer do business in this country.”

The Yale team raised the company grade hours later from an “F” — “still operating in Russia” — to an “A.”

Congressional staffers push for House vote on union resolution

Now or never: The Congressional Workers Union urged House leadership Wednesday to press ahead with unionization efforts by voting on a resolution that would give Hill staffers legal protections to organize, “expeditiously.”

“As congressional workers, we know intimately the process for bringing legislation to the floor for a vote, and we know Congress can do so rapidly, even under immense constraints,” the group said in a letter addressed to top Democrats. “In fact, many of us have worked overtime, nights, and weekends to make it possible for Congress to pass major legislation on a fast track.”

The recipients of the letter – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), and Reps. Jim McGovern (Mass.), Zoë Lofgren (Calif.) and Robert C. Scott (Va.) – did not respond to requests for comment. 

The group has publicly bemoaned the slowing momentum, in what has been a stark change of pace since Pelosi and Biden threw their weight behind the organizing effort earlier this year. 

At the White House

Biden’s blunt comments on Ukraine can veer from U.S. policy

Biden, the blunt: President Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘war criminal,’ although U.S. officials had not made that legal determination,” our colleague Tyler Pager writes. “During his trip to Europe last month, he seemingly urged regime change in an ad-libbed line at the conclusion of a speech in Warsaw, then clarified he was expressing ‘moral outrage’ rather than articulating American policy.”

  • “Then on Tuesday, the president once again veered from his prepared remarks, labeling Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine a ‘genocide,’ despite top U.S. officials saying last week they had not yet seen evidence of actions meeting that definition, and even though a legal review on the matter has not been completed.”
  • “Biden’s off-the-cuff comment marked the latest example of the tension between his often-emotional response to Putin’s brutal war and the international implications of a president’s words.”
  • “Throughout his political career, Biden has cultivated a reputation for unscripted candor, a trait allies laud as humanizing but adversaries deride as undisciplined.”

The campaign

Jazz Lewis, Hoyer’s protégé, drops bid to succeed Rep. Anthony Brown

Another one bites the dust:Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), the 33-year-old liberal Annapolis lawmaker and protege of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), has dropped out of the Democratic primary race in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, citing a combination of lack of fundraising and viability issues in a race that includes prominent Prince George’s County figures,” our colleague Meagan Flynn reports. Lewis told Flynn “he would instead seek reelection in the House of Delegates in his current seat, Maryland’s 24th district.”

DNC moves to remake presidential primary calendar

On your mark, get set … “The Democratic National Committee is officially reopening its presidential nominating process, upending the current calendar led by Iowa and New Hampshire and requiring them — and any other interested states — to apply for early-state status in 2024,” Politico’s Elena Schneider reports.

  • “Members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee voted on Wednesday to set the application process for how states will be considered as candidates to lead off the presidential primaries, potentially expanding the roster from four to five states.”

The Data

TikTok’s alternate universe, visualized: “Last month, as many tech companies sided with Ukraine over Russia’s invasion, TikTok appeared to follow suit by suspending new video uploads and live streams from Russia,” our colleague Will Oremus reports. “The company said it made the move to protect Russian users from the country’s new laws criminalizing criticism of its military.”

  • “But the wildly popular, Chinese-owned social media app also walled off Russian users from seeing any posts at all from outside the country, including from Ukraine — effectively creating a second, censored version of its platform. For the tens of millions of Russians on TikTok, the outside world has fallen silent.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 

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Your friendly neighborhood Zach 🦸🏻‍♂️

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @jaxalemany.

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