President Biden has five months before voters fill out their midterm ballots. His job approval numbers keep dropping. The war in Ukraine is costing Americans. COVID-19 is surging (although less deadly). Congress is reacting tentatively to mass killings, abortion rights, high drug costs and just about everything else. Families are still searching for infant formula. Financial markets vaporized a year’s worth of gains. And some economists predict a recession ahead while others believe the United States is in one.
On Tuesday, Biden told Americans he has an inflation-fighting plan that requires a timeline somewhat more generous than executive say-so or sway with lawmakers and the private sector. Along the way, the upbeat features of the U.S. economy — strong job creation and wage growth, for example — could ebb as a result of efforts to tame inflation and dampen consumer demand, Biden suggested.
“The U.S. is in a better economic position than almost any other country,” he said after conferring with the chairman of the nation’s central bank and his Treasury secretary.
The reality is that Americans may be short on political patience in a country where gasoline averaged $4.62 per gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA (The Washington Post).
■ The Hill: Biden lays out his plan to fight record inflation.
■ The Hill: Five takeaways from the president’s inflation plan.
■ NPR’s Planet Money: Are we entering a recession?
Politico reported that the president will use June to try to champion a positive economic message, turning to his Cabinet and other surrogates, especially on TV.
NBC News reports that White House chief of staff Ron Klain is expected to depart after the November elections and that Biden is frustrated by an inability to persuade voters to give the administration some credit for navigating an unexpectedly bumpy year and a half, especially contrasted with opposition from the minority party in Congress and some of the nation’s governors and courts.
The Washington Post: White House scrambles on inflation after Biden complains to aides.
Biden has plenty of experience lobbing economic appeals to America’s middle class. He led former President Obama’s task force on the subject and issued a 2010 report that focused on a menu of woe during the Great Recession. As vice president, he championed “good paying jobs” that offer health insurance security; an expanded child care tax credit to help parents cover inflated day care costs, respite care to help families care for elderly relatives, relief from college debt using an income-based repayment program for student loans, and automatic individual retirement accounts.
At the time, Biden’s message focused on people rather than the intricacies of ports and supply chains, oil reserves and grain blockades tied to war in Eastern Europe.
“You can’t have a strong America without a growing middle class. It’s that simple. It’s that basic,” he said a dozen years ago.
Since 2010, America’s middle class has contracted, not expanded. And the electorate has changed (Pew Research Center).
▪ The Hill: Biden hedges inflation backlash with focus on the Federal Reserve.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Biden and Fed Chair Jerome Powell met on Tuesday with inflation at its highest in 40 years.
▪ The Washington Post & Bloomberg News: Ready to buy a house? Just wait a few weeks.
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LEADING THE DAY
The president on Tuesday said he expects to confer with lawmakers about a legislative response to recent mass shootings, including at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, last week.
“I will meet with the Congress on guns, I promise you,” Biden told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, declining to reveal any specifics.
The president’s remarks come as talks formally started among a bipartisan group of senators — including Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — in search of a deal that can win 60 votes in the upper chamber. The lawmakers held the meeting virtually, with more set for the coming days.
“We have a group led by Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Murphy … discussing how we might be able to come together to target the problem, which is mental illness and school safety,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in Kentucky. “We’ll get back at it next week and hope to have results” (CNN).
© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Activists protest for gun violence legislation outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
What is ultimately included in the proposal remains to be seen, but so-called red flag laws are considered the starting point for discussions. As McConnell pointed to, the bill is not expected to include any sort of ban on specific firearms despite calls from Biden and Vice President Harris to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
However, as The Hill’s Alexander Bolton notes, Biden and Harris are out of step with members of their own party who are focused on more modest reforms and do not want to cast votes on those hot-button issues. The president has noted in recent days that there is little he can do on the topic that does not require congressional approval.
On the GOP side, while there is no chance of an assault weapons ban being put on the table, there is a growing sentiment for change on the topic from within the GOP’s ranks. As The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports, at least three House Republicans — Reps. Chris Jacobs (N.Y.), Brian Mast (Fla.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — have said they support such a ban or would at least be open to it.
Both chambers of Congress are on recess and will return to Washington early next week.
■ NBC News: House panel calls emergency meeting to advance gun violence prevention bills.
■ The Hill: Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on domestic terrorism following Buffalo shooting.
■ The Associated Press: After mass shooting, NYC explores gun detectors in subways.
■ Fox 7 Austin: Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issues disaster declaration for Uvalde.
■ The Hill: On gun reform, neighboring Canada takes a different tack.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➤ UKRAINE CRISIS
Biden and the Pentagon today are unveiling a package of U.S. weapons for Ukraine that will include a small number of medium-range rocket systems as part of a new $700 million tranche of security assistance that will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, according to The Associated Press. Biden recently said the U.S. would not furnish arms that could allow Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia and trigger an escalation in the war.
The president outlined his thoughts on the Ukraine war in an opinion piece published Tuesday in The New York Times, “What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine.”
The Associated Press: Germany to send Kyiv anti-aircraft missiles, radar systems.
Ukraine on Tuesday said that Russia now has control of most of Sievierodonetsk, an eastern industrial city, marking a win for Moscow in a city it has made a priority as part of its invasion of its western neighbor.
However, overtaking the city has taken longer than the Russians have hoped. As Reuters notes, Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk acknowledged as much, having been met by tough fighting from Kyiv forces. A win in Sievierodonetsk, coupled with another potential one in nearby Lysychansk would give Moscow full control of Luhansk, one of two eastern provinces it claims to control.
Meanwhile, Russia retaliated against European oil sanctions on Tuesday with new demands to some of its customers to pay for natural gas in rubles. Russian company Gazprom said in Telegram posts that it would cut off gas supplied under a contract with Shell to Germany and under a contract with Danish company Ørsted and Dutch company GasTerra BV. The companies said in statements that they would purchase natural gas from sources other than Russia (The Hill).
The Associated Press: A “terrible nightmare”: Treating Ukraine’s wounded civilians.
Outside of the fighting, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday said that he faces new charges that could add 15 years to what is already a nine-year sentence delivered by a Russian court.
In a Twitter thread posted on his account, Navalny said that he was formally charged with a new case accusing him of creating an extremist group with the purpose of inciting hatred toward “officials and oligarchs.” The latest charge comes only days after a Russian court upheld the nine-year sentence against the longtime foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin on charges of fraud and contempt of court (The Hill).
© Associated Press / Alexander Zemlianichenko | Alexei Navalny appears via video from prison, May 24.
If Republicans win the House majority in November, the GOP’s transition to power — and congressional investigations aimed at Democrats — are being planned for 2023 (complete with an early retreat for GOP congressional staff members), reports Axios.
“What’s going to happen next Congress is, you’ve got to do four years of oversight in two years. That’s going to be an immense lift, and it means that they cannot wait to get these committees situated,” Mike Howell of Heritage Foundation said during an Axios interview. “There are thousands of people who served in the Trump administration, myself included, who experienced what was probably the most intense congressional oversight to date,” he added. They “are now chomping at the bit to deploy these skills that they’ve learned back at the Biden administration.”
The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a request by a group of Texas Republicans to spurn subpoenas seeking their testimony in a dispute over the state’s new voting maps that allegedly discriminate against racial minorities illegally. The Supreme Court’s move came in a brief unsigned order, leaving a lower court order in place that allows the Justice Department to depose three Texas lawmakers (The Hill).
A federal grand jury on Tuesday acquitted Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who represented Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party, of a single count of lying to the FBI. The decision is a major blow to special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the bureau’s scrutiny of former President Trump’s 2016 campaign as the Sussmann case had been the biggest of his probe (The Hill).
© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | The Supreme Court, May 4.
■ We clerked for Justices Scalia and Stevens. America is getting District of Columbia v. Heller wrong, by Kate Shaw and John Bash, opinion contributors, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/38STrwV
■ America is drowning in a rising tide of mass gun violence, by James Kitfield, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3x36eWt
■ Breastfeeding isn’t “free.” Here’s what it cost me, by Alyssa Rosenburg, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3PSkZ63
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets on Friday at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session. Lawmakers will return to work on Tuesday.
The Senate convenes on Friday at 4:30 p.m. for a pro forma session. Senators return to Washington on Monday.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. Biden will take part in a U.S. Coast Guard change of command ceremony at 11 a.m. where Adm. Karl Schultz will be relieved by Adm. Linda Fagan as the commandant of the Coast Guard’s headquarters. The president will also participate in a virtual meeting at 2:30 p.m. with administration officials and major infant formula manufacturers to discuss the national shortage.
The vice president will speak about global water security at 11:45 a.m.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet today with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and participate in a joint press conference at the State Department.
First lady Jill Biden, who will celebrate a birthday on Friday, is on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.
White House visitor logs for February have been posted HERE.
The White House daily briefing is scheduled at 3:30 p.m.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a Texas law that would bar social media companies from taking action on hate speech and disinformation. In a rare 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, justices ruled in favor of tech industry groups looking to block the law. Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer ruled in favor of halting the law, with Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Elena Kagan dissenting. The decision marks a loss for GOP-controlled state legislatures that are pushing to implement barriers on social media companies’ ability to moderate content (The Hill).
Some residents of Shanghai on Wednesday emerged from a two-month lockdown as restrictions continue to be lifted and more than 500,000 people in the city of 25 million remain restricted to their homes because of COVID-19 infections. Shanghai’s Communist Party committee described its actions as successful, thanking locals for “support and contributions” during two months of isolation (The Associated Press).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,007,047. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 301, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Forty-one years after attempting to assassinate former President Reagan, John Hinckley Jr., could be free. A federal judge is expected today to rule that Hinckley, 67, can be untethered from remaining restrictions after more than two decades in a mental hospital. Prosecutors maintain he “has recovered his sanity” after treatment and “does not present a danger to himself or others because of mental illness” if he is released (The Associated Press).
© Associated Press / Jean-Francois Badias | Novak Djokovic returns a shot against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
And finally … 🎾 The French Open championship continues until Sunday, but we couldn’t resist Tuesday’s thrilling 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) quarterfinal match on the red clay of Roland Garros Stadium. Spain’s Rafael Nadal defeated Serbia’s Novak Djokovic — and tennis fans everywhere got their money’s worth. The victory moves the Spaniard closer to winning his 14th French Open title.
“To win against Novak, there is only one way — to play at your best from the first point to the last,” Nadal said. “Tonight has been one of those magic nights for me” (Fox News).