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Wake Up To Politics - May 17, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: A primer on the violence in Gaza
Wake Up To Politics - May 17, 2021

Good morning! It’s Monday, May 17, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 540 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,268 days away.

Violence in Gaza sparks new fissures in Washington

Tensions in the Middle East continue to mount, as fighting between Israel and Hamas, the militant group in control of the Gaza Strip, reaches its most violent level since 2014. Here’s the latest on the situation:

  • This latest cycle of violence was sparked by a range of factors, including a confrontation at Al-Asqua Mosque between Israeli police and Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the attempted eviction of six families from Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
  • Sunday was the deadliest day of the current round of hostilities, as 42 Palestinians were killed by Israeli airstrikes that flattened three buildings.
  • In total, at least 198 Palestinians have been killed by the recent Israeli airstrikes, including 48 children, and 1,300 have been wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Eight people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed by rocket launched by Hamas militants.
  • There are no signs of the violence stopping: Israel unleashed a new series of airstrikes to target Hamas commanders earlier today, according to the Associated Press. Israeli officials have said they are not currently seeking a ceasefire; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli attacks would continue at “full force” as more rockets come in from Gaza.
A woman stands outside a building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Sunday. (Adel Hana/AP) 

And here’s a glance at how Washington is responding:

  • President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu on Saturday to offer “his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself” and share his “grave concern” about the violence, according to a White House statement. Biden also spoke on the phone with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority in Hamas-ruled Gaza is limited.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who also spoke this weekend with a number of leaders in the region, has deployed veteran U.S. diplomat Hady Amr to Tel Aviv to lead efforts to de-escalate the tensions.
  • Meanwhile, on the global stage, the United Nations Security Council met virtually on Sunday to discuss the situation. According to the Times of Israel, 14 of the council’s 15 members sought to issue a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire, but were blocked by the United States. The statement required unanimous approval; the U.S. said the council should wait for diplomatic efforts to play out instead.
  • However, lawmakers from both parties have gone public with calls for ceasefire. A group of 28 Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), released a statement urging a ceasefire on Sunday; so did Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN), the first bipartisan move on the issue.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands before a meeting in Davos. (Michel Euler/AP)

The fresh tensions between Israel and Palestine have scrambled the American foreign policy consensus on the region, which was long united behind Israel. Most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have continued to express staunch support of Israel, but President Biden is facing growing pressure from progressive Democrats to modify his stance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) penned a New York Times op-ed calling for the U.S. to stop being “apologists” for the Israeli government; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and other progressives leaders have termed Israel an “apartheid state,” amping up criticism of the country’s treatment of Palestinians.

The developing split within the Democratic Party comes at a difficult time for Biden, who also faces criticism on his administration’s abrupt reversal on masking guidance and a bevy of economic headaches (more on that below).

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Policy Roundup: Economics

The week’s top economics news, by Davis Giangiulio.

Despite the reopening of the Colonial Pipeline, gas shortages are still persistent across some areas of the southeast. Operations were halted along 5,500 miles of the pipeline after a cyberattack last week. This alone created shortages across southeastern states where the pipeline was no longer functioning, but then led to mass shortages as people began panic-buying gas.

The shutdown also forced a surge in the price of gas, with one Richmond, Va., based station charging $6.99 a gallon. The pipeline has resumed operations, after Colonial reportedly paid a $5 million ransom, but it will take time for the shortages to disappear. As of Sunday morning, 83% of D.C. stations were still without fuel, along with 59% in North Carolina.

As more states declare an early end to expanded unemployment insurance (UI), some Democrats are calling on the Departemnt of Labor (DOL) to step in. As fears of a labor shortage persist, a total of 18 states have announced plans to halt their pandemic UI models in the weeks ahead. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has called on Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to continue providing the benefits anyway, which he says is required by law.

So far, the Biden administration has not responded to these requests, and any approach they would take to enforce expanded UI would likely be litigated in court as states would defend their ability to reject federal aid.

A pipeline closure and panic-buying created a gas shortage across the Southeast last week. (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Retail sales were flat in April, following a surge in March that was even bigger than originally projected. The April report revised the March figure from a 9.7% increase to 10.7%, as stimulus checks to many Americans boosted spending. Auto sales increased by 2.9%, but declines in clothing stores and a small fall in retail sales offset those gains. The report helped alleviate concerns “that stimulus would have a lasting effect on spending and inflation,” as Barron’s wrote.

Those fears were heightened earlier in the week as the Consumer Price Index, seen as a benchmark for the inflation rate, was revealed in April to be the highest since 2008. Some of this was due to inflation being so law a year ago during lockdowns, but it was enough to force a stock market sell-off. But the Federal Reserve is urging calm as they say these figures are likely temporary, and more data needs to be seen before a trend is declared.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)

President Joe Biden spent the weekend in Wilmington, Delaware. He will depart Wilmington at 8:20 a.m. and return to the White House at 9:15 a.m. Later, he will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:50 a.m. and deliver remarks on the COVID-19 response and vaccinations at 1 p.m.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for his daily intelligence briefing.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 12 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will resume consideration of S.1260, the Endless Frontier Act, a bipartisan measure which would invested $110 billion in basic and advanced technology research over five years in an effort to compete with China. At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will hold a procedural vote to advance the bill, which will require 60 “yea” votes.

The House will convene at 12 p.m. Following one-minute speeches, the chamber will consider 17 pieces of legislation, mainly focused on veterans affairs and science education.

The Supreme Court will release orders at 9:30 a.m. and may announce opinions at 10 a.m.

  • The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida will hold a change of plea hearing at 10 a.m. for Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County tax collector who is expected to plead guilty to sex trafficking of a 17-year-old and other federal crimes. Greenberg will now be cooperating with prosecutors, who are investigating whether his associate Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also violated sex trafficking laws by having sex with the same 17-year-old.

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