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Wake Up To Politics - February 17, 2022

Wake Up To Politics: The U.S. calls Russia’s bluff
Wake Up To Politics - February 17, 2022

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Thursday, February 17, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 264 days away. Election Day 2024 is 992 days away.

The Rundown

UKRAINE: The U.S. is pushing back on Russia’s claims that the country has withdrawn troops near Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC News on Wednesday that the U.S. had seen no evidence of a “meaningful pullback,” while a senior Biden administration official flatly told reporters that Russia’s claims were “false.”

  • In fact, the official told reporters, Russia has increased its presence on Ukraine’s borders “by as many as 7,000 troops” in recent days. NATO has echoed the American assessment: “We have not seen any de-escalation on the ground,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues its military buildup.”
  • Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defense ministry, army, and two largest banks were targeted in the largest cyberattack in Ukrainian history this week. Stoltenberg said that between the cyberattack and continuing troop buildup, Russia is taking “the kinds of actions and measures that we expect will come in advance of a bigger military intervention into Ukraine.”
  • Flashback: Back in 2008, Russia also announced it was withdrawing troops from its border with Georgia... eight days before invading the country, Insider notes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has disputed Russia’s claims of a troop withdrawal. State Department

CONGRESS: Two separate blow-ups over Biden nominees took place in the Senate on Wednesday. First, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) blocked six U.S. attorney nominees and two U.S. marshal nominees from advancing. He’s threatening to hold up the nominees until the Justice Department agrees to pay the legal bills of four federal officers being sued for their handling of Black Lives Matter protests in Portland in 2020.

  • U.S. attorney nominations are normally approved by voice vote: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Cotton would be forcing the first roll call vote for a federal prosecutor since 1975.
  • Also on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) announced that he would not return his “blue slip” for a federal district court nominee, despite previously supporting the pick. A “blue slip” is an indication of support from a senator for a judicial nominee who will have jurisdiction in their home state.
  • During the Trump era, Republicans ended the “blue slip” courtesy for federal appeals court nominees, but kept it in place for district court nominees. Democrats have signaled they plan to preserve the courtesy for district court picks, meaning the nominee Johnson objects to could become Biden’s first failed judicial pick.
Sen. Tom Cotton is holding up several Justice Department nominees. Michael Vadon

CORONAVIRUS: Biden administration health officials signaled Wednesday that they are preparing for a shift in federal Covid-19 guidance. “We’re moving toward a time when Covid isn’t a crisis, but is something we can protect against and treat,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a press briefing.

  • At the same briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky added that her agency is planning to issue revised masking guidelines later in February or in early March. “We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” she said.
  • On the local level: Residents of San Francisco overwhelmingly voted to recall three of the city’s school board members this week. Covid-era school closures were one of the issues that led to the recall, another sign of the political potency of education policy in the age of the pandemic.
Covid policies in schools have become a hot political issue. Allison Shelley / EDUImages

Legal Roundup

Each morning, WUTP’s team of contributors rotate to offer a briefing on the latest news in a different policy area. It’s Thursday, so Anna Salvatore is here with a look at the legal news to know this week:

Just a day after a federal judge said he would likely dismiss Sarah Palin’s libel lawsuit against the New York Times, the jury ruled unanimously against her on Tuesday. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, sued the Times after a 2017 opinion piece implied — without evidence — that her politically charged rhetoric had led to a mass shooting in Arizona that left six people dead. Even before the jury ruled against her, Judge Jed Rakoff indicated that Palin’s legal team had not produced enough evidence to prove the newspaper had defamed her.

In a landmark precedent from 1964 called New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that public figures must prove that a newspaper acted with “actual malice,” meaning that the paper either intentionally lied or acted recklessly in the publishing process. “The law sets a very high standard for actual malice,” said Judge Rakoff, “and in this case the court finds that standard has not been met.” Palin is expected to appeal.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin suffered a setback in her lawsuit against the New York Times. Gage Skidmore

Unless the California Supreme Court intervenes, UC Berkeley will have to freeze its enrollment levels this fall to comply with a court order. The university will reportedly offer admission to 5,100 fewer students, a tally which it claims will cost $57 million in lost revenue. A court ordered the admissions freeze after a lawsuit by Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, an environmental advocacy group, argued that UC Berkeley needed to study how its increasing student numbers impacted the city. The suit alleged, for example, that the university does not provide enough housing for its students, causing many of them to leave campus and exacerbate the city’s housing crisis.

According to a local news outlet, “UC Berkeley only houses 22% of its undergraduates and 9% of its graduate students — the lowest percentage in the UC system.” In a statement on Monday, the university decried the ruling, claiming that it “would have a devastating impact on…UC Berkeley’s ability to serve California students by meeting the enrollment targets set by the state.”

UC Berkley will have to admit fewer students after a legal battle. Charlie Nguyen

Families of Sandy Hook victims reached a $73 million settlement on Tuesday with Remington Arms, the manufacturer of the semi-automatic rifle used in the 2012 massacre. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four children and five adults killed that day, reportedly “sought to hold the gun company responsible for ‘reckless marketing’ of the .223 caliber Bushmaster XM15 rifle that the Sandy Hook killer used.” Tuesday’s settlement came after seven years of negotiation and two separate Remington bankruptcies.

It is the first time a gun manufacturer has been held liable for a mass shooting in U.S. history.


All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 8:30 a.m. He will then travel to Cleveland, Ohio, at 9:10 a.m. for an event promoting the bipartisan infrastructure law. At 10:40 a.m., Biden will touch down in Cleveland. At 12:15 p.m., he will deliver remarks on infrastructure. Biden will depart Cleveland at 1:45 p.m. and return to the White House at 3:15 p.m.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will depart Washington, D.C., for Munich, Germany, at 7:30 a.m. Harris is leading the U.S. delegation to the Munich Security Conference, an annual diplomatic gathering, which the Washington Post is calling “the biggest international stage of her vice presidency.”
  • White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Cleveland.

The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. and resume consideration of H.R. 6617, the continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding through March 11. Negotiations are underway to strike an agreement to fast-track the CR by unanimous consent; if no deal is reached, the Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote at 1 p.m. to advance the measure.

The CR has already been passed by the House; if the Senate does not approve the measure by the end of the day on Friday, the government will shut down.

  • The Senate Banking, House, and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the state of the American economy.
  • The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the IRS tax return backlog and customer service complaints against the agency.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10:15 a.m. on the gaps in America’s biosecurity preparedness.

The House is not in session.

  • The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the rise in violence against minority institutions.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing at 11:30 a.m. on the state of mental health in the U.S.
  • The House Administration Committee will hold a hearing at 3 p.m. on the U.S. Capitol Police inspector general’s review of the security response to the January 6 attack.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe