There's a lot on our radar this week, from the latest on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to President Biden's Supreme Court (SCOTUS) nominee, to tomorrow night's State of the Union address (SOTU). In other words, we've got your acronyms covered. (Speaking of which, if Ketanji Brown Jackson gets confirmed, will we call her KBJ?)
And yes, it turns out we had quite the timing to launch our newsletter news-wise. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
The situation on the ground continues to develop. Here's the latest as of 7amET:
Talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia started this morning at the border with Belarus. Over the weekend, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky said the goal was an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces. (We're not holding our breath.)
Nuclear threats: Ukraine agreed to sit down as President Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces to be on "special combat readiness." Putin says it's a response to “aggressive” NATO statements and the latest round of economic sanctions. [Russia, like the U.S., has thousands of nuclear warheads.] The Pentagon says this decision is "unnecessary" and "escalatory." NBC NEWS
***Longtime Kremlin-watchers are split on how big a deal the threat is--whether it is just Putin saber rattling--but it is a throwback to the Cold War. And dropping nuclear threats is not something you do if the war is going well.
The NY Times writes that the US could "match the move and put American forces on Defcon 3 — known to moviegoers as that moment when the Air Force rolls out bombers, and nuclear silos and submarines are put on high alert. Or the president could largely ignore it, sending out aides to portray Putin as once again manufacturing a menace, threatening Armageddon for a war he started without provocation. For now, at least, Biden chose to de-escalate." [Note: The military keeps Defcon statuses classified--5 is lowest, 1 is nuclear war. The highest we have ever gone is Defcon 2 during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.]
A critical day: Zelensky calls the next 24 hours crucial for the defense of Ukraine. Russian forces are slowly advancing, surrounding the capital and closing in, but the Ukrainians are slowing their forces down with stronger-than-expected resistance. And after initially losing control of its second largest city, Kharkiv, the Ukrainians expelled Russian forces on Sunday. [The banner photo that leads this Mo News issue features a Russian armored personnel carrier burning during a firefight there.]
Continental moves: The European Union approved the spending of $500 million on arms and fighter jets for Ukraine. At the same time, there are reports that Belarus may officially send in troops to fight alongside Russia. It already allowed Putin to use the country as a staging ground for invasion, but this would mark a concerning escalation. WASH POST
The strength of the Ukrainian resistance appears to have frustrated the Russian government, with civilians taking up arms and in some cases, fighting the Russians street by street. BLOOMBERG
Background: Remember the Russian military is nearly 3x larger than Ukraine, they have 5x the tanks and armored vehicles, 10x the planes, 20x the helicopters and the spend 10x more on defense ($46 billion vs $5 billion). There are also signs the Russian training, equipment and tactics have been lacking. [WORTH WATCHING: The NY Times caught up with some Ukrainian civilians as they waited for weapons and talked about why they're joining the fight. VIDEO]
Ukrainian refugees: The UN reports about 500,000 people, mostly women and children, have left Ukraine. Many have fled to Poland, with cars backed up for miles at border crossings. Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova are also receiving refugees. As many as 5 million Ukrainians could flee.
Crippling Russia's economy: The US and Europe ratcheted up sanctions over the weekend to the biggest coordinated package of penalties ever levied against a major economy. They include direct sanctions on the Russian leaders, severe restrictions on central bank's access and a plan to block major Russian institutions from SWIFT, the international payments system. European officials on Sunday also banned Russian airlines from the bloc’s airspace and banned several major international Russian media outlets from broadcast in the EU. What's next: Western officials are reviewing more sanctions on Russian companies and billionaires, believed to be important to Putin’s hold on power. WSJ
Russian reaction: Moscow's stock exchange will stay closed on Monday as the country's currency plummeted to a record low. Russia's central bank has started to implement emergency measures like doubling interest rates to 20%. Meanwhile, many Russians are "running from ATM to ATM to get cash." They're concerned banks may limit withdrawals and bank cards will stop working entirely. And that is among Russians who have savings. JP Morgan is out with an analysis that Russia is headed for a "deep recession."
ZELENSKY THE HERO
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is earning universal praise for his grit and heroism in the face of Russian aggression.
Backstory: Zelensky is Jewish and lost much of his family during the Holocaust. Before running for president, Zelensky, who was trained as a lawyer, worked as an actor and comedian who literally played a president on TV. (Back in 2006 he won Ukraine's version of Dancing with the Stars.) Zelensky had sagging poll numbers in the months leading up the war. But as one analyst notes, "sometimes history comes to the rescue of a politician."
CNN: He has shown himself to be a man who has dug into himself and found an inspiring store of courage. When the United States offered to evacuate him from Ukraine, he stood his ground, saying, "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride."
👩🏾⚖️ SCOTUS MEET & GREET
Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden's Supreme Court nominee, will head to Capitol Hill this week.
Jackson will have courtesy meetings with Senate leaders and members of the Judiciary Committee. They're mostly "ceremonial, get-acquainted sessions." She'll also need to fill out a Judiciary Committee questionnaire, touching on her past rulings, speeches and writings.
Democrats want to get Jackson confirmed quickly, as early as April. Supreme Court nominees are no longer subject to the filibuster, meaning they can be approved with a simple majority. Right now Democrats have the votes, as long as all 50 Democratic senators stick together. VP Kamala Harris could cast the deciding vote. [Back in June 2021, the Senate confirmed Jackson to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, in a vote that included the support of three Republicans: Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. It's unclear how they'll will vote this time around.]
HISTORY IN THE MAKING: If confirmed, Jackson will be the first Black woman to sit on the nation's highest court, the third Black justice in U.S. history (after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas) and the sixth woman ever on the court. She'd fill the seat of liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, who recently announced his retirement. It would also mean that four of the nine justices on the Supreme Court will be women for the first time. [Out of 115 Justices in American history, 110 have been men.]
Currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Senate confirmed her to that position 53-44 in June 2021.
Previously served as Justice Stephen Breyer's law clerk.
First potential Supreme Court justice to have worked as a public defender.
Graduated Harvard University undergrad and law school.
Potential Controversy: Likely to receive scrutiny during the confirmation hearings are Jackson's two and half years working as an assistant public defender. In that time, she worked on behalf of accused terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay. At a 2012 confirmation hearing she tried to distance herself from those cases, saying her briefs "did not necessarily represent my personal views with regard to the war on terror or anything else.” NYTIMES
🇺🇸 STATE OF THE UNION PREVIEW
President Biden will address a Joint Session of Congress at the Capitol tomorrow, Tuesday, March 1 at 9pm ET. This is his first official State of the Union Address.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Michael Waldman, former chief speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, says: “These speeches go through many, many drafts... Two weeks ago the speechwriters probably thought they knew what was in the speech. Vladimir Putin had other ideas.”
State of the Union speeches tend to focus on domestic issues. But Biden will certainly address the crisis in Ukraine and talk about why it matters to Americans. This is especially important, given that Americans are likely to be hit with higher gas prices and other economic impacts.
ON THE RECORD: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain spoke to Punchbowl News. They asked how the White House views the upcoming address.
There's a lot at stake for Biden. His approval rating is currently at a career-low of just 37%, with 55% disapproving. Three in four Americans say the economy's in bad shape, and six in 10 say they're being hurt by inflation (three in 10 say it's a serious hardship). Biden also gets a low score for leadership skills, mental sharpness, and handling a crisis, and mixed approval on his handling of the pandemic.
[Source: ABC News]
GOP: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds will deliver the Republican response to Biden's State of the Union.
Throughout the pandemic, she's been one of the most outspoken Republican governors to push back against "government overreach."
DEMS: In a rare move, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, fellow democrat and member of the progressive “Squad," will also deliver a formal response to Biden's address.
She's expected to call out fellow Democrats who blocked Biden's massive climate and social spending proposal, the "Build Back Better" plan.
BE MY GUEST:
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, all House members and senators can attend the speech in person, however no guests will be allowed. (Which is a shame, because the guests are usually the best part!)
💵 JOBS REPORT
On Friday the government will release the February jobs report at 8:30am ET, shortly before U.S. markets open for trading. Economists expect another strong month of job growth.
January's report showed resilience in the labor market and economic recovery. Employers added 467,000 jobs for the month, far exceeding expectations. It came despite a record-setting number of Covid cases which kept workers home, closed schools and disrupted businesses. Wages were also higher, as was the number of Americans looking for work (a sign of optimism).
One thing we'll be watching for this month: the number of women who are reentering the workforce. While male workers have now regained all their job losses since the start of the pandemic, 1.1 million women are still not back to work.
Most analysts blame the exodus on a lack of structural support for working moms: “This includes lack of paid leave and other family-friendly policies at the same time as there is inadequate child care and uncertainty with schools." WASHINGTON POST
🗞 OTHER BIG HEADLINES
In an upset, the deaf family drama “CODA” won the top prize at an unpredictable and history-making Screen Actors Guild Awards that also saw wins for the leads of “Squid Game,” the cast of “Ted Lasso” and Will Smith. The SAGs are considered a pretty reliable predictor for the Academy Awards. (Hollywood Reporter)
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul pointed to the latest advice from the CDC, which essentially says most people don't need to wear face masks in indoor public settings unless there's a high level of severe disease. That comes as NYC mayor Eric Adams says patrons at restaurants, gyms and indoor venues in the city will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination starting March 7. (NBC New York)
We keep going back and forth on this one but new, new, new analysis of a range of sources concludes that the coronavirus was present in live mammals sold in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in late 2019. It suggests that the virus spilled over into people working or shopping there on two separate occasions.(NY TIMES)
A device priced at $200 could make inroads in regions like Africa, South America and parts of Asia that are currently Android strongholds. That would let Apple Inc. sign up more customers for services, potentially making a low-end iPhone quite lucrative for Apple in the long run. (BLOOMBERG)
And it all comes after spring training was dashed by the coronavirus pandemic halfway through in 2020, then stunted by fear and attendance limits in 2021. (WASHINGTON POST)
Chris Licht, a veteran TV NBC and CBS news executive from and current showrunner for CBS’ “Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” is expected to be named president of CNN, filling the role of its ousted leader, Jeff Zucker. (LA TIMES)
A survey of dog owners reported that 86 percent of them saw negative changes in the behavior of a surviving dog after the death of a companion dog in the same household. (NBC NEWS)
[Top Newsletter Photo Credit: SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images]