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The Daily 202

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

Inside Biden’s Middle East visit, from someone on the trip

The Daily 202

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

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1971, President Richard M. Nixon announced in a televised speech that he had accepted an invitation to visit the People’s Republic of China.

The big idea

Here's what our colleague is watching on Biden's Middle East trip

Presidential trips overseas can look pretty different depending on whether you’re watching from home or part of the traveling press corps observing his every movement and analyzing his every remark as he interacts with world leaders. 

So while The Daily 202 is perfectly happy to share what to look for from President Biden’s Middle East trip, and observations afterward, we decided to check in with The Washington Post’s own Cleve R. Wootson, Jr., who’s with the commander in chief.

This exchange, which occurred late Thursday, has been lightly edited.

Before this trip, Iran’s nuclear program loomed pretty large. Has anything happened on that score?

Iran’s nuclear program was the source of the biggest — though still publicly polite — fissure between Biden and the Israelis. And it was still overshadowed by talk of Biden’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as “MBS.” 

Biden stressed that he was still hoping for a diplomatic solution, but was not willing to wait indefinitely for Iran to agree to new terms. And he stuck to his public commitment to stop Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. “I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,” Biden said.

But Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid pushed him to go further, saying the United States and other Democratic nations should vow to act if the Iranians continue “to develop their nuclear program.” It’s unclear if the two politicians will bridge the chasm that separates them. One thing I’m watching, both for the rest of the trip, and going forward: What, if any, promises will Biden try to extract from the Saudis about Iran. 

What has been the most notable aspect of Biden’s stop in Israel so far? To what degree have Israel’s own fractious domestic politics affected Biden's visit?

I was taken by how warm the relationship between Biden and the Israelis seems to be. The warmest moment of the trip was when Biden greeted a pair of Holocaust survivors. They had apparently been instructed to not touch the president, but were greeted with warm affection and kisses on the cheek. And a day later, Biden said receiving the Israeli Medal of Honor was one of the greatest honors of his life. 

On fractures. Some of that is to be seen, as Biden meets with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday. What we do know is that both Biden and the Israelis have tried to stress that the friendship is between nations, not between individual politicians.  

Where do Biden and Netanyahu stand?

The second-biggest interpersonal drama of the trip may remain unknown to everyone but the two men involved in it. For years, Biden has name-dropped “Bibi” when talking about the deep relationships he has with world leaders — something he said made him more prepared than anyone else seeking the presidency. 

But Netanyahu was one of the politicians most closely aligned with former president Donald Trump. That was until Netanyahu congratulated Biden on winning the 2020 election. Trump accused him of disloyalty with an expletive-appended statement.  Of note: The Bibi-Biden meeting today was closed to the press.  

How does the White House assess whether it’s improving relations with the Palestinians? Advancing the Israel-Palestinian peace project? Is that even on the priority list?

At first blush, it would seem low on the priority list, but that may be a fluke of the deadline for this newsletter. Biden has several Palestinian-centered events on Friday, including a visit to Augusta Victoria Hospital and a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. Both he and Secretary of State Tony Blinken have stressed they favor a two-state solution, but the administration hasn’t put forward a framework of how to get there. 

What does the administration hope to gain from Biden's controversial stop in Saudi Arabia?

Biden said alienating the Saudis would hurt American interests at a time when the U.S. is engaged in a global struggle for influence with Russia and China. If the U.S. antagonizes the Saudis, will the Chinese welcome them with open arms?  He also says that any framework for stability in the region — and any pressure on Iran — will have to include the Saudis.  Also, there is a chance they could do something to put a dent in oil prices — and Biden has stressed that lowering prices at the pump is a top priority. 

Handshake diplomacy in the era of coronavirus. Talk to me.

When Biden stepped off Air Force One’s stairs, there was a red carpet full of dignitaries, a full band, and men and women standing at attention in full dress uniform — but it seemed like the entire press corps was staring at Biden’s hands. We peppered press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about reports that Biden wasn’t going to shake hands with dignitaries. The reason the White House gave: Covid. The reason everyone suspected: Biden didn’t want to be seen shaking the hand of MBS, a man he had once vowed to make a global pariah. Covid fears provided an easy excuse to avoid bad optics. What was clear an hour after Biden stepped off the plane was that it would be difficult to keep the famously tactile politician from shaking hands, slapping backs and even giving hugs.

What’s happening now

Biden backs Palestinian state, calls for accounting of journalist’s death

“President Biden devoted the last hours of his Israeli visit to restoring the ties with Palestinians severed by his predecessor, visiting a Palestinian hospital Friday in East Jerusalem and crossing an Israeli military checkpoint to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem,” Steve Hendrix reports.

  • “The president called for a full accounting of the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the West Bank, the first time he has publicly mentioned the incident during his visit.”

But: “Biden’s two events produced no progress toward renewed talks in the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But the White House did announce a range of measures meant to improve the situation at a time ‘when Palestinians are hurting, you can just feel it,’ Biden said after his meeting with Abbas.”

More: Biden set to meet Saudi crown prince amid controversy

House poised to vote on bills to codify abortion rights, ensure access

“The bills are likely to pass the House but almost certain to fail in the Senate, where they would require 60 votes or the suspension of filibuster rules and a simple majority. Both are unlikely in the face of Republican opposition. … In May, Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) blocked the Women’s Health Protection Act, and on Thursday, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) blocked the Senate version of a bill that would have protected travel across state lines for those seeking an abortion,” Amy B Wang and Eugene Scott report.

House committee to take up assault weapons ban next week

“The House Judiciary Committee plans to advance a bill next week that would ban assault weapons, a measure highly unlikely to clear the Senate but that sends a signal that Democrats who control the House want to do more to respond to the recent spate of mass shootings,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Mixed messages on the economy raising questions about recession risks

“Americans are super gloomy about higher prices, but they just keep spending. That’s the upshot of two new snapshots of the economy out Friday that reinforce how inflation remains the top problem for the economy, leaving a lot of work for policymakers seeking to bring prices down. Consumer sentiment remained near all-time lows in July, according to new data from the University of Michigan. Yet, retail sales grew by 1 percent in June, according to a separate benchmark by the Commerce Department also released Friday,” Abha Bhattarai, Rachel Siegel and Aaron Gregg report.

Groups that aid abortion patients pull back, fearing legal liability

“The threat of legal jeopardy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade is forcing a retreat by nonprofit groups that provide vital financial support to low-income women seeking abortions,” Christopher Rowland reports.

Sources of assistance are drying up just as economically disadvantaged women and other pregnant people in states that have moved to ban abortion need money more than ever — not just for medical fees but for plane tickets, gas and hotels as they seek to travel to abortion-friendly states far from home.”

Secret Service erased texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, official says

“A government watchdog accused the U.S. Secret Service of erasing texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, after his office requested them as part of an inquiry into the U.S. Capitol attack, according to a letter sent to lawmakers this week,” Maria Sacchetti and Carol D. Leonnig report.

… and beyond

Her ex-husband is suing a clinic over the abortion she had four years ago

“Nearly four years after a woman ended an unwanted pregnancy with abortion pills obtained at a Phoenix clinic, she finds herself mired in an ongoing lawsuit over that decision,” ProPublica's Nicole Santa Cruz reports.

A judge allowed the woman’s ex-husband to establish an estate for the embryo, which had been aborted in its seventh week of development. The ex-husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the clinic and its doctors in 2020, alleging that physicians failed to obtain proper informed consent from the woman as required by Arizona law.”

Here’s how Democrats’ big domestic agenda bill has shrunk

“What was once a transformational cradle-to-grave social safety net plan that some liberals said they envisioned would spend as much as $6 trillion — with free preschool, affordable child care, national paid leave and major new programs to curb climate change — is now emerging as a far smaller proposal with none of those components,” the New York Times's Emily Cochrane reports.

The latest on covid

L.A. County on verge of indoor mask mandate as deaths, hospitalizations rise

“Sustained jumps in cases and hospitalizations fueled by the hyper-infectious BA.5 subvariant pushed Los Angeles County into the high COVID-19 community level Thursday, a shift that could trigger a new public indoor mask mandate by the end of this month unless conditions improve,” the L.A. Times's Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II report.

The Biden agenda

Texas sues Biden administration for requiring abortions in medical emergencies

“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sued the Biden administration over federal rules that require abortions be provided in medical emergencies to save the life of the mother, even in states with near-total bans,” Katie Shepherd reports.

“The Biden Administration seeks to transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic,” Paxton said in a statement announcing the lawsuit on Thursday.

Biden’s Saudi lesson: The only path runs through Mohammed bin Salman

“Regardless of the trip’s outcome, the image of Mr. Biden meeting Prince Mohammed on his own turf will provide validation of the young royal’s position at the helm of one of the most important countries in the Middle East and provide a boost to his vision for the kingdom and its more forceful place in the world,” the New York Times's Ben Hubbard reports.

The June heat wave, visualized

“Last month was among Earth’s warmest Junes ever recorded, according to data released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” Chris Mooney reports.

Hot on the left

Why Democrats are begging Trump to start 2024 right now

Campaigns and officials at major Democratic outfits are planning to capture the anticipated cash windfall that would come their way should Trump announce he’s making another run at the White House. Candidates also are exploring ways to exploit Trump’s premature entry to energize despondent base voters and coalesce independents and suburb-dwellers who have soured on the party over stubbornly high inflation,” Politico's Christopher Cadelago reports.

Hot on the right

GOP governors mulling 2024 run aren’t rushing abortion laws

“Gov. Kristi Noem had pledged to ‘immediately’ call a special legislative session to ‘guarantee that every unborn child has a right to life in South Dakota’ if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But nearly three weeks after that ruling, the first-term Republican remains unusually quiet about exactly what she wants lawmakers to pass,” the Associated Press's Stephen Groves reports.

Noem, widely considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, isn’t the only GOP governor with national ambitions who followed up calls for swift action with hesitance when justices ended the constitutional right to abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years.”

Today in Washington

The president is in Israel today. (All times Eastern.)

At 12:30 p.m. he will arrive in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Biden will meet with King Salman of Saudi Arabia at 1:15 p.m. and will then have a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi ministers at 1:45.

In closing

Starting tomorrow: The national suicide hotline is changing to 988

“The nationwide hotline for mental health emergencies switches to a simple 988 number on Saturday, a transition that is expected to bring millions more calls, chats and texts into a system where readiness to handle the surge varies from place to place,” Lenny Bernstein reports.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.