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The Daily 202

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

Ukraine war fatigue? The U.S. shows very little (yet?)

The Daily 202

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

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The big idea

For a supposedly war weary nation, there is little sign of Ukraine war fatigue

One of the most remarkable aspects of President Biden’s unequivocal invitation for Sweden and Finland to join NATO is that the Senate ratification vote eventually required to make it happen will be both immensely consequential and probably almost entirely bereft of suspense.

“They have the full, total, complete backing of the United States,” Biden said Thursday in the Rose Garden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at his side. “Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger.”

Barring a seismic shift, lawmakers will sign off, committing in effect to spill American blood and spend American treasure if either Stockholm or Helsinki invokes the Article 5 mutual-defense provision that designates an attack on one alliance member as an attack on all of them.

  • For a nation thought to be tired of war and suspicious of new foreign entanglements, most U.S. leaders and voters seem broadly comfortable with deepening American involvement in Ukraine, with vast bipartisan majorities in Congress siding with the Biden administration.

But it’s a sign of the geopolitical realignment Russian President Vladimir Putin ushered in with the war he unleashed Feb. 24, one of many miscalculations in Moscow.

Broad Support

The Senate on Thursday approved sending more than $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The vote was a lopsided 86-11, with only Republicans opposing the latest bipartisan package meant to help Kyiv repel Russian forces that invaded Feb. 24. The House had adopted the measure on Tuesday 368-to-57, again with only GOP “no” votes.

That dynamic is likely to continue when lawmakers take up NATO membership for Sweden and Finland both — as Biden highlighted on Thursday — stable, well-off democracies with a history of military cooperation with NATO.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) support the expansion. On Tuesday, McConnell said he backed it as “Republican leader,” effectively promising to help no matter the midterm election outcome.

Democrats could be expected to side with Biden. Most Republicans will too. A handful of GOP senators may argue against it, but as the aid vote shows, they are relatively few — enough to delay a vote, perhaps, but not enough to derail one.

  • Still, before that can happen, the alliance will need to overcome opposition from Turkey, which wants an end to limits on arms sales to Ankara and accuses Sweden and Finland of supporting and harboring what it considers to be Kurdish extremists. All 30 NATO countries must approve any new member.

(Croatia’s president has also opposed the addition of what would be the first new adherents since fledgling North Macedonia got on board in March 2020. It’s not clear he can block the move, which has the support of his prime minister and a majority of lawmakers.)

Biden hinted at the foreign roadblocks in his Rose Garden remarks, saying he hoped the Senate would act “as quickly as possible once the perspective of all Allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocols.”

If Biden expects any significant opposition in Congress, he didn’t hint at it Thursday. He noted support from Schumer, McConnell and the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Warning to Russia

But, perhaps mindful of U.S. worries about NATO allies freeloading off American defense spending, he pitched Sweden and Finland more as friends indeed than friends in need. He highlighted their “strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right.”

Biden also warned Russia against thinking it had a window between the two countries formally seeking NATO admission and the day they join and benefit from Article 5.

  • “The president, prime minister, and I committed that we’re going to work together to remain vigilant against the threats to our shared security and to deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process,” Biden said.

The expansion would also rub a sore spot for Moscow, which has regularly objected since the end of the Cold War to NATO adding members in Eastern Europe, in particular those that share borders with Russia (Finland’s runs about 800 miles).

But Putin’s most recent complaints have been muted. On Monday, he said Russia “has no problem” with either country and sees “no immediate threat,” suggesting some unspecified retaliation only if they welcome NATO troops or weapons.

“Let me be clear,” Biden declared in the Rose Garden, “new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. It never has been. NATO’s purpose is to defend against aggression. That’s its purpose: to defend.”

What’s happening now

In South Korea, Biden pitches key domestic agenda issue

“President Biden, near the outset of his first trip to Asia of his presidency, touted a top domestic priority for the administration, calling in a speech in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, for final passage of a sweeping bill in Congress meant to boost U.S. competitiveness against China that House and Senate negotiators are scrambling to finalize,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report for Post Politics Now.

AP-NORC poll: Biden’s approval dips to lowest of presidency

“Only 39% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s performance as president, according to the poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research, dipping from already negative ratings a month earlier,” the AP's Nicholas Riccardi reports

Musk denies he sexually harassed flight attendant on private jet

“Billionaire Elon Musk has denounced as ‘utterly untrue’ claims in a news report that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016,” Reuters reports. “Business Insider reported on Thursday that Musk’s SpaceX paid $250,000 in 2018 to settle a sexual harassment claim from an unnamed private jet flight attendant who accused Musk of exposing himself to her.”

The war in Ukraine
Mariupol fighters ordered to stop fighting

“The remaining Ukrainian fighters at the Azovstal steel plant have received orders to stop fighting and give up their defense of their last foothold in the city of Mariupol, Denis Prokopenko, a commander of the far-right Azov Regiment said in a video Friday,” Ellen Francis, Andrew Jeong, Amy Cheng, Jonathan Edwards, Aaron Blake, Kim Bellware and Timothy Bella report.

More key updates:

Follow our live coverage of the war here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

How a Social Security program piled huge fines on the poor and disabled

“The inflated fees were set in motion during the Trump administration when attorneys in charge of a little-known anti-fraud program run by the inspector general’s office levied unprecedented fines against [more than 100 beneficiaries] without due process, according to interviews, documents and sworn testimony before an administrative law judge. In doing so, they disregarded regulations and deviated from how the program had recovered money since its inception in 1995, failing to take into account someone’s financial state, their age, their intentions and level of remorse, among other factors,” Lisa Rein reports.

“The sums demanded by the government stunned those accused of fraud. The unusual penalties were not the only break with how the Civil Monetary Penalty program had previously been conducted: Unlike in the past, the chief counsel also directed staff attorneys to charge those affected as much as twice the money they had received in error, on top of the fines, interviews and court testimony show.”

Court to investigate leaked survey alleging misconduct among judges

“Federal court officials in D.C. will investigate the public disclosure of a confidential employee survey detailing accusations that some judges subjected staff to gender discrimination, bullying and racial insensitivity. D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan informed colleagues of the planned investigation after The Washington Post on Monday published a report about the survey’s findings,” Ann E. Marimow reports.

… and beyond

Karine Jean-Pierre’s unlikely rise to the White House lectern

“Ms. Jean-Pierre was born in the Caribbean to Haitian parents, who lived paycheck to paycheck after immigrating to New York City. Her conservative Catholic family, she has written, carried ‘so many secrets, so much unexpressed pain.’ As a child, Ms. Jean-Pierre was sexually abused by a cousin. Her mother went decades without acknowledging that her daughter was a lesbian. And in her early 20s, despondent at a career setback, Ms. Jean-Pierre attempted suicide,” the New York Timess Michael M. Grynbaum reports.

The Biden agenda

Why Biden hasn’t killed Trump’s China tariffs and made imports cheaper

“With the stroke of a White House pen, President Biden could lower the cost of thousands of consumer and industrial products and strike a blow in the anti-inflation fight that he calls ‘his top domestic priority.’ All he has to do is lift the tariffs on imported Chinese products that President Donald Trump imposed starting in 2018,” David J. Lynch reports.

“But with his advisers split, the potential economic gains limited and the danger of Republican attacks for being ‘soft on China’ looming, Biden is unconvinced.”

Big questions remain about White House plan to speed formula to shelves

“Administration officials struggled to explain how Mr. Biden’s decision to invoke a Cold War-era statute will help alleviate the shortage of baby formula that has exasperated families across the nation and led to heartbreaking reports of infants sent to the hospital for lack of food,” the NYT's Michael D. Shear, Christina Jewett and Ana Swanson report.

In sign of thaw, Biden weighs meeting with Saudi de facto ruler

“Biden is weighing a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman as soon as next month, according to people familiar with the matter, after avoiding contact with the crown prince over the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi,” Bloomberg's Matthew Martin, Jennifer Jacobs, and Vivian Nereim report.

Justice Dept. to unveil new efforts to bolster hate-crime reporting

Attorney General Merrick Garland is “set to unveil new guidelines to help local jurisdictions, including police and community leaders, raise awareness of hate incidents, particularly those that target Asian Americans and others during the coronavirus pandemic,” David Nakamura reports.

NATO’s security with Sweden and Finland, visualized

“This week Finland and Sweden, traditionally neutral nations, announced their bids to join NATO, a move that analysts say will transform Europe’s security landscape for years to come — and further strain relations with Russia, which opposes the alliance’s eastern expansion,” our colleagues report. Here’s four maps that explain how Sweden and Finland could alter NATO’s security.

Hot on the left

The 2024 presidential election is on the ballot this year

“In the recent Republican primary election for Pennsylvania governor, state Sen. Doug Mastriano won handily, beating his nearest rival by more than 20 points. Not only is Mastriano a right-wing extremist and die-hard believer in Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, he was a central participant in the January 6 putsch. He spent campaign money (much of it coming from local billionaire Jeff Yass) organizing multiple buses of putschists and attended it himself, though he insists that he did not participate in sacking the Capitol,” Ryan Cooper writes for the American Prospect.

If Mastriano wins, there will not be a presidential election in Pennsylvania in 2024. No matter what the votes say, he will exercise the powers of the governor’s office to declare that the Republican candidate won.”

Hot on the right

Trump’s bid to control election offices hits first battleground

“Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will soon face voters for the first time since he refused then-President Donald Trump’s pressure to ‘find’ votes to overturn the 2020 election results. And from the polls in Georgia to the early returns for GOP candidates like him this year, there are warning signs everywhere for Raffensperger’s campaign,” Politico's Zach Montellaro report.

Candidates who subscribe to Trump’s conspiracy theories about a stolen election haven’t won any Republican secretary of state primaries yet this year. But that may only be down to local quirks and split fields: Election deniers combined to win majorities in Nebraska and Idaho in the last month, but in both states, a third conservative candidate who batted down conspiracy theories about the 2020 election prevailed with plurality support.”

Today in Washington

The president has no public events scheduled this afternoon.

In closing

Brace yourselves for a hot one, D.C.

We could see hottest May weather in at least a decade on Saturday, Jason Samenow and Ian Livingston report. The high could reach 97 degrees.

“Although humidity levels won’t be oppressively high, it will be muggy enough that it feels several degrees hotter than the actual air temperature, or close to 100.”

Thanks for reading. See you next week.