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The Daily 202

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

Biden faces a tough midterm balancing act

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. Olivier is back. Thank you to everyone who made this newsletter crack onward in his absence, especially the indispensable Caroline!

The big idea

Biden faces a tough midterm balancing act

It’s a midterm election year, and many Democratic candidates are keeping the president at arms’ length, worried his poor approval ratings will drag them down, too.

Is it 2022? No, 2014, when President Barack Obama was largely absent from the campaign trail, and it fell to Vice President Joe Biden to step in. And step in he did, campaigning for scores of candidates across nearly two dozen states.

This year, though, it’s Biden’s dismal polling numbers — including inside his own party, where 64 percent say they want someone else to run for president in 2024 and only 78 percent approve of the way he’s doing his job — that are giving Democrats headaches.

The president is in a curious political place.

He notched some significant bipartisan victories over the past year. This summer, the Senate voted to admit Finland and Sweden into NATO and sent the so-called Inflation Reduction Act — and its once-in-a-generation measures to battle the climate crisis — to his desk. There were also packages to promote semiconductor manufacturing in America and to help veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • Though still very much in danger of losing the House and Senate come November, Democrats are daring to hope they can limit the damage, and maybe even hold one chamber. They’ve closed the gap with Republicans on the generic ballot that indicates party preference, for instance.

They hope the unlikely string of successes in Congress will answer critics who say the party’s control of the House, Senate, and White House hasn’t yielded enough.

They expect the unpopular Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, ending a half-century of federally protected access to abortion, will galvanize core Democratic voters and hope it’ll win back swing voters, especially suburban women.

They hope Republican nominees for Senate will prove unpalatable to general election voters. They’re probably not unhappy that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a pretty keen judge of elections, isn’t predicting his party will retake the 50-50 Senate.

The Biden conundrum

So where does this leave Biden? My colleague Matt Viser took a look this weekend at the president’s midterms role ahead of his first political rally in months, a Thursday event in deep-blue Montgomery County, Md.

“He’s being attacked more often in televised ads than Obama was at this point in 2010, or Trump was in 2018. He goes largely unnamed on Democratic campaign websites and Twitter accounts. And candidates in key races in battleground states are either not asking him to come — or actively avoiding him when he does, according to a Washington Post survey of more than 60 candidates in the most competitive gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and congressional campaigns in the country.”

  • “Few candidates said they wanted Biden to campaign for them in their state or district, with many not responding to the question at all. The Post also asked if candidates wanted Vice President Harris as a surrogate campaigner for the Biden administration and got the same set of unenthusiastic responses.”

Matt reported that the White House plans to use the waning days before the midterms to tout Biden’s accomplishments. (This is where The Daily 202 notes they had basically the same plan a year ago, but the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan forced them to shelve it.)

“They point to a message that Biden took on special interests to solve problems that Democrats have sought to address for decades, and they have plans for Biden to travel the country to tout his victories, sell a Democratic agenda, and warn about what Republicans would do if voters give them control. They believe that Biden, who they view as the quarterback of the party’s policies and its political future, will be a sought-after commodity.”

Note the negative partisanship element here (urging votes against Republicans, not just for Democrats). Much is made of Biden’s bad approval ratings. But as CNN’s Harry Enten pointed out a month ago, he’s more popular (by a hair) than the Republican Party.

Given that the national GOP message appears to be that Democrats are socialists who are hell bent on destroying the country, negative partisanship could very well be the defining feature of the election some 80 days away.

What’s happening now

Fauci plans to step down in December after half a century in government

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s preeminent infectious-disease expert who achieved unprecedented fame while enduring withering political attacks as the face of the coronavirus pandemic response under two presidents, plans to step down in December after more than a half-century of public service, he announced Monday,” Yasmeen Abutaleb reports.

  • “In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post, Fauci said he wanted to step down from his government post while still healthy, energetic and passionate about his field and enthusiastic about the next stage of his career.”

Judge leaves open possibility redactions in Trump affidavit could make it ‘meaningless’

“A federal judge who said last week that he is ‘inclined’ to unseal some of the affidavit central to the FBI search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida estate left open the possibility in a written order Monday that it would be so heavily redacted that releasing it would be ‘meaningless,’” John Wagner reports.

South Korea, U.S. begin largest military drills in years amid North Korea backlash

“South Korea and the United States began their largest joint military drills in years on Monday with a resumption of field training, officials said, as the allies seek to tighten readiness over North Korea’s potential weapons tests,” Reuters's Hyonhee Shin reports.

“The annual summertime exercises, renamed Ulchi Freedom Shield this year and scheduled to end on Sept. 1, came after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, vowed to ‘normalise’ the combined exercises and boost deterrence against the North.”

The war in Ukraine

Russia blames Ukraine for car explosion that killed Putin ally’s daughter

Russia blamed Ukraine for a car explosion that killed the daughter of Alexander Dugin, a Russian nationalist and fervent ideological ally of President Vladimir Putin, prompting Dugin to issue a statement calling for military “victory” as vengeance — an exhortation that could lead to an escalation in the war,” Mary Ilyushina, Annabelle Timsit and Robyn Dixon report.

Ukraine has denied involvement in the killing of Daria Dugina, chief editor of a Russian disinformation website who was herself under U.S. sanctions. Kyiv also has warned about a spike in Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities ahead of the country’s Independence Day.”

A Putin ally’s daughter was killed near Russia’s capital: What to know

Lunchtime reads from The Post

In Upstate N.Y., a test for Democrats running on abortion to stop GOP wave

“Tuesday’s special election in a swing district — coming on a busy day of primaries or runoffs in several states — will be a closely watched preview of both major parties’ midterm political strategies around abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn the constitutional right to end a pregnancy. It is shaping up as the last big electoral test before the November midterms of Democrats’ attempts to channel anger over the decision — and subsequent state bans on abortion — into votes for their candidates, and of Republican efforts to keep the focus on different matters,” David Weigel reports.

After attacks and primary challenge, Wisconsin GOP leader still stands by Trump

“Over the past 15 months, the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly has sought to placate Donald Trump as the former president bombarded him with phone calls about the 2020 election, accused him of covering up corruption, labeled him a Republican in name only and endorsed his little-known primary opponent,” Patrick Marley reports.

“After winning his primary by just 260 votes this month, Robin Vos expressed no regrets and stood by Trump.”

… and beyond

Senate prepares to pick up the judicial-pick pace as November looms

“With most of their biggest legislative priorities accomplished and control of the Senate a toss-up, Democrats are about to dig into territory more closely associated with the GOP: ramping up judicial confirmations,” Politico's Marianna Levine reports.

“While President Joe Biden has seen more judges confirmed at this point in his presidency than his three White House predecessors, some Senate Democrats and progressive advocacy groups want the chamber to start picking up the pace. Judicial confirmations will come to a standstill if Republicans win back the Senate in the fall, they warn.”

New breed of video sites thrive on misinformation and hate

“BitChute and Odysee serve up conspiracies, racism and graphic violence to millions of viewers. Taking advantage of Big Tech disinformation crackdowns and the rise of Trump, the sites reflect a new media universe — one where COVID-19 is fake, Russia fights Nazis in Ukraine, and mass shootings are ‘false flag’ operations,” Reuters's Andrew Marshall and Joseph Tanfani report.

  • BitChute has boomed as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook tighten rules to combat misinformation and hate speech. An upstart BitChute rival, Odysee, has also taken off. Both promote themselves as free-speech havens, and they’re at the forefront of a fast-growing alternative media system that delivers once-fringe ideas to millions of people worldwide.”

Back to school, with panic buttons: The post-Uvalde scramble

“Multiple states now mandate or encourage the buttons, and a growing number of districts are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars per school for them — part of a widespread scramble to beef up school security and prevent the next tragedy. The spending spree includes metal detectors, security cameras, vehicle barriers, alarm systems, clear backpacks, bullet-resistant glass and door-locking systems,” the Associated Press's Heather Hollingsworth reports.

The latest on covid

New study suggests covid increases risks of brain disorders

“A study published this week in the journal Lancet Psychiatry showed increased risks of some brain disorders two years after infection with the coronavirus, shedding new light on the long-term neurological and psychiatric aspects of the virus,” Frances Stead Sellers reports.

The Biden agenda

Biden’s approach to crypto

“We hear the words ‘Crypto’ and ‘Regulation’ mentioned in the same sentence a lot these days. In the U.S. House, Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters and Ranking Member Patrick McHenry are looking to regulate stablecoins in the wake of the Terra/Luna collapse, when this supposed ‘stablecoin’ proved not so stable,” Bloomberg News's Victoria Vergolina reports.

Biden officials see a second chance to promote last year's infrastructure law with projects underway

“Starting Tuesday, Biden administration officials will start a weeks-long blitz across the country — including in many midterm battleground states, where they'll appear with governors, senators and members of Congress — with a pitch focused on generating local attention and media coverage, either through in-person or virtual events with local officials,” CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere reports.

Remote-working rates, visualized

"Remote work has ebbed significantly since the height of pandemic shutdowns in 2020, when almost two-thirds of work was done remotely. But it has since stabilized at an extraordinarily high level: Around a third of work was done remotely in the United States in 2021 and 2022, according to economists José María Barrero (Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico), Nicholas Bloom (Stanford University) and Steven Davis (University of Chicago),” Andrew Van Dam explains.

Hot on the left

Beto O’Rourke’s risky quest for votes in deep-red Texas

“Maybe it’s a fool’s errand or just a kamikaze mission of hope, but Beto is holding more than 70 public events in 49 days trying to convince people in mostly small, rural and often incredibly red towns around the state that he should be their next governor. It’s part of a campaign strategy fueled by the fact that four years ago he came closer than any Democrat in a generation to winning a statewide office in his Senate race — within 220,000 votes, or 2.6 percent. Which in Texas counts as close,” Jada Yuan reports.

“If there are votes out there to push him over the top, that means turning over every couch cushion in every corner of the state — even in conservative oil, agriculture and ranching country where many people are thrilled with two-term incumbent Republican governor Greg Abbott, who signed a trigger law banning most abortions and who has spent the summer busing migrants to D.C. and New York City, while blaming it all on President Biden.”

Hot on the right

An unusual $1.6 billion donation bolsters conservatives

The source of the money was Barre Seid, an electronics manufacturing mogul, and the donation is among the largest — if not the largest — single contributions ever made to a politically focused nonprofit. The beneficiary is a new political group controlled by Leonard A. Leo, an activist who has used his connections to Republican donors and politicians to help engineer the conservative dominance of the Supreme Court and to finance battles over abortion rights, voting rules and climate change policy,” the New York Times's Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher report.

Today in Washington

Biden is in Rehoboth Beach, Del., until Wednesday. There is nothing on his public schedule today.

In closing

Want to know what a black hole sounds like?

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.