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The Daily 202

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

A new Congress gets its first Ukraine test

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 2003, just days before leaving office, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois commuted the sentences of 167 inmates on death row. Capital punishment, the Republican declared, was “arbitrary and capricious, and therefore immoral.”

The big idea

A new Congress gets its first Ukraine test

Ever since incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) promised last year there would be no “blank check” for Ukraine in a GOP-held Congress, Kyiv’s supporters in the House and Senate have been warily watching for efforts to undermine or even halt the flow of money and military gear they believe is needed to beat back Russia.

One tactic they expected were calls for auditing the scores of billions of dollars in economic support and weapons systems that has flowed from President Biden’s administration to Ukraine since Moscow expanded its invasion in late February 2022.

Vance makes his move

This week, a newly minted senator tested the auditing waters. The office of J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) started circulating a letter to Republican congressional staff that amounts to an early test on Ukraine policy for a new Congress and in particular its GOP-controlled House.

  • Vance’s letter — addressed not to Biden but to Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young — requests the administration “make public a full crosscutting report on U.S. government-wide expenditures for Ukraine” and neighbors affected by the war.

The draft letter, a copy of which was first reported by Fox News and later obtained by The Daily 202, says he wants the information “before a vote on any additional Ukraine-related appropriation occurs.” That sounds like no detailed report, no money. At least notionally, this goes farther than previous measures.

Here, then, is the test for the new Congress — to be more accurate, for its Republicans. Will they agree to condition new aid for Ukraine on what the administration says is an impractical war-zone audit? What will the new Republican majority in the House do?

In a statement, Vance told The Daily 202: "The American people deserve to know the extent to which they are underwriting our government’s endeavors in eastern Europe. I do not intend to sit back and allow the Biden Administration to keep this information under wraps.”

The audit tactic

Calls for transparency and accountability hardly seem unreasonable. Who doesn’t want to know whether high-tech U.S. weapons are being used properly? Why not figure out whether economic aid is actually reaching those it’s meant to help? Isn’t this virtuous use of congressional oversight?

Those kinds of arguments, and the fact that an actual cut in aid wasn’t on the table, led Republicans who generally support more Ukraine assistance to side with opponents late last year when an audit resolution failed on a party-line vote in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (The administration and congressional Democrats say weapons and money are accounted for.)

But some of Ukraine’s backers — including and perhaps especially among Senate Republicans — privately noted the loudest calls for audits were coming from colleagues in the House closely allied with former president Donald Trump and, like him, fiercely oppose sending more aid.

How feasible is an audit?

There are other issues.

While a majority of Americans still supports assistance to Ukraine, the proportion of Republicans has dropped, my colleague John Hudson noted last month, a dynamic that could explain why some aid opponents settled on audit resolutions, not outright cuts. For now.

“The latest survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released on Monday found 55 percent of Republicans saying they support sending military aid, compared with 68 percent in July and 80 percent in March. Half of Republicans favored providing economic assistance to Ukraine last month, compared with roughly three-quarters in March, according to the Chicago Council’s findings,” John wrote.

From the campaign to Congress

Vance made no mystery of his views about assistance for Ukraine when he campaigned last year.

  • In February, he told former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast: “I gotta be honest with you. I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”
  • Later, Vance declared “spare me the performative affection for the Ukraine,” which he described as “a corrupt nation run by oligarchs.”
  • In September, he told an ABC affiliate: “We’ve given enough money in Ukraine.”

The suspicion that there’s more to this than merely an audit seems right on the money. 


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What’s happening now

N.Y. county GOP leaders call for Rep. Santos’s resignation over fabrications

"Chairman Joseph G. Cairo, Jr. of the Nassau County Republican Committee, which had initially backed Santos’s candidacy, said Wednesday, that campaign was full of lies and deceit. ‘I am calling for his immediate resignation,’ Cairo said," Azi Paybarah reports.

Supreme Court says N.Y. gun law can be enforced while challenges continue

“The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed New York’s new restrictions on carrying a concealed firearm can be enforced while legal challenges to the law continue,” Robert Barnes reports.

It was the first time the court has dealt with legal challenges arising from its watershed decision last June that the Second Amendment generally protects the rights of law-abiding Americans to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense.”

Alabama attorney general says women could be prosecuted over abortion pills

“Alabama’s attorney general has said women who use pills to induce abortion could be prosecuted, citing a law first passed to protect children from meth lab fumes. His warning comes after the federal government’s recent move to ease access to medication abortion from retail pharmacies,” Ellen Francis reports.

Goldman Sachs slashing as many as 3,200 jobs

Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs began laying off as many as 3,200 people this week, a move that follows a 2022 dealmaking slump and softening business climate, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly,” Julian Mark reports.

Brazil braces for new wave of pro-Bolsonaro protests after insurrection

“Brazilians are bracing for a new wave of nationwide protests by supporters of former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, days after his followers stormed the Brazilian capital’s Supreme Federal Court, National Congress and presidential office in an apparent hope of overthrowing the government. The latest effort will be seen as a key test of the anti-government movement’s strength,” Anthony Faiola, Marina Dias and Leo Sands report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

IRS advocate reports big drop in backlog as GOP votes to cut funds

The Internal Revenue Service reduced its massive backlog of unprocessed tax returns by nearly two-thirds over the past year, an independent watchdog said Wednesday, which could lead to shorter delays for tax refunds,” Julie Zauzmer Weil reports.

New Democratic House leader blesses top Pelosi aide to lead super PAC

“Newly elected House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has blessed the elevation of a top aide to former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to lead the House Majority PAC, the principal outside group that funds ads for Democratic members of Congress,” Michael Scherer reports.

“The elevation of Mike Smith, a senior adviser to Pelosi in the last cycle, who also advised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and HMP, will bring continuity to the party’s relationships with donors and vendors as Democrats position themselves to win back the House.”

House Republicans form committee to investigate the government

“The subcommittee, approved on a party-line 221-211 vote, will be empowered to investigate any federal agency that collects information about Americans, even in cases of an ongoing criminal investigation — a carve-out at odds with the Justice Department’s long-standing practice of not providing information about ongoing investigations,” Jacqueline Alemany and Devlin Barrett report.

… and beyond

America’s biggest museums fail to return Native American human remains

Ten institutions hold about half of the Native American remains that have not been returned to tribes. These include old and prestigious museums with collections taken from ancestral lands not long after the U.S. government forcibly removed Native Americans from them, as well as state-run institutions that amassed their collections from earthen burial mounds that had protected the dead for hundreds of years. Two are arms of the U.S. government: the Interior Department, which administers the law, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest federally owned utility,” ProPublica and NBC News report.

The Supreme Court could consider a charter school’s code requiring skirts or dresses for girls

In a brief order Monday, the justices invited U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar to weigh in on whether the court should take up that case, Charter Day School v. Peltier, one of several major court cases in recent years that challenge school dress code policies as sexist and discriminatory,” the 19th’s Grace Panetta reports.

The Biden agenda

Biden and López Obrador vow to tackle immigration

President Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday vowed to reform and streamline the flow of migrants from Mexico to the United States, asserting they are getting control of the volatile issue and taking aim at conservatives for resisting their efforts,” Toluse Olorunnipa, Mary Beth Sheridan and Amanda Coletta report.

López Obrador, who has not been shy about challenging American policies toward his country, praised Biden’s approach, referring indirectly to President Donald Trump’s efforts to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

U.S., Japan set to announce shake-up of Marine Corps units to deter China

“Japan, already Washington’s most important ally in the Indo-Pacific, is deepening its strategic partnership with the United States in an effort to counter China — a development that will be showcased this week with a shake-up of U.S. Marine Corps units in Okinawa and a White House embrace of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida,” Ellen Nakashima and Dan Lamothe report.

Biden ‘surprised’ by classified documents as Hill demands more information

President Biden said Tuesday that he was ‘surprised’ to learn classified documents were taken to his personal office after he served as vice president and does not know what is in the records, as Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill called for more information about a discovery that has spurred a review by the Justice Department,” Tyler Pager, Jacqueline Alemany and Matt Viser report.

Where pandemic relief funds went, visualized

The sheer amount of aid involved has made oversight and tracking difficult. Public resources to explore who received federal money, and what they did with it, remain incomplete despite recent improvements. And the network of watchdogs who do the deeper digging have highlighted at times their own lack of resources — even after requests by the White House and others for more money,” Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati report.

Hot on the left

Illinois assault weapons ban passes in win for Pritzker

“Illinois lawmakers approved a bill that will ban the sale and manufacturing of certain assault weapons in the state, a win for Governor J.B. Pritzker as he starts his second term,” Bloomberg News’s Isis Almeida reports.

The state Senate passed the legislation by a margin of 34-20 late Monday, with Pritzker pushing for the ban at his inauguration speech hours earlier. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives — which last week backed a version of the measure — approved the bill. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.”

Hot on the right

‘We want people to be uncomfortable’: The conservative plan to target pharmacies that dispense abortion pills

Anti-abortion advocates are organizing pickets outside CVS and Walgreens in early February in at least eight cities, including Washington, D.C., in response to the companies’ plans to take advantage of the Food and Drug Administration’s decision last week allowing retail pharmacies to stock and dispense abortion pills in states where they’re legal,” Politico’s Alice Miranda Ollstein and Lauren Gardner report.

Today in Washington

At 1 p.m., the president will receive his daily briefing.

In closing

In remembrance of Blake Hounshell, a beloved and very online journalist

Blake Hounshell, a witty and astute political observer who possessed a special knack for understanding the dynamics of internet journalism and became one of the driving forces behind POLITICO’s success over nearly a decade, died Tuesday morning at age 44,” Politico’s Garrett M. Graff writes.

“According to a family statement, Blake died ‘after a long and courageous battle with depression.’ The unexpected news spread rapidly through Washington and policy circles, as colleagues remembered him as a remarkable editor, generous colleague and critical mentor to younger journalists. Across his stints at Foreign Policy and POLITICO, he edited hundreds of bylines, from senior policymakers to interns, making every story sharper and every headline snappier.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.