President Biden’s age- and issues-based political problems are in the spotlight this week as former President Trump, juggling legal travails, strives to sway Congress, voters, NATO and the policy priorities swirling in world capitals.
Working overtime during the weekend, the Senate refused to give up on bolstering Ukraine, voting 67-27 Sunday to move another step toward approving a $95.3 billion measure to assist Kyiv’s battle with Russia, plus provide aid to Israel and Taiwan.
The Senate days ago ran aground while trying to vote on the specifics of a bipartisan border security proposal that was packaged with spending for U.S. allies, a deal that Trump said he opposes.
As a fallback, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) turned instead to colleagues on both sides of the aisle who want the U.S. to help Ukraine with arms and ammunition and to show solidarity with Israel while also backing humanitarian aid in the Middle East. The resulting measure could come to a final Senate vote this week (CNN).
Because of Trump’s opposition, House Republicans are in disarray over whether to vote on proposed migration and other border restrictions and whether and how to back Israel while separately arguing that U.S. help for Ukraine must hinge on greater accountability in Kyiv when it comes to how the U.S. aid is spent.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a Ukraine supporter who days ago was publicly rebuked by some GOP hardliners for opening the door to a border accord with Democrats, pulled a victory Sunday from defeat last week, rallying the 17 Republican votes needed to advance the Senate’s fallback national security bill (The Wall Street Journal).
Kyiv views the money as crucial at a time when Ukraine’s war-weary fighters are poised to mark the second year since Russia’s invasion.
Meanwhile, The Hill’s Aris Folley reports on the seemingly never-ending House skirmishes over appropriations for the fiscal year that began in October. Ahead of March deadlines to keep the government operating, disagreements look ominous. House Republicans and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), whose legislative misfires last week seriously dented his reputation for steering Republicans’ narrow majority, are divided.
The Hill: Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Sunday called the border crisis a “broken system.” Johnson says the House will vote again to try to impeach the secretary.
3 THINGS TO KNOW TODAY
▪ Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 70, on Sunday returned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with symptoms of an “emergent bladder issue.” He transferred his duties to his deputy as he was hospitalized. Austin on Dec. 22 underwent surgery for prostate cancer and was hospitalized for several weeks in January with complications.
▪ The Federal Reserve on Tuesday will pore over the consumer price index for January, hoping to see a low monthly increase in prices. A rise lower than 0.3 percent would cheer investors and borrowers who crave interest rate cuts, the sooner the better.
▪ Gird your curds! Say a prayer for Camembert! A collapse in microbe diversity is putting these French cheeses at risk.
LEADING THE DAY
© The Associated Press / Virginia Mayo | NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week.
NATO COUNTRIES FEAR TRUMP’S POTENTIAL REELECTION. Here’s one reason: The former president says he’d encourage Russia to do whatever it wants to a NATO ally. At a Saturday rally, he recounted a past conversation, ostensibly with a foreign leader of a “big country,” in which he suggested that he would not defend a NATO ally if a country was in arrears with defense cost-sharing. “‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent. No I would not protect you,’” Trump said. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”
Biden on Sunday castigated Trump for his remarks, insisting that he “will abandon our NATO allies if Russia attacks.”
▪ Politico: “Enough to make Reagan ill”: Trump’s NATO remarks come under fire.
▪ The New York Times: Trump’s outburst on NATO may push Europe to go it alone.
Former U.N. ambassador and GOP challenger Nikki Haley, who trails front-runner Trump in the presidential race, called the former president a “thug” Sunday, based on his NATO remarks.
The Hill’s Laura Kelly reports that with the U.S. and NATO members heavily invested in protecting Ukraine and maintaining alliances, Congress passed legislation in December barring a president from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO without a two-thirds approval from the Senate. But this has done little to calm those nervous about a second term for Trump.
“The fact that the Senate felt necessary to include such a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is disconcerting enough,” said one European diplomat, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. “Our reading of the NATO withdrawal section is that if it gets tested, the president will prevail.”
Stoking further concerns, Trump said Saturday he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if it attacked a NATO country that didn’t pay enough for defense. His comments drew fierce backlash from some Republicans, the White House and leading Western officials, with the head of the alliance suggesting they could put the lives of American and European soldiers at greater risk (NBC News).
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance “remains ready and able to defend all allies. Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response,” and added that “I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election the U.S. will remain a strong and committed NATO ally.”
ISRAEL FREED TWO HOSTAGES in Rafah on Monday under the cover of airstrikes. which local health officials said killed 67 Palestinians and wounded dozens in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians. Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled to Rafah to escape fighting in other areas, where they are packed into sprawling tent camps and United Nations shelters near the border (Reuters).
The airstrikes came as Israel has threatened a ground offensive in Rafah. Biden warned Israel on Sunday that it should not proceed with a military operation in Rafah without a “credible” plan to protect civilians. He spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat said Egypt threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli troops are sent into Rafah, where fears are growing that could force the closure of the besieged territory’s main aid supply route. A ground operation could cut off one of the only avenues for delivering Gaza’s badly needed food and medical supplies (ABC News).
Netanyahu said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that those warning Israel against entering Rafah “are basically saying lose the war.” Biden has been venting his frustrations in recent private conversations, some of them with campaign donors, over his inability to persuade Israel to change its military tactics in Gaza, and has named Netanyahu as the primary obstacle, NBC News reports. The president has said he is trying to get Israel to agree to a cease-fire, but Netanyahu is “giving him hell” and is impossible to deal with.
“He just feels like this is enough,” one person said of the views expressed by Biden. “It has to stop.”
BIDEN IS HOSTING Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Washington today, and the two leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing effort to free hostages held in Gaza, as well as growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the port city of Rafah. The meeting comes as Biden and his aides are working to broker another pause in the war in order to send humanitarian aid and supplies into the region and get hostages out. A senior U.S. administration official said Sunday that after weeks, a framework was essentially in place for a deal that could see the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for a halt to fighting (The Hill).
BBC: Gaza residents are surviving off animal feed and rice as food dwindles.
SHAKEUP IN KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s firing last week of his top general marks the biggest military personnel change since Russia invaded, a sign that Kyiv is searching for a new start as it’s under pressure to overcome major setbacks in the war. Zelensky’s removal last week of Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, who was commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces since 2021, is unlikely to change the dynamics on the battlefield. But The Hill’s Brad Dress writes that appointing a new commander in chief, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, who was the head of Ukraine’s ground forces, allows Zelensky to deliver a political message.
“Zelensky is looking for some way to affect the way the war is going, and the best thing you can do at this point is replace Zaluzhny,” said David Silbey, a professor at Cornell University who studies defense policy. “I think it’s more of a sign of desperation,” he added, summing up the thinking as: “We don’t actually have anything we can do that will make a substantial difference, but we’re going to do something anyway.”
Vox: Why Ukraine’s new top general is known as the “butcher.”
WHERE AND WHEN
The House convenes Tuesday at noon.
The Senate will meet at noon.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will address the National Association of Counties at 11:15 a.m. at the Washington Hilton during the group’s legislative conference. The president and first lady Jill Biden will welcome Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania to the White House at 2:30 p.m. The two men will speak at 4 p.m. in the White House Cross Hall after their meeting, which is focused on securing a pause in Israel-Hamas war, freeing hostages and preventing further conflict in the Middle East.
Vice President Harris has no public events.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet at 4:30 p.m. with Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara at the State Department.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will host a working lunch at noon with European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 1 p.m.
© The Associated Press / Brittainy Newman and John Minchillo | The New York contest between Mazi Pilip (R) and former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D) to fill Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) vacant House seat could be a bellwether for November’s election.
DEMOCRATS ARE LOOKING TO AVERT an embarrassing defeat in Tuesday’s high-stakes special election for former Rep. George Santos’s (R-N.Y.) House seat, a race that will have broad implications for November as the party hopes to flip the lower chamber. The Hill’s Jared Gans reports that while Democrats have seen the seat as a prime pickup opportunity, recent polls have shown their nominee, former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), is locked in a tight race with Republican Mazi Pilip, who has sought to tie him to Biden’s policies, especially on immigration. With New York viewed as key to Democrats’ chances of winning the House, the race is an important bellwether for both parties.
“Both sides will say this is a must-win election, but the stakes are higher for Democrats. Suozzi’s high name recognition, combined with the fact that he’s leading in nearly every major poll, sets an expectation that Democrats will regain control of this seat,” Democratic strategist Greg Drilling said. “If Pilip pulls off a victory, it will be seen as a major upset that generates momentum for Republicans heading into November.”
AGE MATTERS: Blowback from last week’s special counsel report about Biden’s handling of classified documents and his cognitive acuity ripples through politics this week. Here’s the upshot to watch: Following findings that cleared Biden of any future prosecution but repeatedly faulted his memory, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 86 percent of Americans believe the 81-year-old incumbent is too old to serve in office.
Biden says his memory is “fine” and denies he’s not up to the job. His surrogates cannot change his age, but they’re trying to tout his “experience” and the results of his leadership — and his track record against Trump, 77.
Assertions that Biden is unfit for office are a “bucket of B.S.,” said the co-chair of Biden’s campaign on Sunday. … The president’s lawyer called the report a “shoddy work product.” … First lady Jill Biden on Saturday came to her husband’s defense with a lengthy written statement. … House Democrats are fretting about the report. … More broadly, Democrats’ angst deepens, reports The Hill’s Niall Stanage. … The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch unpacks how separate federal investigations involving documents retained by Biden and Trump, and each man’s approach impacted the outcome.
▪ A $7 million “vote independent” political ad during the Super Bowl funding by super PAC American Values 2024 promoted presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. using vintage music and images invoking former President John F. Kennedy, despite public opposition to the 70-year-old candidate’s challenge to Biden among some Kennedy family members.
▪ Rep. Matt Rosendale’s (R-Mont.) entry into Montana’s Senate race is threatening the GOP with a bitter and bruising primary ahead of a general election seen as central to its effort to regain control of the upper chamber.
▪ Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) is facing tough primary competition, potentially including her former chief of staff, reflecting just how polarizing a figure she has become in South Carolina.
▪ Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), 39, chair of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, will not seek reelection this November.
▪ Trump says “there’s no way” Taylor Swift will endorse Biden (she endorsed the Biden-Harris ticket in 2020).
▪ In drawing rooms and ballrooms of the elite in Manhattan, any enthusiasm for a second Biden term seemed to be mingled with fear about the thought of a second one for Trump.
▪ A turf battle has erupted in South Carolina after Trump questioned Haley’s husband’s military service.
© The Associated Press / Manuel Balce Ceneta | Former President Trump held a rally in South Carolina on Saturday ahead of the state’s primary Feb. 24.
TRUMP HAS A COURT DATE in Manhattan on Thursday. It will be the first time since his April 2023 arraignment that he must appear in person during his felony hush-money case, in which he’s accused of lying 34 times in business documents, allegedly to hide a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to secure her silence before the 2016 election. The hush-money case may go to trial ahead of the former president’s four felony indictments. Jury selection is scheduled for March 25, a date halfway through the primary season (Business Insider).
▪ ABC News: “Timing is everything”: Here are Trump’s options for appealing his immunity ruling.
▪ The Guardian: Trump gets access to sealed documents on witness threats in his Mar-a-Lago case.
■ Donald Trump and NATO deterrence. His latest comments about the alliance will please Vladimir Putin, by The Wall Street Journal editorial board.
■ Biden can’t count on Trump’s unpopularity anymore, by Doug Sosnik, opinion contributor, The New York Times.
■ An astonishing blunder at last week’s Supreme Court argument, by Bruce Ackerman, opinion contributor, The Hill.
© The Associated Press / Doug Benc | The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in a thrilling Super Bowl 58 on Sunday in Las Vegas, winning their second consecutive title.
And finally … 🏈 The Kansas City Chiefs are two-time consecutive Super Bowl winners. The team trounced the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas on Sunday in only the second overtime game in Super Bowl history. The 25-22 victory gave the Chiefs their third title in five years.
The Chiefs trailed by double digits in the first half and turned the ball over twice, prompting tight end Travis Kelce to body check his head coach in frustration. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes ultimately delivered the winning touchdown to clinch his team’s victory (USA Today).
The Kansas City Sports Commission confirmed Sunday night that the celebratory parade will be held Wednesday (The Kansas City Star).
Halftime show performer Usher pulled out all the stops for his career-spanning, 13-minute performance. The show featured a lineup of special guests — including Alicia Keys, will.i.am and Ludacris — as well as Usher on roller skates and in a sparkling black and blue costume for a rendition of “Bad Girl” (People and The New York Times).
One happy Super Bowl attendee? Taylor Swift, who shared an on-field kiss with boyfriend Kelce after the Chiefs clinched their win (Variety).
Find highlights and coverage HERE. And find a roundup of some of the best Super Bowl ads HERE.
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