by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Monday, January 31, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 281 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,009 days away.
Inside the U.S. response to Russia-Ukraine
The global community remains on edge as the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine lingers in the air. Here’s the latest you should know:
→ On the ground. U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned on Friday that the 100,000 troops Russia has assembled at Ukraine’s borders would be enough to launch a full-scale invasion “with very little warning.” Such an invasion would be “horrific,” Milley added, and would “result in a significant amount of casualties.”
- Russia’s buildup reportedly includes supplies of blood to be used for wounded soldiers, as well as moving troops across Belarus to Ukraine’s largely undefended northern border. “I think you’d have to go back quite a while to the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude,” Milley said.
→ Divide between allies. As the U.S. sounds the alarm over a possible invasion, Ukraine’s own president is calling for calm. Volodymyr Zelensky, the comedian turned Ukrainian leader, said Friday it is “not the case” that war is imminent. Per NBC News, Ukraine has not tested its emergency response systems or called up its military reserves, a lax response to the situation that has earned comparisons to the Netflix film “Don’t Loop Up.”
- Tensions have reportedly grown between President Joe Biden and Zelensky as the Ukrainian president has increased his public criticism of the Western response and urged the U.S. to impose preemptive sanctions against Russia rather than wait for a possible invasion.
→ Preparing for sanctions. Per the New York Times, the package of sanctions being planned by the Biden administration would target Russia’s largest banks. “No nation has ever tried to enact broad sanctions against such large financial institutions and on an economy the size of Russia’s,” the Times reported, adding that the sanctions could lead to “financial panic” within Russia — and could have larger consequences threatening the stability of the global economy.
- In a joint interview on CNN on Sunday, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID) said they were closing in on a bipartisan package to impose additional sanctions on Russia. Their legislation is slated to include some punishments that would go into effect in the event of an invasion and others that would be immediate.
→ Happening today: The United Nations Security Council will hold a special meeting on the Russia-Ukraine situation. The U.S. requested the session, which is unlikely to lead to any formal action, considering Russia is one of five countries that wields veto powers on the body. Russia is slated to assume the presidency of the Security Council, which rotates between members each month, on Tuesday.
News from other global hotspots this weekend:
- North Korea tests longest-range missile since 2017” Associated Press
- “China’s ambassador to the U.S. warns of ‘military conflict’ over Taiwan” NPR
- “As hunger spreads in Afghanistan, hospitals fill with premature, dying babies” Wall Street Journal
- “U.S. allies retake control of prison in Syria, subduing ISIS fighters” New York Times
- “Iran nuclear talks enter ‘final stage’ ” Politico Europe
- “U.S. to block millions for Egypt over human rights” CNN
— Former President Donald Trump suggested at a rally on Saturday that if he is elected to a second term in 2024, he would pardon defendants associated with the January 6 riot. He also called for “the biggest protest we have ever had” if he is indicted by any of the prosecutors indicting him.
— Trump also weighed in on the push to reform the Electoral Count Act, issuing a statement Sunday openly proclaiming that he encouraged then-Vice President Mike Pence to “overturn” the 2020 election.
— Democrats have long decried dark money and gerrymandering, but now they are weaponizing both. Per the New York Times, Democratic dark money groups outraised compared Republican groups in 2020; meanwhile, Democratic state legislators in New York released a congressional redistricting map on Sunday that would give their party as many as three additional House seats.
— As Democratic and Republican senators spar over President Biden’s pledge to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court, one potential nominee has generated bipartisan praise. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CBS News on Sunday that U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs is “fair-minded,” “highly gifted,” and “qualified by every measure.” The White House has confirmed Childs is under consideration for the Supreme Court seat; a South Carolina native, the jurist is also being promoted by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a leading Biden ally.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell hinted last week that the Fed will start raising interest rates in March, hoping to tame inflation. A higher Fed interest rate means all interest rates increase, making it harder for consumers to borrow and slowing down economic activity. With inflation so high, the rates hike would signal that the Fed views the economy as growing too fast and in need of cooling down.
- “I think there’s quite a bit of room to raise interest rates without threatening the labor market,” Powell said, hours before the stock market fell on the news. The Fed has not raised interest rates since the beginning of the pandemic.
The U.S. economy grew by 6.9% in the fourth quarter of 2021, despite the impact of the Omicron variant. Estimates expected a 5.5% rise in the annual rate, meaning the report beat predictions. The 6.9% rise is the best since the third quarter of 2020, when GDP sky-rocketed 33.8% after shutdowns that occurred in the second quarter. For the year overall, the economy expanded by 5.7%, after contracting 3.5% in 2020.
- President Biden used the figures to tout his economic policies and say that they are working. But problems still remain in the economy: While GDP alone surpassed its pre-pandemic trend last quarter, inflation-adjusted figures still remain below it. And a clogged supply chain is only hindering the extent of growth.
Despite the GDP figures, consumer confidence weakened in January. University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey had a reading of 67.2 in the month, down 4.8% compared to December and the lowest level since November 2011.
- Other surveys don’t show as bleak a picture. Morning Consult’s consumer confidence index shows figures above the spring 2020 trough, but still significantly below the pre-Delta variant peak in the summer of last year.
Setting the record straight: Last Thursday’s newsletter incorrectly stated the circuit court Stephen Breyer served on before joining the Supreme Court. It was the First Circuit.
Last Wednesday’s newsletter imprecisely described an article in The Atlantic about a rare brain mutation. To clarify, the mutation is generally not discovered until adulthood, which increases the likelihood that patients have already had children, thereby passing the mutation on and allowing it to spread. I highly recommend the article!
My apologies for these errors and my thanks to the readers who flagged them.
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m., meet with the National Governors Association at 11 a.m., and meet with Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir (head of state) of Qatar at 2 p.m.
- Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his 11 a.m. meeting with the nation’s governors.
- First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will host an event for the National Governors Association spouses at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts at 9:45 a.m.
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m.The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and resume consideration of the nomination of Bridget Meehan to be a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District. At 5:30 p.m., the chamber will hold a cloture vote to advance Meehan’s nomination.
The House is not in session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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