with Mariana Alfaro
Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we chew on President Biden’s early moves regarding China. But don’t miss the latest on Biden’s nominations, and how drinking in D.C. may be about to change. Sometimes local or regional news is national news in disguise, so send me your most interesting items from outside the Beltway. And tell your friends to sign up here.
Throughout 2020, President Donald Trump and his campaign repeatedly warned voters that “if Biden wins, China wins,” that Beijing would “own the United States,” and often dubbed the former vice president “Beijing Biden.” The Democrat has only been in office for a week, but he and his aides have confounded the former reality-show star’s predictions.
In symbol and substance, though perhaps not style, Biden’s team has stuck with a hard line toward Beijing.
Consider the list of countries whose top officials have shared a telephone call since Inauguration Day from Biden or top aides like Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, or national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, South Korea, India, Afghanistan, Israel, and Australia have all been on the call sheets. China has not. (The one exception to the partners-and-allies theme, Russia, can be explained by the administration’s eagerness to extend the New START arms control deal before it lapses on Feb. 5.)
And John Kerry, Biden’s special climate envoy, said yesterday the president views the threat from global warming as existential but won’t trade away other American priorities to wring concessions from Beijing. The former secretary of state pointed to a range of Sino-U.S. disputes, including intellectual property theft and expansionism in the South China Sea.
“Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate,” Kerry said in the White House briefing room. “That’s not going to happen.”
While an incoming administration’s policy reviews frequently lead to reversals, there’s no sign of that when it comes to Trump’s 11th-hour declaration that China is guilty of genocide against its Muslim-majority Uighur population.
“That would be my judgment as well,” Blinken said last week when asked about the determination at his confirmation hearing.
Biden’s pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told senators yesterday the genocide designation was now under review for reasons of process, not policy.
“The State Department is reviewing that now because all of the procedures were not followed, and I think that they’re looking to make sure that they are followed to ensure that that designation is held,” she said.
On Monday, the White House shrugged off Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calls for greater cooperation on fighting the pandemic and climate change as well as for avoiding confrontations over trade and technology.
Asked whether Xi’s remarks to World Economic Forum might change Biden’s China policy, White House press secretary Jen Psaki replied: “No.”
“We’re in a serious competition with China,” she told reporters. “China is engaged in conduct that it hurts American workers, blunts our technological edge and threatens our alliances and our influence in international organizations.”
Prior to his inauguration, Biden let it be known that Trump’s tariffs on imports from China, a critical part of the Republican’s confrontational approach, weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“I’m not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs,” he told The New York Times in December. “I’m not going to prejudice my options.”
China has been testing Biden on Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary. For decades, the United States has armed Taiwan and said neither party should change the status quo unilaterally.
After China flew military planes near Taiwan over the weekend, the United States denounced the move. And a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, sailed into the South China Sea.
The new tensions came after Biden’s transition team invited the most senior Taiwan official in Washington — its de facto ambassador — Bi-khim Hsiao, to the inauguration.
That same day, China handed the new administration an easy win by imposing sanctions on 28 Trump administration officials, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
Given the chance to look tough on China and perhaps bank some Republican approval, the White House immediately condemned what it called an “unproductive and cynical move.”
“President Biden looks forward to working with leaders in both parties to position America to out-compete China,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
Biden has named China hawks to key Asia-focused foreign policy positions across his administration. Beijing watchers now await his choice to be ambassador to China. But the administration’s message has been clear.
The president has avoided blunders like his quickly retracted comments in 2011 about China’s so-called “one-child policy.” And Biden supporters note that he has been critical of Beijing for years, even as they embrace much of Trump’s strategy.
“President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” Blinken said last week. “I disagreed very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one.”
What’s happening now
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate may start on coronavirus relief legislation as soon as next week, per Politico’s Burgess Everett. “Only big bold action is called for,” Schumer said of a relief package. Slimming down the aid “would be irresponsible,” he added.
Democrats are eyeing a rapid-fire impeachment trial for Trump that could be as short as one week, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. They’re also considering alternatives such as censure that could possibly attract more support from Republicans.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters was named the new Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman. Peters will be in charge of the Senate’s defense of 14 seats in the 2022 cycle, Felicia Sonmez reports.
New York may have undercounted covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. In a report, state attorney general Letitia James accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)’s administration of undercounting virus-related deaths, the NYT reports, after a survey found consistent discrepancies between deaths reported to the attorney general’s investigators and those released by the state’s health department. “Preliminary data obtained by O.A.G. suggests that many nursing home residents died from Covid-19 in hospitals after being transferred from their nursing homes, which is not reflected in D.O.H.’s published total nursing home death data,” according to a summary of the report’s findings.
Global coronavirus cases have topped 100 million, with more than a quarter in the U.S. Governments working to immunize their populations are in the race against the new, more virulent strains, said Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe. “We face a pandemic paradox,” he said this morning. “Vaccines on the one hand offer remarkable hope. On the other hand, newly emerging variants of concern are presenting greater uncertainty and risk.” Vaccine stocks are also dwindling. Spain, for example, announced that vaccinations would be suspended for two weeks in Madrid because of supply shortages. (Erin Cunningham, Paul Schemm and Paulina Firozi)
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Republicans back away from confronting Trump and his loyalists after the Capitol insurrection, embracing them instead,” by Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced little more than a week ago that the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol had been “provoked” by Donald Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for failing to respond more quickly to the bloody incursion. But that was then.”
- “Russian opposition leader Navalny ordered to remain jailed as supporters plan more protests,” by Isabelle Khurshudyan and Robyn Dixon: “Navalny appeared in good spirits, grinning at the camera and joking to the guards. ‘Well, I’ve gotten you kicked out,’ as they were ordered to leave.”
- “2020 was the worst year for economic growth since the Second World War,” by Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam: “Economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter, rising just 1 percent from the previous quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That’s equivalent to an annualized rate of 4 percent. It is the first time the economy has contracted for the year since 2009, when Gross Domestic Product shrank by 2.5 percent during the depths of the Great Recession.”
… and beyond
- “Mayor Bowser’s proposed alcohol act could change how we drink in D.C.,” by Washington City Paper’s Laura Hayes: “The final version of the Reopen Washington DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Amendment Act could look much different than the one introduced this week. Expect input and scrutiny surrounding equity and inclusion, noise, pests, and crowd control.”
- “Biden seen likely to keep Space Force, a Trump favorite,” by the AP’s Robert Burns: “The reason Space Force is unlikely to go away is largely this: Elimination would require an act of Congress, where a bipartisan consensus holds that America’s increasing reliance on space is a worrying vulnerability that is best addressed by a branch of the military focused exclusively on this problem.”
- “How a spice scammer allegedly fleeced the federal government out of thousands of dollars of garlic powder,” by the Counter’s H. Claire Brown: “Between 2011 and 2017, the federal government paid at least $530,254.35 to FlavorPros and its affiliates for 202 invoices spanning 80 Bureau of Prisons facilities.”
- “Vermont Guard staying in D.C. through March; other soldiers head to Europe,” by the VT Digger’s Seamus McAvoy: “Officials were vague about why 100 members of the Vermont National Guard, and as many as 5,000 Guardsmen overall, were asked to stay in Washington.”
The first 100 days
Biden will reopen the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace as part of executive orders on health care.
Today’s new orders will:
- Reopen HealthCare.gov, the online federal insurance marketplace for people who don’t have access to affordable health benefits through their job, will open from Feb. 15 to May 15, Amy Goldstein reports.
- Direct federal agencies to review sets of federal rules in an effort to promote health-care access. These include any that undermine insurance policies’ consumer protections for people with preexisting conditions and, in general, make it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid or an ACA health plan.
- Rescind the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars international from receiving federal family planning aid if they provide abortion counseling or referrals.
- Instruct the Health and Human Services Department to “take immediate action to consider” whether to remove regulations under a Title X program that supports family planning.
The fossil fuel industry, facing a slate of Biden actions on climate change, is gearing up for a long fight.
- From an oil patch in Alaska to state capitals to Congress, the gas, oil and coal industries and their allies are aiming to slow Biden’s unprecedented push for climate action, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. Republican attorney generals from six states wrote to Biden, warning him not to overstep his authority, while other Republican lawmakers have called his actions “job killers.”
- Republicans and industry executives have expressed dismay at the scope and speed in which Biden is targeting climate action. “This is a radical departure from almost any other administration, and I would even say, President Obama,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
- Meanwhile, after eight years, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) ended his weekly “Time to Wake Up” speeches on climate change, saying conditions are “at last in a place for real solution.” He made the speech 279 times:
Biden puts a temporary freeze on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
- The administration is reviewing billions of dollars in weapons transactions approved by the Trump administration, the WSJ reports. The review includes the sale of top-line F-35 fighters to Abu Dhabi and precision-guided munitions to Riyadh. The sale of the jets was part of the Abraham Accords, in which the U.A.E. established diplomatic relations with Israel.
- In line with Biden’s campaign promises, the White House is seeking to ensure that the American weapons won’t be used to further the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. The U.A.E. embassy said it expected a review.
Federal judges across the U.S. are retiring now so that Biden can pick their replacements.
- At least five federal judges with lifetime appointments announced their plans to retire or semi-retire since Inauguration Day, the HuffPost reports. Another eight already announced their plans to step down when Biden was declared winner of the election. Two more will also retire but their names are not yet listed on federal sites.
- They’re not all Democratic-appointed judges: Eight of these retiring judges were appointed by President Bill Clinton, two by President Barack Obama, and five by President George W. Bush. Biden hasn’t nominated any judges yet, but his team wrote to Democratic lawmakers asking them to provide recommendations “as soon as possible” and no later than Jan. 19.
Biden’s first full week in office has showcased an almost jarring departure from Trump’s chaotic style.
- “The result so far is a 9-to-5 presidency,” Matt Viser writes. “The question to be answered in coming weeks, however, is whether Biden’s orderly presidency matches this moment of national urgency, and whether it’s sustainable in the face of multiple crises. Biden himself said last week that the government was on a ‘wartime’ footing — then took the weekend off from public appearances.”
Quote of the day
“I was lucky to find this vaccine anywhere,” said legendary vaccinologist Stanley Plotkin, 88, who met all the requirements to be inoculated on Phase One but still had trouble finding a shot. “It’s a free-for-all. What kind of system is that?”
Today in history
Tracking Biden’s nominations
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Biden’s HUD nominee, and Cecilia Rouse, the pick for chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, testified before the Senate this morning.
If confirmed, Fudge will push for rental assistance and affordable housing amid the pandemic.
- Fudge said the $25 billion that Congress has provided in rental assistance and the government’s extension of the eviction moratorium are not enough, Tracy Jan reports.
- As HUD secretary, Fudge is expected to reinstate a 2013 rule aimed at barring the housing industry from enacting policies that, while seemingly race-neutral, have an adverse effect on Black and Latino Americans.
- During her hearing, Rouse promised to provide economic advice to Biden on how his policies would affect “people who are left behind, particularly people of color.” If confirmed, Rouse, a labor economist, will become the first Black woman to lead the council, John Wagner reports.
The Senate will vote on Alejandro Mayorkas’s nomination to lead the Homeland Security Department on Monday.
- Republicans are planning to object to any efforts to quickly confirm Mayorkas, CNN reports, threatening to use the filibuster against him. The Senate scheduled a procedural vote on the nomination for this afternoon, which will likely break the filibuster.
- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said “there’s a number of problems” with Mayorkas’s nomination, arguing that he hasn’t been properly vetted on immigration issues and calling for additional hearings into his naming.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is turning away from Trump-era approaches, starting with media relations.
- Blinken, during his first full day in office, called an independent press essential to the country’s global image and a “cornerstone” of democracy, John Hudson reports. Blinken also said he would resume the department’s daily news briefing starting next week.
- He also pledged to allow journalists access to him during trips abroad once the pandemic subsides, something that secretaries of state Mike Pompeo and Rex Tillerson sharply curtailed during their tenures.
- Blinken has phoned foreign ministers from Japan, South Korea and elsewhere. He scored points with the French foreign minister by conducting their morning call in French.
The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service are tracking Biden’s appointees including Cabinet secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions:
Hot on the left
A Trump campaign adviser who promised to eat his shoe if Trump lost the election now won’t do it. Harlan Hill is fending off demands that he eat his loafers by falsely claiming that Trump did win, and that the election was stolen from him. Hill, a political consultant, made the bold promise to the Atlantic during an election-night party last year, saying he was “one hundred percent” certain that Trump would win and said that, if he lost, he’d eat his shoe. “We’ll do it in a livestream,” he added. (Business Insider)
Hot on the right
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) is peddling a different kind of Trumpism in a post-Trump world. The 25-year-old congressman is trying to have it both ways, Time reports, by preaching about working across the aisle with Democrats one day and then trumpeting dangerous right-wing conspiracies the next. “Cawthorn’s potential power, as a rising Republican star, is rooted in his apparent ability to navigate this tight rope. Though the gun-toting, Twitter-wielding freshman is a Trump acolyte. … [He] has offered a more measured — even contradictory — message, depending on who’s listening.”
Biden’s environmental actions, visualized
Biden placed climate change at the center of his White House agenda, reversing more than 100 environmental actions taken by the Trump administration and adding new protections.
This week in Washington
The White House sent what appeared to be the first-ever daily guidance for the second gentleman, Doug Emhoff. He will visit a D.C.-based nonprofit focused on food security and economic opportunity today at 3 p.m.
Seth Meyers questioned Republican senators’ logic in dismissing Trump’s impeachment trial:
And Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) mittens helped raise nearly $2 million for charity: