Cup of Joe – February 16, 2023

“President Joe Biden plans to go on the offensive against Republicans, saying in effect that their policies would add $3 trillion to the national debt,” the AP reports.

From Biden’s prepared remarks: “If you add up all the proposals that my Republican friends in Congress have offered so far, they would add another $3 trillion to the debt over 10 years. You’ll see that my budget will invest in America, lower costs and protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, while cutting the deficit by $2 trillion over 10 years.”

“House Freedom Caucus lawmakers taking a hard line against raising the U.S. government’s $31.4 trillion debt ceiling rely heavily on small donors to fund their campaigns, shielding them from business lobby pressure to avoid a default,” a Reuters analysis found.

“Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a secretive group of at least 37 conservative Republicans, got close to 40% of their campaign funds from smaller donations during the 2022 election cycle, the analysis of financial disclosures found, compared to close to 20% for the rest of the party’s House members.”

“Last year the Republican Study Committee – a House caucus which includes about 75% of all House Republicans – released a proposed 2023 budget which included basically every kind of Social Security cut on offer,” TPM reports.

“The Blueprint to Save America proposed raising the eligibility age at first to 70 and then higher if and when life expectancy goes up; it proposed cutting (or in their words ‘modernizing’) the benefit formula for everyone currently 54 and under; means-testing Social Security benefits; including work requirements for some Social Security beneficiaries; and allowing people to divert payroll taxes into private investment accounts – aka “retirement freedom.”

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) offer a fix in the Washington Post for the debt ceiling mess:

“This legislation would put the power to prevent default in the hands of the president, with Congress acting as a check. In other words — just as McConnell proposed, the bipartisan Congress passed and the Obama administration implemented in 2011 — Congress could only stop the president from raising the debt ceiling if a veto-proof two-thirds majority of lawmakers agreed it was the right thing to do.”

“Senate Republicans are warning their House GOP counterparts to stay away from the Pentagon’s budget as part of any proposed spending cuts tied to upcoming debt-limit talks,” Punchbowl News reports.

“Republican senators are generally supportive of Speaker Kevin McCarthy in negotiations with President Joe Biden over cutting spending in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit. But they say recent suggestions by top House Republicans that defense spending would be on the chopping block is unacceptable.”

“Defense spending has risen significantly in recent years despite efforts by some lawmakers in both parties to slow it down. China’s growing military might, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, are motivating Congress’ defense hawks to once again substantially boost, not slash, defense spending.”

New York Times: “Six weeks into their majority, Republican leaders have found themselves paralyzed on some of the biggest issues they promised to address as they pressed to win control of the House last year, amid internal policy disputes that have made it difficult to unify their tiny yet ideologically diverse majority.”

“They have had to pull back even on some measures that were supposed to be easy to pass, messaging bills once described as ‘ready-to-go legislation’ intended to articulate House Republicans’ values and force politically vulnerable Democrats to take tough votes. It is an early indication of the unwieldy nature of the House Republican conference and a mark of how challenging it will be to reach consensus among themselves on far more consequential legislation that lies ahead, such as raising the debt ceiling and funding the government.”

“While many in the world see the Chinese spy balloon as a sign of Beijing’s growing aggressiveness, China has sought to cast the controversy as a symptom of the United States’ irrevocable decline,” the New York Times reports.

“Why else would a great power be spooked by a flimsy inflatable craft, China has argued, if not for a raft of internal problems like an intensely divided society and intractable partisan strife driving President Biden to act tough on Beijing?”

“Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) will lead a Senate investigation into why it took so long for the Defense Department to detect Chinese spy balloons that floated over the United States this month and in previous years, revealing an embarrassing gap in the nation’s air defenses,” The Hill reports.

“By the time a Chinese spy balloon crossed into American airspace late last month, U.S. military and intelligence agencies had been tracking it for nearly a week, watching as it lifted off from its home base on Hainan Island near China’s south coast,” the Washington Post reports.

“U.S. monitors watched as the balloon settled into a flight path that would appear to have taken it over the U.S. territory of Guam. But somewhere along that easterly route, the craft took an unexpected northern turn, according to several U.S. officials, who said that analysts are now examining the possibility that China didn’t intend to penetrate the American heartland with their airborne surveillance device.”

“This new account suggests that the ensuing international crisis that has ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing may have been at least partly the result of a mistake.”

“The White House said Tuesday that the U.S. intelligence community’s leading explanation for the three most recent unidentified objects shot down over North America is that they were being used for commercial or benign purposes,” NBC News reports.

NBC News: “An opportune moment for Biden to make a fuller statement about the shootdowns could come by the end of the week, when the government is expected to announce the development of new protocols to deal with unidentified aircraft like the ones destroyed in the past week.”

Semafor: “It might be tempting to downplay the White House’s new big theme as little more than cranky, small-bore populism…”

“But if you talk to Biden administration officials, its origins sound more high-minded. They make the case that junk fees are deeply serious business, a kitchen table issue that also happens to fit snugly with their wider ambition to bring American antitrust enforcement back from the grave and make markets more competitive.”

“President Biden announced Tuesday a massive aircraft purchase agreement between Air India and Boeing, touting the deal as part of his pledge to return the U.S. to its position as a global manufacturing leader,” the Washington Times reports.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said that Russia has “lost” the war in Ukraine, Insider reports.  Said Milley: “Russia is now a global pariah and the world remains inspired by Ukrainian bravery and resilience. In short, Russia has lost — they’ve lost strategically, operationally, and tactically.”

“Support among the American public for providing Ukraine weaponry and direct economic assistance has softened as the Russian invasion nears a grim one-year milestone,” according to an Associated Press-NORC poll.

“Forty-eight percent say they favor the U.S. providing weapons to Ukraine, with 29% opposed and 22% saying they’re neither in favor nor opposed. In May 2022, less than three months into the war, 60% of U.S. adults said they were in favor of sending Ukraine weapons.”

 “The U.S. military is considering sending Ukraine thousands of seized weapons and more than a million rounds of ammunition once bound for Iran-backed fighters in Yemen, an unprecedented step that would help Kyiv battle Russian forces,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“U.S. officials said they are looking at sending Ukraine more than 5,000 assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of small arms ammunition, a small number of antitank missiles, and more than 7,000 proximity fuses seized in recent months off the Yemen coast from smugglers suspected of working for Iran.”

“Federal prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents are seeking to pierce assertions of attorney-client privilege and compel one of his lawyers to answer more questions before a grand jury, adding an aggressive new dimension to the inquiry and underscoring the legal peril facing Mr. Trump,” the New York Times reports.

“The prosecutors have sought approval from a federal judge to invoke what is known as the crime-fraud exception, which allows them to work around attorney-client privilege when they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used in furthering a crime. The fact that prosecutors invoked the exception in a sealed motion to compel the testimony of the lawyer, M. Evan Corcoran, suggests that they believe Mr. Trump or his allies might have used Mr. Corcoran’s services in that way.”

“Among the questions that the Justice Department has been examining since last year is whether Mr. Trump or his associates obstructed justice in failing to comply with demands to return a trove of government material he took with him from the White House upon leaving office, including hundreds of documents with classified markings.”

After Elon Musk threatened to fire his remaining engineers at Twitter because he said his own tweets were not being seen, “they built a system designed to ensure that Musk — and Musk alone — benefited from previously unheard-of promotion of his tweets to the entire user base,” Platformer reports.

“Roughly 80 people were pulled in to work on the project, which had quickly become priority number one at the company.”

The Verge: Twitter is just showing everyone all of Elon Musk’s tweets now.

New York Times: “The Biden administration has agreed to brief top congressional leaders at the end of this month about the classified documents that were improperly in the custody of former President Donald Trump, President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, officials said on Tuesday.”

“The deal for a Justice Department briefing with the so-called Gang of Eight, a select group of House and Senate members with whom the most sensitive intelligence is shared, may ease long-simmering tensions over bipartisan demands by the Senate Intelligence Committee to see the files.”

“Still, the briefing would include only the top two members of the committee and not its rank-and-file members, according to people familiar with the negotiations. And while the Justice Department has agreed to reveal additional information about the nature of the records to the Gang of Eight, it is resisting providing access to the documents themselves, which it considers key evidence in continuing investigations.”

Former President Jair Bolsonaro said he intends to return to Brazil “in the following weeks,” the AP reports. “The far-right politician has been in the U.S. since arriving in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 31, the eve of the inauguration of his leftist rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as Brazil’s current president.”

“Bolsonaro said he plans to return to Brazil in March to lead the political opposition to leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and defend himself against accusations he incited attacks by protesters on government buildings last month,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Said Bolsonarro: “The right-wing movement is not dead and will live on.”

“In two unsuccessful bids for the White House, Senator Bernie Sanders made no secret of his disdain for billionaires. Now, in what could be his final act in Washington, he has the power to summon them to testify before Congress — and he has a few corporate executives in his sights,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Sanders, 81, who identifies as a democratic socialist, has said he will not seek the Democratic nomination for president again if President Biden runs for re-election — a position he reiterated in a recent interview in his Senate office. He is himself up for re-election in 2024 and would not say whether he would run again, which raises the prospect that the next two years in Congress could be his last.”

 “Argentina’s dominant political force of the past half century or more has long been defined by personalities over policies. Now, the Peronists can’t rally behind a candidate for this year’s election — not even the president himself,” Bloomberg reports.

“Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the two-term former president and now second-in-command who maintains tight control over the movement, has said she won’t be a contender and openly opposes a run by President Alberto Fernandez, whom she picked to lead the ticket in 2019.”

“Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices and seized its journalists’ phones in a stunning — and apparently retaliatory — move Tuesday against the British broadcaster weeks after it aired a polarizing documentary examining Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise and his handling of a deadly 2002 riot,” the Washington Post reports.

“As Pakistan lurches from one crisis to another, citizens are taking to the streets to protest a dual economic and political meltdown with little precedent in the nation’s post-independence history,” Bloomberg reports.

“For months, the world’s fifth most populous country has edged closer to a debt default, echoing the cautionary tales of other developing economies, including Sri Lanka and Venezuela. Inflation is at a 48-year high. Foreign currency reserves cover less than a month of imports. The bill for billions in damage from last year’s devastating floods continues to sting, highlighting the financial consequences of a warming planet.”

“Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni didn’t paper over her contempt for the French President this past week – and Emmanuel Macron made clear that the feeling was mutual,” Bloomberg reports.  “Macron sees Meloni as an Italian equivalent of the French populist Marine Le Pen, who has spent years attacking his pro-market policies. For Meloni, the French president is just the kind of arrogant elitist that she built her movement to bring down.”

 “In the weeks before Italy elected the hard-right leader Giorgia Meloni, the left sounded ‘the alarm for Italian democracy.’ The European Union braced for Italy to join ranks with members like Hungary and Poland who have challenged the bloc’s core values. International investors worried about spooked markets,” the New York Times reports.

“But more than 100 days into her tenure, Ms. Meloni has proved to be less predictable. She has shown flashes of nationalist anger, prompting fears at home and abroad that an authoritarian turn remains just around the corner. But until now, she has also governed in a far less vitriolic and ideological and more practical way.”

“The unexpected ordinariness of her early days has vexed the European establishment and her Italian critics, prompting relief but also raising a quandary as to what extent the toned-down firebrand should be embraced or still cautiously held at arm’s length.”

Israel President Isaac Herzog called for compromise over the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system, warning that the country was on the verge of “societal and constitutional collapse,” the Times of Israel reports.

The president said he was deeply concerned over the nature of the government’s reforms, stating that he worried they had the potential to harm “the democratic foundations” of the country.

North Korean authorities are compelling girls and women to change their names if they’re called “Ju Ae” — the name of Kim Jong Un’s daughter, Radio Free Asia reported.  Officials said her name is now reserved for persons of “the highest dignity.”

Walter Shapiro: “Maybe I’m expecting too much from Biden, but a small incident recently reported by Annie Linskey in The Wall Street Journal troubled me. Toward the end of a nuanced article about the president’s many, many ties to the University of Pennsylvania, Linskey revealed that one of Hunter Biden’s daughters was rejected for early admission to Penn in 2019. That setback prompted Biden—then a private citizen about to declare for the presidency—to speak to the dean of admissions at Penn. Probably not coincidentally, Biden’s granddaughter ended up among the 7 percent of applicants eventually admitted to Penn in 2019.”

“In a world of overhyped fake scandals—where everything is the greatest outrage since Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton—this is a nothing-burger. Many politically connected parents or grandparents have put a thumb on the scale in the effort to score an edge at a prestigious college…”

“But still, even after adding all the context in the world, this is not a good look for the president. Perhaps Hunter Biden’s daughter would have gotten into Penn on her merits during the regular admission period, but thanks to Grandpa Joe’s intervention, we will never know. In all likelihood, someone else was denied admission to Penn so there would be a slot for Biden’s granddaughter.”

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

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