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The Daily 202

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

Biden embraces the positive. But political dangers lurk.

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 1960, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a speech aimed at quieting questions about how his Roman Catholic faith would shape his policies. “Contrary to common newspaper usage,” he told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.”

The big idea

Biden embraces the positive. But political dangers lurk.

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that two months ago, Biden’s job approval had slipped to less than half of his peak of 57 percent. Biden’s approval slipped from 57 to 38 percent.

Shifts in the political landscape over the summer have reinforced an anything-can-happen dynamic that has Democrats shedding some of their Eeyore tendencies 60 days from the midterm elections, while the GOP looks for something of a public-relations reset.

Inflation fears have waned. Gas prices, while still higher than when President Biden took office, are down (and, more importantly, appear to have slipped out of local news broadcasts). Jobs growth has been solid. Americans feel generally better about the economy.

Just two months ago, Biden’s job approval had slipped to 38 percent, according to Gallup, far from his peak of 57 percent in April 2021. It’s now 44 percent — still not great, but not as dangerous for Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates.

Summertime

A few months ago, Biden’s domestic agenda looked stalled. But Democrats had a surprisingly productive summer, capped with once-in-a-generation measures to combat the climate crisis and bipartisan passage of major legislation to promote semiconductor manufacturing in America and to help veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Meanwhile, Republicans have seen predictions of a “red tsunami” in November shrink to a red wave and now, while still favored by strategists in both parties to retake the House, face something of a coin-flip when it comes to recapturing the Senate.

But.

Fortunes that shift one way over two months can shift back. Public opinion polls can get things wrong. My colleague Jeff Stein chronicled some of the dangers the White House foresees from the war in Ukraine, notably from Russia expanding its use of energy exports as a weapon of war against Europe.

“Seeking to punish Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and force a retreat, Western allies have moved to set a cap on what buyers pay for Russian oil. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin last week said Russia would retaliate by cutting off gas and oil shipments, which could devastate Europe’s economy and hurt the United States by sending global energy prices soaring,” he reported.

“U.S. officials believe Putin’s bellicose rhetoric is at least partially a bluff, as Russia needs revenue from energy exports to finance its war effort, even at lower prices. But aides to President Biden have in recent days reviewed their efforts to export liquefied natural gas to Europe, aiming to see if there’s any way for American producers to help. (Nearly 40 percent of the natural gas Europe uses for heat and electricity came from Russia before the war started.) And while White House aides do not believe a recession in Europe would necessarily cause one here, a complete shutdown of Russian oil exports would seriously harm the U.S. economy, according to economists, energy analysts and internal White House assessments.”

Jeff also noted:

  • Curbing or cutting Russian energy flows to Europe, especially heading into the colder months, will put pressure on the U.S.-Europe partnership on Ukraine.
  • White House officials also worry it could also quickly worsen the inflation picture in the United States, after “[s]ome economists and Wall Street analysts have said inflation may be peaking after an encouraging federal report for July.
  • America has already sharply expanded liquefied natural gas shipments to Europe. Biden aides have “brainstormed” ways to do more.
  • “But there appears to be no quick way to increase the capacity of terminals that help ship gas across the Atlantic.”

In short, Jeff’s reporting highlights the fragility of the good inflation news of the past few weeks, and the degree to which some major events are out of Biden’s control.

What about the GOP?

Republicans seem to be attempting a public-relations reset on several fronts, my colleagues Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Jeff Stein noted in a sweeping weekend assessment.

Why? In addition to diminished anger about inflation, the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling that protected abortion rights for five decades, has energized support for Democrats. Republicans have also had to cope internally with fundraising travails.

(If you want to see how the abortion issue is cutting, look no further than the Republican candidates who used to deliver full-throated promises to sharply restrict access but have been hurriedly scrubbing their websites of past remarks and dodging questions about where they stand.)

Michael, Josh, Isaac and Jeff reported: “GOP officials have been mixing up their advertising spending, with a new focus on issues like crime, plans for a major policy rollout meant to reclaim voter attention and moves to send reinforcements for struggling Senate candidates.”

“Leaders have also been working, with mixed success, to cool down intraparty squabbles over their own strategic missteps and the quality of candidates in pivotal Senate races.”

One thing to watch: My colleagues report House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) wants to roll out policy arguments come Sept. 19. That could be the latest sign Republicans can’t sit back and hope a referendum on Biden will hand them Congress.

What’s happening now

New book reveals Trump vowed to stay in White House

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly told aides in the days following his 2020 election loss that he would remain in the White House rather than let incoming President Joe Biden take over, according to reporting provided to CNN from a forthcoming book by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman,” CNN's Jeremy Herb reports.

Poll: Americans give health care system failing mark

“A majority of adults in the U.S. … say that health care is not handled well in the country, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research,” the AP's Amanda Seitz reports.

The poll reveals that public satisfaction with the U.S. health care system is remarkably low, with fewer than half of Americans saying it is generally handled well. Only 12% say it is handled extremely or very well.”

The war in Ukraine

Despite setbacks in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman insists war will go on

“After a weekend of steep battlefield setbacks for Russia, the Kremlin’s top spokesman said Monday that the war in Ukraine would continue until President Vladimir Putin’s aims are reached,” Natalia Abbakumova reports.

  • “The special military operation is underway and will continue until the goals that have been set are achieved,” the spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in a conference call with reporters.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Biden has achieved historic diversity. A new study says more can be done.

“A new analysis of Biden’s senior aides from an independent think tank concludes that the president has not done enough to ensure there is sufficient Black representation in key White House jobs that are less visible to the public, but whose holders often have an outsize influence on policy,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and David Nakamura report.

Trump backers flood election offices with requests as 2022 vote nears

In nearly two dozen states and scores of counties, election officials are fielding what many describe as an unprecedented wave of public records requests in the final weeks of summer, one they say may be intended to hinder their work and weaken an already strained system. The avalanche of sometimes identically worded requests has forced some to dedicate days to the process of responding,” Amy Gardner and Patrick Marley report.

… and beyond

16 weeks left for a heap of questions: Jan. 6 panel weighs its endgame

“Should they seek Donald Trump’s testimony? What should they do with Republican lawmakers who defied subpoenas? Will they be able to negotiate an interview with Mike Pence?” Politico's Nicholas Wu and Kyle Cheney write.

“Members of the Jan. 6 select committee are confronting a momentous to-do list, including some of their most precedent-setting decisions, as they prepare to present closing arguments about the former president’s bid to overturn his loss in 2020. With barely 16 weeks until the panel dissolves, its nine lawmakers are still deciding when to release a comprehensive final report, as well as hundreds of witness transcripts that could provide extensive new details about Trump’s behavior surrounding the Capitol attack.”

The sordid saga of Hunter Biden’s laptop

“Without a counterargument from the White House or the Biden family, and with mainstream political reporters only now trying to catch up to the tabloid coverage and the ideologically motivated actors who have been advancing the story, Democrats in Washington simply don’t know what to say. There has been no penalty for silence while they’ve been in power, just the vague assumption that it does seem like there’s something to the story, if only anyone credible would bother to check it out,” Andrew Rice and Olivia Nuzzi report for New York Magazine.

“But the present stalemate, in which one side treats the subject with polite indifference while the other side foments and fundraises off it, is unsustainable.”

The Biden agenda

Biden turns urgently to critical task of holding the Senate

“[The president's recent] visits to Pennsylvania in particular suggest the critical nature of the Senate control, since that state probably represents the Democrats’ greatest opportunity to flip a seat in the chamber. ‘It’s probably Democrats’ best — though not only — chance at a Senate pickup so far in this cycle,’ said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist based in New York,” Marisa Iati reports.

  • Control of the Senate will affect items critical to Biden’s legacy including the confirmation of more judges; the elevation of a Supreme Court justice, if a vacancy emerges on the high court; the unfolding of high-profile investigations into the president and his son Hunter Biden; the confirmation of top Biden officials; and potential Republican efforts to impeach Biden Cabinet officials and possibly the president himself.”

China competition spurs Biden push for domestic biotech subsidies

President Biden will issue an executive order Monday intended to boost the domestic biotechnology industry, which encompasses everything from pharmaceutical manufacturing to plastics to innovative fuels, according to White House officials,” Christopher Rowland reports.

Biden, U.S. hold somber 9/11 remembrances as legacy questions linger

Themes of unity and resilience colored Biden’s remarks at the Pentagon, and he and Vice President Harris both nodded to the latest threats to elections and other democratic institutions such as the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol,” Tobi Raji reports.

How consumers feel about the economy, visualized

While consumer sentiment is still fairly low by historic standards, we’re starting to see pretty dramatic improvements,” Joanne W. Hsu, an economist at the University of Michigan and director of its closely watched consumer surveys, told our colleague Abha Bhattarai. “It’s very much being driven by a slowdown in inflation, particularly with the decline in gas prices.”

Hot on the left

The Supreme Court is vulnerable on abortion

“Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Supreme Court reform, such as adding new justices, stripping its jurisdiction from certain laws, or abolishing judicial review entirely (as I argued here), is its relative legitimacy,” Ryan Cooper writes for the American Prospect.

“But it seems the Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade has brought it down into the toilet of unpopularity, along with the rest of the American government … Marquette University, found approval of the Court falling to just 38 percent immediately after the Dobbs decision.”

Hot on the right

Thiel praises DeSantis as ‘the best of the governors’ for offering ‘a real alternative to California’

“Billionaire investor Peter Thiel on Sunday said he feared Republicans were too focused on bashing liberal states such as California, when they should instead be offering a ‘positive agenda’ for the future of the party,” Business Insider's Kimberly Leonard reports.

“In a speech delivered at the National Conservatism Conference, Thiel painted a bleak picture of his home state of California and said at least one governor was going about alternative policymaking the right way: Florida’s Ron DeSantis.”

Today in Washington

At 12:45 p.m., Biden will speak at Boston’s Logan International Airport about the bipartisan infrastructure law. He will leave Logan for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum at 1:30 p.m.

At 4 p.m., the president will speak about the “Cancer Moonshot.”

He will then attend a Democratic National Committee reception at 6 p.m.

Biden will leave Boston at 7:10 p.m. and will arrive at the White House at 9:05 p.m.

In closing

A CIA spy pursued bin Laden after 9/11. Now he’s being mourned as a legend.

“Even though [Gary] Schroen wrote an acclaimed memoir about his most legendary operation — and even though [his wife, Anne McFadden] has worked as a CIA employee and contractor for more than 35 years — her husband’s modesty and penchant for secrecy meant she only knew so much,” Ian Shapira reports.

“But McFadden, 66, said her husband’s Jawbreaker mission, which laid the groundwork for the Taliban’s collapse in the fall of 2001 and the 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan, gave Schroen the most gratification.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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