What to Know in Washington: Biden to Talk Ukraine With Allies

  • Biden to host call with U.S. allies this morning on Ukraine
  • Inflation concerns will loom over Biden’s speech on Tuesday

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains the focus in Washington this morning, with President Joe Biden set to discuss the issue with U.S. allies as he prepares for his annual State of the Union address to Congress tomorrow night.

Biden will return to the White House from Delaware this morning, with plans to host a call at 11:15 a.m. with U.S. allies and partners to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine.

A Ukrainian delegation led by the defense minister began talks with Russian officials on the fifth day of an invasion that’s triggered a flurry of sanctions against Moscow and sent Russian markets into a tailspin. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has voiced skepticism that the talks, taking place on the country’s border with Belarus, would yield results but said he was willing to try if it meant any chance of peace.

Russia, which sent a relatively low-level delegation including deputy ministers of defense and foreign affairs, said the talks were underway even as Russian troops continued their assault, including on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Moscow has set a limited scope for the discussions, which were originally meant to begin yesterday.

Zelenskiy also repeated a request today for Ukraine to be fast tracked into the European Union. Accession to the EU is a long and arduous process, which requires the candidate country to adopt established EU law as well as to enact reforms — including to its judicial and economic systems — to meet the bloc’s criteria. Follow the latest updates on Ukraine from Bloomberg News here.

Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg
Demonstrators protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside the White House on Sunday.

The White House told Congress it will need an estimated $6.4 billion in new funding to assist Ukraine, to support other eastern European nations dealing with the impacts and to bolster the Pentagon. Of the new money, $2.9 billion would be for humanitarian and security needs for Ukraine, the Baltic countries, Poland and other neighbors of Ukraine under the plan. That would be used for humanitarian assistance, food aid, refugee assistance, as well as energy and economic stabilization, a Biden official said. It also wants $3.5 billion for the Defense Department to respond to the crisis, Erik Wasson reports.

Russia’s plans for Ukraine face rapidly rising costs due to delays caused by tougher-than-expected resistance over the weekend from forces on the ground, even as its military retains overwhelming advantages. A person familiar with Russian planning said that the military would have hoped for faster progress. The Kremlin has declined to comment on details of the military operation and its defense ministry insists the campaign has been successful. A senior U.S. defense official said on Saturday the U.S. had indications Russia had become frustrated by slow progress, caused by an unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian defense, Marc Champion reports.

Western nations agreed to unleash new sanctions to further isolate Russia’s economy and financial system this weekend. A decision to penalize Russia’s central bank and exclude some Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, used for trillions of dollars worth of transactions around the world, was announced Saturday in a joint statement by the U.S., European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, U.K. and Canada. The agreement includes measures to prevent the Russian Central Bank from deploying its international reserves to undermine sanctions, Saleha Mohsin, Annmarie Hordern and Alberto Nardelli report.

The West put Russia’s elite on notice that the symbols of their wealth may eventually be taken away. Financial penalties on Russia agreed by the U.S., Canada and key European nations on Saturday include a task force to begin “identifying and freezing assets” of sanctioned oligarchs, government officials and corporations. That includes yachts, jets, cars and luxury apartments in the West that belong to Russian billionaires, a U.S. official said, Jordan Fabian reports.

The EU will debate today its response to U.S. proposals for a coordinated release of emergency oil reserves to help counter a surge in prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. EU energy ministers will present their views on oil market developments at an extraordinary meeting in Brussels, people with knowledge of the matter said. Ewa Krukowska has more.

Bloomberg Government analysts Christina Banoub and Brittney Washington review the situation in Ukraine, sanctions imposed on Russia by the administration, and related legislation in a new BGOV OnPoint.

BIDEN’S SCHEDULE:

  • Biden returns to Washington at 9:50 a.m. and receives the daily brief at 10:30 a.m.
  • Biden will hold a call with U.S. allies at 11:15 a.m.
  • The president and First Lady Jill Biden will hold a Black History Month event at the White House at 2 p.m. with Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Shalanda Young, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse, and others.
  • Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 3 p.m.

CONGRESS SCHEDULE:

  • The House returns at 2 p.m. for votes on eight bipartisan bills under expedited procedure.
  • The Senate meets at 3 p.m. for a procedural vote on an abortion protection bill that faces long odds.

Biden Prepares for State of the Union

Inflation has starkly colored the views of millions of Americans who will be deciding whether to keep Democrats in control of Congress in November and the White House in 2024. Biden gets a fresh chance to shape opinion when he delivers his State of the Union speech tomorrow night.

Demand has been fueled by a powerful jobs recovery under Biden — unemployment has fallen to 4%, well below the 6.4% average of the last economic expansion — along with an historic expansion in federal support for families, with stimulus checks and enlarged, monthly child-tax credit payouts.

It’s propelled a U.S. rebound that’s handily outpaced that of other major developed nations. Yet for many Americans, inflation is proving the one indicator that washes all the others away. Nancy Cook and Katia Dmitrieva detail how the economy will influence Biden’s speech.

Biden’s speech comes as his approval rating fell to a record low, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released the weekend. Just 37% of respondents said they approve of the job Biden is doing, while 55% say they disapprove. When asked which party they would prefer control Congress, 50% said they would rather have Republicans in charge compared with 40% favoring Democrats. With regards to how they would vote in House elections if races were held today, 49% of registered voters say they would prefer the Republican candidate while 42% said they would vote for the Democratic candidate, Max Zimmerman reports.

On Russia, a big and bipartisan majority approve of the sanctions imposed but 47% also said that they disapprove of how Biden has managed the crisis to date. The survey was mostly completed before the full invasion of Ukraine began and Western countries responded with sanctions, the Washington Post said.

Temporary fencing was reinstalled around the U.S. Capitol this weekend, as security officials brace for protesting truckers to reach the Washington area, possibly to coincide with the State of the Union Address. The measure adds to security preparations such as the deployment of 400 National Guard troops to help local police at key traffic arteries and checkpoints. Guard personnel won’t be issued firearms for that role. Federal agencies have been monitoring the movements of several trucker groups making their way toward the capital region, according to an official familiar with the planning. Read more from Billy House.

Politics & Influence

Donald Trump stood by his widely criticized praise of Vladimir Putin in a speech to conservative voters. In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Saturday, the former president sought to put into context comments earlier this week that were largely panned, when he called Putin’s moves “savvy” and “genius.” At CPAC, he said: “The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he’s smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb,” Mark Niquette reports.

Trump’s unbridled and open admiration for a man increasingly seen as an international pariah is problematic for the GOP as it heads into midterm elections and wants to present a united front. It exposes Trump’s enduring grip on a party that still can’t reconcile its populist leanings with its more traditional hawkish stance on foreign policy, Niquette reports.

Still, Trump was the clear choice in a presidential straw poll of attendees at CPAC, ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Trump, who teased on Saturday he could run again in 2024, had an approval rating of 97% and was the choice of 59% of 2,574 attendees in Orlando who voted, followed by DeSantis at 28%. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had 2%, and a number of other potential candidates had 1% or less. Read more from Mark Niquette.

Photographer: Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg
Trump speaks at CPAC on Saturday.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren headlined a rally in San Antonio for Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old progressive vying to unseat one of Congress’s most conservative Democrats. On the other side, right-wing protesters gathered, waving anti-Joe Biden flags. The scene highlights the dilemma faced by Rep. Henry Cuellar—a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat whose bid for a 10th term have faced a murky federal probe and a redrawn district that extends into areas where Cisneros enjoys robust support. Read more from Billy House and Joe Carroll.

Lawyers for the North Carolina General Assembly asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to block a new congressional map approved by the state’s courts. State House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said lawyers for the assembly had filed an emergency motion to the justices, arguing that the North Carolina map drawn by a panel of court-appointed experts violates the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution. Read more from Maeve Allsup.

Around the Administration

Climate Case Excites GOP as a Check on Regulators: A U.S. Supreme Court argument today has the potential to give conservatives a new lever to slash the power of federal regulatory agencies with ramifications that reach far beyond the environmental issues at hand. Coal-mining companies and Republican-led states are seeking sharp limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. That would jeopardize Biden’s pledge to halve those emissions by the end of the decade.

More broadly, the case could produce a defining moment for the movement to rein in the so-called administrative state, a project some legal conservatives say is as vital as overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling. They say unaccountable regulators are usurping a role the Constitution entrusts to Congress. The result could be weakened environmental regulations, reduced consumer-safety and anti-fraud protections, and less flexibility for presidents to address future pandemics and other crises. With Congress all but paralyzed amid partisan discord, supporters of administrative agencies say they are the government’s only tool for addressing the nation’s biggest problems. Read more from Greg Stohr and Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

The top U.S. oil industry trade group is highlighting unrest in Ukraine and tight global energy supplies as it pushes the Biden administration to accelerate drilling permits, Jennifer A. Dlouhy reports. “In a time of tight markets for oil and natural gas and geopolitical unrest, American energy serves as a strategic asset and stabilizing force for global energy security,” American Petroleum Institute president Mike Sommers said in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “Unwarranted delays in federal ‘permitting and leasing’ of American energy is exactly the wrong policy for DOI to follow.”

U.S. health officials dialed back their threshold for Covid-19 masking recommendations, a signal the federal government is shifting to a new phase of its response to the pandemic that prioritizes protecting hospitals and vulnerable people over broadly preventing infections. The CDC introduced on Friday a new three-tiered system for determining local Covid-19 risks. In areas the risks from the virus are low, officials said most people can nix masks in indoor places. Less than a third of Americans are in high-risk areas where masks should be required indoors, compared with 82% under the earlier regime. Fiona Rutherford has more.

Biden is close to proposing new limits on nitrogen oxide emissions from trucks that environmentalists say are long overdue. But the industry says the timing couldn’t be worse as it fights a shortage of drivers and supply chain issues. Trucking companies argue that given the cash they’re spending to hire new drivers and deal with delays in moving cargo off docks and other supply woes, it would be devastating to have to spend millions on new vehicles to meet the standards. “We have to make sure trucking companies can afford the anticipated high price tags,” a top American Trucking Associations official said. Keith Laing has more.

Biden intends to nominate Jay Shambaugh, a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers under Barack Obama, to be the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for international affairs, the White House said. If confirmed, Shambaugh will become Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s top policy adviser on international trade and development issues. The position’s holder typically plays a prominent role in Group of Seven and G-20 deliberations over economic and financial matters. Since Yellen’s confirmation a year ago, the job has been filled on an acting basis by Andy Baukol, a senior Treasury staffer. Christopher Condon has more.

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

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

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