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The Daily 202

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

Biden, Xi, take tense US-China relations on a three-hour tour

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. The Associated Press informs me that, on this day in 1851, Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale” was published in the United States.

The big idea

Biden, Xi take tense U.S.-China relations on a three-hour tour

Here are two diplomatic terms: “Throat-clearing” and “deliverables.” They’re both good to keep in mind in the immediate aftermath of President Biden’s first in-person meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office, a three-hour affair at an Indonesian resort.

“Throat clearing” refers to the almost ceremonial recitation of established positions before leaders can even start to look at possible areas of compromise. Xi might lay out Beijing’s claims to Taiwan, for example, before he and Biden look at ways to ease tensions on that issue.

“Deliverables” is diplo-speak for concrete action, bringing a proposal to the table that both sides can discuss and act on, a breakthrough, essentially the expectation a summit will generate more than (to paraphrase former president George W. Bush) small talk in a big room.

In the days before Biden and Xi met, U.S. officials warned against expecting significant “deliverables” from the discussion — though there appeared to be a thaw in cooperation on the climate crisis.

And “throat clearing” is a regular feature of Sino-U.S. meetings. As Xi put it as the meeting began Monday: “History is the best textbook, so we should take history as a mirror and let it guide the future.”

Candidly lowering the temperature

It may take weeks or months to assess this particular face-to-face, which comes at a time of high tension on a range of issues, from Taiwan, or Russia’s expanded war in Ukraine, to Biden’s efforts to block exports of advanced computer chips to China, to sharp American criticisms of Beijing’s human rights record.

But here’s a third term of diplomatic art: “Candidly.” It’s code for a significant disagreement. And there it is in the White House summary of the meeting: “The two leaders spoke candidly about their respective priorities and intentions across a range of issues.”

At least Biden and Xi agreed on the value of in-person contacts and the need to lower the temperature lest relations come to a boil.

  • There’s little substitute, though, to face-to-face discussions,” Biden said as the meeting began, adding the two leaders had to show the world they could “manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything ever near conflict.”

“We have maintained communication via video conferences, phone calls, and letters,” Xi said. “But none of them can really substitute for face-to-face exchanges.”

“China-U.S. relations currently face a situation that is not in the interests of the two countries, their peoples or the expectations of the international community. As the leaders of China and the United States, we must take the helm and steer the bilateral relationship in the right direction,” Xi said, my colleagues Matt Viser, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Christian Shepherd reported from Indonesia.

The official White House summary said both leaders agreed Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel to China to follow up on the discussions. 

My colleagues included this “throat-clearing” nugget: “The plan was for simultaneous interpreters, which U.S. officials have often preferred as a way to expedite the dialogue so each leader doesn’t have to wait for the other to finish before translation begins.”

The midterm backdrop

Biden’s meeting with Xi came after it became clear Democrats would hold the Senate and had a long-shot chance at keeping the House. The final results will have far-reaching effects on the president’s foreign policy.

By keeping the Senate, Democrats have at least theoretically made it possible to confirm Biden’s stalled ambassadorial nominees, people like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), picked as envoy to India. A Republican Senate would have felt zero urgency.

If they reach a 51-49 majority, Democrats will be able to do a lot of business without Republicans, who enjoyed equal membership on key committees due to the 50-50 Senate.

Who controls each chamber will also determine who chairs critical committees — powerful perches from which to advance legislation or kill it, summon administration officials to testify, and formally investigate the executive branch (the withdrawal from Afghanistan, for instance).

  • One central piece of Biden’s foreign policy agenda still hangs in the balance: Action to combat the climate crisis. GOP control of the House would almost certainly limit him to executive actions.

Foreign countries closely follow domestic U.S. politics. Despite mounting concerns about challenges from China, America remains the preeminent global economic, military and cultural power. For smaller countries, losing a powerful ally in Congress can have far-reaching costs.

My colleagues Yasmeen Abutaleb and Matt Viser noted in their curtain-raiser on Biden’s visit with Xi

“‘It was interesting to see how closely all of the leaders from these different countries — including leaders from countries that are not themselves democracies — very closely follow American politics,’ Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One as Biden traveled from Cambodia to Bali. ‘Right down to state races that they’re all quite familiar with, surprisingly.’”

Or not so surprisingly. 

What’s happening now

Biden says no new ‘Cold War’ after meeting with China’s Xi

After meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit on Nov. 14, President Biden said he believes China has no immediate plans to invade Taiwan. (Video: The Washington Post)

He said he did not believe a Chinese attack on Taiwan was imminent. He stressed that the United States and China would compete vigorously but were not looking for conflict. And while Xi has recently consolidated power in China, Biden said that ‘I didn’t find him more confrontational or conciliatory, I found him the way he’s always been — direct and straightforward,’” Matt Viser, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Christian Shepherd report.

Amazon plans to cut thousands of jobs, report says

“If the e-commerce giant follows through on the plans, it would be the biggest job cuts of its history, the New York Times reported Monday. It would also become the latest big tech company to enact huge cuts this year as the industry reckons with the possible end of a decade of explosive growth,” Rachel Lerman reports.

Pence escalates criticism of Trump’s Jan. 6 actions, calling him ‘reckless’

Former vice president Mike Pence said Donald Trump’s rhetoric during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was ‘reckless’ and that the former president’s actions ‘endangered’ members of the Pence family and those trapped inside the building that day,” Jennifer Hassan reports.

Suspect in custody, charged with murder after 3 football players killed on campus

Three members of the University of Virginia football team were fatally shot and two others students were injured at a parking garage on campus late Sunday, U-Va. officials said, in an outburst of violence that set off an intense manhunt in and around Charlottesville for a suspect police described as armed and dangerous. He was captured Monday morning,” Martin Weil, Nick Anderson, Karina Elwood, Susan Svrluga and Katie Mettler report.

More: Suspected U-VA gunman had troubled childhood, but then flourished

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Arizona precincts with voting problems were not overwhelmingly Republican

“The voting locations that experienced problems on Election Day in Maricopa County, home to more than half of Arizona’s voters, do not skew overwhelmingly Republican, according to an analysis by The Washington Post,” Lenny Bronner, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report.

  • The finding undercuts claims by some Republicans — most notably Kari Lake, the GOP nominee for governor, and former president Donald Trump — that GOP areas in the county were disproportionately affected by the problems, which involved a mishap with printers. Republicans nonetheless argue that their voters were more likely to be affected, given their tendency to vote on Election Day rather than mail in their ballots.”

Fighting-age men in Russia are still hiding in fear of being sent to war

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin and his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, proclaimed the completion of their mobilization of 300,000 new soldiers, many fighting-age Russian men remain in hiding — still fearful of being seized by military recruiters and sent to fight, and die, in a failing war,” Mary Ilyushina reports.

“While records of border crossings to neighboring countries documented more than 300,000 who left Russia in the weeks after the start of mobilization, there is no data on the number of men who hid inside the country, but the number is also believed to be in the thousands.”

… and beyond

A dangerous game over Taiwan

“A war to defend Taiwan would put the United States in direct conflict with the People’s Republic of China for the first time since the Korean War, when tens of thousands were killed in face-to-face battles. U.S. officials won’t discuss their battle plans in detail, but experts say that an American response would almost certainly involve missile strikes on the Chinese mainland. ‘Hundreds of thousands of people would die,’ [Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University and a strategic planner for Pacific Command in the Air Force reserves,] said,” Dexter Filkins writes for the New Yorker.

Extreme candidates and positions came back to bite in midterms

“A surprisingly nuanced verdict in the midterm elections has delivered at least one important conclusion about the state of the national mood: In battleground states and swing districts across the country, voters voiced their support for moderation,” the New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman and Katie Glueck report.

Fiscal winter is coming: Lawmakers' 5 chilly hills to climb

“Lawmakers will return to session on Monday barreling at full speed toward a series of high-stakes fiscal hurdles while control of the House remains unsettled. Before year’s end, they’ll have to keep the government open after current funding expires Dec. 16, and tackle Medicare cuts on the horizon — making for a hectic post-election session, given the other fights looming as soon as 2023 begins,” Politico’s Caitlin Emma reports.

The Biden agenda

An emboldened Biden now faces a tough choice about his own future

“Even as the history-defying midterms went a long way toward solving some of the president’s immediate political problems, they did not miraculously make him any younger. A week from Sunday, Mr. Biden, the oldest president in American history, will turn 80, a milestone the White House has no plans to celebrate with fireworks or splashy parties. And so Mr. Biden confronts a choice that still leaves many in his party quietly uncomfortable: Should he run for a second term?the NYT’s Peter Baker writes.

Headline roundup: Biden and Xi

U.S., Japan, South Korea vow unified response to North Korea threat

President Joe Biden and the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday vowed a unified, coordinated response to North Korea’s threatening nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with Biden declaring that the three-way partnership is ‘even more important than it’s ever been’ when North Korea is stepping up its provocations,” the Associated Press’s Zeke Miller and Seung Min Kim report.

Recent tech layoffs, visualized

Over the past week, Silicon Valley companies have laid off 20,000 employees, a swift ramp-up of the job cuts and hiring freezes that have been ricocheting through the tech industry for months,”  Gerrit De Vynck reports.

Hot on the left

Democrats see a blueprint in Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania

Did John Fetterman just show Democrats how to solve their white-working-class problem?

“Mr. Fetterman’s decisive victory in Pennsylvania’s Senate race — arguably Democrats’ biggest win of the midterms, flipping a Republican-held seat — was achieved in no small part because he did significantly better in counties dominated by white working-class voters compared with Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020,” the NYT’s Trip Gabriel reports.

Hot on the right

Republican rivals start considering a post-Trump future

“In private conversations among donors, operatives and other 2024 presidential hopefuls, a growing number of Republicans are trying to seize what they believe may be their best opportunity to sideline Trump and usher in a new generation of party leaders,” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer report.

Some of the possible candidates:

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
  • Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie
  • Former vice president Mike Pence 
  • Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin

Today in Washington

Biden is at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, today. He has no public events scheduled for the afternoon.

In closing

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