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Cup of Joe – December 22, 2022

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged to continue supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s historic visit to the White House.

“We will stay with you for as long as it takes,” Biden told Zelenskyy during their joint press conference.

“You will never stand alone,” Biden said. “Americans from all walks of life — from Democrats to Republicans — will provide unbendable support.”

“The Biden administration announced a nearly $2 billion arms package for Ukraine that for the first time includes a Patriot air-defense system to help Kyiv protect itself against the barrage of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles Russia has unleashed on the country’s electrical grid and other infrastructure,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Also for the first time, the U.S. is providing kits that will enable Ukraine to use its bombs to carry out precision strikes against Russian forces.”

Biden met with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky today at the White House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint meeting of Congress last night. It invoked UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech to Congress on December 26, 1941.

“Just like the battle of Saratoga, the battle of Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our battle for independence and our freedom.” — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, addressing a Joint Session of Congress.

“President Volodymyr Zelensky’s White House visit Wednesday will symbolically bolster America’s role as the arsenal of democracy in the bitter war for Ukraine’s survival and send a stunning public rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” CNN reports.

“That his first trip outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February is to the United States will also highlight President Joe Biden’s historic role in reviving the Western alliance that kept the Soviet Union at bay and is now countering new expansionism by Moscow in an effective proxy war between nuclear superpowers.”

The Week: Biden will announce Patriot missiles for Ukraine during Oval Office meeting with Zelensky.

“Zelensky is basically an ungrateful international welfare queen.”— Donald Trump Jr., on Twitter.

“Vladimir Putin has discussed closer military cooperation with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, during a rare visit to the country, as fears grow in Kyiv that Moscow is pushing its closest ally to join a new ground offensive against Ukraine,” The Guardian reports.

Associated Press: “In a deliberate, widespread campaign, Russian forces systematically targeted influential Ukrainians, nationally and locally, to neutralize resistance through detention, torture and executions… The strategy appears to violate the laws of war and could help build a case for genocide.”

“Russian troops hunted Ukrainians by name, using lists prepared with the help of their intelligence services. In the crosshairs were government officials, journalists, activists, veterans, religious leaders and lawyers.”

Ukraine reached a deal with Elon Musk’s Space X to receive thousands more Starlink antennas to help counter Russian air attacks, Bloomberg reports.

“A Russian court has ordered the seizure of a luxury hotel complex owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, one of the few oligarchs to have criticised President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, in a sign of the pressure facing the country’s tycoons since the invasion,” the Financial Times reports.

“Deripaska has been under US sanctions since 2018 over his links to the Kremlin. But the metals tycoon is the most prominent of the small number of Russian business leaders who have spoken out since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister has claimed that over 60 Russian citizens are being held “hostage” in American prisons, according to an interview published in state media Tuesday, the Daily Beast reports.

Sergei Vershinin said U.S. authorities “have been literally hunting down Russians all over the world for many years” and “seeking to detain our citizens on false charges with subsequent transfer to American punitive justice with a predictable result.”

“The House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to publicly release the tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump, the culmination of a yearslong battle during which he defied modern tradition by keeping his finances confidential during his campaign and while in office,” the New York Times reports.

Axios: “It’s not immediately clear how quickly the House committee may release the returns, which will provide details on some of his tax payments, financial obligations and donations to charity.”

The tax returns won’t actually be released for a few more days, but the committee did release a report that previews some of the revelations contained in them:

  • The IRS did not perform the mandatory audits of Trump during his first two years in office.
  • The Trumps reported negative adjusted gross income in four of the six years from 2015 through 2020, according to the WSJ.
  • The Trumps paid federal taxes each year, but reported income tax liability of $750 or less in three of the six years, the WSJ reported.
  • The IRS hasn’t completed audits of the Trumps for any of those years.

New York Times: “Mr. Trump filed returns in 2017 for the two previous tax years, but the IRS began auditing those filings only in 2019 — the first on the same day in April the Ways and Means Committee requested access to his taxes and any associated audits.”

The audits of the released tax returns were never completed.

“Donald and Melania Trump reported negative adjusted gross income in four of the six years from 2015 through 2020, with their AGI totaling negative $53.2 million during that period, according to tax data released Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The Trumps paid some form of taxes every year, but paid $750 or less in income taxes in three of the six years.”

A full set of tax documents is expected to become public in subsequent days.

CNBC: “On their 2020 income tax returns, Trump and his wife Melania paid no federal income taxes and claimed a refund of $5.47 million.”

“An 800-page report set to be released by House investigators as soon as Wednesday will conclude that then-President Donald Trump criminally plotted to overturn his 2020 election defeat and ‘provoked his supporters to violence’ at the Capitol with false claims of widespread voter fraud,” the AP reports.

“As Democrats call for an ethics investigation into incoming Rep. George Santos (R-NY) over questions surrounding his financial dealings and personal credentials, ethics experts said it would be a long shot to unseat him even if a probe confirmed wrongdoing,” Newsday reports.

The political reality is that with a tiny House majority Republicans cannot afford to have the seat vacated.

Rep.-elect George Santos’ (R-NY) “emotional narrative of having Jewish grandparents who fled Europe during World War II appears to be untrue, like much of the rest of his campaign biography,” according to genealogy websites reviewed by The Forward.

Mother Jones digs into the personal finances of Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY).

“His personal finances seemed odd as well, and he had worked at a Florida company called Harbor City Capital that was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2021 of running a $17 million Ponzi scheme. Subsequently, he supposedly made at least $3.5 million from a mysterious company called Devolder Organization LLC that he started, that had no public profile, and that was dissolved soon after it was created. This marked a dramatic shift from his first run for Congress in 2020, when he reported earning $55,000 per year.”

“The day after the Times story appeared, Santos took a curious step: He revived that mystery firm that he had claimed as the source of millions of dollars of income, and he listed as its address a Florida property associated with a former top official of the company that allegedly mounted that Ponzi scheme… The story of this firm is a key component of the Santos scandal.”

Vox: “The story has sparked one of the more bizarre political scandals in American history. Members of Congress have committed murder in office. In fact, a member of Congress has even killed another member of Congress. Even in the present day, we’ve seen every scandal under the sun, from Anthony Weiner tweeting a lewd picture of himself, to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s infamous Facebook post about Jewish space lasers.”

“But it’s hard to think of a precedent for a scandal like this.”

What’s especially crazy is that this wasn’t his first election. He ran two years ago, and lost, against Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY).

“Nick Luna, a former White House aide to President Donald Trump, told the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol that he witnessed Trump ‘tearing’ documents,” CBS News reports, according to audio of his testimony.

“The audio files also reveal that Luna testified that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had instructed him to not enter the room ahead of a meeting with state Republican legislators who wanted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”

Said Luna: “There was one instance where it would normally be my job to go in and make sure that the president is comfortable in wherever the situation is. And I remember, specifically, this instance Meadows had said, ‘Do not, don’t come in, don’t come into the room today.’”

The $1.7 trillion government funding bill released Tuesday includes extra money for the Justice Department to prosecute Jan. 6 cases, NBC News reports.

Jonathan Bernstein: “With the passage of a defense bill and an agreement on a spending package, the 117th Congress is wrapping up an extremely productive two years in office. This Congress, when Democrats held narrow margins in both houses, stands in sharp contrast to the last era of unified control of government, when Republicans controlled both chambers in 2017-2018. That era, remembered for late Senator John McCain’s thumbs-down rejection of the repeal of part of the Affordable Care Act, ended with an extended government shutdown.”

“The difference this time? Preparation, pragmatism and professionalism.”

“Democrats were ready to act on consequential legislation when they took control of Congress and the White House two years ago in part because they had put in the time hashing out their party’s policy priorities during the long presidential nominating season. Exchanges in televised debates sometimes felt interminable, but they paid off, as did behind-the-seasons discussions on issue after issue.”

“Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, bruised by his party’s poor performance in the midterm elections, nonetheless emerged a winner in year-end negotiations on the $1.7 trillion government spending bill, collecting significant policy wins and banking leverage for next year’s battle over raising the nation’s debt limit,” Bloomberg reports.

“But in a preview of the intra-party squabbling that will contribute to congressional gridlock next year, McConnell’s willingness to strike a year-end deal with Democrats sparked a backlash — and a threat of retaliation — from House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and hard-core conservatives in his own party.”

“The House isn’t the only congressional chamber taking steps this week to counteract former President Trump, as legislation to overhaul how Congress counts electoral votes is one step closer to becoming law,” The Hill reports.

“Less than a day after a House panel investigating Jan. 6, 2021, issued four criminal referrals for the former president, the Senate unveiled a $1.7 trillion omnibus government funding package that includes the Electoral Count Reform Act, marking a second blow in as many days against Trump.”

Noah Berlatsky: “It has taken two painful years, but legislators are finally addressing some of the key structural weaknesses in the US electoral system that former President Donald Trump exploited during his coup attempt.”

“Hunter Biden has added a high-powered attorney to his legal team amid an ongoing federal probe and plans by Republicans to make him a key focus of investigations when they take control of the House next month,” NBC News reports.

“Abbe Lowell, of the firm Winston and Strawn, will be primarily responsible for coordinating Hunter Biden’s response to anticipated congressional oversight investigations, as well advising on other legal issues and overall strategy.”

“A group of 13 House Republicans released a letter to their Senate GOP counterparts vowing to oppose any legislation next Congress pushed by Republicans who ultimately support the massive government spending package this week,” Politico reports.

“With the Senate run by Democrats, it’s unlikely much marquee GOP senator-led legislation would make it to the House next year anyways, but this means that even bills renaming post offices or similar small-ball efforts could be derailed.”

This is why former Speaker John Boehner coined the term “legislative terrorists.”

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — who is still trying to shore up conservative backing for his speaker bid — gave his full support to the 13 House Republicans who said they’d tank any policy priorities of GOP senators who vote for the omnibus.

Said McCarthy: “Agreed. Except no need to whip — when I’m Speaker, their bills will be dead on arrival in the House if this nearly $2T monstrosity is allowed to move forward over our objections and the will of the American people.”

Of course, one of those GOP senators backing the omnibus is Mitch McConnell.

After Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) threatened to block bills from Senate Republicans, he got an icy retort from Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who told CNN such statements from House Republicans were “the very reason that some Senate Republicans feel they probably should spare them from the burden of having to govern.”

Semafor: Senators aren’t ready to let Kevin McCarthy negotiate a big boy bill just yet.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) dropped a 25-tweet thread in support of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) to become House speaker while lashing out at her “friends” in the House GOP conference.

Said Greene: “It’s time for my friends in the Never Kevin Caucus to stop lying to the base just because they don’t like Kevin McCarthy. They do not have a plan and there is no consensus candidate.”

She added: “Sabotaging the country for personal reasons is not brave or righteous, it’s selfish and foolish.”

“As Kevin McCarthy struggles to nail down the votes to be House speaker, a group of lawmakers has quietly approached No. 2 leader Steve Scalise about running should McCarthy falter,” Politico reports.

“The conversations have put Scalise in a tough spot. He and his camp are acutely aware that they can’t be seen as agitating against McCarthy — or even taking meetings to discuss the matter. There’s a general consensus that if McCarthy falters, anyone with fingerprints on the knife would alienate the GOP conference and upend their own possible ascent.”

“Yet lawmakers also want to be sure there’s a Plan B in case the speakership drama turns the GOP House takeover into total chaos.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) “wants to continue wielding his political influence in school board races across the state after his campaign helped two dozen conservative candidates win during this year’s midterm elections,” Politico reports.

“The Republican governor this week said he intends to flip more local seats from liberal to conservative-leaning education officials, taking aim at boards in areas such as Broward and Hillsborough counties that have pushed back against Republican policies.”

“More than a month after the midterm elections, Pennsylvania still hasn’t certified its results of the 2022 election. Recount requests are holding up a process that has been playing out in sometimes dramatic fashion at the county level — producing at least one scene that should set off alarm bells for anyone concerned about election deniers refining their strategy ahead of 2024,” Vox reports.

“The state’s counties were supposed to certify their results by November 29 under Pennsylvania law, but nine of them missed the deadline, including Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh. As of Monday afternoon, all but one county ended up certifying the results, but not without a fight. The state can only certify when all the counties have done so.”

President Biden was caught on video saying the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is “dead,” but stressed the U.S. won’t formally announce it, Axios reports.

“Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona who made false election claims the centerpiece of her campaign, is starting a two-day trial on Wednesday as she presses to have her loss overturned,” the New York Times reports.

“Ms. Lake lost by around 17,000 votes to Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state, but sued Maricopa County and Ms. Hobbs to overturn the results under Arizona’s election contest statutes. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge is allowing two of her claims of misconduct by election officials to go forward, but eight other claims were dismissed. A ruling is likely soon afterward.”

Arizona Republic: Kari Lake “excited” over election trial but Katie Hobbs won’t have to testify.

Lake (R) gave a ranting speech this weekend in which she labeled herself a “proud election-denying deplorable” before urging young supporters to procreate and calling Anthony Fauci an “evil elf,” The Independent reports. She added: “My pronouns are: I won.”

After polling Twitter users, Elon Musk on Tuesday night said he will resign as head of the social media platform.

Said Musk: “I will resign as CEO as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job! After that, I will just run the software & servers teams.”

Of course, the software and servers teams are basically all of Twitter.

“Federal authorities are set to whisk Sam Bankman-Fried to the US on Wednesday to face a range of criminal charges related to the collapse of the FTX crypto exchange,” Bloomberg reports.

“ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative news outlet, will return the $1.6 million in funds it received from Sam Bankman-Fried’s family foundation,” Axios reports.

“Crematoriums across China are straining to deal with an influx of bodies as the country battles a wave of Covid cases that authorities have said is impossible to track,” AFP reports.

“China is now facing what is likely the world’s largest COVID surge of the pandemic,” NPR reports.

“China’s public health officials say that possibly 800 million people could be infected with the coronavirus over the next few months. And several models predict that a half million people could die, possibly more.”

The U.S. is concerned China’s runaway Covid-19 outbreak might spawn new mutations of the virus, as the world’s most populous country continues to grapple with the impact of loosening “Covid Zero” protocols that had kept the pandemic at bay, Bloomberg reports.

“China acknowledged the first Covid-19 deaths since the country ended its strict pandemic control policies, but the true scale of the outbreak is veiled by lack of data and unclear rules,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reports demand for lemons is surging in China as they are seen as a natural cure for Covid-19.

Donald Trump apparently used copyrighted images in his NFT collection, the Independent reports. It’s not clear if he obtained permission to use the photos.

“A federal judge has struck down part of a California gun law that was inspired by the novel legal mechanisms pioneered in a Texas 2021 law that allowed private citizens to sue abortion providers,” CNN reports.

Virginia’s 4th congressional district is holding its Democratic “firehouse primary” to replace the late Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), the New York Times reports.

The winner will be considered the overwhelming favorite in the February 21, 2023 special election as Joe Biden carried the district 67% to 31% in 2020.

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Though polls close at 7 p.m., it could take a while to determine the winner. Vote counting won’t begin until Wednesday morning. And there are multiple lawsuits in the works alleging unfairness over the party’s decision to hold the primary on a Tuesday and with limited polling sites.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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