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The Daily 202

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

Biden expresses gloom about Italian election

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 1822, Joseph Marion Hernández became the first Hispanic American to be elected to Congress. 

The big idea

Biden expresses gloom about Italian election

President Biden has repeatedly diagnosed the world is at an “inflection point” in the tug-of-war between democracies and autocracies or their hard-right populist cousins. In the aftermath of the right-wing victory in Italy’s elections, he’s sounding decidedly gloomy about the results.

Speaking at a Democratic Governors Association fundraiser on Wednesday, Biden fell back into familiar warnings that “democracy is at stake” around the world, and his usual tale about Chinese leader Xi Jinping arguing rule by the people, for the people cannot succeed.

  • “You just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election. You’re seeing what’s happening around the world. And the reason I bother to say that is we can’t be sanguine about what’s happening here either,” the president said.

“What’s happened in Italy” is Italian voters unenthused by the arguments of a divided left — including the kind of a stop-the-extremists message that has worked to stave off the far-right in France — elected their first woman prime minister and embraced a coalition government that will be the farthest right since Benito Mussolini’s two decades of fascist rule.

“What’s happening around the world” is, presumably, right-wing election victories in places like Sweden, a deepening of anti-democratic power in places like strongman Viktor Orban’s Hungary, and significant inroads by the far-right at the legislative level in places like France.

“What’s happening here” is the coast-to-coast Republican effort to put people who deny Biden’s 2020 victory in charge of the machinery of future elections, while playing down the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol that interrupted certification of his victory, and electing officials who embrace former president Donald Trump’s “big lie” that he was cheated out of a second term.

Taking the measure

Biden hasn’t called Meloni yet — that’s not a big deal, he wouldn’t be expected to do so until she formally takes over as prime minister and forms a government, steps expected in October.

And, officially at least, his administration has adopted a very cautious wait-and-see approach, notably scrutinizing her approach to Ukraine to see whether she’s inclined to pare back Italy’s aid to Kyiv as winter looms with Europe worried about Russia cutting off oil and gas flows.

  • “The fact is that we stand ready and eager to work with any Italian government that emerges from the electoral process to advance our many shared goals and interests,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Monday. “We’re partners, we’re friends.”

Without ever referencing Meloni by name, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “we will work with the new Italian government on the full range of shared global challenges, including supporting Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia's aggression.”

One week earlier, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, a senior administration official told reporters “whoever ends up as the new prime minister of Italy, the president will have to have an early conversation and then take measure of that person.”

The official, who briefed journalists on the condition of anonymity, dismissed “this kind of ‘sky-is-falling’ narrative” about the Italian election’s impact on Ukraine policy.

“What I will say is this: We do not believe that, no matter how this turns out, Italy is somehow going to drop out of the Western coalition of countries supporting Ukraine, and I don't think our key partners in Europe believe that either,” the official said.

Where does Meloni stand?

That premise will face two immediate tests.

First, a European Union summit today to discuss the continent’s energy crisis, triggered by Russia’s expanded invasion of Ukraine. Meloni has called for a “common solution” to the challenge, at a time when soaring fuel costs have badly hurt Italy’s economy.

Second, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to go ahead with seizing four Ukrainian regions after counterfeit referendums set the stage for Russia to absorb them.

  • Unlike other right-wing leaders in Europe — in Hungary, France, or even others in Italy — Meloni has not explicitly signaled sympathy with Moscow or a desire to sharply cut back on support for Ukraine, or to push Kyiv to make territorial concessions in order to end the war.

In both cases, though, Meloni will be transitioning from campaign rhetoric to the work of governing. What she does is something of an open question because of her past rhetoric, as my colleagues Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli reported recently.

“In her decade as leader of Fratelli d’Italia — Brothers of Italy — Meloni has espoused some extreme positions. She has advocated for the dissolution of the euro zone. She has warned, conspiratorially, that unnamed forces are guiding immigrants en masse to Italy in the name of ‘ethnic substitution.’”

That was then, her supporters might say. But the real test is now.

What’s happening now

U.S. imposes new sanctions over Russia’s illegal annexation

“The Biden administration announced a new round of sanctions on Russia for President Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories. The sanctions target government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks,” Yasmeen Abutaleb reports.

The United States also said it was sending a ‘clear warning’: that there will be costs for any individual, entity or country that provides political or economic support to Russia. Three U.S. agencies — the Treasury, Commerce and State departments — are imposing “swift and severe costs” on Russia.”

More: Putin illegally claims annexation of Ukrainian regions, escalating war

Electoral count bill gains co-sponsors, including Schumer and McConnell

A Senate bill that would overhaul an 1887 law that President Donald Trump and his allies tried to use to overturn the 2020 election results is picking up momentum, even as Congress heads into recess until after the midterm elections,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

Hurricane watch

Biden declares emergency in South Carolina as storm intensifies

President Biden declared an emergency in South Carolina hours ahead of Ian’s expected landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Charleston around midday Friday. The White House will dispatch federal assistance to supplement local response efforts, and the National Hurricane Center warned of ‘life-threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds’ in the Carolinas,” Jason Samenow and Kelly Kasulis Cho report.

Follow our live coverage of the storm here

Lunchtime reads from The Post

He’s worked to boost U.S. climate resilience. Amid Ian, here’s how he thinks we’re doing.

“As special assistant to the president for climate policy, for the past two years, David Hayes — who served as deputy interior secretary during the Clinton and Obama administrations — has largely focused on coping with climate impacts and making the country more resilient. Hayes, 68, whose last day in his post is Friday, has led efforts to implement climate-resilience interagency working groups dedicated to extreme heat, drought, wildfires, floods and coastal impacts; worked to expand offshore wind power; and helped to develop and carry out President Biden’s ambitious plan to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030,” Allyson Chiu reports.

Florida’s insurance woes could make Ian’s economic wrath even worse

“About a dozen firms that provide homeowners insurance in Florida have become insolvent in the past two years, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, leaving hundreds of thousands of property owners scrambling for coverage. Many Florida homeowners in flood-prone areas don’t carry flood insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has said — despite the fact that many policies don’t cover flood damage,” Lori Rozsa and Erica Werner report.

… and beyond

How Giorgia Meloni thinks

“As the leader of the European Union’s third biggest economy, Meloni will have a powerful role in shaping the bloc’s responses to these crises as they unfold. So many in Brussels and capitals beyond will be asking who she really is. What shaped her values? Where does she come from? How does Meloni think?Politico EU's Hannah Roberts reports.

The answer, in part, lies among her friends and allies from those early days in Rome’s Youth Front. Many members of the original group are now senior figures in the Brothers of Italy. Some are set to join Meloni in running the country.”

New book: Nancy Pelosi resisted effort to impeach Trump on Jan. 6

“According to the new book ‘Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,’ leading Democrats pushed hard to impeach then-President Donald Trump the day of the insurrection. But they were beaten back by a reluctant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who instead decided to gavel the chamber out of session once it had finished the business at hand — certifying the election — in the early hours of January 7,” the Intercept's Ryan Grim reports.

The Biden agenda

Biden takes aim at a GOP triumvirate: Scott, Johnson, McCarthy

“For a large portion of Biden’s presidency, he has sought to limit harsh partisan rhetoric as he courts a handful of Republicans to help enact his agenda. But as he shifts into a rawer campaign mode, he has started fine-tuning his attacks on this particular trio of Republicans who, while well-known to political junkies, are not exactly household names,” Matt Viser reports.

‘It's a land grab’: U.S. scrambles to respond ahead of Putin's annexation claim

“In Washington, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) unveiled legislation Thursday that would cut off military and economic aid to any country that recognizes the ‘annexed’ territories as part of Russia. The legislation would also pressure the Biden administration to swiftly punish Russia, and could be attached to the annual defense policy bill in the coming weeks,” Politico's Alexander Ward, Paul McLeary, Lara Seligman, Andrew DeSiderio and Jonathan Lemire report.

Biden administration scales back student loan forgiveness plan as states sue

“Borrowers whose federal student loans are guaranteed by the government but held by private lenders will now be excluded from receiving debt relief. Around 770,000 people will be affected by the change, according to an administration official,” CNN's Katie Lobosco reports.

Pentagon plans to set up a new command to arm Ukraine, officials say

The proposal would streamline a training and assistance system that was created on the fly after the Russian invasion in February. The system would be placed under a single new command based in Germany that would be led by a high-ranking U.S. general, according to several military and administration officials,” the New York Times' Eric Schmitt reports.

The Nord Stream spill, visualized

“The two explosions in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea resulted in what could amount to the largest-ever single release of methane gas into the atmosphere, but it may not be enough to have a major effect on climate change, experts say,” Meg Kelly, Ellen Francis and Michael Birnbaum report.

Hot on the left

Democrats need more than Beto O’Rourke if they want to flip Texas

“The overall electoral environment might be improving for Democrats, but O’Rourke is still a serious long shot. FiveThirtyEight’s 2022 midterm-election forecast gives Abbott a 95-in-100 chance of besting his ubiquitous Democratic challenger. But is it possible that after his closer-than-expected Senate race against Ted Cruz in 2018 and rise to national prominence after a nearly eight-month campaign in the 2020 presidential election, a narrow loss against Abbott in November could be a victory for Texas Democrats in the long run?FiveThirtyEight's Alex Samuels reports.

Hot on the right

Ginni Thomas’ opening statement to the Jan. 6 committee

“Regarding the 2020 election, I did not speak with him at all about the details of my volunteer campaign activities. And I did not speak with him at all about the details of my post-election activities, which were minimal, in any event. I am certain I never spoke with him about any of the legal challenges to the 2020 election, as I was not involved with those challenges in any way,” Thomas said at the beginning of her testimony Thursday, the Federalist's Tristan Justice reports.

Today in Washington

At 4 p.m., the Bidens will host a Hispanic Heritage Month reception.

In closing

TV reporters standing in hurricanes: A national tradition

On Sept. 28, meteorologists faced dangerous conditions while covering Hurricane Ian in Punta Gorda, Fla. (Video: The Washington Post)

“It’s not enough to simply point a camera at nature’s fury and let viewers soak in the awesome mix of water, wind and property destruction. For decades, the cliche in television coverage has been to place a reporter in the picture, letting viewers see just how dangerous the storm is,” Paul Farhi writes.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.