Friday, March 31

The Hill’s Morning Report – Russia plots next move amid setbacks

The United States and European allies continue to believe Russia is poised to escalate assaults in eastern Ukraine even as Moscow sustained a setback with the Black Sea sinking of its flagship warship, Moskva, on Thursday. Ukraine claimed credit (CNN)

With Western weaponry and intelligence pouring into Ukraine, discussions continue about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s evolving battle plan and the uncertain capacity within the Russian military to defeat Ukraine’s defenses, despite Putin’s transformation of Ukrainian cities and towns into apocalyptic ruin.

The Associated Press: The key Ukrainian port city of Mariupol after weeks of war is still holding out against Russian bombardments.

The injured and evacuated Moskva, weighing 12,500 tons, unexpectedly sank, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, as the missile cruiser was being towed into port following severe damage. Ukraine said it struck the Moskva with missiles. Moscow described the damage as the result of a fire (Bloomberg News and The Hill). On Friday, a day after losing the vessel, Russia said it struck a Ukrainian missile factory in Kyiv (Reuters).

In a sanctions blow to the Kremlin, the European Union revealed on Thursday that an oil embargo is in the works and is likely to be adopted in the coming weeks. The EU has long resisted calls to reduce its energy dependency on Russia (The New York Times).

Officials in Washington and European capitals say there is a sense of urgency to provide Ukraine with additional sophisticated weapons, heavy artillery and intelligence sought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government in anticipation of new attacks following Russia’s failure to capture Kyiv.

The U.S. has rushed roughly $2.6 billion in weapons, supplies and aid to Ukraine since the invasion began in February, and The Hill’s Jordan Williams describes everything provided thus far. 

In the Senate, Armed Services and Foreign Relations committee member Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) was joined on Thursday by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in recommending to President Biden that he appoint a security assistance coordinator for Ukraine policies who could be the central U.S. linchpin with the Pentagon, allies and Kyiv to improve U.S. response time, transfers of weapons and aid, as well as improve “transparency” as decisions are being made.

Biden confirmed on Thursday that he will decide soon if he will dispatch a senior American official to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine. “We’ll be making that decision now,” the president told reporters.

Other heads of state and European representatives have ventured into Ukraine since the war began, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who walked the streets of Kyiv with Zelensky last week, becoming the first Group of Seven leader to visit the Ukrainian capital since Russia’s invasion began. Zelensky heaped praise on Johnson, who traveled by car, helicopter, military plane and train to get there (Daily Mail).  

On Thursday, two U.S. lawmakers made their way to Kyiv (The New York Times and Axios). Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), a former corporate executive, and Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in 2000, were the first U.S. officials to turn up since the start of the war.

The Hill: Here are the 41 House lawmakers who were not sanctioned this week by Russia when it released a list of 398. 

Reuters: Russia has ruble problems. The country may be in default, Moody’s says.

© Associated Press / Sergei Grits |Ukrainian refugee on April 1. 

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CONGRESS & POLITICS: The future of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) career on Capitol Hill came under the microscope on Thursday after a number of her Senate colleagues and others across Congress questioned her mental acuity and said that her memory is quickly deteriorating.

Feinstein, 88, has been questioned in recent years about her mental sharpness, especially in 2020 when her spot as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee came under fire ahead of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Questions about her cognitive condition and memory came to a head this week when top figures on Capitol Hill told the San Francisco Chronicle that the five-term senator is a shell of what she was only a few years ago.

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As one House Democrat from California recalled, speaking on background, Feinstein in a recent meeting between the two — a common occurrence between the two over the past 15 years — repeatedly asked the same “small-talk questions” and did not realize they had already had that type of conversation recently.

“I have worked with her for a long time and long enough to know what she was like just a few years ago: always in command, always in charge, on top of the details, basically couldn’t resist a conversation where she was driving some bill or some idea. All of that is gone,” the House Democrat told the Chronicle. “She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that.”

© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite |Sen. Dianne Feinstein on April 4.

The San Francisco Chronicle spoke to four senators (including three Democrats) and three former Feinstein staffers, along with the House Democrat. In a statement, Feinstein, whose term ends in 2024, defended her work, saying the last year has been “extremely painful and distracting for me,” due in large part to her husband’s illness and death in February. However, she added that “there’s no question I’m still serving and delivering” for Californians. She declined an interview.

Following the death of the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Feinstein is the oldest sitting member of Congress. 

Los Angeles Times: Feinstein defends herself amid new questions about her capabilities in Senate job.

Carl Hulse, The New York Times: With Ketanji Brown Jackson headed to the Supreme Court, new judicial battles loom.

2022 watch: To endorse, or not to endorse? That’s the question facing former President Trump after reports indicate that he could be set to back J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate GOP primary. 

NBC News reported on Thursday that Trump was on the verge of endorsing the “Hillbilly Elegy” author, news that erupted across the state as Josh Mandel and his supporters moved swiftly to try to put the kibosh on the former president’s plan. Headlining that outburst is a letter signed by more than three dozen Ohio county GOP chairs and state party central committee members begging Trump against endorsing Vance, pointing to his past anti-Trump statements. Sources indicate that the letter came about swiftly after the endorsement chatter emerged. 

“So where does that leave it? I don’t have any f—— idea and nobody knows s—,” one GOP operative with ties to Ohio told the Morning Report. 

When asked to sum up the situation, another GOP source involved in the race simply responded: “Chaos.”

Niall Stanage: The Memo: Democrats hope Trump will save them from midterm disaster.

The Hill: John Fetterman opens wide lead in Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary, GOP race split.

The Washington Post: Republican National Committee votes to withdraw from presidential debates commission.

Across the aisle, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is attempting to shore up his right flank on immigration this week with a visit to the border as he warns the Biden administration against ending Title 42 and says that they are unprepared for the looming surge of migrants once the policy ends in May. 

Speaking to reporters during his latest visit to the border this week, Kelly said that if that does not change, the situation is “going to be a crisis on top of a crisis.” As The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports, the Arizona Democrat is typically a reliable ally for Biden and has avoided the sort of backlash from fellow Democrats that has sparked talk of a primary challenge against Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who isn’t on the ballot until 2024.

Emily Brooks and Mike Lillis, The Hill: Immigration politics bedevil Dems ahead of planned border easing.

Finally, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday signed a 15-week abortion ban that does not include exceptions for incest, rape or human trafficking. The legislation mirrors a similar bill signed into law in Mississippi that is currently being argued over before the Supreme Court. Previously, Florida law permitted abortions up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy (The Hill).

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CORONAVIRUS:  💉 Healthy children ages 5 to 11 can safely receive a kid-size booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and increase their protection, the company said on Thursday as it seeks federal approval after a clinical trial. U.S. health authorities already urge everyone 12 and older to get one booster dose for the best protection against the newest variants of the coronavirus — and recently gave the option of a second booster to those 50 and older. While COVID-19 is a bigger threat to adults, youngsters can also get seriously ill. But regulators will have to decide if healthy elementary-age kids really need a booster, and if so, when (The Associated Press and The Hill).

The federal government’s COVID-19 public health emergency declared at the outset of the pandemic was to expire today but has been extended for another 90 days (The New York Times).

  Testing: The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized the first COVID-19 test that uses breath samples. The InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer test has to be done by a trained operator, but the FDA said it can provide a result in around three minutes (NBC News).

💲 Funding: Restaurants, gyms, assisted living facilities and other industries hit hardest by the pandemic are making one final push for federal relief money. Advocates scored a major win last week when the House passed a bill to provide $55 billion in aid to restaurants and other hard-hit businesses. But they acknowledge that the road ahead will be difficult; most Republicans have signaled opposition to additional COVID-19 aid for businesses (The Hill).

📚 Education: The many challenges posed by COVID-19 when it comes to classroom education continue to evolve. Although public and private schools reopened across the country, a surge in home schooling remains evident. In 18 states that shared data through the current school year, the number of home-schooled students increased by 63 percent in the 2020-2021 school year, then fell by only 17 percent in the 2021-2022 school year (The Associated Press). … Separately, universities and colleges have experienced rising COVID-19 infections this spring in some parts of the country and are taking precautions to try to hold down transmissions. Howard University in Washington, D.C., decided this week to shift to virtual classes (The Hill).

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 988,121. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 409, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


America needs a voice to reach the Russian people, by Jonathan Sweet, opinion contributor, The Hill.

Elon Musk knows exactly what he’s doing, by Kara Swisher, opinion writer, The New York Times. 


The House meets for a pro forma session on Monday at 1 p.m. Votes are not scheduled until after April 26.

The Senate convenes for a pro forma session on Monday at 4 p.m. Senators are in recess until April 25.

The president is at Camp David where he plans to spend Easter weekend with his family.

The vice president will hold a bilateral meeting with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan at 10:40 a.m.

📺 Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at, on YouTube and on Facebook at 10:30 a.m. ET. Also, check out the “Rising” podcast here.


TWITTER: Elon Musk and Twitter may or may not be a match. The Tesla CEO, who offered $43 billion to buy the company for $54.20 per share of Twitter’s stock (and already owns more than 9 percent of the company), told an audience Thursday in Vancouver, “I do think this will be somewhat painful, and I’m not sure that I will actually be able to, to acquire it,” adding he is not trying to take Twitter private for the economics. Speaking during a previously scheduled TED talk, Musk said he would like to see Twitter become an open-source platform and “an inclusive arena for free speech” (Vancouver Sun and The Hill). The billionaire innovator previously advocated a shake-up of Twitter revenue streams, including its subscription option known as Twitter Blue (Reuters). … To buy Twitter, Musk would need a massive loan or big Tesla stock sale (Bloomberg News).

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© Associated Press / Susan Walsh |Tesla CEO Elon Musk. 

CLIMATE CHANGE: Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, is preparing to leave a post created by the administration to coordinate its ambitious climate agenda, according to Reuters and The Washington Post. McCarthy has not yet set a date for her departure, but she is likely to be replaced by her deputy, Ali Zaidi. McCarthy, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration, joined a Biden team with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions but has had little success in persuading Congress to help the United States to meet reduction targets.

CITY WATCH: The man charged with shooting subway riders in Brooklyn on Tuesday was ordered held without bail on Thursday at his opening appearance in court. Frank James, 62, appeared in a Brooklyn federal court, where a prosecutor told a judge that the suspect terrified New York City by using smoke canisters and firing a handgun at crowds of passengers in the public transportation system, which left 10 people with gunshot wounds (The Associated Press).

  ECONOMY: Biden announced today he will nominate former Treasury Assistant Secretary Michael Barr to be vice chair for supervision at the Federal Reserve, a regulatory position with oversight of Wall Street and financial institutions.The president unsuccessfully attempted to fill the post with Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was opposed by Senate Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia before her withdrawal as the nominee (The New York Times). … Some experts believe a U.S. recession could be looming within the next two years, putting pressure on the Federal Reserve to take more significant action to help cool the economic engine and consumer demand (The Hill). The Fed is expected to increase interest rates next month with “methodical” hikes (Reuters). The question is how many increases and how aggressive each will be. One interesting discussion among economists and analysts is whether the central bank’s explicit target of 2 percent inflation is outdated under current inflationary conditions. 


And finally … 👏👏👏 Bravo to all the seaworthy winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz who knew (or Googled) trivia about the sinking 110 years ago of the RMS Titanic.  

🥇Expert puzzlers this week: Daniel Bachhuber, Blair Marasco, Candi Cee, Mary Anne McEnery, Howard McKeon, Shane Doucet, Ki Harvey, Randall S. Patrick, Richard Baznik, Terry Pflaumer, Harry Strulovici, Jonathan Scheff, Patrick Kavanagh, Stanley Wasser, John Donato, Kathleen A. Kovalik, Dan Fazio, Pam Manges, David E. Letostak, Lou Tisler, Pat Piper, Robert Bradley, Paul Harris, Len Jones, Ben Woodruff, Luther Berg, Joan Domingues, Jaina Mehta, Steve James and Jack Barshay.

Records show that 706 people survived the 1912 tragedy, which killed more than 1,500 men, women and children when the ship sank about two and a half hours after colliding with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.

Wallace Henry Hartley, 33, the Titanic’s bandleader who played the violin, perished with his fellow musicians when they continued to play for passengers as the Titanic sank.  

Millionaire passenger John Jacob Astor IV died in the Titanic disaster, but his young bride, Madeleine, survived after he put her on a lifeboat, making the correct answer to our reversal of the facts “false.”

Kate Winslet shot to stardom after portraying socialite Rose DeWitt Bukater, a character invented by director and screenwriter James Cameron, in “Titanic,” his Oscar-winning 1997 film.

© Associated Press / Lionel Cironneau | Mural in Cannes, France, 2009.

Morning Report journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected] Send us a message and/or SUBSCRIBE!

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