What to Know in Washington: Biden, Putin to Speak Amid Tensions

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President Joe Biden will speak today with Russian President Vladimir Putin as tensions flare between the nations. At the Capitol, lawmakers are weighing plans to tie the effort to raise the debt ceiling to a must-pass defense policy bill.

Here’s what Bloomberg Government is tracking for Tuesday.

Congress Agenda:

  • The Senate is in at 10 a.m. with plans to vote on Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission.
  • The House meets at noon, with its floor schedule still to be determined.

Biden’s Schedule:

  • Biden holds a call with Russia’s Putin at 10 a.m.

Biden Weighs Russian Banking Sanctions Ahead of Talks

The U.S. and European allies are weighing sanctions targeting Russia’s biggest banks and the country’s ability to convert rubles for dollars and other foreign currencies should President Putin invade Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.

The sanctions—including against some of Russia’s largest banks and the Russian Direct Investment Fund—are among the options that President Biden may spell out when he speaks with Putin today, according to the people. The U.S. could also restrict the ability of investors to buy Russian debt on the secondary market, they said.

President Joe Biden at the White House Monday.

The options were described by two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. The most drastic option would be to bar Russia’s access to the Swift financial payments system, but that would wreak havoc on ordinary citizens so officials are more inclined to go after Russia’s ability to convert rubles into dollars, euros or British pounds, the people said, Nick Wadhams and Josh Wingrove report.

  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the reports of planned sanctions, saying the “emotional statements” of recent days wouldn’t affect the talks. “It’s obvious that if the presidents are having this conversation, they intend to discuss the issues and not drive things into a dead end,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters today, while warning against expecting breakthroughs, Jake Rudnitsky and Anya Andrianova report.
  • Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Biden should supply Ukraine with “whatever weapons they think they need” to defend themselves from a potential Russian invasion. Speaking at a Wall Street Journal conference yesterday, McConnell urged Biden to supply the Ukrainians with any arms they might require beyond the mostly defensive weaponry that the U.S. has supplied in the past, Steven T. Dennis reports.
  • CIA Director Bill Burns warned Americans to be vigilant regarding Putin’s designs on Ukraine. “I would never underestimate President Putin’s risk appetite on Ukraine,” Burns said during an interview late yesterday at the Wall Street Journal event. “It’s so important to respond to that with a strong mix of deterrence as well as the possibility of diplomacy.” Read more from Peter Martin.

ALSO AROUND THE ADMINISTRATION:

  • Biden’s Supreme Court study commission bought him a year of cover from progressive calls to expand the court. Now Biden’s time is up, the court is considering a rollback on abortion and a broadening of gun rights, and those calls are only getting louder. The panel is set to vote today on a draft final report that, by design, makes no recommendations on the kind of fundamental changes liberals say are needed. Its completion means that Biden will face renewed pressure to try to neutralize the conservative-dominated court and its ambitious agenda, though it’s far from clear the president will yield to it. Read more from Greg Stohr and Jennifer Epstein.
  • The White House commission embraced continued livestreaming of oral arguments and the adoption of an advisory ethics code, but stopped short of endorsing more sweeping changes like expanding the membership of the court or imposing term limits. Instead, the more than 280-page commission report considers the pros and cons of each suggested change—everything from term limits and “court packing,” to efforts to strip the court of the authority to hear certain cases or require a super majority to overturn federal laws. Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson and Madison Alder have more.
  • The U.K. is moving forward on trade engagement with individual American states, and stands ready to resume talks with Washington on a broader federal deal, Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan said. Read more from Alex Morales and Eric Martin.

Lawmakers Eye Debt Ceiling-Defense Bill Plan

Congressional leaders looking for ways around a partisan impasse on raising the debt ceiling are considering procedural maneuvers linking it with a must-pass defense policy bill. “I don’t know that it’s a probability, but it’s a possibility,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday on a conference call with reporters.

A senior Democratic aide said last night that leaders are considering procedural moves that would tie the National Defense Authorization Act and raising the debt ceiling among three possible courses of action to advance both and other priorities, to the House floor as early as today.

Republicans had insisted that Democrats would have to deal with the debt limit on their own, but the annual defense authorization bill generally passes with bipartisan support.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader McConnell have been conducting private talks on how to avoid the government defaulting on its obligations. But neither has given any indication of progress or where those discussions were headed. “Schumer has kept that very close to the vest,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat. “He’s discussing it with McConnell. I don’t know what it is.”

The Treasury Department has warned that the government could hit the debt limit and have difficulty meeting its obligations after Dec. 15, though outside analysts have said the government has a bit more time. Read more from Billy House and Laura Litvan.

Senate and House negotiators on the defense bill have scuttled a requirement that women sign up with the Selective Service for the military draft should one be needed in the future, according to two people familiar with the bill, Roxana Tiron reports. Provision was included in the House-passed defense authorization bill and the Senate Armed Services Committee measure. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member, opposed the requirement and vowed to take it out of any final defense bill.

ALSO HAPPENING ON THE HILL:

  • Schumer is employing a two-pronged strategy to confirm more of Biden’s nominees before the end of the year, when many will have to be returned to the White House and renominated. He’s under increasing pressure to overcome the blockade Republicans have mounted on dozens of key defense and foreign policy positions, as well as noncontroversial positions, that are essential to the president carrying out his policy goals. If he doesn’t, the Senate and White House must start anew on a long list of stalled picks for federal agencies and the judiciary. In some cases, Schumer is readying for time-consuming floor debate and votes to fill priority posts. With others, he’s begun quietly negotiating deals to help Republicans attain legislative goals in exchange for letting nominees go through quickly. Read more from Nancy Ognanovich.
  • A growing number of Republican senators are calling on Biden to withdraw Gigi Sohn’s nomination for the Federal Communications Commission. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, along with Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said yesterday they backed a request by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) for Biden to withdraw the nomination. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is also backing the request. “I think that would be helpful and the administration would be better served if they would do that,” Wicker said. Read more from Maria Curi.
  • Meanwhile, the Senate voted yesterday to limit debate on the nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel for another term at the FCC, moving her nomination closer to a confirmation vote, planned for today, Maria Curi reports.

Politics & Influence

BGOV Redistricting Webinar: Redistricting will have a major impact on the political landscape heading into 2022 and on the balance of power in the House for the next decade. Bloomberg Government’s Greg Giroux, Kyle Trygstad, and Brenna Goth will be joined on Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. by Wendy Underhill, the director for elections and redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures, for a conversation on redistricting. Find more information on the virtual event and register here.

Donald Trump beat back efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) and other officials who wanted the ex-president to pay legal fees racked up defending his failed lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election result. The court lacks jurisdiction over the dispute because the swing state, along with Milwaukee County officials and the mayors of Racine, Kenosha and Green Bay, waited too long to seek legal fees and sanctions against Trump’s lawyers, U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig in Milwaukee ruled yesterday. Read more from Erik Larson.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a fervent supporter of Trump, is quitting Congress to head the former president’s new media startup, the company announced. Nunes will become chief executive officer of the Trump Media & Technology Group in January, the company said in a statement. Trump announced the formation of the new company in October. The former president, currently banned on major social media platforms, plans to start a Twitter-like outlet called Truth Social. In a statement, Nunes said he was “presented with a new opportunity to fight for the most important issues” and would leave Congress at the end of the year.

What Else We’re Reading

  • The high-stakes primary for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat could help determine a new playbook for Democrats running in battleground states, Politico reports. The frontrunner in the Democratic contest, Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, anchors one end of the ideological pole as a progressive who has criticized moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) over their opposition to Biden’s tax and spending plan. Rep. Conor Lamb, meanhile, has positioned himself against the party’s left wing. Read more from Politico’s Holly Otterbein.
  • Marc Short is cooperating with the Jan. 6 committee, CNN reports, citing three sources with knowledge of the committee’s activities. The committee subpoenaed Short, the former chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, a few weeks ago, according to the report. Short remains one of Pence’s closest advisers and is a firsthand witness to many critical events the committee is examining, including what happened to Pence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and how Trump pressured the former vice president not to certify the presidential election that day, CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Michael Warren and Ryan Nobles report.
  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and USAID Administrator Samantha Power in a Washington Post opinion piece preview the meeting of 100 nations this week for Biden’s Summit for Democracy. “The gathering is a recognition that the world’s democracies need a new strategy. For the past 15 years, the number of people living under authoritarian regimes has been rising, while leaders of many democratic countries have been chipping away at fundamental rights and checks and balances,” they write.
  • The late former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, who died earlier this week, wrote about the need for bipartisanship in another Washington Post op-ed. The piece was drafted in 2021 to be published around the time of his death. “America has never achieved greatness when Republicans and Democrats simply manage to work together or tolerate each other. We have overcome our biggest challenges only when we focused on our shared values and experiences,” he wrote.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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