Good morning! It’s Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 510 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,238 days away.
Leading today’s newsletter: Everything you need to know as Biden and Putin sit down together in Geneva.
Further down: A behind-the-scenes look at what’s being talked about on Capitol Hill, from my day of reporting there on Tuesday.
Biden, Putin sit down for high-stakes summit
As this newsletter is being sent out, President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are behind closed doors together in Geneva, Switzerland, for hours of bilateral meetings.
The summit is a highly anticipated showdown between two veterans of the world stage.
Biden has spent much of his trip to Europe — his first foreign voyage as president — shoring up relationships with America’s top allies. But it has largely been preparation for the meeting with Putin, hoping to demonstrate a united front among the world’s democracies as he faces an increasingly authoritarian leader.
According to CNN, Biden has also been preparing “intensely” for the Putin meeting behind the scenes, using time away from his other meetings to plan out the summit with aides. A large circle of experts was brought in to help brief Biden ahead of the summit, Axios reported, including alumni of both the Obama and Trump administrations.
Biden is expected to press Putin on a range of hot-button issues, including:
- Russian-linked ransomware attacks targeting American business and efforts to interfere in American elections
- Human rights abuses and Putin’s targeting of his rivals, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny
- Increasing Russian aggression toward Ukraine
- Russia’s relationship with China
- The possibility of future talks on nuclear arms control
The summit will include up to five hours of meetings between the two leaders. The first meeting will be just Biden, Putin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in addition to interpreters. Two additional meetings will include larger delegations from both sides.
The setting for the summit is Villa La Grange, an 18th-century Swiss mansion nestled by Lake Geneva.
After the meetings have wrapped up, Putin will hold a solo press conference, followed by Biden. According to the New York Times, the Biden administration pushed for the two leaders not to hold a joint press conference, unlike past Russian and American presidents.
Biden’s team reportedly wanted to avoid a spectacle similar to former President Donald Trump’s joint press conference with Putin after their 2018 summit in Helsinki, when Trump publicly sided with Putin against his own intelligence officials.
Today’s summit is a pivotal moment for both leaders. For Putin, it is an opportunity to gain the respect of the West — which he has long sought — and finally thaw Russia’s deteriorating relations with the United States.
For Biden, the meeting is the physical manifestation of a theme that he has been emphasizing for his entire presidency: the clash between democracy and authoritarianism.
“I have met with him [in the past]. He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden said of Putin earlier this week. “And I have found that he is, as they used to say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.”
Reporters’s Notebook: What the Hill is talking about
With Covid restrictions lifting, I was finally able to cover Congress in-person on Tuesday. Here’s the first installment in what will hopefully be a regular feature, taking you behind the scenes of the Capitol and sharing what I see and hear:
WASHINGTON — “It’s good to be back with all of you,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday, looking around at the large assembly of reporters hanging on his every word. “And when I say all of you, I mean it!”
Schumer had just returned from the Senate Democratic Caucus’ first in-person meeting in their pre-pandemic location, the elegant Mansfield Room. After months of running on a rotating pool system, a full array of journalists (myself included) were able to cover Schumer’s remarks and jostle to ask him questions. Lawmakers no longer had to wear masks, after a rules change this week.
The Capitol was back.
Here are the main issues lawmakers were focused on throughout the day:
Infrastructure. A bipartisan group of senators — five Democrats and five Republicans — are closing in on an infrastructure deal. The GOP negotiators briefed Senate Republicans during their caucus meeting on Tuesday; afterwards, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters to “put me down as listening and hopeful.”
The real problems might be coming from the Democratic side, as several progressive senators threaten to oppose the bipartisan deal if it is not followed by a reconciliation package that addresses climate change and their other priorities.
Schumer told reporters that Democrats were taking a “two-path” strategy on infrastructure and promised that he would pursue reconciliation as the second path. While he said he would like a bipartisan deal for the first path, the New York Democrat added that “it won’t be enough on climate, it won’t be enough on revenues, it won’t be enough on human infrastructure.”
Voting rights. Democrats are continuing to push for the For the People Act, their expansive democracy reform package, even after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) doomed the measure by announcing his opposition
The big guests on Capitol Hill on Tuesday were a group of Democrats from the Texas state legislature, who arrived as conquering heroes (among their own party, that is) after blocking a Republican bill to overhaul election laws in the state last month.
Schumer hosted the Texans at the Senate Democratic lunch — although many reporters were buzzing about the fact that Manchin was not present to hear their case. Later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hailed the Texans as “American patriots” at a press conference she held with them outside the Capitol. (“I came to hear” from them, she said after brief confusion about who was to speak first.)
The Texas legislators reported at the press conference that they had not seen Manchin, but had received an audience with his chief of staff. “I left there with hope and inspiration and an offer to come back there and meet again,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-TX) told reporters.
Meanwhile, during their post-caucus press conference, several of the Senate Republican leaders dismissed the Democratic focus on voting rights and urged Schumer to move on to other issues. “There will not be a single Republican who supports” the For the People Act, McConnell vowed
January 6. Pelosi began the day by meeting with a group of committee chairs to discuss how to move forward with investigating the January 6 attack, after the Senate blocked her initial plan to create an independent, bipartisan commission.
No decision was made at the meeting. “To be determined,” Pelosi told reporters afterwards.
Later, the House voted on a resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the police officers who responded to the January attack. Reporters gathered in the press gallery to watch the vote; at the end, the number that kept being murmured about was “21,” the count of House Republicans who opposed the measure.
Multiple reporters expressed surprise to me that so many lawmakers voted against awarding a medal to those who had protected them just a few months earlier
Coronavirus. While the threat of Covid was no longer visible from a walk down the Capitol halls — a far cry from the last time I was there, in September, when everyone was masked and the emptiness of the building felt almost eerie — there was still some talk of the pandemic on Tuesday.
But, in a turn of events, it didn’t come from the Democrats (some of whom were still clad in face masks, even though they were vaccinated and it was no longer required by the Capitol physician), but from a group of lawmakers who have mostly dismissed the virus.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and band of fellow Republicans held a press conference to promote their “Fire Fauci Act,” which would not actually fire the infectious disease expert but would downgrade his salary to $0. The group stood next to a poster that declared “Fauci lied. People died.” (More than one reporter snickered as a staffer brought it in.)
During the press conference, Greene called for an investigation into Fauci’s actions during the pandemic and for a more general probe into the origins of the virus — although she also went ahead and asserted that Covid was “very much a man-made virus made in a lab,” seemingly not waiting for the results of that investigation.
I caught up with Grenee as she left the presser and asked whether she had conclusive evidence for that claim, since experts have said the origins of the virus remain an open question. “I’m calling for conclusive evidence,” she said, adding that “everyone is saying” that it is man-made.
When I asked her to name who “everyone” was, Greene referred to “defectors” from China, before walking off with an aide. “Do your homework,” she told me as her staffer informed me that she wouldn’t be taking any further questions.
What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)
President Joe Biden is in Geneva, Switzerland, for the final leg of his trip to Europe. At 3:30 a.m., he received his daily intelligence briefing. At 7:10 a.m., he was greeted by Swiss President Guy Parmelin. At 7:25 a.m., he took a welcome photo with Parmelin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At 7:35 a.m., Biden held a bilateral meeting with Putin. At 8:55 a.m., he will hold an expanded bilateral meeting with Putin, followed by another expanded bilateral meeting at 10:40 a.m. After the summit is over, Biden will hold a solo press conference and then return to Washington, D.C.
— Vice President Kamala Harris will hold a meeting at 11:15 a.m. with Democratic members of the Texas legislature who blocked passage of a Republican voting bill last month.
The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. The chamber will hold a cloture vote at around 11:30 a.m. to advance the nomination of Radhika Fox to be an Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), followed by a cloture vote to advance the nomination of Lydia Kay Griggsby to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Maryland.
If the cloture votes are successful, the Senate will hold confirmation votes at 3:15 p.m. on both nominations.
— Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request at 10 a.m.
— U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton will testify before the Senate Rules Committee on the January 6 attack at 2:15 p.m.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. The chamber will hold an hour of debate on H.R. 1187, the ESG Disclosure Simplification Act, followed by a vote on amendments to the bill and then on the bill itself.
— UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “the Biden administration’s priorities for engagement with the United Nations” at 10 a.m.
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