Cup of Joe – February 7, 2023

The balloon was shot down, but it will continue to hover above Washington politics this week, possibly even eclipsing President Biden’s Tuesday evening State of the Union address.

The President, with an eye toward 2024, intends to focus on the resilience of the economy — with inflation rates plummeting and unemployment remaining low — but tense relations with China could steal his thunder. It’s déjà vu for Biden, whose SOTU last year came just days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Newly elected Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR) will deliver the official Republican response, a well-known figure who is not embroiled in current congressional battles. GOP leaders hope the nation’s youngest governor will provide a contrast with the oldest-ever president.

Freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ) will deliver the GOP’s Spanish-language response, while another freshman, Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-IL), will deliver a progressive response on behalf of the Working Families Party.

Last year, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) delivered a joint response as leaders of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, but have not announced plans to do so again this year.

Also this week, the House could kill two pieces of local District of Columbia legislation approved by the District Council, a criminal code reform act and a voting rights expansion measure.

The Senate will take up the nomination of DeAndrea Gist Benjamin to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Defense Department has notified Congress of several previous incursions of U.S. airspace by Chinese surveillance balloons, with earlier sightings near Texas, Florida, Hawaii and Guam, U.S. officials said Sunday, as Republicans criticized the Biden administration for allowing a suspected surveillance balloon to track across much of the United States over the last week,” the Washington Post reports.

“The defense officials said that several of those events occurred during the Trump administration.”

“House Republicans are also reportedly considering passing a resolution criticizing President Biden’s actions in this episode on Tuesday, the day Biden delivers his annual State of the Union address. Resolutions are nonbinding, primarily symbolic statements, often delivering a message from one party to another. This resolution could pass the House, where Republicans have a slim majority.”

Associated Press: “U.S. officials said Saturday that similar Chinese balloons transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the Trump administration and once that they know about earlier in the Biden administration.”

Nonetheless, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) tweeted last night that she just spoke with Trump and he said “would have shot it down before it entered the U.S.”

“The transiting of three suspected Chinese spy balloons over the continental US during the Trump administration was only discovered after President Joe Biden took office,” CNN reports.

“The official said that the intelligence community is prepared to offer briefings to key Trump administration officials about the Chinese surveillance program, which the Biden administration believes has been deployed in countries across five continents over the last several years.”

Politico: “The hostile one-upmanship aimed at China over the intelligence-gathering balloon served as just the latest example that lawmakers across the political spectrum see a clear benefit in taking a hawkish stance toward the global power. Even as China remains a crucial trading and economic partner, Republicans and an increasing number of Democrats are positioning the country as a key political concern — and thus a domestic and geopolitical battering ram.”

“Over just the last couple of years, lawmakers have blamed Beijing for worsening the spread of Covid and exacerbating supply chain shortages. Senior officials in the Biden administration and on Capitol Hill have raised national security concerns tied to Chinese apps like TikTok, and hardened their rhetoric over the independence of Taiwan.”

Steve Clemons: “I’ll be honest: The way Washington has hyperventilated over a Chinese spy balloon feels silly, and a little depressing, to me. Chinese, American, and Russian satellites orbit earth every day, carrying out intelligence gathering with incredible photographic precision. The balloon isn’t much different, yet it’s sparked an uproar that’s forced Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his trip to Beijing.”

Playbook: “It’s a distraction Democrats aren’t exactly thrilled about. They’ve been hoping Biden could use the biggest bully pulpit of them all to tout their legislative victories of the past two years — moving to cut prescription drug prices, combat climate change, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, tighten gun laws and protect same-sex marriage. They’re also eager for Biden to highlight a resilient economy and paint a sharp contrast with Hill Republicans while millions of voters tune in to watch.”

“And yet, thanks to the balloon saga, it’s the GOP that’s relishing the chance to differentiate itself this week. Republicans have spent days casting Biden as weak on China and suggesting he was too slow to confront foreign spying on American soil. As of last night, House GOP leaders were still entertaining holding a vote before the speech chiding the administration’s response.”

“Beijing’s abrupt shift from expressing regret to threatening retaliation over the U.S.’s spy-balloon claims reflects the domestic imperative for Xi Jinping to show he’s standing up for China against external pressure, further narrowing the window to reset ties before the US election season gets into full swing,” Bloomberg reports.

“President Joe Biden is planning to use his second State of the Union address to paint the broad strokes of a likely campaign ahead, contrasting his notion of steady leadership with the newly elected, likely chaotic Republican House,” Politico reports.

“Privately, aides are hoping the GOP lawmakers in attendance will help him achieve the contrast.”

“President Biden will give the State of the Union address before a newly divided Congress on Tuesday, hoping to build off positive economic signs but facing fresh tensions with China and the lingering war in Ukraine,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Following the speech, Mr. Biden will travel on Wednesday to Wisconsin, a 2024 presidential battleground, and tout union jobs during a visit to Madison. On Thursday he is scheduled to visit Florida—the home of two potential 2024 GOP rivals, former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis—to highlight plans to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and reduce healthcare costs, the White House said. On Friday he will discuss his economic agenda with the nation’s governors and meet with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.”

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in southern Turkey early Monday killed more than 1,700 people across the country and in neighboring Syria, the Washington Post reports.

“Republican pragmatists in the House of Representatives have a message for President Joe Biden: We don’t support a clean debt ceiling increase, either,” The Dispatch reports.

“Rep. Dusty Johnson says that the group of pragmatic conservatives he leads in the House would oppose legislation raising the federal borrowing limit absent an accompanying deal with Biden and Senate Democrats to rein in government spending and reduce Washington’s $31.4 trillion debt. Absent such an agreement, the United States risks defaulting on its financial obligations, conceded Johnson, chairman of the Main Street Caucus, which now numbers more than 70.”

“House Republicans are demanding that President Biden agree to policy concessions in exchange for their support in raising the nation’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit. But it is not clear — even to leading GOP officials — what they’re asking Biden to do,” the Washington Post reports.

“As Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) evades questions about his demands on the debt ceiling, which must be lifted to avoid an economically catastrophic government default, dozens of House Republicans and other conservatives have put forward their own ideas for what McCarthy should bring to the negotiating table.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) says he is “tired of caving” on the debt limit and is dialing up the pressure on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) not to swoop in to strike a last-minute deal with President Biden, The Hill reports.

“Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) said on Sunday that he is working across the aisle on a bipartisan solution on the debt ceiling as lawmakers brace for bitter negotiations in coming months over the nation’s finances,” The Hill reports.

“Fitzpatrick, who heads the Problem Solvers Caucus with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), said the pair are working on a backup plan if the White House and House Republicans can’t reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling should it come with conditions that involve certain spending cuts.”

New York Times: “Even as Republicans, newly empowered after taking control of the House, call for deep government spending cuts and accuse Democrats of profligacy with taxpayer dollars, a growing number of them have joined Democrats in helping themselves to larger amounts of cash for their states and districts in the form of earmarks — now rebranded as ‘community project funding’ — that allow lawmakers to direct federal money to pet projects.”

“A review by The New York Times of the nearly $16 billion in earmarks included in the $1.7 trillion spending law enacted in December — more than 7,200 projects in all — revealed that earmarks requested by members of both parties skyrocketed over the last year. And while Democrats secured a greater amount of spending on pet projects overall than Republicans did, the increase in G.O.P. earmarks since last spring was larger.”

“China is providing technology that Moscow’s military needs to prosecute the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine despite an international cordon of sanctions and export controls,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Moscow and Tehran are moving ahead with plans to build a new factory in Russia that could make at least 6,000 Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine, the latest sign of deepening cooperation between the two nations,“ the Wall Street Journal reports.

“As part of their emerging military alliance, the officials said, a high-level Iranian delegation flew to Russia in early January to visit the planned site for the factory and hammer out details to get the project up-and-running. The two countries are aiming to build a faster drone that could pose new challenges for Ukrainian air defenses.”

Tom Friedman: “As we approach the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — and the ferocious Ukrainian response backed by a U.S.-led Western coalition — the following question urgently needs answering: How is it that on Feb. 23, 2022, virtually no one in America was arguing that it was in our core national interest to enter into an indirect war with Russia to stop it from overrunning Ukraine, a country most Americans couldn’t find on a map in 10 tries?”

“And yet now, nearly a year later, polls show solid (though slightly shrinking) American majorities for backing Ukraine with arms and aid, even though this risks a direct conflict with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

“That’s a head-snapping shift in U.S. public opinion. Surely it’s partly explicable by the fact that no U.S. combat forces are in Ukraine, so it feels as if all that we’re risking, for now, is arms and treasure — while the full brunt of the war is borne by Ukrainians.”

“The U.S. is preparing to impose a 200% tariff on Russian-made aluminum as soon as this week to keep pressure on Moscow as the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine nears,” Bloomberg reports.

“Tariffs would effectively end U.S. aluminum imports from Russia.”

Rick Hasen: “Will a power grab by the new Republican majority on North Carolina’s Supreme Court—ostensibly to reverse a power grab by the earlier Democratic majority on North Carolina’s Supreme Court—deprive conservatives on the United States Supreme Court of a power grab over U.S. elections? Or will it just delay an urgent election ruling to a much worse time—when it could decide the outcome of a major election?”

“The Supreme Court’s potential blockbuster election decision in Moore v. Harper, now expected by late June, could soon be rendered moot by an order that the North Carolina Supreme Court issued on Friday to rehear the underlying case. If Republican state justices in North Carolina moot Moore, it might simply delay an outcome on an issue that should be resolved sooner rather than later.”

“Between last August, when President Joe Biden’s  landmark climate bill became law, and the end of January, companies have announced more than 100,000 clean energy jobs in the US,” Bloomberg reports.

“Most of those projects are in seven states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.”

“Georgia has attracted the most investment so far, the group found, with roughly $15 billion worth of projects in the pipeline that are expected to produce close to 17,000 jobs.”

As Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg seems to be reversing course and reinvigorating his office’s investigations of Donald Trump (for the Stormy Daniels hush money payments, among other things), a prosecutor who resigned over Braggs’ putting the probes on ice is a coming out next week with a new book.

Mark Pomerantz’s “People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account” gets a sharp review by former Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann in the WaPo. Weissmann, who himself tends to run hot, seems taken aback by Pomerantz’s own hot-headedness.

A federal judge has dismissed the former president’s defamation lawsuit against the Washington Post for a piece on the Mueller probe and for one on his 2020 campaign strategy. The claim against the first piece (by Greg Sargent) was dismissed for failure to allege actual malice, the second because the piece was unactionable opinion.

Wall Street Journal: “The budget proposals seek to address the nationwide scarcity of mental-health workers, the mental-health needs in schools and growing demand for emergency services. They represent a rare bipartisan point of agreement for more government action and underscore how dire many think the problem has become.”

Washington Post: “Driving their anxiety is a Texas lawsuit brought by conservative groups seeking to revoke the decades-old government approval of a key abortion drug.”

“The suit has been widely ridiculed by legal experts as rooted in baseless and debunked arguments. But in recent weeks, abortion rights advocates and some in the Biden administration have grown increasingly concerned that the case is likely to be decided entirely by conservative judges who might be eager for a chance to restrict abortion access even in Democrat-led states, where the procedure has remained legal since the fall of Roe v. Wade.”

New York Times: “The painful reality for Ms. Harris is that in private conversations over the last few months, dozens of Democrats in the White House, on Capitol Hill and around the nation — including some who helped put her on the party’s 2020 ticket — said she had not risen to the challenge of proving herself as a future leader of the party, much less the country. Even some Democrats whom her own advisers referred reporters to for supportive quotes confided privately that they had lost hope in her.”

“Through much of the fall, a quiet panic set in among key Democrats about what would happen if President Biden opted not to run for a second term. Most Democrats interviewed, who insisted on anonymity to avoid alienating the White House, said flatly that they did not think Ms. Harris could win the presidency in 2024. Some said the party’s biggest challenge would be finding a way to sideline her without inflaming key Democratic constituencies that would take offense.”

“Now with Mr. Biden appearing all but certain to run again, the concern over Ms. Harris has shifted to whether she will be a political liability for the ticket.”

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

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