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The Daily 202

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

Two big things about the Senate vote on Finland and Sweden

The Daily 202

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

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The big idea

What the lopsided 95-1 invitation to join NATO tells us

The Senate’s near-unanimous vote Wednesday to bring Sweden and Finland into NATO amounts to a considerable expansion of America’s military commitments in Europe. It’s also the latest in a nearly year-long stretch of significant bipartisan wins for President Biden in the 50-50 chamber.

The 95-1 vote was also a reminder of how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to expand his war in Ukraine 160 days ago has backfired. While the two countries’ accession isn’t a done deal — all 30 members must agree, and Turkey or Hungary may refuse — Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia. 

While Senate approval was never in doubt and thus somewhat anticlimactic, it’s still a big post-Cold War moment: the United States promising to come to the defense of two more NATO members should they come under attack and invoke Article V of the alliance’s treaty.

  • “This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Biden said in a statement.

The president also highlighted support for the proposal from the Senate’s Democratic majority leader and Republican minority leader, as well as the top Democrat and senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Just one Republican, Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), voted no.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted “present” after his colleagues defeated an amendment he offered, which would have required Congress to approve a formal declaration of war before the United States could use military force to fulfill its Article V obligations.

If Putin’s war in Ukraine made opposition almost unthinkable — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) had wryly wished “good luck” earlier to any senator looking to justify voting no — bringing in new NATO members hasn’t always been uncontroversial.

In March 1998, as the Senate debated membership for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) expressed worries about isolating and provoking Russia.

“I do believe this replaces, symbolically, the Iron Curtain that was established in the late forties, which faced west, with now an iron ring of nations that face east to Russia,” Warner said on the Senate floor. “That causes this senator a great deal of concern.”

Biden is on something of a roll

That concern is all but gone, U.S. lawmakers voted yes, joining all but eight NATO members, and handing Biden a victory — the latest in an improbable string of bipartisan achievements that have come through the 50-50 Senate in fits and starts in less than a year.

Those have come alongside setbacks — inflation has been smothering real-wage growth, official data recently showed the economy shrank in the first half of the year, parents have grappled with an infant formula shortage, and other issues that will shape the midterm elections.

But Biden also notched a national security win this week when a U.S. missile strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, long Osama bin Laden’s deputy and a key architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

And an overwhelming bipartisan majority of voters in Kansas rejected an effort to strip the right to have access to abortion from the state constitution. Sixty percent voted to keep those protections, against 40 percent who voted to remove them.

Biden welcomed the vote. Democrats hoped the vote was a harbinger for the midterms, which come against a political backdrop dominated by inflation. (My colleague Philip Bump is skeptical.)

All of that was context for the NATO vote. It’s not that redrawing allied lines in Europe will do much to sway voters in America. But it sent an overwhelming, bipartisan signal that America wants to keep its role in the world, and is prepared to sacrifice for it.

What’s happening now

Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian prison on drug charges

“A Russian judge on Thursday handed down a harsh nine-year prison sentence for WNBA star Brittney Griner, rejecting the player’s plea for leniency and her apology for ‘an honest mistake’ in bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into the country in February,” Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina report.

“The sentence — close to the maximum possible — is likely to fuel anger among the athlete’s supporters and fans in the United States, who see her as a political pawn being held hostage by Russia. It will add to pressure on the Biden administration to reach a deal with Moscow on a prisoner exchange deal to bring her home.”

Japan protests after Chinese missiles land in its exclusive economic zone

“Five ballistic missiles fired by China appear to have landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Japanese defence minister Nobuo Kishi said on Thursday, part of military exercises launched by China earlier in the day,” Reuters's Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies report.

“The exercises, China's largest ever in the Taiwan Strait, began as scheduled at midday and included live-firing in the waters to the north, south and east of Taiwan, bringing tensions in the area to their highest in a quarter century.”

Feds charge 4 police officers in fatal Breonna Taylor raid

“The U.S. Justice Department has charged four Louisville police officers involved in the deadly Breonna Taylor raid with civil rights violations. Federal charges against former officers Joshua Jaynes, Brett Hankison and Kelly Goodlett, along with Sgt. Kyle Meany were announced by U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland on Thursday,” the Associated Press's Dylan Lovan reports.

Taliban denies knowing of al-Qaeda presence after Zawahiri killed in Kabul

“The Taliban regime said Thursday it was not aware that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was staying in the Afghan capital, four days after President Biden announced that a U.S. drone strike killed Zawahiri early Sunday at a house he was occupying in central Kabul,” Pamela Constable reports.

U.S. says Russia plans to fabricate evidence in strike on Ukrainian POWs

“The finding says that Russian operatives may plant ammunition that the United States provided to Ukraine on the scene of the attack, including from the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, according to U.S. officials familiar with the finding,” John Hudson and David L. Stern report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

U.S. prison officials resist making inmates pay court-ordered victim fees

“The Federal Bureau of Prisons has been pushing back against efforts to make inmates pay much more of their court-ordered restitution to crime victims, in part because the money they would use helps fund salary and benefits for hundreds of agency staff positions, documents and interviews show,” Devlin Barrett reports.

Federal prisoner spending generates more than $80 million a year for the agency — mostly from profits on items like commissary purchases and phone calls, according to the Bureau of Prison’s response to a public records request. Those documents also show that the agency earns interest from some accounts.”

Homeland Security watchdog previously accused of misleading investigators, report says

“The Homeland Security watchdog now under scrutiny for his handling of deleted Secret Service text messages from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol previously was accused of misleading federal investigators and running ‘afoul’ of ethics regulations while he was in charge of a Justice Department inspector general field office in Tucson, according to a newly disclosed government report,” Lisa Rein, Carol D. Leonnig and Maria Sacchetti report.

“In the 2013 report from the Justice Department’s inspector general, which was never publicly released, investigators said they did ‘not believe’ Joseph V. Cuffari’s explanation for why he failed to inform his supervisors — against federal rules — about his testimony in a lawsuit brought by a federal prisoner.”

… and beyond

U.S. could have had many more doses of monkeypox vaccine this year

“The shortage of vaccines to combat a fast-growing monkeypox outbreak was caused in part because the Department of Health and Human Services failed early on to ask that bulk stocks of the vaccine it already owned be bottled for distribution, according to multiple administration officials familiar with the matter,” the New York Times's Sharon LaFraniere, Noah Weiland and Joseph Goldstein report.

  • The numbers: “The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak.”

Why misinformation about covid vaccines and pregnancy isn’t going away

A majority of the disinformation came from a group of highly organized, economically motivated actors, many of them selling supplements, books or even miracle cures, [said Imran Ahmed, the founder and chief executive officer of the U.S. nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate.] They told people the vaccine may harm their unborn child or deprive them of the opportunity to become parents. Some even infiltrated online pregnancy groups and asked seemingly harmless questions, such as whether people had heard the vaccine could potentially lead to infertility,” ProPublica's Duaa Eldeib reports.

  • The Disinformation Dozen: “The Center for Countering Digital Hate found that nearly 70% of anti-vaccination content could be traced to 12 people, whom they dubbed The Disinformation Dozen. They reached millions of people and tested their messaging online, Ahmed said, to see what was most effective — what was most frequently shared or liked — in real time.”

The latest on covid

CDC expected to ease Covid-19 recommendations, including for schools, as soon as this week

“A preview of the plans obtained by CNN shows that the updated recommendations are expected to ease quarantine recommendations for people exposed to the virus and de-emphasize 6 feet of social distancing,” Brenda Goodman and Elizabeth Cohen report for CNN.

The agency is also expected to de-emphasize regular screening testing for Covid-19 in schools as a way to monitor the spread of the virus … Instead, it says it may be more useful to base testing on Covid-19 community levels and whether settings are higher-risk, such as nursing homes or prisons.”

The Biden agenda

The question vexing Democrats: Biden 2024?

“As Biden polls poorly in battlegrounds while congressional Democrats see a brightened political outlook for themselves, lawmakers are tying themselves in knots over whether to cheer on a second term for the 79-year-old president. It’s not that they’re abandoning Biden early, just that many see little upside in taking a firm stand either way when that risks alienating either independents or the party base,” Politico's Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris report.

White House lobbies Democrats against bid to deepen Taiwan ties

“The Biden administration is lobbying Democratic senators to put the brakes on a bill that would alter US policy toward Taiwan, including by designating it as a major non-NATO ally, according to people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg News's Jenny Leonard reports.

Analysis: How Biden bungled the Pelosi trip

“U.S. officials rendered a drum beat of gaffes, contradictions and denials that Beijing adroitly exploited in a propaganda offensive aimed to compel Pelosi into changing her travel plans,” Politico's Phelim Kine writes.

“Those arguments began when Biden cast public doubt on the wisdom of Pelosi’s Taiwan visit by suggesting that the Pentagon saw it as too risky. The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now,” Biden said last month. 

Today’s economic data compared to past recessions, visualized

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has the final say on whether a period of economic decline is a recession, a determination that can lag for months. NBER economists consult a wide range of indicators that suggest this year’s economy stands on sturdier ground than in recent recessions,” Alyssa Fowers and Kevin Schaul report.

Hot on the left

Biden’s standing brightens. But Dems still see the midterm prospects as dim.

“Privately, Biden aides and advisers also are increasingly resigned to the fact that his standing won’t meaningfully rebound before November, even with the slate of recent good news and the possibility of a major prescription drug and climate bill being passed before the election,” Politico's David Siders and Christopher Cadelago report.

‘The numbers are the numbers,’ said one Biden confidant, who went on to immediately argue that the president’s standing going into the midterms would improve ahead of 2024.

Hot on the right

Interviews with dozens of Republican primary voters here suggest that voting for Trump’s preferred midterm candidates is not the same as eagerly wishing to vote again for Trump himself. While these voters continued to express support for Trump and his agenda, many doubted he would be the best nominee for president and showed openness to potential rivals, most often Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Isaac Arnsdorf and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report.

Today in Washington

At 1:45 p.m., Biden will host a roundtable event with business and labor leaders to discuss the Inflation Reduction Act.

In closing

To infinity…

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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