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The big idea
The White House pushes back — gently — against Coons’ Ukraine warnings
Nearly two months into Russia’s new war in Ukraine, the White House is pretty used to rebuffing critics who say it’s time to consider sending U.S. troops into direct combat with Moscow’s forces. That might unleash World War III, President Biden and his advisers regularly warn.
But what was unusual when Biden press secretary Jen Psaki again dismissed the idea on Monday was where it originated: Sen. Christopher A. Coons, the Delaware Democrat who holds the seat Biden once held, sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Biden once chaired, and who must be numbered among the president’s closest confidants, whether in or out of Congress.
“Senator Coons is a close friend of the president’s and the administration, and we just respectfully disagree with his proposal,” Psaki told reporters. “We support the Ukrainians in every way possible. But the president is not going to fight a war with Russia.”
(Psaki also brushed aside Coons’ warning that Ukraine risks turning into Syria, where Russia has waged a bloody years-long campaign against civilians, unless the United States and its allies step up their support for the government in Kyiv. “We would not share that assessment,” she said.)
What Coons said
In fairness to Coons, the senator didn’t explicitly call for sending U.S. forces to Ukraine. What he proposed was a discussion between Congress and the White House about when doing so might be appropriate in the face of escalating Russian violence — notably against civilians, and perhaps even inside NATO territory.
“There will almost certainly be an incident in which [Russian President Vladimir] Putin goes too far,” Coons said in a moderated back-and-forth at the University of Michigan’s Ford School on Thursday.
Facing battlefield setbacks, the Russian leader may use chemical weapons inside Ukraine or strike inside the territory of a NATO partner, perhaps falsely claiming an “accident,” or striking at the pipeline of Western arms going to forces loyal to Kyiv, Coons said.
- “We are in a very dangerous moment where it is important that, on a bipartisan and measured way, we in Congress and the administration come to a common position about when we are willing to go the next step and to send not just arms, but troops to the aid in defense of Ukraine,” Coons said. “If the answer is never, then we are inviting another level of escalation in brutality by Putin."
The senator also criticized Biden’s position that the United States will stay out of a direct war with Russia but will defend “every inch” of NATO partners’ territory as “somewhat arbitrary” and said “we don’t really know” what U.S. actions Putin might see as an escalatory step too far.
He’s right. We don’t. But the administration argues living up to treaty obligations and treating NATO partners differently than non-NATO friends isn’t arbitrary. It’s a carefully codified alliance.
And U.S. officials say keeping Putin guessing about what would trigger a given NATO response helps keep him at bay. Biden is unlikely to spell out specific circumstances in which he’d recalibrate — and if his public accusations that Putin is committing war crimes and perpetrating genocide in Ukraine aren’t enough to force a policy change, what could be?
‘A moment of enormous challenge’
Still, Coons’ comments tap into American frustration, sympathy with Ukraine and hostility toward Russia amid mounting allegations it has been carrying out massacres of civilians.
And it’s not like the landscape can’t shift: Think of how far the administration has come in just the last two weeks. It wasn’t that long ago Biden aides were awkwardly tap-dancing all over the place on the question of whether the United States would or could train Ukrainians on NATO soil. That shyness (or was it caution?) is gone.
- It was also telling that Coons, in his Michigan conversation, invoked the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In that standoff, President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba, enforced by the U.S. Navy, and publicly refused to rule out using force to take out Soviet missiles based on the island.
The crisis was something of an exception. In other Cold War showdowns with the U.S.S.R., the United States condemned actions by Moscow but avoided a direct military confrontation — JFK’s Berlin airlift in 1961, or the U.S. response to the U.S.S.R. crushing the “Prague Spring” in 1968, for example.
On CBS News’ Face The Nation on Sunday, Coons did not explicitly repeat his suggestion of finding a national consensus on sending troops to Ukraine. But he said the world found itself at “a moment of enormous challenge,” requiring a reassessment.
“If Vladimir Putin, who has shown us how brutal he can be, is allowed to just continue to massacre civilians, to commit war crimes throughout Ukraine without NATO, without the west coming more forcefully to his aid, I deeply worry that what`s going to happen next is that we will see Ukraine turn into Syria,” he said. “Putin will only stop when we stop him.”
What’s happening now
Biden restores climate safeguards in key environmental law, reversing Trump
“The new rule will require federal agencies to scrutinize the climate impacts of major infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that required the government to assess the environmental consequences of federal actions, such as approving the construction of oil and gas pipelines,” Dino Grandoni and Anna Phillips report.
Citing Russia’s war, IMF cuts global growth forecast to 3.6%
“The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday downgraded the outlook for the world economy this year and next, blaming Russia’s war in Ukraine for disrupting global commerce, pushing up oil prices, threatening food supplies and increasing uncertainty already heightened by the coronavirus and its variants,” the Associated Press’s Paul Wiseman reports.
Joe Kahn to succeed Dean Baquet as New York Times executive editor
“Kahn, who joined the Times in 1998 after stints at the Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning News, has the kind of résumé that has traditionally lined the path to masthead jobs at the paper. He covered international economics and trade from the Times’s Washington bureau and Wall Street from the business desk in the city before serving as Beijing bureau chief and then rising through the ranks of management on the foreign staff,” Jeremy Barr reports.
Leaders in civil rights, equity, and health care announce coalition to advance health equity
The Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease is “focused on eliminating barriers to health care for communities of color disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases like obesity,” according to a news release.
The war in Ukraine
Russia begins ‘battle for Donbas’ in east, sets new Mariupol surrender deadline
“Russia declared Tuesday that the ‘next phase’ of the war in Ukraine was underway, kicking off a major assault on key areas in the east — while giving Ukrainian holdout forces in Mariupol a new deadline to surrender,” Andrew Jeong, Adela Suliman, Ellen Francis, Annabelle Timsit, Bryan Pietsch, Rachel Pannett and David L. Stern report.
More key updates:
Lunchtime reads from The Post
Russia’s Jamestown in America — and the oligarch who has helped fund it
“Since Vladimir Putin loosed Russian troops on Ukraine, there hasn’t been much pity for Russian oligarchs, who have seen their funds seized with alacrity. But there exists in America, thanks in part to a now-sanctioned Putin-allied billionaire, the most genuinely Russian landmark in the Lower 48. It’s called Fort Ross — or Fort Russ, as the Russians called it, way back in 1812, when it was founded. Today it’s a California state park and on the National Register of Historic Places,” Jason Vest writes for The Washington Post Magazine.
“As any son of Moscow or daughter of Vladivostok making a pilgrimage to the park will tell you, Fort Ross is the Russian equivalent of Jamestown. I know this because when hiking Fort Ross when I lived up the road, I encountered more than a few Russian visitors who told me so in those terms. They were serious about connecting with their country’s history in America. The Golden State and Russia go back a long ways, and not just because of necessary alliance in World War II.”
… and beyond
Mexico shuts elite investigations unit in blow to U.S. drugs cooperation
“Mexico has disbanded a select anti-narcotics unit that for a quarter of a century worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to tackle organized crime, two sources said, in a major blow to bilateral security cooperation,” Reuters’s Drazen Jorgic reports.
“The group was one of the Sensitive Investigative Units (SIU) operating in about 15 countries which U.S. officials tout as invaluable in dismantling powerful smuggling rings and busting countless drug lords around the globe. The units are trained by the DEA but under the control of national governments.”
- What the unit did: “In Mexico, the over 50 officers in the SIU police unit were considered many of the country's best and worked on the biggest cases such as the 2016 capture of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, then the boss of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.”
The latest on covid
New CDC team: A weather service to forecast what’s next in pandemic
“A new team of federal health scientists officially embarks Tuesday on a mission to provide what has often been absent from the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic: better, faster information about what’s likely to happen next in this public health emergency and in future outbreaks,” Lena H. Sun reports.
The Biden agenda
Biden’s been consumed by Ukraine. His team wants to bring the focus back home.
“With the war in Ukraine entering its second month and continuing to dominate global headlines, White House allies are expressing concern that voters may see the president as more consumed by international affairs than domestic ones,” Politico’s Laura Barrón-López and Jonathan Lemire report.
“The White House itself is keenly aware that voters’ perceptions about the economy are still likely to determine the outcome of November’s midterm elections. And as they warily watch the president’s poor poll numbers, two senior administration officials said a concerted effort is being launched to reemphasize to Americans that the president understands their pain and is trying to help.”
Biden has told Obama he’s running again
“President Biden has told former President Obama that he is planning to run for reelection in 2024, two sources told the Hill’s Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant.
“[Biden] wants to run and he’s clearly letting everyone know,” said one of the two sources familiar with the conversations between Obama and Biden.
U.S. calls for an end to destructive satellite tests in space
“The United States will no longer conduct destructive tests of satellites, Vice President Harris announced Monday, and called on other nations to agree to a set of rules governing responsible behavior in space as Earth orbit becomes increasingly congested with dangerous debris,” Christian Davenport reports.
“The announcement, made during a visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base on Monday, came five months after Russia blew up a dead satellite with a missile, creating a massive debris field that will stay in orbit for years.”
Biden to hold first road fundraisers of presidency
“Joe Biden is about to start raising money on the road for the first time in his presidency, headlining fundraisers on Thursday in Portland, Ore., and Seattle for the Democratic National Committee," sources tell Axios’s Jonathan Swan and Hans Nichols.
“The pandemic has severely constricted Biden’s in-person ability to raise money, thank donors and motivate them to give more. Vaccinations, declining rates of severe illness and relaxations on gatherings make the turn possible. Rising inflation and tanking poll numbers make it necessary.”
House members retiring from Congress, visualized
With the midterms about seven months away, 30 Democrats have announced their retirements compared with 17 Republicans. Two Republicans announced their retirement this month, but the GOP’s total is still outpaced by Democrats by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. We are tracking every House member retiring from Congress.
Hot on the left
Life in the real economy
“As one remarkable survey released today by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) demonstrates, the number of workers in starvation-wage jobs still numbers in the many millions,” the American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson writes.
“And, as another remarkable study by Rick Wartzman of Claremont University’s Peter Drucker Institute demonstrates, American corporations have massively redistributed their revenues from employees to shareholders over the past six decades. Wartzman’s survey was first published by Capital & Main.”
Hot on the right
Trump allies continue legal drive to erase his loss, stoking election doubts
“The efforts have failed to change any statewide outcomes or uncover mass election fraud. Legal experts dismiss them as preposterous, noting that there is no plausible scenario under the Constitution for returning Mr. Trump to office,” the NYT’s Maggie Haberman, Alexandra Berzon and Michael S. Schmidt report.
“But just as Mr. Eastman’s original plan to use Congress’s final count of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the election was seen as far-fetched in the run-up to the deadly Capitol riot, the continued efforts are fueling a false narrative that has resonated with Mr. Trump’s supporters and stoked their grievances. They are keeping alive the same combustible stew of conspiracy theory and misinformation that threatens to undermine faith in democracy by nurturing the lie that the election was corrupt.”
Zoom out: “Legal experts worry that the focus on decertifying the last election could pave the way for more aggressive — and earlier — legislative intervention the next time around.”
Today in Washington
Biden will visit the New Hampshire Port Authority at 1:55 p.m.
At 2:45 p.m., he will deliver remarks on infrastructure.
The president will depart Portsmouth at 3:30 p.m. to return to the White House, where he is scheduled to arrive at 5:30 p.m.
Passing the baton (carrot)
An important question from BuzzFeed News: Exactly how many Easter Bunny costumes does the White House own?!
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.