5 min read

Biden vs. uncommitted

President Biden’s biggest rival on the Michigan primary ballot is “none of the above.”
Biden vs. uncommitted
Rep. Rashida Tlaib calling for an Israel-Hamas ceasefire in front of the White House. (Tlaib’s office)

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, February 27, 2024. Election Day is 252 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

1. Big Four to the White House

The four top congressional leaders — House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) — are headed to the White House today to sit down with President Biden at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

The meeting comes as Washington is, once again, on the brink of a shutdown — although, this time, only a partial one. Under the two-tiered framework envisioned by Johnson, funding for about 20% of the government is set to expire at the end of the day Friday; the rest of the government is funded through March 8.

The first deadline would impact the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs. Here’s the Washington Post with the consequences:

Even a partial shutdown would trouble federal food assistance programs — including WIC, an emergency nutrition program for women, infants and children that is already contending with a budget shortfall. Air traffic controllers would remain on the job, but would go unpaid. Federal housing vouchers, which support 5 million families, could be temporarily endangered. Government scientists would stop tracing and studying animal-borne diseases.

Lawmakers had hoped to release full funding bills for these programs this weekend, but snags remain over various policy riders being pushed by House Republicans. Schumer and McConnell have united against these riders, but it is unclear if Johnson will relent.

At any rate, it is probably too late for the funding bills to pass before the Friday deadline, meaning lawmakers will likely have to approve another stopgap continuing resolution — the fourth this fiscal year — to avoid a partial shutdown.

2. Biden’s Great Lakes test

A lot of ink has been spilled over the last few days about whether former President Donald Trump’s showings in recent Republican primaries — including his 60-40 finish in South Carolina over the weekend — offer warning signs for the general election.

Now, it’s Biden’s turn for a key primary to test his general election coalition. In today’s Michigan primary, Biden faces only token opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), who barely campaigned in the state. His real rival is “uncommitted,” essentially a none-of-the-above option on the ballot.

Arab-American leaders in the state, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Dearborn mayor Abdullah Hammoud, have urged Democrats to pick “uncommitted” in the primary as a protest vote against Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

Tonight’s results will be closely parsed to see how many votes “uncommitted” receives — an early sign of how big a problem the war in Gaza will be for Biden in November. Michigan is home to about 211,000 Arab-Americans; Biden won the state by 154,000 votes in 2020.

3. Is a ceasefire coming?

As Biden faces his first electoral test tied to the Israel-Hamas war, he signaled yesterday that a pause in the fighting could be near. “My national security adviser tells me that we’re close, we’re close,” Biden told reporters Monday as he bought ice cream with Seth Meyers. “It’s not done yet. And my hope is that, by next Monday, we’ll have a ceasefire.”

In his appearance on Meyers’ NBC show last night, Biden elaborated: “Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out.”

Negotiators from the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar are working to finalize a ceasefire agreement that would halt fighting for several weeks, while Hamas releases dozens of Israeli hostages and Israel releases some amount of Palestinian prisoners. The negotiators have been hoping to seal a deal by the beginning of Ramadan, which will be around March 10, although Israel has not publicly confirmed Biden’s statement that they have promised to cease fighting during the Muslim holy month.

Related: “Hamas leader hiding in Gaza, but killing him risks hostages, officials say” (WaPo)... “Palestinian PM resigns as pressure grows over post-war Gaza plans” (Reuters)

4. Trump’s GOP takeover

Trump’s rapid takeover of the Republican Party continues apace. Per the New York Times, backchannel talks have commenced between Trump and McConnell allies for the long-serving Senate GOP leaders to endorse the former president’s campaign.

The two men worked together closely during Trump’s presidency, but they haven’t spoken since December 2020. Since then, McConnell has repeatedly blamed Trump for the January 6th riot, while Trump has labeled McConnell “Old Crow” and his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, “Coco Chow.”

McConnell’s endorsement would be perhaps the final sign of the old-line Republican establishment — again — falling behind Trump. Meanwhile, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel announced Monday that she will step down on March 8, after Trump called on her to do so. North Carolina GOP chairman Michael Whatley, Trump’s pick to succeed McDaniel, announced his campaign for the post this morning.

More news to know.

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden and Vice President Harris will meet with the “Big Four” congressional leaders at 11:30 a.m. ET. Later, Biden and Harris will have lunch together and receive their daily intelligence briefing.

Congress: The Senate is set to hold confirmation votes for two district judge nominees and for Hampton Dellinger, who has been nominated to serve as head of the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates government corruption. The House is on recess until tomorrow.

Supreme Court: The justices will hear oral arguments in McIntosh v. United States and Cantero v. Bank of America.

Before I go...

Last week, I wrote a piece about how Donald Trump’s isolationism is and isn’t unique in U.S. history.

The piece quoted repeatedly from George Washington’s 1796 farewell address, which I also noted is read in the Senate each year around Presidents’ Day.

Well, this year’s reading was yesterday — so I figured I’d share a video in case anyone was interested in watching this piece of history.

The Senate reading of Washington’s farewell address is a tradition dating back to 1862, in the midst of the Civil War. Each year, a senator — alternating by party — is chosen to read the address. That senator then inscribes their name in a ceremonial book that has been kept since 1900.

The late Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), after reading the address in 1956, said that the farewell address “gives one a renewed sense of pride in our republic. It arouses the wholesome and creative emotions of patriotism and love of country.”

This year’s reader was Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). You can watch him deliver the address below:

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— Gabe