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The Daily 202

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

Russia has lost up to 80,000 troops in Ukraine. Or 75,000. Or is it 60,000?

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 1942, British authorities in India arrested nationalist Mahatma Gandhi; he was released in 1944.

The big idea

Russia has lost up to 80,000 troops in Ukraine. Or 75,000. Or is it 60,000?

On July 20, the CIA said Russia had suffered 60,000 casualties in Ukraine since widening its war there Feb. 24. On July 27, the Biden administration told lawmakers Moscow’s losses ran to 75,000 killed and wounded. On Monday, the Pentagon’s number crept higher, to up to 80,000.

Even 60,000 would be catastrophic. Over two decades of war in Afghanistan, the United States endured 2,448 dead and more than 20,000 wounded. At, 80,000, it would be more than half the 150,000 troops Russia was estimated to have massed on Ukraine’s border by Feb. 23.

But if you think it’s unlikely that Moscow lost 15,000 over the stretch of a week, you’re right. Instead, officials are working not from a fixed number but a scale, and some go with the higher end, while others are more confident at the lower end.

  • “It’s always a range. And, you know, there’s no perfect number,” CIA Director William Burns told the Aspen Security Forum on July 20. “I think the latest estimates from the U.S. intelligence community would be, you know, something in the vicinity of 15,000 killed and maybe three times that wounded, so a quite significant set of losses.”

(“Russia classifies military deaths as state secrets even in times of peace and has not updated its official casualty figures frequently during the war. On March 25 it said 1,351 Russian soldiers had been killed,” Reuters reported July 20.)

Why it matters

This isn’t a “gotcha.” The Daily 202 wanted to look at the casualty number because so much U.S. policy toward Ukraine aims to escalate the cost to Russia of sustaining its war there, and so much of U.S. analysis of the conflict asks the question “how much more can Moscow take?”

On Monday, those two dynamics were very much in evidence as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl briefed reporters about a fresh disbursement of $1 billion in military aid for Kyiv — the largest U.S. package to date.

  • “There's a lot of fog in war, but, you know, I think it's safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70- or 80,000 casualties in less than six months,” Kahl said. “That number might be a little lower, a little higher, but I think that's kind of in the ballpark.”

Asked how long Russia could sustain that, Kahl replied: “A lot of it would depend, I think, on the political decisions that Vladimir Putin will make ultimately about whether he can continue to recruit and send additional forces to the front, whether he was at some point, you know, willing to engage in national mobilization or some other effort.”

Zelensky wants more

Escalating the costs for Russia was also central to The Washington Post’s interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who pressed the United States and its allies to ban all Russian citizens.

Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy,” he said, my colleague Isabelle Khurshudyan reported Monday. “Whichever kind of Russian … make them go to Russia.”

That’s a bridge too far for President Biden’s administration, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be more candid.

“We would not want to implement a total ban on all Russians,” the official told The Daily 202.

  • A total ban would mean denying entry to Russian dissidents and those who have criticized the war, as well as those who are “persecuted for politics or sexual orientation,” and that would upend a “bedrock principle” that Americans welcome such people, the official said.

It would also run against a theme Biden has woven into his rhetoric about the war, namely that America’s quarrel is with Putin and his government, not the Russian people, the official said.

But that has been something of a mixed message. The unprecedented economic sanctions the United States and its partners have leveled on Russia since February are surely hitting the Russian people, while Putin rages against them but hasn’t relented in Ukraine.

What’s happening now

Biden signs Chips Act, kicking off one of government’s biggest ever industrial projects

“The long-pursued legislation looks set to spur construction of more than half a dozen big semiconductor manufacturing facilities in the United States, providing more secure supplies of the tiny components that are so important to modern electronics that they are viewed as essential to national security,” Jeanne Whalen reports.

Republicans call for Garland, Wray to hold news conferences, testify to Congress

“Leading Republican lawmakers are calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to hold news conferences and appear before Congress to explain why the search of former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was necessary,” John Wagner reports.

“During a television appearance Tuesday morning, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Garland and Wray — as well as President Biden — should appear before cameras and ‘take all questions, explain why they’re doing what they’re doing, what each of them knew when.’ ”

Pelosi downplays McCarthy’s threat to investigate Justice Department

“First of all, I think the Democrats are going to win the House,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show. “Whatever the leader is saying is probably idle.”

“But nonetheless, we believe in the rule of law, and that’s what our country is about,” Pelosi added. “And no person is above the law, not even the president of the United States, not even a former president of the United States.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

State supreme courts could soon decide on abortion, raising stakes of their midterm races

“All over the country, the Dobbs decision has drawn attention to the power of state judiciaries, transforming once-sleepy races into high-energy elections that could bring out voters focused on abortion and other civil rights issues, candidates, legal experts and party officials said. Even where abortion has not yet been on the docket since the fall of Roe v. Wade, courts are making decisions on hot-button issues from gerrymandering to affirmative action,James Bikales and Praveena Somasundaram report.

Trump allies resist testifying as Georgia election probe expands

“With Rudy Giuliani just days away from his scheduled Tuesday appearance before an Atlanta grand jury, his lawyer asked for a last-minute delay — providing a doctor’s note saying the 78-year-old was not cleared to fly because of a recent ‘invasive procedure.’ The email response from the office of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis was unyielding,” Tom Hamburger, Ann E. Marimow and Matthew Brown report.

“We do not consent to change the date,” wrote a deputy to Willis, adding: “We will provide alternate transportation including bus or train if your client maintains he is unable to fly.”

… and beyond

Mini-scoop

How the news of the Mar-a-Lago raid broke

"The news of the raid was first reported by Peter Schorsch, the publisher of Florida Politics, a news organization that closely covers congressional and down ballot races in the state. In a phone call with Slate, Schorsch said that he had heard about the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago from a ‘longtime source in Republican politics who has a law enforcement background’ and knew a lot about ‘south Florida law enforcement,’ ” Slate's Natalie Shutler and Molly Olmstead report.

  • "When Schorsch reached out to another source—someone who would have intimate knowledge of Trump’s whereabouts and goings-on of his inner circle—he said that Trump’s people ‘were still playing catch-up.’ The Trump camp put out a statement at 6:45 p.m. confirming the raid, leading with the line, 'These are dark times for our Nation.'”

One year after Afghanistan, spy agencies pivot toward China

“In a recent closed-door meeting with leaders of the agency’s counterterrorism center, the CIA’s No. 2 official made clear that fighting al-Qaida and other extremist groups would remain a priority — but that the agency’s money and resources would be increasingly shifted to focusing on China,” the Associated Press's Nomaan Merchant reports.

“One year after ending the war in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden and top national security officials speak less about counterterrorism and more about the political, economic and military threats posed by China as well as Russia. There’s been a quiet pivot within intelligence agencies, which are moving hundreds of officers to China-focused positions, including some who were previously working on terrorism.”

The Biden agenda

America has a maternal mortality crisis. Biden push aims to change that.

“As part of a major push by the Biden administration to address the nation’s maternal health crisis, senior officials have traveled the country for the past year, talking to midwives, doulas and people who have given birth about their experiences. They’ve held summits at the White House,” Akilah Johnson reports.

“The result: an almost 70-page plan aimed at taking the United States from being the worst place to give birth among high-income nations especially for Black, Native American and rural women to ‘the best country in the world to have a baby.’ But maternal health experts say it remains to be seen whether the federal initiative is enough to accomplish the administration’s goal.

DHS to end ‘Remain in Mexico,’ allow asylum seekers to enter U.S.

“The Department of Homeland Security said late Monday it is preparing to quickly end the Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ program and will no longer send asylum seekers back across the border to await a decision on their applications for U.S. protection,” Nick Miroff reports.

New Ukraine military package is largest yet, Pentagon says

“The Pentagon on Monday said it is sending Ukraine an additional $1 billion in military assistance, including tens of thousands more munitions and explosives — the largest such package since Russia launched its invasion in February,” Karoun Demirjian reports.

Biden administration launches Africa strategy. But the real targets seem to be China, Russia

"With Russia and China looming in the background, America’s top diplomat pitched a ‘new chapter’ in U.S.-African relations on Monday, promising robust trade and calling for democracy despite political upheaval in much of the continent. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken insisted his five-day swing through sub-Saharan Africa is aimed at making the region a priority for the administration in a dynamic of ‘equal partners,’ ” the Los Angeles Times's Tracy Wilkinson reports.

How Sweden and Finland could alter NATO’s security, visualized

“The addition of the countries could offer the alliance expanded land, sea and air capabilities. Sweden has a strong navy, which would strengthen NATO’s defenses in the Baltic Sea, and builds its own fighter jets, which it exports to countries around the globe. Finland’s well-funded military maintains mandatory conscription for men…The countries also offer key geographic advantages, which would enhance NATO’s defenses,” Ruby Mellen and Dylan Moriarty report.

Hot on the left

Democrats seek edge with women as Michigan prepares to vote on abortion

“A decisive victory for abortion rights in conservative Kansas — which voted overwhelmingly last week to continue guaranteeing access to the procedure in the state constitution — has galvanized Democrats hopeful that the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe will reshape the midterms by opening inroads with key voters,” Hannah Knowles reports.

Michigan, a purple state with competitive races for governor and Congress, is shaping up as one of the most politically consequential battlefronts. Democrats here are working to win over women who might otherwise be inclined to vote Republican, such as [52-year-old Lois] Smith, and turn out base voters who have been difficult to excite, all as Republicans and antiabortion activists aim to counter their efforts.”

Hot on the right

Top Republicans echo Trump’s evidence-free claims to discredit FBI search

The quick defense of Trump and combative posture by leading Republican officeholders and potential 2024 presidential aspirants underlined the former president’s status as a standard-bearer in the party, even as he was tainted anew by another investigation. With fewer than 100 days before the midterm elections, many Republicans continue to rally around Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, his baseless attacks on a slew of officeholders and his divisive rhetoric,” Colby Itkowitz, David Weigel and Josh Dawsey report.

Today in Washington

At 2 p.m., Biden will sign the ratification of Finland and Sweden to join NATO and deliver remarks in the East Room, with Vice President Harris in attendance.

In closing

In memory of Olivia Newton-John

Everyone loved a little Olivia Newton-John, even our moms. The singer and actress, who died Monday at 73, had this unthreatening, sustaining beauty: the soft-focus treatment, the pearly whites, the big blue eyes, the voice that could be surprisingly strong even when it was whispery and ethereal. If the station wagon only got AM radio stations, something about her still came through crystal-clear. She was sunny beaches and dewy meadows and warm fireplaces,” Hank Stuever writes.

“And then: Just as the leading edge of Generation X felt the first thrilling tugs of something sexual, Newton-John went Hollywood.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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