What to Know in Washington: U.S. Cites War Risk in Ukraine Prep

  • U.S. orders families of diplomats out of Ukraine as troops weighed
  • House and Senate out; Democrats plan next steps on agenda

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The U.S. ordered family members at its embassy in Kyiv to leave “due to the continued threat of Russian military action,” signaling a further turn of the screw in the standoff over Ukraine.

While the U.S. renewed warnings that Russia could send forces into Ukraine at any time, the New York Times reported that President Joe Biden is considering deploying more troops to Eastern Europe and the Baltics. The tension follows U.S.-Russian talks last week that failed to open a conclusive path to ending the standoff.

“There are reports Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine,” the State Department said in an advisory yesterday. “The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.”

The actions reflect the U.S. position that Russian President Vladimir Putin could launch an invasion at any time, senior State Department officials said yesterday, speaking with reporters on condition of anonymity. Yesterday’s decision doesn’t change or undermine U.S. support for Ukraine and the embassy in Kyiv continues to operate, they said. Josh Wingrove has the latest.

Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg
Biden returns to the White House this morning after a weekend at Camp David.

  • Some U.S. lawmakers joined Ukraine earlier yesterday in calling for a sharper U.S. response. One of them, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), argued for a bipartisan bill that would “apply some sanctions now,” Coons said on ABC’s “This Week.” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), said Biden’s administration has pursued “a doctrine of appeasement” against Russia, Tony Czuczka reports.
  • European Union foreign ministers will discuss Ukraine with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken today, John Follain and Alberto Nardelli report. The ministers will say that “any further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs,” according to a draft of the meeting’s conclusions seen by Bloomberg. Follow the latest updates from Bloomberg here.

BIDEN’S SCHEDULE

  • The president will return to the White House from Camp David at 10:30 a.m.
  • Biden will meet at 5 p.m. with members of his administration to discuss the economy and working families.

Sanders Wants Senate to Change Course on Agenda

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said it’s time for Democrats to change course on Biden’s agenda and have senators vote on portions of the president’s key economic bill, then seek to pass what remains as a package.

After six months of “so-called negotiating” with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), “we need to start voting,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “We need to bring important pieces of legislation that impact the lives of working families right on to the floor of the Senate.”

Biden’s tax-and-spending package, dubbed Build Back Better, only needs 50 votes to pass under reconciliation in the Senate and avoid a Republican filibuster. Negotiations have dragged on over the last year, sinking the president and his party’s approval ratings as Manchin and Sinema hold out on key portions of the bill. Sanders argued for forcing senators of both parties to take a stand on portions of the bill that are popular among broad swaths of Americans such as negotiating the cost of prescription drugs. Read more from Emma Kinery.

Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg
Sinema is also facing pressure at home in Arizona over recent votes.

  • Arizona Democrats censured Sen. Sinema for declining to back legislation that could have boosted the chances of passing a voting-rights bill backed by Biden. Biden’s bid to push the legislation through the evenly divided Senate collapsed last week after Sinema and Manchin joined Senate Republicans in not allowing a simple majority to pass it. Ana Monteiro has more.
  • Almost 300 renewable power developers and manufacturers are appealing to congressional leaders to advance the climate provisions in Biden’s tax-and-spending plan, warning that major clean-energy projects hang in the balance. “Each month of delay means an estimated $2 billion in lost economic activity,” the more than 260 companies said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

CONGRESS’S SCHEDULE:

  • The House and Senate are in recess this week and plan to return Monday, Jan. 31.

Panel Probes Plan to Seize 2020 Ballots

Congressional investigators have spoken with former Attorney General William Barr about a reported draft executive order to use the National Guard to seize ballot boxes after the 2020 election, according to the chairman of a House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false,” Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The December 2020 draft envisaged empowering the defense secretary to “seize, collect, retain and analyze all machines, equipment, electronically stored information, and material records required for retention” under a law on the preservation of election records, Politico earlier reported. “We are concerned that our military was part of this big lie on promoting that the election was false,” Thompson said. Read more from Ian Fisher.

  • Voters in at least three states could decide this year to weaken their own voices at the ballot box. Lawmakers in Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota have placed measures on primary or general election ballots to make it harder to pass initiatives or to more easily reverse voter-approved decisions. Read more from Tiffany Stecker.
  • Igor Fruman was sentenced to a year in prison for a case involving illegal U.S. campaign contributions from a foreign national. Fruman, a key figure in Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to stir up dirt against Biden before the 2020 presidential election, was sentenced on Friday in New York. Read more from Christian Berthelsen.

Around the Administration

In what even the Treasury says will be a frustrating tax season, families claiming the child tax credit and newly self-employed Americans are among filers likely to see the biggest challenges this year. The season starts today, and while Internal Revenue Service teams have been working “non-stop” for several months, years of funding and personnel cutbacks, along with a backlog of several million tax returns from previous years, will hamper the agency’s abilities to respond as swiftly as in the past. Read more from Laura Davison and David Hood.

The White House is preparing an initial government-wide strategy for digital assets as soon as next month and task federal agencies with assessing the risks and opportunities that they pose, people familiar with the matter said. Read more from Jennifer Epstein, Jenny Leonard, and Allyson Versprille.

The U.S. government’s response to a steady stream of cyberattacks is slowed by the delayed deployment of a planned board to review major incidents and make security recommendations, cyber researchers and consultants say. Biden outlined the Cyber Safety Review Board in a May executive order, but the cyber board hasn’t launched yet. Read more from Andrea Vittorio.

Biden intends to nominate Democratic election lawyer Dara Lindenbaum to join the Federal Election Commission to replace Commissioner Steven Walther, the White House announced Friday. Lindenbaum is a member of the law firm Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, where she advises federal, state, and local political committees and candidates and other groups. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

The White House unveiled a partnership with 33 state and local governments on Friday to make the nation’s buildings more efficient. The new Building Performance Standards Coalition seeks to prod states and cities to more quickly adopt building codes to cut down emissions. Read more from Stephen Lee.

The landmark trade deal signed in 2020 between the world’s two largest economies failed to reduce the bilateral trade deficit, adding pressure on the Biden administration to deal with the unresolved economic problems with China. In the two years since former President Donald Trump signed the deal in January 2020, China bought about $237 billion of U.S. agricultural, manufactured, and energy goods, 63% of the goods it promised to buy, according to Bloomberg analysis of official Chinese data. Read more from Ailing Tan.

Omicron Nears U.S. Peak

The omicron variant is starting to loosen its grip on the Northeast, but experts warn that it will take more time for the latest wave of Covid-19 to recede across the U.S. The strain’s fast surge and swift descent in one of the most populous parts of the U.S. echoes its trajectory in areas of Europe and South Africa, where infections skyrocketed only to come back down nearly as quickly. That’s raised hopes that though omicron has at times seemed like a replay of the worst days of the early pandemic, it’ll soon ebb. Read more from Madison Muller.

  • Biden’s chief medical adviser expressed optimism that the omicron surge will soon peak, though that decline won’t be uniform throughout the U.S. “We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” Read more from Ian Fisher.
  • The U.S. is learning to live with Covid-19, as data from businesses and social media and interviews across the nation show a population accommodating the virus. Several factors have caused people to rethink: Omicron spreads so readily that catching it can seem all but inevitable for everyone but hermits. Inoculations and previous infections lower risk of severe disease. And it has been a very long two years of putting off get-togethers and trips. Read more from Carey Goldberg, Sarah Holder and Jill R. Shah.

Omicron is complicating the recovery for a global economy that continues to be wracked by supply chain chaos, worker absenteeism and sputtering assembly lines. Supermarkets are struggling to stock shelves amid chronic staff shortages. Airlines are halting flights. Manufacturers are facing disruptions while shipping lines remain backed up. At the same time, surging energy prices are adding to inflation, pressuring central banks to raise interest rates, even as the recovery slows. Read more from Enda Curran.

  • Food shortages already seen at grocery stores across the U.S. risk getting worse as the country mandates vaccinations from truckers coming from Mexico and Canada. Read more from Elizabeth Elkin.
  • In addition, though Biden’s sweeping infrastructure law aimed tackle problems for the trucking sector and ease supply chain woes, it overlooked a vital necessity for truckers: Parking. Overcrowded truck stops force drivers to often spend hours scavenging for parking wherever they can find it, even in illegal and unsafe spots. The problem has simmered for decades, but truckers say the pandemic has brought the issue to a breaking point. Read more from Gregory Korte.

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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