by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Monday, March 21, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 232 days away. Election Day 2024 is 960 days away.
Happy spring! Here in Washington, the cherry blossoms have begun to bloom (read to the bottom for a photo) and here on the Georgetown campus, the indoor mask mandate has been lifted as of today.
It’s going to be a consequential week in politics, as the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson kick off and President Biden heads to Brussels for an emergency NATO summit.
I’ll have full coverage f0r you of the Jackson hearings tomorrow — when questioning will actually begin — as well as coverage of Biden’s trip to Europe later in the week.
But this morning, I want to start off with something that’s been on my mind as the headlines from Ukraine grows more haunting by the day...
Raising the G-word
The torrent of news from Ukraine this weekend reminded me of a question Philip Gourevitch asked a little over a week ago in the New Yorker: “Is it time to call Putin’s war in Ukraine genocide?”
In his piece, Gourevitch noted that genocide is not defined in international law by the “enormity of criminal acts,” but by the “enormity of criminal intent.” In other words, while we may think of the term as applying only to the largest-scale slaughters, it is really the goal behind the killings that’s important.
“By this standard, Putin’s war of obliteration comes readily into focus as genocidal, if not—to date, anyway—as comprehensive genocide,” Gourevitch wrote. “His apparent objective is to extinguish Ukraine as an independent nation, and to subsume it and its surviving population into Russia, where he claims it naturally belongs.”
I do not have an answer to Gourevitch’s question, and this newsletter is not an attempt to pretend I do. Rather, I want to provide an update to his piece by surveying the grisly developments that have been reported in the week since he wrote it, to more fully inform your thinking on how to frame what Putin is doing to the people of Ukraine.
The most urgent place to start is surely Mariupol, the city in southeastern Ukraine that has been fully encircled by Russian troops. The port city is a strategic target for Moscow, as its capture would allow for a link between the Russian mainland and Crimea, which was seized from Ukraine in 2014.
According to Reuters, the Russians have trapped some 400,000 people in the city, “with little if any access to water, food, heating, or electricity.” Russia had offered “safe passage out of Mariupol” to all civilians if Ukrainian forces surrendered the city by this morning. Ukraine defied the ultimatum.
Here are some telling anecdotes of what is reported to have transpired there in recent days:
- The Mariupol City Council has alleged that thousands of captured residents of the city have been forcibly departed to remote Russian cities, after being taken to “filtration camps,” where their phones and documents were inspected.
- Ukrainian authorities have also claimed that the Russian military bombed an art school in Mariupol, where about 400 civilians had taken shelter. That would be the second bombing of a public building in Mariupol where residents had been sheltering, after the Russians struck a theater with 400 women and young children inside. The word “children” had been written in Russian outside the theater, to make clear only civilians were inside.
- A maternity hospital in Mariupol was also bombed, killing at least one pregnant woman and her baby. “Mariupol is now a ghost city,” Kyiv Independent journalist Anastasiia Lapatina wrote on Twitter. “80% of its infrastructure is damaged or destroyed, 40% of which cannot be rebuilt, authorities say. One of the largest in the country, a beautiful, developed city razed to the ground.”
- In total, according to the Associated Press, at least 2,300 people have lost their lives in Mariupol. Read these first three paragraphs of an AP dispatch from the besieged city, depicting the mass graves that are now a common sight there:
How has the AP managed to report on this devastation? The journalist Mstyslav Chernov produced yet another stunning bulletin for the outlet this morning, chronicling how he and a colleague had been able to stay as the only international journalists in Mariupol — despite being hunted down by Russian troops. (They have since escaped.)
“With no information coming out of a city, no pictures of demolished buildings and dying children, the Russian forces could do whatever they wanted,” Chernov wrote, noting that Russia had cut off connections to electricity, cell phones, radio, and television. “If not for us, there would be nothing.”
Those are just one city’s worth of stories. Many others from across Ukraine have surfaced in the week since the New Yorker first wrote of genocide: the 10 people shot and killed while standing in line for bread in Chernihiv; the 150 families held hostage in an apartment building in Kyiv, their phones confiscated; the 56 senior citizens mowed down at a nursing home in Kreminna, along with 15 others who were abducted and taken to Russian-occupied territory.
According to the United Nations, the Russian assault on Ukraine has uprooted more than 10 million people, including 6.5 million internally displaced within the country and another 3.5 million who have fled entirely.
There are reports of Russian troops “going house to house with lists,” searching for certain people they are hunting down; of Russians “systematically destroying” food depots and grocery shops.
Does all of this add up to genocide, a calculated attempt to decimate the Ukrainian people? It is a question that will only gain currency in the coming days, as President Biden ups his rhetoric to call Putin a “war criminal” and Russia is expected to — yet again — step up the force of its attacks against civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has family who died in the Holocaust, openly invoked that 20th century genocide in a speech to the Israeli parliament this weekend, insisting that he had a “right to this parallel and to this comparison.”
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not just a military operation, as Moscow claims,” Zelensky said. “This is a large-scale and treacherous war aimed at destroying our people. Destroying our children, our families, our state. our cities, our communities, our culture. And everything that makes Ukrainians Ukrainians.”
Zelensky, speaking from war-torn Kyiv, has settled on his answer. In the coming weeks, the global community will almost certainly face added pressure to grapple towards one as well.
The top news you should know to start your day.
- Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, has been hospitalized with an infection after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Thomas, 73, is expected to be released in “a day or two,” according to the court; he will not be present for oral arguments during that time.
- A court spokesperson has said the infection is not related to Covid-19.CONGRESS
- Alaska Rep. Don Young died on Friday at age 88. Young was the oldest longest-serving sitting member of the House and the oldest sitting member of either chamber.
- “To this day, most Alaskans have had no congressman in their lifetimes but Mr. Young, who was first elected in 1973, during the Nixon administration,” the New York Times noted.WORLD
- The coldest location on the planet has experienced an episode of warm weather this week unlike any ever observed, with temperatures over the eastern Antarctic ice sheet soaring 50 to 90 degrees above normal,” the Washington Post reports. “The warmth has smashed records and shocked scientists.”
- Meanwhile, the Times reports that the war in Ukraine threatens to create a global food crisis, as “a crucial portion of the world’s wheat, corn and barley is trapped in Russia and Ukraine” because of the conflict.
Each morning, WUTP’s team of contributors rotate to offer a briefing on the latest news in a different policy area. It’s Monday, so I’m handing things off to economics contributor Davis Giangiulio:
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates last week for the first time since 2018, the bank’s most aggressive move yet to combat inflation. Fed Chair Jay Powell said in a press conference announcing the rate hike that the central bank is “acutely aware of the need to return the economy to price stability and determined to use our tools to do exactly that.”
This could be just the start: as many as six more rate hikes could be coming this year. If they continue to rise at this pace, rates will be almost back to where they were in 2019 before they started falling in a reaction to slowing global growth. Central banks in England and Canada have announced rate hikes as well, similarly spurred on by growing inflation.
As the Fed raises rates, fears of a recession are rising too. CNBC’s Fed Survey, which measures how leading economic thinkers and leaders feel about the economy, now shows a 33% chance of a recession in the next year. Some blame this increased risk on the fact that the Fed waited too long to respond to inflation, and now it has to be so aggressive it could cause an economic contraction.
With a higher interest rate, it’s harder for businesses to get loans from banks since they’ll eventually have to pay more back with a higher interest rate. This means investment in the economy goes down. Simultaneously, consumers see it better to save their money than spend it, as they’ll get high interest payments.
These are all things the Fed wants because they stop the economy from overheating, therefore weakening inflation. But they also slow down the economy down overall, which can cause negative growth. That’s what happened in the 1980s, when inflation was so high, the Fed’s moves to raise rates forced a recession. But this is really the only modern example of rate hikes causing an American recession.
The Fed’s announcement will have effects across the board. Trying to get a loan? Almost all types of consumer debt are going to see rates rise now. Mortgage rates will rise, but that could lower the prices of homes in a red-hot housing market as higher rates will decrease demand. Savings accounts will also get better returns, but that will depend mainly on if banks transfer the higher rates to said accounts.
What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
- President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (9:30am) and then host a secure call with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discus their coordinated response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine (11am).
- Later, Biden will join Business Roundtable’s CEO Quarterly Meeting to discuss Ukraine, lowering costs for working families, unions, and climate change (6pm).
- Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Lafayette, Louisiana (9 am). While there, she will tour a community library (12:30pm) and then deliver remarks about the Biden administration’s efforts to provide affordable high-speed internet across the country (1:05pm). Harris will then travel back to Washington (3:55pm).
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing (2:30pm). Anne Neuberger, the White House deputy national security adviser for cyber, will also participate. CONGRESS
- The Senate will convene (3pm) and resume consideration of the America COMPETES Act, a House-passed bill to provide $52 billion for semiconductor research and production in an effort to compete with China. The chamber will hold a procedural vote (5:30pm) to advance the measure, which will require 60 votes.
- The upper chamber already passed its own version of the semconductor bill — with some significant differences — last year. The Senate is planning to take up the House bill, amend it to duplicate the Senate version, and then pass that, a process which will then allow the two chambers to form a conference committee to draft a compromise measure.
- The House will convene (1pm) for a brief pro forma session. No debate or votes are held in such sessions, which are attended by few members and held only to satisfy the constitutional requirement that each chamber of Congress gavel in at least once every three days.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet (11am) for the first day of its confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Each member of the committee will give 10-minute opening statements, followed by two 5-minute statements introducing Jackson, followed by a 10-minute opening statement from Jackson.
- Jackson’s introducers will be Thomas Griffith, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit appointed by George W. Bush, and University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Lisa Fairfax, a Harvard Law classmate of Jackson’s.
- The Supreme Court will release orders (9:30am) and then convene (10am) to hear arguments in Morgan v. Sundance, Inc. and Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.
- According to SCOTUSBlog, the former case will consider whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable “if a party begins to litigate a case, and then seeks to compel arbitration several months later.”
- The latter case will consider whether Republican state legislative leaders in North Carolina can intervene to defend the state’s voter ID law against a challenge by the NAACP. The state’s Democratic attorney general is already defending the law, but the GOP lawmakers say he is not doing so vigorously enough.
Before I go...
As always, I try to end on something of a lighter note — and today, it’s coming from my own camera roll.
Here’s a pic I snapped on Sunday of one of Washington’s signature cherry blossom trees as they begin to bloom:
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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.