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Wake Up To Politics - February 24, 2021

An exciting announcement
Wake Up To Politics - February 24, 2021

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, February 24, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 622 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,350 days away.

Let’s start this morning off with an exciting announcement...

From the Editor’s Desk

At the beginning of this year, I shared a few resolutions with all of you about what I hoped to offer in Wake Up To Politics in 2021, the year this newsletter will turn 10 years old.

One was to respond to what my readers were curious about by answering more of your questions — you may have noticed me doing that recently in the “Ask Gabe” section. Two others were to feature more work from other young journalists and to become even more indispensable to you as you seek to stay informed about the most important news facing our country and world.

Today, I’m excited to share some news about how Wake Up To Politics is growing and expanding to meet those second two goals. To complement my daily writings on the White House, Congress, and the broader political scene, I’ll be bringing in a rotating team of correspondents to help keep you up to speed about other specific subject areas, each on a weekly basis. My hope is that these weekly features will help inform you not just about the politics of Washington, but also other news you might not be as tuned into — from foreign policy to economics to local and state governments.

The first of those weekly roundups will be today, as Oxford University senior Miles Hession shares three important stories on global politics from this week. International news plays a huge role in our domestic politics, but often doesn’t get the coverage it deserves — in this newsletter and elsewhere. I’m hoping to change that by featuring Miles’ updates for you every Wednesday.

On Thursdays, you’ll get updates from a familiar name: rising Princeton freshman Anna Salvatore, who has been contributing the summaries of Supreme Court oral arguments in “Daybook” for some time now. In addition to those summaries, she will also be offering a weekly roundup of legal news, to keep you up-to-date on the latest rulings from the Supreme Court and other judges, as well as other important legal developments that intersect with the world of politics.

I’m confident that you will find their weekly briefings to be valuable additions to your news diet, while staying true to the WUTP format of concise writing that doesn’t sacrifice context. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, and want to support these contributions from other young journalists, it’s always appreciated when you donate, buy merchandise, or encourage your friends to subscribe at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you’re a young journalist who’s interested in joining the Wake Up To Politics news team, send me an email any time.

And now: today’s political news, from America — and across the globe...

Biden nominees face Senate scrutiny

Two more Biden Cabinet nominees were confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

But even with those additions, President Biden continues to lag behind his predecessors in confirmations: only nine of the 23 Cabinet or Cabinet-level posts that require confirmation have been approved by the Senate, leaving Biden without more than 60% of his Cabinet after more than a month in office.

And while most of Biden’s picks have so far received bipartisan support — on average, they’ve been confirmed with 82 votes — the next round of nominees is generating more controversy on both sides of the aisle:

Neera Tanden. A longtime Democratic operative and president of the Center for American Progress, Tanden has been nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget. She has come under scrutiny for her years of scorching tweets, many of them attacking the same Republican senators whose support she is now courting.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a centrist who is considered among the most powerful members of the 50-50 Senate, announced last week that he would oppose Tanden’s nomination because of her “overly partisan statements.” Without Manchin’s pivotal support, Tanden’s nomination is doomed unless she can persuade at least one Republican senator to back her. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) soon indicated their opposition as well, leaving Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as the lone GOP moderate who could potentially save Tanden from becoming Biden’s first Cabinet defeat.

Tanden was expected to face votes today in two Senate committees (Budget and Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs), which would offer a sign of how much Democratic support she has. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), a moderate who sits on the Homeland Security panel, has yet to indicate if she will join her ally Manchin in opposition; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who chairs the Budget panel, has also not announced his position on Tanden.

Sanders and Tanden have battled in the past; on Tuesday, the Vermont progressive became the first member of the Democratic caucus to oppose a Biden nominee on the floor when he voted against Vilsack. (It is unclear if Sanders’ Budget panel will move forward with the scheduled vote on Tanden; the Homeland Security panel postponed its vote this morning.)

Neera Tanden at her Senate hearing. (Photo: Pool/Getty Images)

Deb Haaland and Xavier Becerra. Two other Biden domestic policy nominees are facing resistance as they make their way through the Senate. Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman, has been tapped to be Secretary of Interior; Becerra, the California attorney general, is the pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Republicans have sought to paint both as too radical for the positions: Haaland for her opposition to new oil and gas drilling leases on federal land and support of the Green New Deal, and Becerra for his positions on abortion and expanding health care access for undocumented immigrants.

The two nominees both faced grillings in Senate committees on Tuesday. They will return for repeat performances today, with Haaland facing a second day of questioning from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Becerra appearing before the Finance Committee.

While they have supported most of his Cabinet nominees up until this point, Republicans are expected to oppose Haaland and Becerra in greater numbers. But, as with Tanden, the real test of their viability will be from their own party, since one Democrat can sink their nominations if they receive unanimous GOP opposition in the tied Senate.

A spokesperson for Manchin, the perpetually crucial swing vote, has told reporters that he is undecided on Becerra and Haaland.

One more thing to watch in the Senate today: According to the New York Times, Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough could decide as early as today whether the $15-an-hour minimum wage increase can be included in Biden’s coronavirus relief package under the Senate’s Byrd Rule.

Meanwhile, Biden’s package is making its way through the lower chamber: it was approved by the House Budget Committee on Monday and will be voted on by the full House on Friday. The legislation is expected not to receive any Republican support on the floor.

The proposal that is slated to be voted on in the House later this week would boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $11 an hour by 2022, then to $12.50 an hour by 2023, $14 by 2024, and finally $15 in 2025. If MacDonough rules that the wage hike cannot be included in the final bill, it will require the House to vote again after the Senate to approve the Senate version and could imperil progressive support of the legislation.

Global RoundupContributed by Miles Hession

The Iranian government rebuked the Biden administration’s early attempts to renew the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, signaling that only a complete withdrawal of Trump-era sanctions would bring them to the table. The Biden administration had offered concessions in response to Iranian threats to prevent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from entering the country’s nuclear facilities, a key stipulation of the 2015 agreement. The Iranian government still partially carried out those threats by restricting the ability of IAEA inspectors in their nuclear sites. Though not an outright ban, the Iranian government has made clear that the U.S. must offer more before it would strictly adhere to the 2015 arrangement that sought to limit the scope of its nuclear program and capabilities.

The future of the talks, which would be brokered by the EU, remains up in the air as the U.S. decides how best to respond. Though the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, seems supportive of the previous framework, ultimately the final decision rests with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With the Iranian presidential elections set to take place in June, Rouhani is under pressure to act quickly or risk being replaced by a hardliner that would reject any agreement.

The European Union has announced sanctions against Russian officials following a Russian court’s rejection of political prisoner Alexei Navalny’s final appeal. Navalny, a leader of the opposition party Russia of the Future and an anti-corruption activist, was arrested in January in what was widely seen as an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to neutralize a potent political adversary. Navalny had returned to Russia after recovering from a nearly lethal poisoning by a nerve agent which many have blamed on the Kremlin. The BBC describes Navalny as “the only opposition leader in Russia capable of bringing large crowds onto the streets nationwide”; indeed, mass protests erupted following his arrest as international outcry poured in.

The EU announced limited sanctions on key Russian officials on Monday, following a “disastrous” trip to Moscow by EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell, which ended with talks stalled and Russia expelling three EU diplomats. According to the Washington Post, the Biden administration is also preparing its own sanctions against Russia for the Navalny poisoning and the SolarWinds cyber hack.

Alexei Navalny in court. (Photo: AP)

The pro-democracy Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in Myanmar continues to grow as international pressure mounts on the military regime that grabbed power in a February 1 coup. Despite threats of lethal force from the ruling junta, CDM protestors remained undeterred as businesses and factories across the country shuttered in response to a growing nationwide strike. The ruling junta has continued to cut internet services and has increased violent means to disrupt protests culminating in the threat of lethal force last Sunday. A trial has started against Aung San Suu Kyi, the popular state counselor and Nobel laureate arrested during the coup.

Much of the international community has condemned the coup and the new military government, with the UN special envoy threatening the Myanmar military with “severe consequences” should they infringe on the right to protest. The Biden administration, joined by the United Kingdom, Canada, and the EU, has unveiled new sanctions targeting the military leaders responsible for the coup. Traditional allies of the military government, such as China and Russia, have criticized the international outcry as interference into the nation’s “internal affairs.”


All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Then, at 2 p.m., he will meet with a bipartisan group of House and Senate members to discuss U.S. supply chains. At 4:15 p.m., he will sign an executive order to review vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains in four industries: pharmaceuticals, rare earth minerals, semiconductor chips, and large-capacity batteries.

According to Axios, Biden also plans to call King Salman of Saudi Arabia today, ahead of the expected Thursday release of a report that is set to tie his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Vice President Kamala Harris will ceremonially swear in UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at 12:35 p.m., before joining Biden for his meeting with lawmakers and executive order signing. At 6:15 p.m., she will ceremonially swear in Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a virtual ceremony.  

First Lady Jill Biden will visit the Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Virginia, at 3 p.m. to “meet with scientists, researchers and community leaders to learn more about their collective work to foster more inclusive cancer research, improve access to cancer care, and build more awareness around prevention efforts.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m. with Sameera Fazili, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, and Peter Harrell, the senior director for international economics and competitiveness at the National Security Council.

U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m. to “provide updates on the COVID-19 response effort.” Participants will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will begin consideration of the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be Secretary of Energy. The Senate will recess from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. for an all-senators briefing on Capitol security measures. After returning, the chamber will hold a procedural vote to advance Granholm’s nomination.

The House will convene at 10 a.m. for “morning hour,” when 15 members from each party will have time to deliver one-minute speeches. The House will move to legislative business at 12 p.m. and begin consideration of H.Res. 147, the rule that will set up votes later in the week on H.R. 5 (the Equality Act) and H.R. 803 (the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act).

The chamber is also expected to vote on H.R. 546 (the Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act) and H.R. 1192 (the Puerto Rico Recovery Accuracy in Disclosures Act); both votes will be held under “suspension of the rules” after being postponed from Tuesday.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments at 10 a.m. in Lange v. California.

“Police officers generally have to obtain a search warrant if they want to enter your home. In emergency situations when officers are in pursuit of a suspect, they can enter without one,” WUTP legal contributor Anna Salvatore writes. “This morning, the Supreme Court will consider whether it also counts as an ‘emergency’ when police are trailing someone whom they suspect of committing a misdemeanor. The dispute in the case arose when police followed a California man all the way into his garage after he was listening to too-loud music in traffic.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to be Director of the CIA.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to hold the second day of its confirmation hearings on the nomination of New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. to “review legislative proposals to place the Postal Service on a more sustainable financial footing.” Witnesses will include Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Ron Bloom.

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on “monetary policy and the state of the economy.” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. to consider “the need for new lower court judgeships.”

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing at 12:30 p.m. on “traditional media’s role in promoting disinformation and extremism.” Witnesses will include news anchor Soledad O’Brien and law professor Jonathan Turley.

The Senate Finance Committee will meet at 2 p.m. to hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. on domestic terrorism in America and “the federal law enforcement’s failure to adequately address the rise of white supremacy and right-wing extremism.” Witnesses will include counterterrorism expert Malcolm Nance (for the Democrats) and conservative journalist Andy Ngo (for the Republicans).

The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. to vote on the nomination of Isabel Gusman, the director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate, to be Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

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