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The Daily 202

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

Elon Musk draws fire for Russia-friendly Ukraine proposal

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 1957, the Soviet Union launched the Space Age (and the Space Race) by putting the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit around the Earth.

The big idea

Elon Musk draws fire for Russia-friendly Ukraine proposal

This is certainly an interesting time for Tesla CEO Elon Musk to outline an unsolicited Ukraine peace plan that seems designed to lock in Russian territorial gains. 

But since Musk seems destined to court controversy the way Casanova wooed women — one is never enough — there he was on Twitter Monday, serving up a four-point plan he said would end the fighting and spare the lives of millions.

Ukraine to Musk: [Expletive deleted]

The plan starts with rerunning the illegal votes in four eastern and southern Ukrainian regions last week that Moscow claimed yielded near-unanimous support for joining Russia, but this time under U.N. auspices.

It adds that Kyiv must accept that the Ukrainian region of Crimea is Russian “as it has been since 1783 (until Khruschev’s mistake)” — a reference to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to transfer the peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. (Russia later endorsed Ukrainian sovereignty, including Crimea, in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.)

Musk’s final two stipulations are that water supply to Crimea remains stable and “Ukraine remains neutral,” ostensibly a demand that Kyiv not throw its lot in with NATO.

For Ukraine, this is an absolute non-starter — it rewards Russia for invading and annexing Crimea in 2014, for example — and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wasted no time in declaring as much.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda also weighed in.

A senior adviser to Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyack countered with a peace plan that included driving Russia out of Ukraine, disarming Moscow and putting Russian war criminals on trial.

Ukraine’s parliament had a one-word assessment: “No.”

As for the Ukrainian envoy to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, The Daily 202 can’t quote his responses in full because we’re a family newsletter.

(Later, Musk tweeted at Zelensky that he supported Ukraine but worried about “massive escalation.” He did not note that the escalator-in-chief sits in the Kremlin.)

Since Putin expanded his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Musk’s public posture has been … idiosyncratic. He provided thousands of his Starlink satellite Internet service terminals to keep Ukrainian access to the Web and help combat Russian disinformation.

He also, uh, challenged Putin to single combat over Ukraine.

There was a sort of irony that the back-and-forth occurred on Twitter. Musk and the social media company have been in a bitter legal battle over his efforts to pull out of a $44 billion offer to buy the company.


Musk is hardly the only foreign-policy freelancer. Back in September, President Biden’s administration let it be known — diplomatically — that it wasn’t a huge fan of former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson’s travel to Moscow in an apparent attempt to free detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Private citizens attempting to broker a deal do not and cannot speak for the U.S. government,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “Our concern is that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to hinder the efforts that we have undertaken to see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.”

Two months earlier, in July, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had — again, gently — suggested Richardson not freelance.

“We have had communication from the National Security Council to former Governor Richardson,” she said. “I won't comment on his travel or what he intends to do. What I will say is that President Biden is laser-focused on a government-to-government solution to this issue.”

And there was the blink-and-you-missed-it moment when former NBA player Dennis Rodman said he’d be heading to Moscow to try to free Griner, a WNBA star sentenced to nine years in prison for having vape canisters with a tiny amount of cannabis oil in her luggage.

“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told NBC News at a restaurant in D.C. “I'm trying to go this week.”

Cue Ned Price again: If Rodman went, “he would not be traveling on behalf of the U.S. government.”

Rodman opted not to go. Musk chose to tweet.

What’s happening now

Herschel Walker denies report that he paid for girlfriend’s abortion

Herschel Walker, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Georgia, denied a report that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 on Fox News on Oct. 3. (Video: Fox News)

“Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Georgia, on Monday denied a claim that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009, saying in a televised interview on Fox News Channel that the account published in the Daily Beast is a ‘flat-out lie.’Annie Linskey and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report.

  • ICYMI: “Walker’s denial came after the Daily Beast published a detailed description from an unnamed former girlfriend who said that Walker encouraged her to have an abortion after she became pregnant while they were dating, wrote her a $700 check to pay for the procedure and then sent her a subsequent ‘get well’ card.”

North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan, prompting evacuation order

“North Korea launched a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, Japanese and South Korean officials said Tuesday. The missile, which was the first North Korean projectile to pass through Japanese airspace since 2017, landed in the Pacific Ocean,” Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports.

Endowment tax on wealthiest universities netted a fraction of predictions in 2021

“Wealthy colleges argued for years that a federal tax on their endowment income would limit their ability to provide financial aid—and represent a dangerous government overreach,” the Wall Street Journal's Melissa Korn and Richard Rubin report.

“Internal Revenue Service figures show the actual impact of such a tax has so far been minimal: Last year, 33 schools paid a total of just $68 million, far short of the schools’ dire projections and the government’s official estimate, according to data recently published by the agency.”

Lunchtime reads from The Post

As gas prices rise, Democrats scramble to lay blame on Big Oil

“As prices at the pump trend up nationwide, the Biden administration is scrambling to shelter Democrats from consumer frustration, laying blame on oil company opportunism and threatening new restrictions on the industry,” Evan Halper reports.

“In public comments and private meetings with oil executives, administration officials are warning that the White House could take extraordinary — and potentially economically risky — steps to bring costs down if the companies do not move more aggressively to shield Americans from price spikes.”

Trump’s lawyer refused his request in February to say all documents returned

“Former president Donald Trump asked one of his lawyers to tell the National Archives and Records Administration in early 2022 that Trump had returned all materials requested by the agency, but the lawyer declined because he was not sure the statement was true, according to people familiar with the matter,” Josh Dawsey and Jacqueline Alemany report.

… and beyond

Russia’s small nuclear arms: A risky option for Putin and Ukraine alike

“Analysts inside and outside the government who have tried to game out Mr. Putin’s threats have come to doubt how useful such arms — delivered in an artillery shell or thrown in the back of a truck — would be in advancing his objectives,” the New York Times' David E. Sanger and William J. Broad report.

The primary utility, many U.S. officials say, would be as part of a last-ditch effort by Mr. Putin to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive, by threatening to make parts of Ukraine uninhabitable.”

Election officials confront a new problem: Whether they can trust their own poll workers

“The frontline election workers do everything from checking people in at voting locations to helping process mail ballots — in other words, they are the face of American elections for most voters. And now, some prominent incidents involving poll workers have worried election officials that a bigger wave of trouble could be on the horizon,” Politico's Zach Montellaro reports.

The Biden agenda

Biden administration works to woo Latin American leftist leaders

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in South America as part of an effort to engage some of the continent’s new leftist leaders who are shaking up traditional alliances at a time when China is increasingly offering itself as an alternative to Washington,” the WSJ's Vivian Salama reports.

Biden, seeking contrast to Trump, vows $60 million in Puerto Rico visit

The funding, meant to shore up levees, strengthen flood walls and create a new flood warning system, will come from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that Congress approved last year, according to a White House official. Biden sought to use the announcement to signal he would not abandon the often-neglected island until ‘every single thing’ is done, as he put it,” Arelis R. Hernández, Matt Viser and Toluse Olorunnipa report.

U.S. crafting new rules aimed at curbing China’s advanced computing

“The Biden administration is preparing new rules aimed at curbing China’s advanced computing and chip production capabilities — the U.S. government’s most significant effort to date to restrain China’s development of technologies critical for its military advancement,” Ellen Nakashima and Jeanne Whalen report.

Path uncertain for U.S.-Taiwan free trade deal despite Hill support

The White House is hoping that by focusing on the relatively low-hanging fruit of harmonizing countries’ trade rules, it could build momentum toward negotiating free trade agreements, according to Roy Chun Lee, a senior deputy executive director and trade expert at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taipei,” Roll Call's Rachel Oswald reports.

Biden wants to use Medicaid to address abortion ‘crisis.’ States aren't biting.

“In the two months since President Joe Biden signed an executive order encouraging states to use the health insurance program to expand abortion access, no state has applied to do so,” Politico's Megan Messerly reports.

Gerrymandering in Alabama, visualized

“When they redrew congressional lines this year based on new census data, Alabama Republicans packed Black voters into mostly one out of seven congressional districts, despite the fact that the state is about a quarter Black. Civil rights advocates sued, arguing that Republicans violated the civil rights era Voting Rights Act by not giving Black voters fair representation with a second majority-minority district. A lower court in Alabama agreed. And now the Supreme Court is going to hear the case,” Amber Phillips explains.

Hot on the left

Trump sues CNN for defamation, seeks $475 million in damages

Trump has a history of being highly litigious against critics in the media, though these legal challenges have had little success. In 2020, his campaign separately sued The Washington Post and the New York Times for libel over opinion pieces that linked the campaign to Russian electoral interference. (The suit against the Times was dismissed, while the legal challenge against The Post is still pending.) Trump’s campaign also filed a libel suit against CNN over an op-ed in 2020, which was later dismissed,” Kelly Kasulis Cho reports.

Hot on the right

Biden tells Al Sharpton he will run for president again in 2024

“President Joe Biden told the Rev. Al Sharpton that he will seek a second term in a private conversation at the White House last month, Sharpton informed his National Action Network staff in Washington later that day,”  NBC News' Jonathan Allen reports.

‘I’m going to do it again,’ Biden said as he posed for a photograph in the Roosevelt Room with Sharpton, who is also an MSNBC host, according to an official of Sharpton’s National Action Network who recounted Sharpton’s description. ‘I’m going.’”

Today in Washington

At noon, Biden and Vice President Harris will have lunch together.

Biden and Harris will attend a meeting of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access at 3:30 p.m. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, VA Secretary Denis McDonough, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Eric Lander will also attend.

In closing

Finally, some good news

Fat Bear Week has arrived. Meet the chunky contenders.

This is not a drill: This year’s Fat Bear Week bracket has dropped, officially unleashing the 2022 competition. Twelve bears — a mix of fan favorites and newcomers — have been chosen, but only one will take home the title on Fat Bear Tuesday,” Natalie B. Compton reports.

“In case you missed it, Fat Bear Week champions the brown bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve as they complete their transformations from scrawny to elephantine for hibernation. Fans can vote on their favorite from Oct. 5 to Oct. 11.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.