by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Thursday, March 17, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 236 days away. Election Day 2024 is 964 days away.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! ☘️
Three weeks of war
Today marks exactly three weeks since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched the largest European land war in decades with his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Here’s where things stand:
Russia remains stymied in its goals. The major story of the war continues to be Ukraine’s surprising success (at least for now) in combatting much of Russia’s advances. In 21 days of fighting, Russia — home to the world’s fifth-largest military — has managed to capture only one major city, Kherson. The Ukrainian forces have held the Russians off from capturing Kyiv, the capital city, or from achieving air superiority over Ukraine’s skies.
According to the New York Times, U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that more than 7,000 Russian troops have been killed so far in the war — “greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.” Four Russian generals have been reported dead in the last three weeks. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts,” the British Defense Ministry says, making “minimal progress on land, sea, or air in recent days.”
However, Russia’s failures has only made its tactics more barbarous. The stories from just the past few days are brutal: the pregnant woman whose image went viral, only to die with her baby after a maternity hospital bombing; the 10 people in line waiting for bread, shot dead by Russian troops; the theater clearly marked as sheltering children, hit by a Russian airstrike.
In total, at least 726 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the war began, according to the UN. Upwards of 1,000 more have been reported wounded, with officials acknowledging that the actual figures are likely “considerably higher.” More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the country, quickly creating what UN officials have called the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Hundreds have been arrested in Russia for participating in anti-war protests, including a journalist who interrupted Russian state TV’s evening news show with chants of “stop the war.”
Ukraine is requesting more help from the West. In the early days of the invasion, European foreign policy was overhauled in a matter of hours as traditionally war-averse countries joined the U.S. and other allies in slapping sanctions on Russia and offering aid to Ukraine’s resistance.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has lately appeared virtually before several allied legislatures, asking for additional assistance as the war drags on. Zelensky, who has been hailed as a hero across the globe for his wartime leadership, offered his emotional appeal to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday.
“Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace,” he urged President Biden in the speech, clad in the green t-shirt that has become his signature. Zelensky called on the U.S. to enforce a no-fly zone above Ukraine and to transfer fighter jets to his military. Although Biden announced more than $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, he resisted both of those steps, saying they could lead to a conflict between Russian and American troops that could spiral into nuclear war.
Russia, meanwhile, has looked to China for assistance as most of the rest of the world has moved to isolate Moscow economically. Biden will speak to Chinese president Xi Jinping on Friday, the White House announced this morning.
There is a glimmer of hope that peace talks could prevail. Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in negotiations for weeks, and the Financial Times reported Wednesday that a draft 15-point peace plan has been drawn up. Under the tentative plan, Russia would withdraw its troops and declare a ceasefire if Ukraine declares “neutrality” and pledges not to join NATO or host foreign military bases.
Ukraine would also have to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the independence of two breakaway republics in the Donbas region, a major sticking point.
Zelensky has expressed optimism about the peace talks, although per Axios, Ukrainian officials fear that “Moscow’s newfound enthusiasm for diplomacy is a ruse.” Meanwhile, Russian troops ominously continue to encircle Kyiv; according to Puck News, “military experts are predicting that a battle for the city would be the largest urban battle in history, dwarfing the battles for Aleppo, Grozny, and even Stalingrad.”
And so, as the Washington Post put it, Ukraine’s war of “attrition” marches on, as the country’s forces vie to “slow and wear down the Russian military,” aiming to buy time for negotiations, sanctions, and low troop morale to push Putin towards a ceasefire.
Here’s what happened yesterday.
- The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday for the first time in more than three years. The Fed approved a 0.25 percentage point hike to its federal funds rate, and set plans for six more increases by the end of the year.
- The federal funds rate is the interest rate at which banks lend money to each other, and it influences interest rates for credit cards, cars, student loans, and other forms of borrowing. If these rates go up, the Fed hopes demand for goods will go down, and that the record-high price increases will tick downwards as well.
- Stocks jumped up after the Fed’s announcement, adding with a rally on Tuesday to make for the “best two days for the S&P 500 since April 2020,” according to the New York Times.CORONAVIRUS
- White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients will step down from his post next month, President Biden announced this morning.
- In a statement thanking Zients for his service, Biden announced that his new “Covid czar” would be Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Jha has been an outspoken voice across several media outlets commenting on Covid since the outset of the pandemic.
- Zients, who had been criticized for his lack of medical experience, leaves as the White House pivots to a new Covid strategy and as cases of the infectious BA.2 subvariant creep up nationwide.CAMPAIGN
- Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) is plotting a comeback after resigning in disgrace last year following allegations of sexual harassment. According to CNBC, Cuomo is considering challenging Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) in the Democratic primary for his old job this year.
- Cuomo has spent $2.4 million on TV ads since he resigned, promoting his record and defending himself from the allegations. He has over $16 million still left in his war chest.
Each morning, WUTP’s team of contributors rotate to offer the latest news on a specific policy area. It’s Thursday, so Anna Salvatore is here with the legal news to know this week:
A Texas judge ruled last Friday that Gov. Greg Abbott could not authorize investigations into transgender teenagers’ medical treatments for potential child abuse. In a statement from the bench in Austin, Judge Amy Clark Meacham said that “the governor’s directive was given the effect of a new law” even though no such law had been passed in the state legislature. Her ruling came a month after the state attorney general released a legal opinion asserting that care for transgender children, including the prescription of hormone therapy and puberty blockers, would now be considered abusive under state law.
The opinion immediately triggered a lawsuit from an anonymous employee at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. According to the Wall Street Journal, the suit blasted the new policy as both an over-extension of the governor’s powers and an undue interference with parents’ constitutional rights to care for their children.
More legal headlines:
In an interview with The Washington Free Beacon, Ginni Thomas — a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — disclosed for the first time that she had attended the rally preceding the January 6 attack.
The New York Times delved into the latest libel lawsuits against major media publications.
According to Reuters, the Supreme Court might grant a case about whether Andy Warhol’s paintings of Prince illegally infringed on a photographer’s work.
What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
- President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (9:30am) and then was scheduled to spend the rest of the day with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin of Ireland. The two were slated to meet in the Oval Office (10:30am), then attend the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the Capitol (12pm), and participate in the annual Shamrock Bowl presentation at the White House (5pm).
- These events continue a long presidential tradition: every Irish taoiseach has visited the White House on St. Patrick’s Day since 1993. However, Martin tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday — just after sitting next to 81-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at a dinner — so it is unclear if today’s events will be held virtually or canceled entirely.
- Vice President Harris will ceremonially swear in Shalanda Young as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (11:35am). Young was confirmed on Tuesday in a 61-36 vote; like Harris, she will be the first Black woman to hold her post.
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing (2pm).
- The Senate will vote on confirmation of two district court judge nominees, followed by a cloture vote to advance a circuit court judge nominee.
- The House will begin debate on the FAIR Act, which would repeal and prohibit any contracts that require forced arbitration of employment, consumer, or civil rights claims against corporations. Forced arbitration blocks workers or consumers with such claims from suing publicly, requiring them to instead go through a private arbitration process that often favors corporations.
- Later, the House is scheduled to vote on a resolution condemning Bloody Sunday (a 1972 massacre that took place during The Troubles during Northern Ireland) and a bill suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference (10:45am).
- Congressional committee hearings will cover violent threats to Black institutions (10am), workplace protections for federal judicial employees (10am), trends in charitable giving (10am), and voting rights in Texas (3pm), among other topics.COURTS
- The Supreme Court is not in session.
Before I go...
Something to make you smile: Yesterday, I shared a positive news story and asked you all to send me one too. By far the most-shared story was this one, about a California elementary school that set up a hotline people can call to receive a pep talk from a kindergartener.
The number is 707-998-8410; here’s NPR with the story. Send me a news story that gave you hope or made you smile at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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