In Ukraine, Biden faces crisis with few political benefits at home
WASHINGTON — If it’s Wednesday … President Biden warns that the United States has not verified the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. … NBC’s Benjy Sarlin reflects on the cold reaction so far to a gas tax exemption. … Biden orders the National Archives to turn over Trump’s visitor logs to the Jan. 6 committee. … A new poll shows Marco Rubio is leading in the Florida Senate race, albeit by a smaller margin than Gov. Ron DeSantis. … And San Francisco voters successfully recalled those three school board officials.
But first: For Biden, the situation in Ukraine offers little political upside. And the goal is simply to avoid bigger political setbacks before the November election.
Let’s assume all goes as well as the White House hopes – Russia withdraws its forces and war is averted. In this best-case scenario, Biden is very unlikely to get credit from American voters, who are more focused on the direction of the country, Covid, inflation and the state of the economy.
But let’s say Russia invades (fully or partially), war breaks out, bloodshed, and the West retaliates with economic sanctions. Well, it could have negative domestic political consequences for the president.
“A Russian invasion of Ukraine…would be likely to drive up gas prices amid the highest inflation in decades, wipe out major stock market gains and give Republicans a new line of attack to argue against Biden’s foreign policy acumen – putting an already unpopular presidency on even more shaky ground with voters heading into the midterm elections in the fall, officials said. Democratic strategists and pollsters,” write NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece, Scott Wong and Peter Nicholas.
Little more. Big potential drawbacks.
Especially if the war gets in the way of the White House’s other plans.
Tweet of the day
Talking Politics with Benjy: Let’s Take a Vacation (Gas Tax)
With gas prices rising, the White House and some Democrats are reportedly considering an old icebreaker response: waiving the 18.4-cent gas tax.
The proposal has gained traction, according to the Washington Post, as the Biden administration seeks concrete steps to show it has inflation under control. The story was published the same day President Biden warned Americans that gas prices could rise further if Russia invaded Ukraine and said he would take action to help customers if that happened.
The last time a gas tax exemption was seriously discussed was in 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama distinguished himself from rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain in opposing the idea, which he called an election year “trick” that would save “pennies”. per day” while canceling funding for a trust fund for already strained highways, which funds maintenance and repairs.
Notably, senators who recently supported a bill calling for a gas tax exemption, such as Sens. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, Ralph Warnock, D-Ga., Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nev., and Maggie Hassan, DN.H., are all in close fights for re-election. Instead, they propose to fill the hole in the trust fund with general tax revenues.
A lot has changed since 2008, but the reaction from buffs across the political spectrum has been, if anything, more hostile than Obama’s. Climate activists, fresh from a Super Bowl filled with electric vehicle ads, are worried about slowing the transition from fossil fuels. Inflation hawks like Larry Summers fear another tax cut will inject more cash into the economy as the Fed tries to rein in spending.
Several Democrats and Republicans who worked on the bipartisan infrastructure bill also spoke out against the concept on Tuesday. The group considered raising the gas tax last year, last seen in 1993, and extending it to electric vehicles to offset falling revenues. The same political considerations that killed their efforts could make it difficult to undo a temporary tax cut.
Ellen Wald, president of energy research firm Transversal Consulting, told NBC News that it was unclear to what extent a gasoline tax exemption could achieve its own goals. Lower gasoline prices could induce consumers to drive more, which would drive prices up.
“It could be a very short-term reprieve, but by the time we hit summer it’s going to be exacerbated,” Wald said.
But there may not be good options. At the heart of the problem, Wald said, is the reduction in drilling investment after years of low profits.
The best hope for immediate relief? Peace on earth.
“It is clear that the rise in prices in the 1990s [a barrel] has a lot to do with the geopolitical situation in Russia,” Wald said. “There is a lot of uncertainty in the market right now.”
Downloading data: The day number is … 5
The number of senators who caucus with Democrats (four Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders) who voted against the administration’s choice to lead the Food and Drug Administration, which was narrowly confirmed Tuesday.
Joining Sanders was Democratic Sense. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut; Maggie Hassan, NH; Joe Manchin, WV; and Ed Markey, Mass. Confirmed by the slimmest of margins (50 votes, but without needing a tiebreaker), Dr. Robert Califf takes charge of the agency which plays an important role in the response to the American pandemic.
Other numbers you need to know today:
61%: The decrease in the rate of Covid hospitalization for a baby 6 months or younger if his mother was vaccinated against Covid (two shots, either Moderna or Pfizer) during her pregnancy, according to a new study from the CDC.
$11.7 million: How much former California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who left to lead Trump’s social media company, had left in his campaign account and executive committee as of the end of 2021.
$600,000: The amount of money two West Virginia GOP House members, Alex Mooney and David McKinley, have spent on ads as they face off in West Virginia’s 2nd District.
78 208 662: The number of confirmed Covid cases in the United States, according to the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 117,918 more since yesterday morning.)
929 004: The number of deaths from the virus so far. (That’s 2,747 more since yesterday morning.)
Rep. Kathleen Rice, DN.Y., became the 30th House Democrat to announce she is not running for re-election. It’s the highest number of House Democratic retirements since 1996, when 28 lawmakers headed out, according to Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., leads Democrat Val Demings by 7 points among Florida voters, 49% to 42%, with 9% undecided, according to a new Mason-Dixon poll. The poll also found that 40% approved of Biden’s performance in office, while 55% disapproved.
A panel of judges tasked with drawing Minnesota’s new congressional boundaries released the new map on Tuesday, leaving the political dynamics in each district largely unchanged, according to the Star Tribune.
More progressive groups are coming to the aid of Texas Democrat Jessica Cisneros in her tight 28th District primary race against Rep. Henry Cuellar – J Street Action Fund announced its $100,000 drop on digital ads in English and Spanish on Tuesday in his name.
Politico is reporting that there’s a new super PAC backing two of the top Republican women running for the Senate — Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Alabama’s Katie Britt.
Former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ultimately did not run for Congress.
Ad Watch: Buckeye State Battle Continues
Mike Gibbons, an investment banker running for the Ohio Senate, lashes out at fellow Republican candidates in a new ad. He compares former Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken and author JD Vance to President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the new ad.
“They’re no different than Democrats because they’re weak,” the ad’s narrator says of Vance and Timken. “JD Vance called Donald Trump an idiot and called his America First policy immoral and absurd. Jane Timken defended a RINO Congressman after he impeached Trump,” the narrator continues.
Notably, the ad only attacks two of Gibbons’ competitors, leaving two other candidates, former state treasurer Josh Mandel and state senator Matt Dolan, unscathed.
ICYMI: What else is going on in the world?
The CDC is expected to relax its guidelines on indoor masking as early as next week.
The Jan. 6 committee issued six new subpoenas related to the push to nominate “substitute voters,” including Arizona Republican Party Chairman Kelli Ward, Pennsylvania Republican Senator Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor, and the Arizona GOP Secretary of State nominee. Mark Finchem.
Arizona takes a step closer to banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
A Georgia judge has finished hearing arguments about redrawing the state and could issue a ruling as early as next week to reject the new maps and delay the state’s primary election, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.