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The Early 202

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

The Senate will pass Ukraine aid bill. The question is when.

The Early 202

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

Good morning, Early Birds! Battle of the Bostonians: Who do you think is the bigger Dunkin’ fan? Ben Affleck or Labor Secretary Marty Walsh? Let us know: Thanks for waking up with us. ☕

In today’s editionAbortion is now a midterm issue … Has the long-awaited pivot to Asia finally arrived? … Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s nomination is in purgatory … and the trial of Michael Sussmann is finally coming to a courtroom near you … but first …

On the Hill

The Senate will pass Ukraine aid bill. The question is, when?

The Senate is gonna Senate. 

President Biden wanted the $39.8 billion in Ukraine economic, humanitarian and defense aid bill on his desk by the end of the week, but its looking increasingly likely the Senate is going to miss that deadline. 

Two to three “usual suspects” have concerns with the bill, multiple Republican senators told The Early, which could slow down its path to passage. 

One of those suspects is Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and another is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul is philosophically opposed to spending billions of dollars overseas, especially in wars the United States is not directly fighting in and he will vote against the measure. Still, he says he won't stand in the bill's way if he gets a vote on an amendment that would appoint an inspector general to oversee the funding. 

“If they want it (passed) quickly, that's how they get it quickly,” Paul said. 

Paul nor Kennedy can block the measure but they can force the Senate to go through all of the procedural hoops, which means final passage will slip into next week. 

A Grim Covid Milestone

The White House commemorates the grim milestone of 1 million lives lost from Covid on Thursday. 

“Today, we mark a tragic milestone: 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19. One million empty chairs around the dinner table. Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic. Jill and I pray for each of them,” an early statement from President Biden says. 

Meanwhile, Congressional funding for Covid response is hanging in the balance. Senate Republicans continue to demand an immigration-related vote before they will allow the $10 billion Covid bill to move. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been reluctant to allow a vote on a Republican amendment that would keep in place Title 42, a border-related health policy that kept migrants from crossing the border during the pandemic. With a number of vulnerable Democrats who have come out against the administration's decision to end Title 42 later this month, a Republican amendment could pass the Senate causing a political headache for the White House.

Unable to find another work around, senators of both parties say it's likely Schumer will have to allow a vote. 

“I think it's a reasonable expectation,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said. “I think we recognize we may have to take up amendments in order to get the bill on the floor.”

Our colleague Tony Romm writes: “The clock is ticking in the eyes of the Biden administration. The president’s top advisers on pandemic response delivered their latest sobering assessment Friday: They projected the United States is likely to see another significant uptick in infections and deaths, cresting perhaps in the fall and winter, from a newer, faster-spreading version of the omicron variant that’s already circulating domestically.”

“In doing so, the administration also reaffirmed Tuesday that it is running out of funds to respond effectively in the event of a rapid decline. White House press secretary Jen Psaki outlined the potential doomsday scenarios to reporters at her daily briefing: The United States may struggle to maintain its supply of tests, for example, or ‘lose out to other countries on promising new treatments,’ she said.”

  • “It’s very simple: If the White House goes to [Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer] and says, ‘We’d like to get a vote on this, let the Republicans and Democrats each have amendments,’ it’ll be voted on and passed,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the chief GOP negotiator for the $10 billion bipartisan deal. “It’s being held up for political purposes only.”

President Biden first requested Covid aid on March 3. To reach an agreement in Congress, the number was reduced from $22 billion to $10 billion. 

After failed vote, abortion is now an issue for the midterms

Abortion will now primarily play out on the campaign trail, as Senate Democrats failed to advance a key procedural vote Wednesday to codify Roe v. Wade with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joining all Republicans voting against it. 

It's also becoming an issue in at least one House Democratic primary, with the battle over abortion calling into question how pure Democratic candidates should be on the issue. Just one pro-life Democrat remains in the House, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and it is creating more head winds for him in his May 24 runoff against progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who has been public about her abortion at 17 years old after a rape, was careful in her criticism. She said she “wouldn't condemn” a Democrat for their beliefs but “can't stand with someone who is trying to take my power from me” on the issue of reproductive choice. 

She didn't directly criticize Democratic leadership for continuing to back Cuellar but said “it's not a decision I would make.” 

Another progressive member, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), refused to say if there should be a litmus test for Democratic candidates, telling The Early, “I think that our body, our caucus demonstrated that this is a priority to the electorate, which is why this is the first pro-choice majority Congress in the history of Congress.” 

Cuellar is the only Democrat to vote against the Women's Health Protection Act when the House passed it last year. He has touted his pro-life beliefs in his socially conservative, heavily Hispanic district. 

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) defended leadership's decision, saying: “Well, we're a diverse party. We have diverse opinions. We’re overwhelmingly— on our platform says that we're a pro-choice party. We are a pro-choice party. That does not mean that there's not room in our party for alternative voices. I believe that Mr. Cuellar has represented his district well, his state well. I think he's a valuable member of our Congress, and I'm supporting him for reelection.”

But not all members of Democratic leadership have publicly backed Cuellar. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), did not endorse in the race. And on Wednesday, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) refused to directly address Cuellar when asked about his record. Instead, Jeffries spoke about his own position on reproductive rights. “My record speaks for itself,” he said. 

The Roe v. Wade Districts

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified 25 front-line districts where it believes the abortion issue will be the most impactful. The districts are at least 40 percent suburban, have a large number of college educated women, women of color and colleges or universities. 

Of the 25 seats, five are in districts that Biden won with less than 5 points, including Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Dan Kildee (Mich.), Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Susan Wild (Penn.) and Elaine Luria (Va.). Four are in districts Trump won by less than five points, including Reps. Cindy Axne (Iowa), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Matt Cartwright (Penn.), and Texas' open 15th district. 

At the White House

Biden to host rescheduled summit with Southeast Asian leaders

The long-awaited pivot to Asia: President Biden will host the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) today and tomorrow for a special summit. It follows the October 2021 summit where Biden committed $102 million to address “covid-19 recovery, the climate crisis, economic growth and gender equality,” Politico’s Brianna Crummy reports.

  • What to expect: “The administration has repeatedly highlighted the importance of U.S. leadership in Asia and building relationships to counter China,” Bloomberg reports.
  • “Biden ‘doesn’t want to descend Southeast Asia or Asia into a new cold war’ but he will talk with the leaders about the U.S. desire to compete peacefully and effectively with China, White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said Wednesday morning in Washington.”
  • What to watch: “The administration’s focus on Asia will also be front and center when Biden travels to South Korea and Japan later this month, a trip meant to meet the nations’ new leaders on their home turf as well as demonstrate unity against another national security priority: North Korea,” Bloomberg’s Peter Martin reports.

In the agencies

Eric Garcetti ‘likely knew’ about top aide's conduct, Senate report says

Waiting to exhale: “For nearly a year, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has been ‘between two worlds,’ as he put it in an interview, waiting to be confirmed as the Biden administration’s ambassador to India while the high-stakes race to succeed him plays out in the nation’s second-largest city,” the New York Times’ Jill Cowan reports.

  • “That sense of limbo became even stronger after a Senate report released this week suggested that Garcetti had ignored a pattern of sexual harassment by one of his top aides. The claim, which the mayor denies, threatens to derail an already drawn-out appointment, casts a shadow over his final months leading a Democratic stronghold and throws his political future into question.”
  • “The delay has also left the United States without a permanent envoy in one of the most populous countries at a critical time: India has remained steadfastly neutral on Russia’s war in Ukraine and has continued to buy Russian oil, undermining bans in the United States and Europe.”

From the courts

Sussmann trial in Durham probe revisits Clinton-Trump-Russia controversies

Coming soon to a courtroom near you: “After five years of accusations, investigations and recriminations, a federal jury will soon grapple with one of the legal hangovers of the 2016 presidential campaign: the trial of a politically connected lawyer charged with lying when he brought the FBI a tip about possible connections between Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank,” our colleague Devlin Barrett reports.

  • “The trial of Michael Sussmann centers on the narrow legal question of whether he lied when he claimed — less than two months before the 2016 election — that no client had spurred him to bring the tip to authorities, and whether that information was relevant to how FBI agents investigated the matter.”
  • “But the case, which begins Monday in federal court in downtown Washington, may also serve as a kind of Rorschach test for those still smarting over the 2016 election and eager to see political opponents suffer legal consequences for what happened.”

The Data

April’s inflation numbers, visualized: “Inflation eased slightly in April, showing some of the slowest gains since last summer, although it remains at a 40-year high and has a long way to fall before Americans feel relief,” our colleague Rachel Siegel reports.

  • “Data released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics gave policymakers nascent hope that soaring inflation may be starting to slow: prices rose 8.3 percent in April compared with a year ago, and 0.3 percent compared with the month before. By contrast, March prices rose 8.5 percent compared with the previous year, and a sharper 1.2 percent compared with the previous month.”
  • “Inflation is the biggest strain on the economy and comes as the recovery is being compromised by trouble spots including slower manufacturing activity, an unsustainably tight job market and less robust economic growth. Higher prices, and the Federal Reserve’s plans to raise interest rates in response, are also fueling recession fears and dampening financial markets, which remain down for the year.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 


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