Sunday, April 14

POLITICO Playbook PM: Biden grapples with one war’s legacy and another’s threat

President JOE BIDEN pledged to end the “Forever Wars.” But multiple pieces of news this morning threw into sharp relief the reality that armed conflict is never far away for an American president: Biden remains caught between the ongoing fallout of the war he pulled out of and the looming specter of one that could explode any day.

ON AFGHANISTAN: Biden today announced his plans for the $7 billion in funds from Afghanistan’s central bank that have been frozen in New York: He wants half to go to the families of 9/11 victims, and half to go toward humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

NYT’s Charlie Savage reports that the “highly unusual set of moves” follows months of administration discussions on what to do with the complex situation, following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

— The Taliban has demanded that the U.S. release the money amid humanitarian calamity; another option would have been to let it sit untouched. This split decision instead sets up a dual legal process, with many wrinkles yet to come.

— The news already precipitated blowback from the left. Some pundits and advocates called it theft, arguing that the money belonged to Afghans and all of it should go back to a country in dire straits. But Biden’s move to send at least some of the money back drew plaudits from Rep. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-N.J.), a prominent congressional voice on human rights.

— On the flip side, some hawkish voices argued that any of the $7 billion delivered as relief to Afghanistan would end up in the hands of the Taliban.

Another obstacle to any kind of detente with the Taliban: For the first time since they took over the country again, the Taliban is currently holding an American citizen, a U.S. permanent resident and seven other Westerners in custody in Kabul, WSJ’s Margherita Stancati and Dion Nissenbaum reported this morning. The group includes multiple journalists detained this week.


— Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN said today that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen at any time, even during the Olympics, that new forces were amassing at the border, and that U.S. diplomatic staff are continuing to “draw down” in Ukraine, per Reuters.

— Going a step further: Western intelligence now suggests that an attack could come during the Olympics, with Kyiv among the possible targets, CNN’s Katie Bo Lillis reports.

— Ukraine continued its recent shift toward more alarmed rhetoric, with the military warning today that separatists supported by Russia were carrying out drills, “completing a near encirclement of Ukraine by hostile forces,” NYT’s Andrew Kramer reports from Kyiv.

— There was a Situation Room meeting on the matter Thursday night, WaPo’s Ashley Parker reports.

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— Biden held another call this morning with Canadian PM JUSTIN TRUDEAU, European Commission President URSULA VON DER LEYEN, European Council President CHARLES MICHEL, French President EMMANUEL MACRON, German Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ, Italian PM MARIO DRAGHI, NATO Secretary-General JENS STOLTENBERG, Polish President ANDRZEJ DUDA, Romanian President KLAUS IOHANNIS and British PM BORIS JOHNSON.

— And national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN will join press secretary JEN PSAKI at this afternoon’s briefing.

Good Friday afternoon.


BBB 2.0? — The White House is considering constructing a new version of its legislative agenda package that would significantly slash the deficit in a bid to win over Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.), reports WaPo’s Jeff Stein. The rearrangement would get rid of the timelines Manchin has dismissed as budgetary gimmickry, but would also require axing multiple policy priorities from the bill. Plans are still early, but Stein reports that White House officials have been discussing a recent Matt Yglesias piece about focusing a bill on climate spending, health care spending and higher taxes.

— Behind the byline: @JStein_WaPo: “Your skepticism is warranted. … Already some congressional Dem aides are panning this idea, saying it would look terrible to champion deficit reduction in 22 as families face higher costs at the grocery store etc. But it may be the only feasible route at this point to secure the climate provisions.”


RONJOHN BEHIND THE SCENES — After Sen. RON JOHNSON (R-Wis.) met with state Republican leaders in November, the Assembly speaker told reporters they mostly talked about the economy and Biden’s policies, not a partisan takeover of election infrastructure. But new text messages suggest that dismantling the Wisconsin Elections Commission was in fact a key agenda item for the meeting. More from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

POLL OF THE DAY — CNN’s latest poll of voters finds Democrats struggling with an enthusiasm gap, and majorities of voters calling the economy and voting rights extremely important to their midterm votes, Ariel Edwards-Levy writes.

— On the economy: “Concern about the economy hasn’t been this widespread in any midterm-year CNN Poll dating back to 2002.”

— On the pandemic: Only 38% say the pandemic will be extremely important to their vote.

— On education: While 46% of voters highlighted education as extremely important, only a quarter of them pointed to the curriculum/social content concerns that have animated the GOP of late. (More people just care about education in general.)

THE NEW GOP — One of the key ways DONALD TRUMP is continuing to exert influence over the Republican Party is through his powerful endorsements, AP’s Jill Colvin writes. He managed to clear DAVID PERDUE’s anti-BRIAN KEMP lane in the Georgia gubernatorial primary this week by getting VERNON JONES to drop out and jump into a congressional race with Trump’s endorsement — just the latest example of his ability to reshape a field. But “some Republicans say Trump is injecting chaos into an election year that should otherwise be favorable to the GOP.”

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HOLLYWOODLAND — Pennsylvania Senate candidate MEHMET OZ is getting honored with a star today on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, per AP.

AFTERNOON READ — Watergate may live on in the country’s political consciousness, but there’s plenty we’ve forgotten, including how nearly RICHARD NIXON came to getting away with it, Garrett Graff writes in an excerpt of his new book, “Watergate: A New History” ($35), for POLITICO Magazine. The piece focuses on G. GORDON LIDDY, who concocted way more plans than just the DNC burglary: His ideas “involved specially equipped surveillance planes, kidnappings, illegal, laundered campaign donations, sex workers sent to lure Democratic powerbrokers back to a king-sized bed on a houseboat and wiretaps and spies galore — not just at the Watergate but inside the Democratic presidential campaign’s headquarters as well.”


SCOTUS WATCH — As Biden plans to nominate the first Black woman to the high court, WaPo’s Amber Phillips takes an interesting look at how previous injections of diversity have molded the court — and, in turn, the country. She also notes this bit of striking occupational diversity (or lack thereof): “No current justice has represented criminal defendants despite the fact the court regularly hears cases where convicted criminals’ lives are literally in their hands.”

— Speaking of which … WaPo’s Ann Marimow and Aaron Davis published a story this morning on Judge KETANJI BROWN JACKSON’s history of work as a federal public defender, which includes landing “uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms.”


WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE IS TOUTING — As big-ticket items stall out, Congress has seen a flurry of bipartisan activity on smaller bills in recent weeks. NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Scott Wong have the stepback to clock all the progress: There’s been new action on the omnibus spending bill, sexual assault arbritration, the Violence Against Women Act, the Postal Service, China competitiveness, stock trading, the Electoral Count Act and child sexual abuse on tech platforms.


WATCHIN’ BLINKEN — Interestingly, even as the prospect of war rivets the world, Blinken made his comments today in Australia, where he traveled this week to meet with Asia-Pacific allies. The move highlights the administration’s insistence on the region as its top foreign policy priority, NYT’s Edward Wong reports from Melbourne. Building a more muscular presence in the region — and a counterbalance to China’s influence — also draws an alliance-focused contrast with the Trump administration’s “America first” approach.

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— In the same vein, The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a piece interviewing the foreign policy voices who want the U.S. to avert war by folding to Russia’s demands on NATO expansion — and who think the Blob is preventing a foreign policy realignment: “For many years now, Americans have been promised a pivot to Asia, and yet something — history, inertia, idealism, VLADIMIR PUTIN — keeps getting in the way.”

CHIP ON THE SHOULDER — Russia could retaliate against the U.S. over Ukraine by limiting the semiconductor industry’s access to key materials for chips, the White House is warning companies, per Reuters’ Alexandra Alper and Karen Freifeld. Officials are urging firms to diversify their supply chains for materials that currently often come from Ukraine or Russia. Neon and palladium are particular concerns.

FRENCH DIP — The Economist’s Paris bureau chief Sophie Peder, who flew with Macron to Kyiv and Moscow, writes about Macron’s “perilous path between his own friends’ suspicions and Vladimir Putin’s belligerence.”


ZUCKER FALLOUT — WSJ’s Benjamin Mullin, Joe Flint and Jimmy Vielkind go inside CNN’s wild week when president JEFF ZUCKER was ousted over a workplace relationship. Among the nuggets: Zucker and ALLISON GOLLUST “initially weren’t forthcoming about the relationship” when asked as part of the CHRIS CUOMO investigation. And amid plenty of unhappiness among top anchors with Zucker’s departure, United Talent Agency co-president JAY SURES came to D.C. this week “to meet with key talent” in the bureau.


IN MEMORIAM — Don Lubick died this week at 95. Forbes’ Howard Gleckman remembers him: “I do not believe anyone served longer in senior Treasury tax policy positions than Don. Remarkably, he began his government career in the Kennedy Administration and concluded it as a member of Barack Obama’s transition team.”

EVERY DOG HAS ITS DAY — And Commander Biden’s day will be Sunday, when the German Shepherd puppy will make his TV debut in a video message with first lady Jill Biden airing during the Puppy Bowl, per AP’s Darlene Superville. Watch here

MEDIA MOVE — Rozina Breen is joining The Bureau of Investigative Journalism as its new CEO and president. She previously led BBC news in the north of England.

TRANSITIONS — Ed McGinnis is now CEO of Curio Solutions, a nuclear innovation and technology development company. He previously was executive director of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the Trump White House, and has spent decades at DOE. … Madison Smith is now a principal at Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies. He most recently was a government affairs adviser at Amazon Web Services, and is a John Cornyn alum. … Trevor Kincaid is now director of corporate comms at Apple, focused on privacy issues. He most recently was head of comms for global partnerships and multilateral engagement at the International Finance Corporation.

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