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The Daily 202

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

On Iran protests, Biden goes faster and farther than Obama

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 2009, President Barack Obama warned the U.N. General Assembly against “reflexive anti-Americanism.” Said Obama: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone.”

The big idea

On Iran protests, Biden goes faster and farther than Obama

Women’s rights protests spreading like wildfire across Iran have presented President Biden with a familiar conundrum: Whether, how, and how much to support demonstrations in the Islamic Republic. And what to learn from Barack Obama’s reaction to similar unrest in 2009.

Back then, Republicans condemned what they characterized as a milquetoast U.S. response. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wove denunciations of Obama’s caution into his broader criticisms of the incumbent’s management of foreign policy.

But already, the Biden response appears to have gone farther, faster. Senior officials from Biden on down have denounced the government crackdown on the movement, which was sparked by the death in police custody last week of a woman arrested for improperly covering her hair.

‘Morality police’

Mahsa Amini, 22, died Friday after being detained by the so-called “morality police.” Since then, women all over Iran have demonstrated, and videos of many of them cutting their hair or burning the traditional hijab headscarf in protest have raced across social media.

Iran has imposed a near-total Internet blackout, likely an attempt to make it harder for the protesters to organize. Some protesters have reportedly been killed, and hundreds more wounded, in clashes with police and paramilitary forces.

  • “Today, we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” Biden said in his speech on Wednesday to world leaders attending the U.N. General Assembly.

On Thursday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the morality police, calling them “responsible” for Amini’s death, as well as seven senior Iranian security officials, citing “abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.”

On Friday, the Treasury Department modified U.S. sanctions to let technology companies counter the Iranian government's Internet lockdown and surveillance.

“With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. More steps like this are expected.

Top officials have condemned the crackdown and expressed support for the demonstrators, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan and others. (One person who does not appear to have spoken out yet: Vice President Harris.)

A difference from 13 years ago

The Biden response — expressing support for the protesters in unflinching terms, condemning the government response, imposing sanctions — has outpaced the way the administration in which he served as vice president handled the so-called Green Revolution 13 years ago.

“Quite simply it’s good politics and policy,” Aaron David Miller, who advised administration of both parties on the Middle East for decades, told The Daily 202. “Given the hammering the Administration took politically for not responding aggressively enough to the 2009 protests, it didn’t want to be put in that position again.

Then, the issue was a June 13 election that, authorities declared, had returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. Amid credible allegations of fraud, his rivals’ supporters took to the streets. His supporters staged counter-protests. And the government cracked down on the anti-Ahmadinejad crowds.

  • Obama wasn’t silent, but it wasn’t until June 23 — and after many calls to toughen his rhetoric — that he declared himself “appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings, and imprisonments” which he (more importantly) directly and unmistakably tied to Iranian officials.

One recurring concern for Obama had been the degree to which American support might be counterproductive, giving Tehran room to blame demonstrations fed by anger at social repression and a terrible economy on an outside power that, after all, once helped overthrow an Iranian government

“It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be,” he said in his first statement, June 15, adding that he wanted “to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.” (Iran’s government still blamed “Western-backed rioters” for the violence.)

My colleague Karen DeYoung reported Wednesday on Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi hitting back at Western critics in his general assembly speech.

“Without mentioning the protests, Raisi said Iran ‘rejects the double standards’ of some governments on human rights. In particular, he mentioned Canada’s discovery of the graves of Native children who died in government-mandated schools after being removed from their families, and children who were ‘locked up in cages’ by the United States after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.”

My colleague Kareem Fahim reported last week on Amini’s death and sketched this picture of the division blamed for her demise:

“The headscarf and other conservative dress, known as hijab, have been compulsory for women since Iran’s 1979 revolution. Raisi, a hard line cleric who assumed office last year, has called for strict enforcement of the dress codes. The guidance patrols have become increasingly assertive of late, with their distinctive green-striped vans featured in a series of videos that have gone viral online and provoked anger — including one from last month that appeared to show a detained woman being thrown from a speeding van.”

What’s happening now

Career prosecutors recommend no charges for Gaetz in sex-trafficking probe

Career prosecutors have recommended against charging Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in a long-running sex-trafficking investigation — telling Justice Department superiors that a conviction is unlikely in part because of credibility questions with the two central witnesses, according to people familiar with the matter,” Devlin Barrett reports.

House GOP ‘Commitment to America’ purposely short on specifics

“The debate over how to proceed on legislating abortion, for example, is evident in the document. Some Republicans would be content with a 15-week federal ban, while many others support legislation banning abortions at six weeks gestation or before, according to multiple aides,” Marianna Sotomayor and Leigh Ann Caldwell report.

The Commitment to America pledge doesn’t get into specifics on the issue, one that polling shows is motivating voters across the country. Rather, it promises that the party will ‘protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.’”

Jury rules against Project Veritas in lawsuit

“A jury in a federal civil case on Thursday found that Project Veritas, a conservative group known for its deceptive tactics, had violated wiretapping laws and fraudulently misrepresented itself as part of a lengthy sting operation against Democratic political consultants,” the New York Times' Adam Goldman reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Pentagon launches effort to assess crypto’s threat to national security

“The military’s innovation office is launching a sweeping review of cryptocurrencies to assess threats to national security and law enforcement posed by the rise of digital assets,” Tory Newmyer reports.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — better known as DARPA, the office that developed the earliest technology undergirding the internet — has hired crypto intelligence firm Inca Digital to conduct the year-long project. The company will develop tools that give the Pentagon a granular view of crypto markets’ inner workings, in part to help authorities crack down on illicit uses of digital assets.”

U.S. watchdog estimates $45.6 billion in pandemic unemployment fraud

The new estimate is a dramatic increase from the roughly $16 billion in potential fraud identified a year ago, and it illustrates the immense task still ahead of Washington as it seeks to pinpoint the losses, recover the funds and hold criminals accountable for stealing from a vast array of federal relief programs,” Tony Romm reports.

… and beyond

‘They are watching’: Inside Russia’s vast surveillance state

“Roskomnadzor’s activities have catapulted Russia, along with authoritarian countries like China and Iran, to the forefront of nations that aggressively use technology as a tool of repression. Since the agency was established in 2008, Mr. Putin has turned it into an essential lever to tighten his grip on power as he has transformed Russia into an even more authoritarian state,” the NYT's Paul Mozur, Adam Satariano, Aaron Krolik and Aliza Aufrichtig report.

“The agency’s role in this digital dragnet is more extensive than previously known, according to the records. It has morphed over the years from a sleepy telecom regulator into a full-blown intelligence agency, closely monitoring websites, social media and news outlets, and labeling them as ‘pro-government,’ ‘anti-government’ or ‘apolitical.’”

More Democrats than ever support the Palestinian cause, and that’s dividing the party

“In 2001, when Gallup polled Americans on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, views were clear and consistent: Only 16 percent of Americans sympathized more with the Palestinians, while 51 percent sympathized more with the Israelis. Back then, this wasn’t even a particularly partisan issue — only 18 percent of Democrats sympathized more with Palestinians,” FiveThirtyEight's Zoha Qamar reports.

“Two decades later, though, the landscape has changed. The share of Americans with more sympathy toward the Palestinians has ticked up to 26 percent. And that support has more than doubled among Democrats: Today, 38 percent report feeling more sympathy for the Palestinians.”

The Biden agenda

U.S. has sent private warnings to Russia against using a nuclear weapon

The United States for several months has been sending private communications to Moscow warning Russia’s leadership of the grave consequences that would follow the use of a nuclear weapon, according to U.S. officials, who said the messages underscore what President Biden and his aides have articulated publicly,” Paul Sonne and John Hudson report.

“The Biden administration generally has decided to keep warnings about the consequences of a nuclear strike deliberately vague, so the Kremlin worries about how Washington might respond, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive deliberations.”

White House announces $1.5 billion to target opioid crisis

The White House on Friday announced $1.5 billion in grants aimed at addressing the opioid crisis and supporting individuals in recovery. The funding is part of a federal program that aims to help states increase access to treatment for substance abuse, make medications such as naloxone more widely available and expand access to recovery support services,” John Wagner and Azi Paybarah report.

Biden administration to cover Puerto Rico’s Fiona recovery costs for the next month

“President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the federal government will pay100 percent of the costs of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Fiona for the next month,” Politico's Gloria Gonzalez reports.

The move would expand the federal role just a day after Biden issued a major disaster declaration on Wednesday for Puerto Rico, unlocking additional federal assistance as island residents navigate the aftermath of Fiona. That declaration had made federal funds available to Puerto Rico on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal, emergency protective measures and other services.”

Voter registration deadlines across the country, visualized

Hot on the left

Puerto Rico’s colonial status left it vulnerable to Hurricane Fiona

“There are many proximate factors behind Puerto Rico’s continued vulnerability to hurricanes and economic dysfunction. But the root problem is political inequality. It is an American colony: controlled by the United States government, but without any political representation for the people living there. Until this inequality is rectified, it’s a safe bet that Puerto Rico will never fully recover,” Ryan Cooper writes for the American Prospect.

Hot on the right

Herschel Walker’s struggles show GOP’s deeper challenge in Georgia

“Walker, 60, cruised through a Republican primary four months ago, armed with former president Donald Trump’s endorsement and buoyed by his name recognition as a national championship-winning Heisman Trophy winner. He offers his up-by-the-bootstraps story as a counterpoint to liberal assertions that the country is rife with systemic racism, telling mostly White audiences that they should ignore overblown complaints about a racist America,” Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports.

“But the ease of his primary win has been followed by an eruption of misstatements and revelations that are complicating his sprint to a Senate seat. They also have highlighted the GOP’s struggle to recalibrate in a state whose increasingly diverse, urban population — about half of all Georgians are now non-White — threatens its longtime dominance.”

Today in Washington

At 12:25 p.m., Biden will depart the White House for a Democratic National Committee event at the National Education Association Headquarters, where he will deliver remarks at 1 p.m.

Biden will return to the White House at 1:50 p.m.

At 8 p.m., The president and first lady Jill Biden will host and deliver remarks at a musical performance by Elton John.

In closing

How vigilante ‘predator catchers’ are infiltrating the criminal justice system

In Indiana and across the country, the criminal justice system is reckoning with an unprecedented boom in vigilante activity. In the past three years, at least 160 groups have been ‘catching predators’ in the United States, according to a Washington Post analysis of their social media posts. This year alone, a YouTube channel tracking catchers has counted more than 920 stings by amateurs,” Jessica Contrera reports.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.