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The Daily 202

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

There may be a bright spot in Brittney Griner’s sentencing

The Daily 202

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

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. The Associated Press informs me that, on this day in 1953, Operation Big Switch began as remaining prisoners taken during the Korean War were exchanged at Panmunjom.

The big idea

There may be a bright spot in Brittney Griner’s sentencing

“Sham trial,” “reprehensible” sentence. The White House wasn’t pulling punches Thursday when asked about Brittney Griner’s ordeal in Russia, while stressing President Biden is doing everything he can to bring home the WNBA star as well as security consultant Paul Whelan.

“Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said, vowing to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to free Griner and Whelan.

But there may be a bright side to her trial being over, even with the draconian decree of 9 ½ years in prison for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia in February. Russo-American negotiations meant to win Griner and Whelan’s freedom might now make serious progress.

  • Look at the joint statement from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who called the sentence “unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected” while suggesting it might move those efforts along.

“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States,” they said.

A new phase of negotiations

Russia was never going to agree to a prisoner swap before Griner was convicted and sentenced, no matter how frequently the U.S. labeled her “wrongfully detained,” which elevated her case to the special U.S. presidential envoy for hostage affairs.

Moscow, which now has more leverage over the United States than it did before Thursday’s proceedings, was never going to short-circuit a trial that let it put its thumb in America’s eye with the world looking on. That might have come at a potential domestic political cost, too.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly said Friday that Moscow was now “ready to discuss” a possible prisoner swap.

At the White House a day earlier, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby wouldn’t explicitly agree that the sentencing opened a more positive phase in the negotiations. But he pressed Moscow to accept a U.S. offer, the existence of which was revealed Wednesday without any details.

  • “We want them to take the offer that’s on the table ‘cause it’s a good one, it’s a fair one, and it’ll help bring Paul and Brittney home,” Kirby told reporters. “And if this is what it is going to take to get them to yes, then ok, let’s get to yes, let’s get them home.”

Asked whether the end of the trial might make for more productive negotiations, Kirby replied “That’s really up to the Russian side.”

He also refused to describe Griner and Whelan as pawns, repeatedly insisting they are “wrongfully detained.” “I cannot ascribe Russian motives or intent here. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to try to speculate what’s in their heads,” Kirby said.

The offer

The spokesman declined to spell out the American offer. But it would reportedly envision swapping Griner and Whelan for Russian Viktor Bout, a notorious international arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.” Bout, arrested in an American sting operation in Thailand in 2008, is serving a 25-year sentence at a medium-security prison in Illinois.

There’s talk of Moscow wanting another Russian, convicted of murder in Germany and serving a life sentence.

My colleagues Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina captured all the details of Griner’s sentencing Thursday for bringing 0.702 grams of cannabis into Russia, a quantity the prosecution called “a significant amount.”

They noted “[i]n past years, the United States has resisted Russian pressures to exchange Bout given the seriousness of his offenses. He was convicted in New York in 2011 and later sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiracy to sell surface-to-air missiles, AK-47s and explosives to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, knowing that they planned to shoot down U.S. helicopters.”

  • A deal to bring Bout home would be a major political victory for Putin, signaling to his domestic audience that despite unprecedented Western criticisms and sanctions, he still has the clout to force the White House to negotiate with him.”

None of this is meant to play down Griner’s ordeal, her fears, or the way the Russian legal system has treated her. It’s to play up the prospects that it could soon be over.

What’s happening now

Employers added 528,000 jobs in July, more than doubling expectations

“The hot labor market continued to show rapid growth in July, with employers adding 528,000 jobs, despite fears of a recession,” Lauren Kaori Gurley reports.

“The unemployment rate edged down to 3.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In July, the labor market continued to show stunning growth that afforded workers historic wage gains and more leverage at their jobs.”

Israel strikes Gaza amid soaring tensions with militants

“Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday that it said targeted the Islamic Jihad militant group amid days of heightened tensions following the arrest of a senior member of the group in the occupied West Bank earlier this week,” the Associated Press's Fares Akram  reports.

“It was not immediately clear what Israel was targeting or if anyone had been killed and wounded, but the strikes risked igniting yet another war in the territory, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas and is home to about 2 million Palestinians.”

Two dead after Thursday night lightning strike near White House

“Two of those hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Thursday evening after an apparent lightning strike in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, have died, a D.C. police spokesman said Friday,” Peter Hermann reports.

Canada to ban the import of handguns, official says

“The Canadian government is planning to ban the import of handguns into the country, according to a government official, the latest in a series of gun-control measures to be implemented under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” Amanda Coletta reports.

Blinken: China military drills are ‘significant escalation’

“U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that China’s military exercises aimed at Taiwan, including missiles fired into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, represent a ‘significant escalation’ and that he has urged Beijing to back down,” the AP's David Rising reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Lobbyists are rushing to influence the Democrats’ spending bill

“The sudden revival of the legislation last week launched a flurry of efforts by groups for and against it, who are using television and newspaper ads and personal outreach to try to sway Democrats to their side before the Senate votes. Much of the fiercest lobbying has focused on the bill’s health-care provisions,” Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Stein report.

“Research by Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, which advocates for lower prices, found that the main pharmaceutical lobby PhRMA and its allies spent at least $18.6 million on television and digital ads since July 1, including $1 million in spending on new television ads just since the Democrats’ deal was announced on July 27. That $1 million figure does not include ads that were already running when the deal was announced.”

Controversial federal court changes debated in Manchin negotiations

“The deal this week that secured the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) for major economic legislation contained a small provision that could have an outsized impact in federal courts,” Rachel Weiner reports.

“In an early version of the talks, Democratic leaders agreed on a proposal that would move future litigation involving a particular natural gas pipeline proposed in Manchin’s state to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and that judges weighing the cases would be randomly assigned. Experts say the ramifications of such a deal would go beyond the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline project that has long been stalled by the courts over environmental concerns.”

  • “'It would create a new pathway for lobbyists’ to demand ‘congressional forum-shopping’ for pet concerns, said Michael Gerrard, an environmental law professor at Columbia University, on the grounds that 'Joe Manchin did it for them; why can’t you do it for me?’”

… and beyond

Gun trafficking surges across state lines: One pistol’s 1,200-mile journey to a Boston homicide

“Amid the rise in homicides across both urban and rural communities, traffickers are bringing a growing percentage of firearms from states with loose gun laws into states with tighter restrictions, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data going back a decade from 2020,” the Wall Street Journal's Dan Frosch and Zusha Elinson report.

“In Massachusetts, which has some of the nation’s strictest firearms laws, 79% of guns traced by police in criminal investigations came from out of state in 2020, compared with 63% in 2015, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. California, which also has stringent firearms rules, saw a jump to 45% from 30% over the same period.”

Pharma group leader says Dems who vote for reconciliation bill ‘won’t get a free pass’

Steve Ubl, who leads the nation’s top industry group for drugmakers, is offering a final salvo to Congress as Democratic lawmakers inch closer to passing their sweeping reconciliation package that includes drug pricing measures — and threatening swift retaliation if they don’t listen,” Politico's Megan R. Wilson reports.

“Ubl’s group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, and its 31 board members sent a letter to every member of Congress on Thursday afternoon, urging them to vote against the package.”

The latest on covid

‘The next public health disaster in the making’: Studies offer new pieces of long covid puzzle

A “new long covid study found that 1 in 8 adults with covid-19 may have symptoms months beyond the initial infection,” CNN's Jen Christensen reports.

“The study, published Thursday in the journal The Lancet, found that 12.7% of people with Covid-19 had new or severely increased symptoms at least three months after their initial diagnosis, a smaller percentage than some other research has suggested.”

The Biden agenda

White House summons Chinese ambassador for rebuke on Taiwan response

“The White House summoned China’s ambassador on Thursday to condemn Beijing’s escalating actions against Taiwan and reiterate that the United States does not want a crisis in the region, after a visit to the island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sharply escalated tensions in the Taiwan Strait this week,” Yasmeen Abutaleb reports.

  • “After China’s actions overnight, we summoned [People’s Republic of China] Ambassador Qin Gang to the White House to démarche him about the PRC’s provocative actions,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a statement provided to The Washington Post.

The U.S.-led drive to isolate Russia and China is falling short

“When Group of Seven leaders gathered in the Bavarian Alps in June, they pledged to stand with Ukraine for the long haul. Their Group of 20 counterparts are proving less supportive,” Bloomberg News's Alan Crawford, Jenni Marsh, and Antony Sguazzin report.

“It’s an uncomfortable reality confronting Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his extended tour of Southeast Asia and Africa: Much of the world isn’t ready to follow US and European efforts to isolate President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The rise of billion-dollar disasters, visualized

“Tropical Storm Fred and its aftermath became merely one of the 20 ‘billion-dollar' weather and climate disasters tracked by the U.S. government last year — a collection of calamities that cost the nation an estimated $145 billion and killed nearly 700 people,” Brady Dennis reports.

“This mounting toll, which scientists and government officials say is driven in part because the world is warming, is forcing hard questions about who bears the burden of paying for them and how the nation can better prepare for what lies ahead.”

Hot on the left

Sanders grapples with missed opportunity in Democrats’ economic plan

“For Sanders, the new health-care, climate and tax package that the Senate aims to adopt as soon as this weekend amounts to a massive missed opportunity. While the firebrand independent is supportive of its core aims — and is seen as likely to vote for its provisions to lower drug costs and address a fast-warming planet — he has increasingly made clear that the bill stops far short of what Democrats should have pursued while in rare control of the House, Senate and White House,” Tony Romm reports.

Hot on the right

Amid ‘mixed race’ speech blowback, Orban echoes Trump in Dallas

“It was a Trump rally with a Hungarian accent,” David Weigel and Isaac Arnsdorf report.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has consolidated autocratic power with hard-right opposition to immigration and liberal democracy, addressed a crowd of thousands of American admirers in Dallas on Thursday with a red-meat speech that could have easily been delivered by any Republican candidate on the campaign trail this year.”

Today in Washington

At 1 p.m., Biden will sign two bills aimed at covid relief fraud.

On Monday, the Bidens will travel to Eastern Kentucky to visit families affected by the devastation from recent flooding and survey recovery efforts.

In closing

Russia v. Brittney Griner’s vape

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

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