The Daily 202: Biden faces a Middle East crossroads after ceasefire

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President Biden now faces a choice between deeper peacemaking efforts in the Middle East or returning to what has largely been a hands-off approach, preferring to focus on the pandemic, the economy and China.

Biden campaigned on returning to the “two-state solution” to ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but surprised some observers this week when he publicly pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to embrace a cease-fire.

There weren’t a lot of clues in the president’s late-Thursday remarks welcoming a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that pressed “pause” on the worst foreign policy crisis of his young presidency but left the underlying disputes untouched.

And it could take weeks, months, or longer to know whether sending Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region a development the president did not mention in his three-minute address is a harbinger of greater involvement.

“He actually sees this as a moment of opportunity and [I] expect he and other officials will up engagement with a range of leaders in the coming days,” a senior administration official told The Daily 202 on the condition of anonymity.

© Jonathan Ernst/Reuters President Biden welcomed a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that pressed “pause” on the worst foreign policy crisis of his young presidency. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Under heavy and mounting pressure from Democrats in Congress, Biden had made news with increasing appeals to Netanyahu to end his airstrikes and accept a cease-fire even as the U.S. blocked U.N. action on the crisis.

And a White House summary of a call between the two leaders on Wednesday omitted the usual American formula emphasizing unwavering support for Israel’s right to self-defense.

But by last night, the Biden who once declared “I am a Zionist” and promised at Netanyahu’s side in 2010 “there is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security” was back.

The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel,” he said.

As for military aid, Biden said nothing about the effort in Congress to halt the latest tranche of arms sales, but declared his “full support to replenish” Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense against rocket attacks “to ensure its defenses and security in the future.”

The president also promised to work with the United Nations and others “to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza and the Gaza reconstruction efforts.”

At the New York Times, Lara Jakes reports:

A senior Biden administration official said the United States was planning to be at the fore of an international response, most likely costing billions of dollars, to include restoring health and education services, and other reconstruction. The senior official said that rebuilding Gaza — which will most likely be coordinated through the United Nations — was at the top of a list of festering diplomatic obstacles that the administration would face between Israel and the Palestinian Authority now that the fighting was to wind down.”

© Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images Palestinians chant Friday as they carry the bodies of Hamas members who died in Israeli bombardment of a tunnel. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

It’s hard to decipher Biden’s aim at the moment.

Arms sales to Israel, aid to the Palestinians, his top diplomat to the region these could be routine engagement, especially in the aftermath of more than 10 days of deadly fighting, or tentative steps before a fuller diplomatic commitment.

I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy,” Biden said last night.

“My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end,” the president said. “I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I’m committed to working for it.”

Biden, who promised as a candidate to return to peacemaking predicated on Palestinians getting their own state, did not mention the “two-state solution,” a phrase he has used sparingly since taking office on Jan. 20.

(The formula wasn’t in the official White House summary of his first phone call with Netanyahu, on Feb. 17, nor in those of their talks on May 12, May 17, or May 19. But it was in summaries of calls with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 15.)

In her daily briefing on May 17, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters “we all know that the only way to bring an end to violence, to bring an end to this escalation of violence is for there to be a two-state solution over time.”

“But in terms of what that would take or what form and what it would look like, it is going to require both parties wanting to engage in that and wanting to have a discussion about the path forward,” she said.

At his confirmation hearing, Blinken had affirmed the administration’s support for the “two-state” approach. But, he added, “realistically, it is hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Five rural counties in liberal Oregon vote in favor of leaving state for more conservative Idaho,” by Derek Hawkins: “Voters in Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman counties — sparsely populated areas in the state’s eastern half — approved ballot measures Tuesday requiring local officials to consider redrawing the border to make them Idahoans. Behind the push is a nonprofit called Citizens for Greater Idaho that argues the predominantly Republican parts of Oregon would be better served if Idaho incorporated them.”
  • Since leaving office, Trump has charged the Secret Service more than $40,000 to use space at Mar-a-Lago,” by David Fahrenthold and Josh Dawsey: “The records show that Trump’s club charged the Secret Service $396.15 every night starting Jan. 20, the day he left the White House and moved full-time into his Palm Beach, Fla., club. Those charges, ultimately paid by taxpayers, continued until at least April 30, the spending records show, for a total of $40,011.15. The charges were for a single room used as a workspace by Secret Service agents, according to one person familiar with the payments.”
  • Eight minutes with the president: Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the lone Palestinian American in Congress, gains relevance in Israel debate,” by Michael Kranish: “Tlaib, 44, had been an outlier in her party and Congress more broadly regarding Israel. … She has embraced a ‘one-state solution’ that would combine Israel and the occupied territories into one democratic country with the potential to create a majority-Palestinian population rather than a Jewish state. … But in the 11 days of intensifying conflict between Israel and Hamas leading to Thursday’s announcement of a cease-fire, growing numbers of Democrats have shown a greater willingness to challenge Israel — including publicly pressing Biden to take a more aggressive posture.”

… and beyond

  • GOP senators dig in against January 6 commission,” by the Dispatch’s Haley Byrd Wilt: “In interviews with more than 20 GOP senators on Thursday, Republicans raised fears about how the commission would work, how long it would last, and whether it would amount to a partisan circus. The answers to many of these questions are in the text of the relatively straightforward, 19-page bill passed by the House this week. When pressed on the gap between the details of the bill and their portrayal of it, some senators simply admitted they hadn’t read the legislation.”
  • Food supply chains are stretched as Americans head back to restaurants,” by the Wall Street Journal’s Jennifer Smith and Paul Page: “Suppliers and logistics providers say distributors are facing shortages of everyday products like chicken parts, as well as difficulty in finding workers and surging transportation costs as companies effectively try to reverse the big changes in food services that came as coronavirus lockdowns spread across the U.S. last year.”
  • New York City lost 900,000 jobs. Here’s how many have come back,” by the New York Times’s Patrick McGeehan: “One of the clearest signals of recovery came from restaurants, which added 15,000 jobs last month. The city’s full-service restaurants had three times as many employees last month as they had in April 2020, their lowest point.”
  • Manufacturers say ammo shortage will stretch out for years,” by the Reload’s Stephen Gutowski: “As store shelves lie barren and prices for the most popular ammunition hover at two, three, or even five times their pre-pandemic levels, manufacturers said they are still scrambling to bring enough product to market. They said they are still working through several years’ worth of orders that have already been placed.”

The Biden agenda

The Treasury Department plans to raise an additional $700 billion through new tax compliance measures.

  • The move could become a “key source of revenue for the Biden administration’s multitrillion-dollar spending proposals,” Jeff Stein reports.
  • “In a 22-page report, Treasury officials identified a number of policies to increase enforcement aimed at closing the ‘tax gap’ between what taxpayers owe to the federal government and what they actually pay. These include increased reporting requirements, new tools for auditors, massively increasing the Internal Revenue Service’s budget, and new rules on cryptocurrency, among other measures.”
  • “Some of the changes — such as billions of dollars in additional spending at the IRS — would require congressional approval, and many Republicans have long tried to shrink the agency. But the White House said the proposed investments would pay off by allowing the agency to collect the taxes that are due.”

Biden, in his first print newspaper interview, shared the “most devastating” comment made to him since taking office.

  • Biden spoke to Times columnist David Brooks, and said Micheál Martin, the prime minister of Ireland, questioned “the United States’ ability to lead the world after its failure in controlling the coronavirus pandemic,” Colby Itkowitz reports. “The most devastating comment made after I was elected — it wasn’t so much about me — but it was by the Irish taoiseach” — prime minister — “saying that ‘well, America can’t lead. They can’t even get their arms around covid,’ ” Biden told Brooks.
  • Most of the interview focused on his administration’s costly liberal policies. “When you look at the legislation he’s sponsored or supported over the decades, you notice that the dollar amounts are generally in the millions or low billions. Today, the Biden agenda is in the trillions. So what has changed, even since January 2017, when he and Barack Obama left office?” Brooks asks. Biden responds: “I think circumstances have changed drastically. We’re at a genuine inflection point in history,” Biden said.
  • “He says we’re experiencing a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ which encompasses developments ranging from the rise of information technology to the rise of the Chinese superstate, to shifts in the global competitive environment,” per Brooks. “We’ve gotten to a point where I think our economic competence has a gigantic impact on our international influence and capacity,” Biden said. The real risk, the president said, is going too small. “If we stay small, I don’t know how we change our international status and competitive capacity,” Biden told Brooks.

Help Wanted: The federal government is on a hiring spree as Biden seeks to undo Trump cuts.

  • “The Federal Bureau of Prisons, its staff depleted by Trump-era hiring freezes, is advertising for thousands of jobs. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is bringing on dozens of lawyers after being gutted by four years of budget cuts. The Agriculture Department is moving to replace hundreds of scientists who fled or were forced out by the last administration,” Lisa Rein reports.
  • “That’s a fraction of the growth in the federal bureaucracy that the Biden administration would like to see, according to a $1.5 trillion preliminary budget the White House released in April,” Rein writes. “Some programs that are crucial to Biden’s agenda are so short-staffed that his administration can’t yet fully implement his policies, among them enforcement of fair-housing and workplace safety laws. A number of decisions by the Trump administration, including the relocation of key economic research and land management offices, are proving hard to reverse.”
  • “The annual list of troubled federal programs, released in March by the Government Accountability Office, is longer than ever, a shift workforce experts attribute to vast areas of the government the Trump administration ignored.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed that the U.S. does not want to buy Greenland.

  • “Sitting beside Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, Greenland’s premier, Mute Egede, and Foreign Minister Pele Broberg during a news conference, Blinken confirmed to a reporter it was ‘correct’ that the United States does not seek to buy the country,” Reuters reports. “Blinken was visiting Greenland after attending a meeting of the Arctic Council in Iceland, which he said was a signal of Washington’s desire to enhance ties with ‘our Arctic partners, Greenland and Denmark.’”
  • Flashback: “Trump and one of his economic advisers confirmed in 2019 that Trump had discussed the possibility of purchasing Greenland.”

© Pool/Reuters Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference in Greenlandon on Thursday. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

The White House enlisted major dating apps in its vaccine push so users can identify as vaccinated.

  • “Apps like Tinder, Hinge, Match and OkCupid will allow users to add stickers or badges to their profiles to let potential matches know they’ve been vaccinated. In some cases, vaccinated users can limit their searches to other vaccinated singles. Some apps are adding incentives by giving vaccinated users free access to premium content,” Itkowitz reports. “While dating apps are used by people of all ages, their prime audience are young adults, who also happen to be the cohort least likely to prioritize getting vaccinated.”

Quote of the day

“The progressives don’t like me because I’m not prepared to take on what I would say and they would say is a socialist agenda,” Biden told Brooks when asked if he thinks he’s become a “straight-up progressive.”

The future of the GOP

The battle over the Senate’s 60-vote threshold could erupt as soon as next week as lawmakers debate the Jan. 6 commission.

  • “After more than four months of letting their power to obstruct lie unused in the Senate, the 50-member Senate GOP is ready to mount a filibuster of House-passed legislation creating an independent cross-aisle panel to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. If Republicans follow through and block the bill, they will spark a long-building fight over the filibuster’s very existence,” Politico’s Burgess Everett reports. “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is plotting to bring the House’s Jan. 6 commission bill to the floor and daring Senate Republicans to block it. And GOP opposition is hardening by the day. According to interviews with more than a half-dozen Republicans on Thursday, there is almost no path to even opening up debate on the bill — much less passing it.” 
  • “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been circumspect about his use of the filibuster, leaving the tool untouched so far this Congress. … Now that McConnell is pushing his conference toward a filibuster of a bipartisan bill, Democrats see an opportunity to begin making their case to reluctant members that the 60-vote status quo is unsustainable. As an incredulous Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) put it: ‘How do you go forward if you can’t make it work over something like an independent commission?’ ”
  • “Some Republicans, such as Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, are still amenable to opening debate on the bill and amending it to ensure the investigation is completed this year and that the commission is staffed in a bipartisan way. But overall, Senate Republicans have rapidly shifted into wholesale opposition to the commission.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is grappling with the legacy of Trump amid commission talk.

  • “The decision to publicly align the House GOP with Mr. Trump has created both opportunities and pitfalls for Mr. McCarthy and House Republicans. They hope to tap Mr. Trump’s continued popularity among the GOP base without having to confront his continued false claims about the election,” the WSJ’s Kristina Peterson and Lindsay Wise report.
  • McCarthy’s challenges were highlighted Thursday, when he said he wasn’t surprised that 35 Republicans backed the Jan. 6 commission. “Some Republicans were frustrated this week by Mr. McCarthy’s undercutting of Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, saying it left lawmakers sidelined from the legislative process.” Katko is the Republican pushing for the commission. “Mr. McCarthy had tasked Mr. Katko with reaching a bipartisan agreement, and Republicans widely acknowledged that Mr. Katko secured many of the GOP’s demands in structuring the commission, including equal power to appoint members. … ‘John did a great job negotiating and got a lot of concessions on this bill,’ said Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R., N.Y.), who voted for the legislation. ‘It actually makes it a fair commission.’”

Anthony Bouchard, a Wyoming state Senator looking to challenge Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) for her House seat, said he impregnated a 14-year-old when he was 18.

  • Bouchard confirmed this to the Casper Star Tribune last night, hours after disclosing the relationship in a Facebook Live video to supporters. “Bouchard, who did not specify the girl’s age in the video, said he went public with the information to get ahead of the story after learning that people were investigating it in opposition to his candidacy. A Wyoming state senator since 2017, Bouchard has risen in prominence since announcing he would challenge Cheney following her vote to impeach Trump. ‘So, bottom line, it’s a story when I was young, two teenagers, girl gets pregnant,’ he said in the Facebook Live video. ‘You’ve heard those stories before. She was a little younger than me, so it’s like the Romeo and Juliet story.’ 
  • “Bouchard told the Star-Tribune he married the girl when she was 15 and he was 19. At the time, they were both living in Florida. The two were legally able to get married at the time because Florida law stated that people could marry at any age with a judge’s approval if a pregnancy was involved and a parent consented. They got divorced approximately three years later… Bouchard’s ex-wife killed herself when she was 20, he said.” 

The Arizona secretary of state said Maricopa County should replace millions of dollars worth of voting equipment because of GOP-backed recount.

  • “Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), the state’s chief elections officer, advised Maricopa County Thursday that it should replace all voting machines that were turned over to a private contractor for an audit of the 2020 presidential election, citing ‘grave concerns regarding the security and integrity’ of the machines that make them unusable for future elections,” Rosalind Helderman reports. “Hobbs’ guidance, outlined in a letter to county officials, is the latest fallout from a review of the election ordered by Republicans in the Arizona state Senate, who used a subpoena to order the county to turn over voting machines and nearly 2.1 million ballots to reexamine last fall’s vote.”

Rudy Giuliani cannot claim his job as an attorney shields him from the seizure of electronics, prosecutors said.

  • “The former New York mayor, through his attorneys, has argued that because of the extensive business-related communications authorities are likely to find on his phones and computers, it is impossible for the Justice Department to sort through his data without infringing on the rights of his clients,” Shayna Jacobs reports. “Prosecutors argued in the letter motion that ‘the mere fact that Giuliani [is a lawyer] does not mean that they are above the law or immune to criminal investigation.’”

Hot on the left

The Associated Press terminated a new staffer amid an uproar over her past tweets about Israel and Palestinians, sparking backlash. “Emily Wilder started a new job as a news associate for the Associated Press on May 3. Just 16 days later, she was called and told that she had been terminated for violating the company’s social media policy,” Jeremy Barr reports. “Wilder was not told which of her social media posts had violated company policy, she said, just that ‘I had showed clear bias.’ A spokesperson for the wire service confirmed that ‘she was dismissed for violations of AP’s social media policy during her time at AP.’ But the termination appears to be connected to tweets of hers referencing her advocacy for the Palestinian people and opposition to the actions of the Israeli government. 

Wilder, who is Jewish, said she was an active member of the pro-Palestinian groups Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford University, from which she graduated in 2020. On Sunday, she posted on Twitter her criticism of how the news media describes the [Israel-Palestine] situation. … The following day, the Stanford College Republicans flagged a post that Wilder made in college, characterizing her as an ‘anti-Israel agitator’ and criticizing the Associated Press for hiring her. … In subsequent days, conservative outlets including the Federalist, Washington Free Beacon and the website of Fox News published stories calling out the wire service for Wilder’s hiring and attempting to tie it to the Israeli army’s recent destruction of the Associated Press’s Gaza bureau. … Wilder believes the Associated Press acted in response to those high-profile pieces of criticism.”

Earlier yesterday, our colleagues Josh Dawsey and Sarah Ellison revealed that CNN anchor Chris Cuomo advised his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on how to respond to sexual harassment allegations made earlier this year by women who’d worked with the governor. 

The story drew criticism from the left and the right, with many comparing CNN’s lack of action toward Chris Cuomo to the AP’s speedy removal of Wilder:  

Writer Soray McDonald:

West Virginia public radio reporter Curtis Tate:

The New York Post this morning:

Hot on the right

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) insulted a “woke, emasculated” U.S. Army ad. “[The ad, which Cruz shared a TikTok of, features] a brightly animated U.S. Army ad telling the true story of Cpl. Emma Malonelord, a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California and graduating at the top of her high school class,” Katie Shepherd reports. “The U.S. Army said its ad showcases the ‘the deeply emotional and diverse’ backgrounds of its soldiers. But to Cruz, who retweeted the on Thursday, the contrast with [a] Russian campaign instead made American soldiers ‘into pansies.’ … His jab did not sit well with critics, including many former service members [and] veterans groups. … Conservative ire over changes in the U.S. military is not new. … John Noonan, who is an adviser on military and defense affairs for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), retweeted the same TikTok video with the comment ‘We are going to be the most tolerant military in history ever to lose a war.’ Cruz replied, ‘yep.’ … Despite the backlash, Cruz refused to take back his disdain for the video.” 

Simone Biles’s challenges, visualized

Two months before the Tokyo Olympics, Biles appears on track to distinguish herself from her rivals even further. She has pioneered four signature skills that bear her name and will add a fifth in Tokyo if she successfully performs a vault so risky that no woman has attempted it in competition,  Liz Clarke reports.

© Provided by The Washington Post

Today in Washington

Biden will welcome South Korea President Moon Jae-in to the White House at 12:35 p.m. At 1 p.m. the president will award the Medal of Honor to Army Colonel Ralph Puckett. Moon, Vice President Harris, the first lady and the second gentleman will also attend. At 2:15 p.m., Moon and Biden will hold a bilateral meeting. 

In closing

Seth Meyers reviewed some of the things Obama has said about Trump: 

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