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Zelensky thanks Biden for new aid package

Zelensky and Biden shake hands in Hiroshima on Sunday.
Zelensky and Biden shake hands in Hiroshima on Sunday. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked President Biden Sunday for the “powerful” financial assistance provided by the US, which totals $37 billion, and for the new military assistance package, according to a readout from the president’s office.

“A huge gratitude from our people. I am glad that we have such strong relations,” Zelensky said, adding, “We discussed further cooperation to bolster the defense capabilities of our country.”

Biden earlier announced the military assistance package, worth $375 million, which includes include ammunition, artillery and vehicles, as he met with Zelensky in Japan at the G7 summit in Japan.

“The United States continues to do all we can to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself,” Biden said, citing his recent decision to allow F16 fighter jets to go to Ukraine and to train Ukrainian pilots on the aircraft in the United States.

Biden said new sanctions on Russia would “ensure that we keep pressure on Putin to hold his backers accountable.”

Fact check: Anti-Biden commentators spread false claim that he affixed a Medal of Honor ‘backwards’

President Joe Biden awards the Medal of Honor to Spc. Dwight Birdwell for his actions on January 31, 1968, during the Vietnam War, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 5, 2022.

Washington (CNN)A false claim that President Joe Biden placed a Medal of Honor “backwards” around the neck of a Vietnam War hero has gone viral on social media — with some conservatives citing the invented tale as supposed evidence of Biden experiencing mental decline.

A grainy video with the caption “Biden puts medal on backwards,” showing the President putting the Medal of Honor around the neck of retired Army Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell, was viewed more than 2.9 million times on Twitter between Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning. The video was viewed more than 1 million additional times on other Twitter posts with similar captions, and versions also circulated on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and various anti-Biden corners of the web.
The claim is completely phony.
Facts FirstBiden correctly put the medal around Birdwell’s neck, as clear footage of the Tuesday ceremony proves. The graininess of the footage that went viral on social media made it difficult to see that the medal was hanging entirely normally near the top of Birdwell’s tie.
You can watch clear footage here of Biden giving the medal to Birdwell at the White House. Nothing went wrong during the process.
The false claim that Biden affixed the medal “backwards” was previously fact-checked by Snopes, Newsweek, the Associated Press and others.
After the Twitter post that received more than 2.9 million video views had been online for more than 24 hours and had received more than 2.4 million views, Twitter added a notice at the bottom of the post saying the video had been presented “out of context” and linking to previous fact checks. But other Twitter posts of the video with similar captions, including one that generated more than 971,000 video views, had not been labeled with any notice as of Friday morning.

Poster declines to take down false claim

The post that generated more than 2.9 million video views was published on Twitter on Wednesday by an obscure account that has sharply criticized Biden and promoted conspiracy theories. Anti-Biden commentators with six-figure followings then amplified that account’s inaccurate tweet, some of them adding their own assertions about how the video supposedly demonstrated that Biden is declining.
The person who operates the obscure Twitter account told CNN in a message on Thursday that they had found the video on Telegram, a messaging and chat app, along with the claim that the medal was backwards. The person said that although they are aware that people have said “it’s the way the medal is and it’s not backwards,” they do not plan to take down the viral tweet.
“I was debating deleting it and I decided not to because it’s Biden and he deserves the scrutiny,” they said.
You can read more here about the acts in 1968 for which Birdwell received the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award for military valor. Following his Army service, Birdwell became a lawyer and eventually the chief justice of the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court.

Biden: Americans will be “seeing for the first time” details of Jan. 6 riot during tonight’s hearing

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the Summit of the Americas on Thursday.
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting at the Summit of the Americas on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/AP)

Ahead of the House select committee’s Jan. 6 hearing, President Biden said many Americans will be “seeing for the first time” details that occurred during the insurrection at the Capitol.

The President said the actions taken on that day were a “flagrant violation of the Constitution” and that the committee’s hearing is going to “occupy” the country.

“I think it was a clear, flagrant violation of the Constitution. I think these guys and women broke the law — tried to turn around a result of an election and there’s a lot of questions, who’s responsible, who’s involved,” Biden said in Los Angeles at the beginning of a bilateral with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Biden and Trump both plan to watch the hearing

President Biden, who previewed the first prime-time hearing of the committee investigating Jan. 6, plans to watch as much as he can in between meetings and a scheduled dinner with world leaders in Los Angeles, sources familiar with his plan say.

Biden believes the committee has woven together the events of that day — including what happened before, during and after — in a way that will be informative for Americans.

As for former President Trump, who watched those events unfold from the Oval Office on Jan. 6, 2021, will also be keeping an eye on the hearings, one person says. Trump, who is often impressed but agitated by well-produced events, has urged allies to flood the airwaves with attacks on the committee.

Trump won’t be the only one paying attention. Several former members of his West Wing staff say they also plan to watch the hearing to see if it tells a compelling narrative, or falls flat.

Biden is vowing to seize Russian oligarchs’ yachts. Here’s where they are right now

The ships span the length of a football field or longer, come outfitted with helipads and swimming pools, and have shown up at ports around the world — towering over nearby fishing vessels and motorboats like giants.

Yachts owned by Russian oligarchs — who have bought some of the largest and most extravagant “superyachts” on the planet — are gleaming symbols of how Russia’s elite have profited under the government of President Vladimir Putin.
Now, as Russian forces ramp up their deadly military campaign in Ukraine, the yachts are emerging as key targets of the US and European allies, who are vowing to seize property owned by Putin’s enablers.
Disputes are already erupting: French officials seized a yacht Wednesday night that they said was linked to Igor Sechin, a sanctioned Russian oil executive and close Putin associate, as it was preparing to flee a port. But the company that manages the oofos shoes ship denied Sechin was the owner. And the White House said German officials had seized another oligarch’s yacht in Hamburg, while local authorities denied any ships had been confiscated.
The French seizure shows that confiscating oligarchs’ yachts will require a concerted global effort — and it’s likely to mean protracted legal battles around the world, experts said.
A CNN review of maritime location data from the website MarineTraffic found that more than a dozen yachts that have been reported to be owned by Russian oligarchs are spread out across the world, from the crystal waters of Antigua to ports in Barcelona and Hamburg to atolls in the Maldives and Seychelles.
In several cases, the billionaires’ yachts have been on the move in the days since the Russian offensive began.
Meanwhile, officials around the world are also enforcing sanctions on a far less flashy but still important group of vessels: oil tankers and container ships the US Treasury Department says are owned by the subsidiary of a bank with close ties to Russia’s defense industry. French authorities intercepted one of the cargo ships last weekend, and a Malaysian port refused to let another dock.
Sanctions and asset seizures “make it more difficult for the Kremlin to persuade capable people of getting involved in its activities and thereby weaken the grip of the Kremlin over elites,” said William Courtney, a former US ambassador and current executive director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum, whose members include Russian and Western leaders.
President Joe Biden put the Russian elite on notice in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
“To the Russian oligarchs and the corrupt leaders who bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: No more,” Biden declared. “We are joining with European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.”
The US Department of Justice launched a new task force — dubbed KleptoCapture — to help put Biden’s words into action. The effort includes prosecutors, federal agents and experts in money laundering, tax enforcement and national security investigations from the FBI, the IRS, the US Marshals Service, and the US Postal Inspection Service, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Wednesday.
“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” Garland said.

Russian-tied yachts docked around the world

Yacht ownership is extremely difficult to confirm, with the ships often registered to management companies or shell corporations in an apparent effort to disguise ownership, experts say.
But more than a dozen of the billionaires included in a list of Russian “oligarchs” the Treasury Department released in 2018 have been tied to yachts in media reports in recent years, according to a CNN review.
Most of the oligarchs who reportedly own yachts are not yet facing US sanctions. However, some have been sanctioned by the European Union or the United Kingdom, and could be added to US sanctions lists as well.
Amber Vitale, a former official with the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces sanctions, said that US sanctions generally only prevent Americans and American companies from interacting with sanctioned individuals. That means the oligarchs’ yachts could be safe from seizure if they stay in international waters or in countries that haven’t issued their own sanctions.
“However, it would get very difficult to operate for long if many allied nations impose similar prohibitions,” Vitale said in an email. “Vessels need ports, fuel, operators/captains, repairs and supplies. Without access to these things they could be stuck floating at sea waiting for rescue or resolution.”
The seizures have already begun, with French officials taking the Amore Vero, the yacht they said is owned by Sechin, according to a statement from France’s Ministry of Economy and Finance. The yacht arrived at the French port of La Ciotat on January 3 for repairs, but was “making arrangements to sail urgently, without having completed the planned work” when it was seized on Wednesday, the ministry said. Sechin, the CEO of the Russian oil company Rosneft, was sanctioned by the EU earlier this week, and Rosneft itself was sanctioned by the US in 2014.
The Amore Vero yacht at a shipyard in La Ciotat, in southern France, on March 3, 2022.

But a yacht management company associated with the ship denied Sechin owned it. “I can absolutely say that Igor Sechin is not the owner,” a spokesperson for Imperial Yachts, which manages the Amore Vero, told CNN. “The rightful owner is appealing the decision to seize the vessel.”
Legal experts told CNN that oligarchs were likely to transfer assets such as yachts to friends or family who aren’t sanctioned to try to prevent them from coach outlet being seized. Catherine Belton, the author of a book on Putin, said she expected oligarchs were “feverishly engineering deals where ownership changes could be triggered.”
“It’s going to be a game of cat and mouse,” she said.
The French ministry said that the Amore Vero, which has an onboard gym and beauty salon and won an award for yacht design, is owned by a company whose “main shareholder” is Sechin. Sechin served as Russia’s deputy prime minister in Putin’s cabinet before becoming CEO of Rosneft, one of the country’s largest companies, in 2012.
The seizure may also scare other Russian oligarchs into getting their ships out of EU ports. The Dilbar, one of the largest yachts in the world, which is reportedly owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, arrived in Hamburg, Germany in late October, according to MarineTraffic data. There was confusion about the ship’s status on Thursday: Usmanov was sanctioned by the EU earlier this week, and Forbes reported that German authorities had seized the 156-meter ship, which can carry up to 96 crew members and 24 guests. The US Treasury Department also sanctioned Usmanov on Thursday, specifically calling out the Dilbar as evidence of his “luxurious lifestyle.”
But a spokesperson for the Hamburg economic authority told CNN Thursday that “no yacht has been seized by authorities or customs at the port in Hamburg at this moment in time.” German customs officials did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment, and the shipbuilding company that reportedly had been refitting the yacht declined to comment.
A file photo dated September 10, 2018 shows the yacht Dilbar.

The Luna, a yacht reportedly owned by Farkhad Akhmedov, an Azerbaijani billionaire who previously led a Russian natural gas company, was also in Hamburg as of the latest MarineTraffic data from earlier this week. Akhmedov, who has not been sanctioned, kept the nine-deck, 115-meter Luna after an acrimonious divorce that was the largest divorce case heard in Britain’s legal history.  The yacht features missile detection technology and bulletproof windows.
Several yachts reportedly owned by Russian oligarchs have been docked at a port in Barcelona, including the Solaris, which has been tied to Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who announced Wednesday that he would sell the Chelsea Football Club and donate proceeds to a foundation for people impacted by the invasion of Ukraine. Abramovich hasn’t been sanctioned.
The Galactica Super Nova, reportedly owned by Russian oil company executive Vagit Alekperov, left Barcelona on Saturday and crossed the Mediterranean to Tivat, Montenegro, before sailing south into the Adriatic Sea. While Alekperov hasn’t been sanctioned, he is president of Lukoil, which has been hit by US sanctions in the past.
Other Russian-linked yachts are in the Caribbean, including Eclipse, another yacht owned by Abramovich, which is among the world’s largest and includes a swimming pool that can be transformed into a dance floor, and the Anna, reportedly owned by oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, who once purchased a Florida mansion from former President Donald Trump. Rybolovlev hasn’t been sanctioned.
Courtney, the former ambassador, said that he expected Russian oligarchs took most of their assets out of the US after two billionaires were sanctioned in 2018, and predicted that they would try to move their yachts out of Western European countries to avoid them being seized.
“We are likely to see more of a redistribution geographically of some of those assets,” Courtney said, to countries “that are seen as less likely to sanction,” possibly in the Middle East.
Several yachts connected to Russian oligarchs have arrived in recent weeks in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago nation. They include the Clio, reportedly owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which left Sri Lanka in early February and has swarovski jewelry been sailing between various Maldives atolls since then, according to MarineTraffic. Deripaska was sanctioned by the US in 2018.
None of the oligarchs mentioned in this story responded to requests for comment from CNN sent to their spokespeople, businesses or lawyers.
Perhaps the clearest example of a yacht with supposed ties to the Russian elite fleeing the West is a Russian-flagged ship named Graceful. Speculative news articles in the German media have reported that the ship belongs to Putin himself, although there’s no concrete evidence that that’s the case.
Graceful departed Hamburg in early February — roughly two weeks before the invasion of Ukraine — and sped to Kaliningrad, Russia, the MarineTraffic data shows. No location data has been recorded since it arrived in the Russian city on February 9.
Hackers last week successfully altered maritime traffic data to make it appear that the yacht’s destination was “hell” and it had run aground on Snake Island in Ukraine — where Ukrainian soldiers’ profane response to a Russian warship went viral on social media.
Sanctions will likely spark legal battles over the yachts, and require government officials to prove ownership, experts said.
“A sanctioned person may say to the government that the asset you have frozen is not one of my assets,” arguing that it is registered in a family member’s name or a shell corporation that has not specifically been sanctioned, said Raj Bhala, a professor at the University of Kansas Law School and a sanctions expert. ”The oligarch could argue before the government that you don’t really have the legal authority to seize my asset.”
But there are new dangers for the oligarchs’ yachts beyond legal proceedings: A Ukrainian ship engineer was arrested in the Spanish island of Mallorca for trying to sink a yacht owned by a Russian military export company executive, local news outlets reported.
“I don’t regret anything I’ve done and I would do it again,” the engineer declared in court on Sunday, according to the Majorca Daily Bulletin. “They were attacking innocents.”

Sanctioned shipping vessels seized, blocked from ports

Even as Biden and other officials have focused their public comments on oligarchs’ yachts, the US is also going after other shipping vessels with ties to Russia.
Last week, the Biden administration announced sanctions against five oil, cargo and container ships that the Treasury Department says are owned by a subsidiary of Promsvyazbank, a Russian bank that has given billions of dollars to support Russian defense companies. The sanctions block any Americans from doing business with Promsvyazbank.
French authorities seized one of the cargo ships, the Baltic Leader, on Saturday as it was headed from France to Saint Petersburg, Russia, “as part of an operation carried out in cooperation with US authorities,” according to France’s finance ministry. The ship is now anchored at a port in northern France, MarineTraffic data shows.
A port operator in Malaysia declined the request of one of the other vessels, an oil tanker named Linda, to dock there on March 5 “in order not to violate any sanctions,” Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport told CNN. The decision was first reported by Reuters.
Promsvyazbank did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, but has publicly denied that its subsidiary owned the Linda, and said it no longer owns the Baltic Leader. Two of the other US-sanctioned ships are now in the process of having their leases withdrawn from Promsvyazbank’s subsidiary, according to a statement from Russian company FESCO Transportation Group.
Some of the ships have been accused in recent years of violating past US sanctions by transporting Iranian oil. A Turkish petroleum company had agreed to service another one of the ships — an oil tanker named Pegas — at one of its terminals earlier this year, but after receiving a report that the ship may have been carrying Iranian cargo, the transaction was canceled, according to a spokesperson for the company, Opet.

Biden set to use first State of the Union to condemn Putin for ‘premeditated and unprovoked’ war

President Joe Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address in the US House chamber Tuesday evening, using his biggest platform of the year to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.

According to excerpts provided ahead of the speech by the White House, Biden is set to tout the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and condemn the Russian leader for his aggression. Biden will also announce that the US will ban Russian aircraft from US airspace, joining a growing number of countries who are closing their skies to Russia, two sources familiar with the decision told CNN.
“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And, he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”
Putin, for his part, is not expected to watch the speech, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. “The President usually does not watch TV addresses,” Peskov said in response to a question from CNN.
The initial excerpts provided by the White House showed how the speech has evolved in recent oofos shoes days as a result of invasion of Ukraine. The annual speech also marks an opportunity for him to speak directly to the American people about his vision to build a better country, demonstrating how he’ll lead America out of the Covid-19 pandemic, into an economic recovery and through the ramifications of a war between Ukraine and Russia.
Biden will recognize his administration’s major accomplishments, including the nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and the passage of his first two major legislative priorities in his first year in office. He’ll discuss the prospect of a return to normalcy as Covid cases wane inside a full room where masks are optional — a marked departure from his joint address to Congress last year, when masks were required and seating was limited. And he will seek to recalibrate an economic message that acknowledges the hardships many Americans are facing amid higher prices, launching a new plan to lower costs for American families.
During the speech, Biden is expected to lay out a plan to fight inflation, saying the nation has “a choice. One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation.”
“Lower your costs, not your wages. Make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. And, instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let’s make it in America,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “Economists call it ‘increasing the productive capacity of our economy.’ I call it building a better America. My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.”
As is tradition, first lady Jill Biden has invited guests that represent policies and themes the President will talk about during the speech, her office said. This year’s invitations includes Ukraine Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, according to the Office of the First Lady. Educators, a union representative, members of the tech community, an organizer of Native American causes, a health care worker and a military spouse have also been invited to sit with the first lady in her box above the dais.
Biden’s primetime speech about the state of the nation and where the country is headed comes after a sharp decline in the President’s’ approval rating since he last spoke in front of the joint session of Congress last year. With all eyes on Biden Tuesday night, the White House has made clear that they’re keenly aware of the pressure on him to deliver a successful message — especially as Democrats head into the 2022 midterm elections.
Polling shows Americans don’t trust Biden when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden also has one of the worst approval ratings going into his first inaugural address of any American president in the polling era.
Democrats have relayed in recent weeks that the White House appears hopeful that the address will boost the President’s polling by demonstrating leadership on national security and by showing empathy for Americans frustrated with Covid-19 and inflation.
The President’s public schedule ahead of the address on Tuesday was largely blank, with the President expected to continue rehearsing and fine-tuning his remarks. But as the day has unfolded, the President, his administration and its allies have made it clear that Ukraine has been top of mind.
The US and its allies announced thorogood boots early Tuesday that they have agreed to a release of 60 million barrels from their reserves, the White House and International Energy Agency, as leaders seek to dampen the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on gas prices at home. Vice President Kamala Harris held five separate calls with European leaders and Biden held a half-hour call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to the White House, the two leaders discussed “the United States’ continued backing for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression.”
In a rare interview with CNN and Reuters ahead of of Biden’s speech, Zelensky urged the President to impress upon Americans the urgency and implications of Russia’s invasion.
“He is one of the leaders of the world and it is very important that the people of the United States understand (that) despite the fact that the war is in Ukraine … it is [a] war for the values of democracy, freedom,” Zelensky said.
Biden also told news anchors during a lunch ahead of Tuesday’s address that America and its allies will remain united in their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Asked to characterize Tuesday night’s speech, especially as it pertains to Ukraine, Biden told the anchors that he felt it was important to talk about his “determination to see to it that the (European Union), NATO, all of our allies are on the same exact page, in terms of sanctions against Russia and how we deal with the invasion — and it is an invasion — of Ukraine. “
“Because that’s the one thing that gives us power to impose severe consequences on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin for what he’s done. And one of the few things that I’m confident he’s going to have think twice about, long term, as this continues to bite. So, it’s the unity of NATO and the West,” he continued.
It’s an example of the diplomacy that Biden intends to show off during the address.
“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson — when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep moving. And, the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts. “That’s why the NATO Alliance was created to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War 2. The United States is a member along with 29 other nations.”
White House officials are mindful that the speech will reflect a figurative — and likely literal — split-screen with continued violence in Ukraine. The start time will take place around the same time that shelling and strikes typically begin in the early morning hours in Ukraine. Biden officcials are bracing for the prospect of renewed violence in Ukraine happening at the same time he is speaking, and believe they have written a speech that can reflect those realities.
The President has rehearsed portions of his speech over the past few days and is expected to continue through Tuesday. As is typical, Biden and his team have been tweaking elements and wording of the speech through the day. Events on the ground in Ukraine could prompt further changes in the hours and moments before he delivers it, according to one official.

Biden says Russia is beginning an ‘invasion of Ukraine’ as he unveils sanctions on Moscow

President Joe Biden described events now underway in Ukraine as “the beginning of a Russian invasion” as he unveiled tough new sanctions to punish Moscow on Tuesday.

He laid out what he called a “first tranche” of US sanctions against Russia for its moves, including on two large financial institutions, Russian sovereign debt and Russian elites and their family members. He said the moves would effectively “cut off Russia’s government from Western finance.”
Biden also announced he was moving additional troops and equipment to “strengthen” US allies in the Baltic nations on NATO’s eastern flank, but made clear they would not be there to “fight Russia.”
The President held out the possibility that diplomacy could still defuse the crisis, red wing shoes and said the US would remain open to talking with Russia and its partners to avert all-out war. “The United States and our allies and partners remain open to diplomacy, if it is serious,” he said. “When all is said and done, we’re going to judge Russia by its actions, not its words.”
Still, Biden made plain his view that Putin was launching a bid to fundamentally redraw borders in Europe, violating international laws and putting pressure on the West to respond.
“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community,” Biden said.
Western nations impose sanctions and cut off key pipeline with Russia after Putin orders troops into Ukraine's breakaway regions
Biden said Putin’s remarks a day earlier were “setting up a rationale to take more territory by force, in my view.”
Biden’s description of a Russian invasion in Ukraine immediately ups the stakes for his response. He and other senior officials have vowed to impose severe economic consequences if Russian troops cross into Ukraine, including on members of Putin’s inner-circle and Russian financial institutions.
The steps Biden announced Tuesday did not amount to the full scope of that response. Biden is reserving some of his toughest measures, hoping to use them should Putin wage the type of bloody and sustained attack US officials have been warning about for weeks.
Tuesday’s sanctions are “only the sharp edge of the pain we can inflict,” a senior US administration official said after Biden’s remarks, suggesting the President is ready to go much further should an invasion of Ukraine escalate.
“This is the beginning of an invasion, and therefore this is the beginning of our response,” the official said.

Biden pledges to limit the impact on US gas prices

Biden pledged his administration was using “every tool at our disposal” to limit the effect of sanctions on domestic gas prices, acknowledging that Americans will likely see rising prices at the pump in the coming months.
“As I said last week, defending freedom will have costs, for us as well and here at home,” Biden said. “We need to be honest about that. But as we do this, I’m going to take robust action to make sure the pain of our sanctions thorogood boots is targeted at the Russian economy, not ours.”
The administration began describing events in eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” earlier Tuesday after assessing the situation on the ground there, according to administration officials.
The White House declined to provide specific intelligence that might further explain the shift in tone.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” US principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day,” adding the sanctions imposed Monday were the merely the “beginning” of the US response.
Putin's next moves are critical for Ukraine -- and Americans
“An invasion is an invasion and that is what is underway,” Finer said. “I am calling it an invasion.”
Another top US official, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Russia’s actions “are the beginning of the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“They are utterly unprovoked and unjustified,” Sherman said. “Moscow calls these troops ‘peacekeepers,’ but we all know this is a lie.”
That was further than US officials were willing to go on Monday evening, and reflected the growing sense among Biden’s team that a fuller assault on Ukrainian territory would begin shortly. Officials said continued signs of Russian aggression overnight led to a change in tone.
Still, Finer noted Russian troops have been operating in the two separatist regions since 2014, when Russia initiated an incursion into Ukraine, and suggested the latest steps taken by Moscow were an extension of that.
“I think ‘latest’ is important here,” Finer said. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway, but Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014.”
There are substantial numbers of Russian troops close to the borders with the newly recognized republics. But CNN has not seen social media video nor satellite imagery showing newly arrived Russian units inside either of the separatist-held regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

US still believes Putin may launch a fuller invasion

The US continues to assess it is still possible Putin moves ahead with a fuller invasion, and Western officials are being vigilant for additional indicators, according to two US officials briefed on the assessment. There may be window of dry weather, making it easier for the Russians to move heavy equipment, along with cloud cover that could help obscure movements. Still, one of the officials acknowledged “we don’t know what his next move will be.”
The developments were unfolding as Putin ordered Russian troops into two separatist-held regions of Eastern Ukraine after declaring them independent. Biden, responding in the hours after Putin signed the orders, issued a narrow set of restrictions limiting financial activity in the two regions.
As he was readying Tuesday’s announcement, the US was coordinating with allies in Europe in the hopes of averting a full-scale war. Earlier, Germany said it was halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a step US leaders had been pressing for as the crisis heats up.
Germany halts Nord Stream 2 and Russia responds with a stark warning
“With regard to the latest developments, we need to reassess the situation also with regard to Nord Stream 2. It sounds very technocratic but it is the necessary administrative step in order to stop certification of the pipeline,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Berlin.
The 750-mile pipeline was completed in September but has not yet received final certification from German regulators. Without that, natural gas cannot flow through the Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany.
The United Kingdom said Tuesday it was slapping sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals following Putin’s decision to recognize two separatist republics.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the sanctions in a statement to oofos shoes the UK parliament on Tuesday, saying Putin was “establishing the pretext for full scale invasion” of Ukraine.
The European Union was also preparing a first package of sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, its top official said in a joint statement on Tuesday. The package will contain proposals targeting those involved in the “illegal decision” to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and banks that are “financing Russian military and other operations in those territories.” Those sanctions will also limit Russian state and government to access the EU’s capital and financial markets.
Putin's speech was shocking to many, but not to people in Kyiv

Tense moments in Situation Room as Biden oversaw raid on ISIS leader that was months in the making

President Joe Biden watched in real time Wednesday as US commandos landed in Syria to raid a three-story home, surrounded by olive trees, where the top leader of ISIS was living with his wife and members of his family.

From the head of the Situation Room table, Biden watched anxiously as an American helicopter suffered mechanical problems on the ground.
There was relief in the room when children emerged from the first floor of the building, running to safety.
Moments later, an explosion rocked the site: a suicide detonation that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, his wife and his children, blowing their bodies outside the building and onto the surrounding land.
The details of how Biden monitored the raid came from senior administration officials, red wing boots who recounted it in detail on Thursday morning. Their description was of a successful operation that took out a critical terror leader while avoiding any American casualties. The US officials insisted the only civilian casualties were those caused by the leader himself when he blew apart his residence with his family inside.
It was the highest-profile counter-terror operation of Biden’s tenure, and officials appeared intent on using it to cast the President in a decisive light. In some ways, it mirrored raids ordered by Biden’s two predecessors to take out terror leaders in their homes, each of which was monitored in real time on a secure feed.
Like after those missions, the White House has capitalized on the moment. They quickly released a photograph of a jacket-less President in the Situation Room, staring intently ahead as the raid unfolded.
Biden emerged mid-morning to deliver a brief statement about the mission from the White House Roosevelt Room.
“This operation is a testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world,” he said, issuing a message to terrorists who are still at-large: “We will come after you and find you.”
He added that every precaution had been made to protect civilians, saying, “We do know that as our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice with no regard to the life of his own family or those of others in the building, he chose to blow himself up … rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed.”
When Biden was vice president, he had opposed the risky mission to take out al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan, an ultimately successful operation that was designed to limit civilian casualties.
Biden’s mission mirrored that operation in some ways, and he similarly decided upon using American special forces to take out the ISIS leader instead of ordering an airstrike on the home, a sign his views of the risks had shifted in the more than 10 years since bin Laden’s death.
“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a Special Forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than targeting him with an airstrike. We made this choice to minimize civilian casualties,” Biden said on Thursday morning.
US descriptions of the raid were derived from accounts on the ground and the real-time feed. In the past, early US accounting has later turned out to be incomplete or wrong. Sources on the ground reported at least 13 fatalities during the raid, including six children and four women, according to the Syrian civil defense group the White Helmets.
President Biden, Vice President Harris and members of the President's national security team observe the counterterrorism operation responsible for removing from the battlefield ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

In Washington, officials described an operation months in the making meant to incapacitate a shadowy leader of a terror group that some feared was regrouping.
“We think the impact of (the killing of Qurayshi) is going to be a blow to ISIS,” a senior administration official said, saying the terrorist “was heavily involved in running many of the operations.”
Officials said he oversaw ISIS branches abroad — including the one in Afghanistan responsible for the deaths of US Marines last year — and played a key role in the genocide of the Yazidi ethnic minority.
At one point in December, top Pentagon officials hoka shoes for women brought a tabletop model of the location to the Situation Room to walk the President through their plans.
The target, Qurayshi, never left his compound. Living on the third floor with his family, he emerged only occasionally to bathe on the roof. Families with no connection to ISIS lived on the first floor, apparently without knowledge of the terrorist two stories above them.
It was months ago the US learned the leader of ISIS was living there, running his terror operation through a network of couriers. When Biden was briefed by operational commanders in December, he ordered the Pentagon to take precautions to minimize civilian deaths — a difficult proposition for a target who appeared to intentionally surround himself with children and families as protection.
US forces who carried out the mission rehearsed the operation, including the safeguards to protect innocents. When the American team landed, they announced their presence loudly, asking those inside the building to leave and for others in the surrounding residential area to stay away.
Biden gave final approval of the operation on Tuesday in the Oval Office, where he was briefed by the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There was “tremendous tension” in the Situation Room a day later as the President, Vice President Kamala Harris and members of Biden’s military and national security teams monitored the situation in “real time.”
Months in the making
Biden had been “very steeped in the operational details” after months of planning, a senior administration official said, which included the model of the building housing the top ISIS leader, brought by military leaders into the Situation Room in December. He engaged in a “constant give and take” with his military commanders.
By early December, US intelligence officials were certain Qurayshi was living in the residence.
Planning was incredibly complex, the official said. Qurayshi was living in a residential neighborhood on the third floor of a building housing families, including children.
Qurayshi himself rarely left the building and his “human shields,” officials said, save for occasional baths on the roof.
US officials “of course” considered the prospect he might detonate himself during the operation, in the same way ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did during the raid that killed him in 2019.
That is precisely what happened. Inside the Situation Room, Biden received a report of a “significant explosion,” which officials say ultimately killed Qurayshi and his family.
“That happened fairly early in the operation” the official explained. From there, things ran in a “linear fashion,” and all deaths and casualties were a result of actions of members of ISIS, the White House alleged.
The blast occurred before any US forces entered the building, destroying the third floor and sending bodies into the surrounding area.
Military engineers had determined ahead of time the blast would not cause the building to collapse.
“I doubt he knew that when he set off that detonation,” the official said. “It was probably his intent to kill everyone in that building.”
Still, the operation was not complete. A top ISIS lieutenant was on the floor beneath Qurayshi, hoka shoes facilitating day-to-day operations of the terrorist organization. When US forces entered the building, he barricaded himself in his quarters with his wife on the second floor and engaged American forces. The ISIS lieutenant was killed.
After his death, a number of children emerged from the second floor. They were removed to safety.
A US helicopter had “mechanical issues” during the raid and was “properly disposed of at some distance from the site,” an official said. Those issues had nothing to do with “any kind of hostile action.”
“Ultimately, that helicopter was able to extract itself from the immediate target area and, under control, able to land in another location where the decision was made to disable it and destroy it,” the official said.
Tension in the Situation Room turned to “relief” when the first reports came in from the raid. A family on the first floor, including a man, a woman, and several children, who officials believed were unaware of the ISIS members living around them, were “led to safety” away from the building.
When the operation had concluded, Biden offered only a few words.
“The President was obviously pleased with the reports from his commanders,” officials said. Biden had “tremendous praise” for our team.
The officials said that as he left the Situation Room, Biden said, “God bless our troops.”

US enemies are lining up to test Joe Biden

President Joe Biden is confronting a series of distinct but interlocking global crises and hotspots with US foes lining up to test the mettle of an under-pressure leader and their own sense that the United States is a retreating global power.

Biden made the kind of fateful decision on Monday that might be more at home in the tense 1970s, putting up to 8,500 troops on alert to rush to Eastern Europe to counter the Kremlin’s move to force the US away from its Western flank. But hoka shoes for women his trial of nerves with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is holding Ukraine hostage in a bid to reverse the West’s expansion after the Cold War, is far from his only global headache.
On the other side of the globe, a strategic ballet of military might is playing out as the US and China maneuver armadas and warplanes amid tensions over Taiwan, and other disputed territories, in a long-term duel for dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. While the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is fixating the world right now, a future Chinese strike against the self-governing democratic island is the more likely trigger for a disastrous superpower conflict.
US places up to 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe amid Russia tensions
Then there is the Middle East, from which America has been trying to extricate itself for years. US forces at a base in Abu Dhabi leapt into action early Monday, using Patriot missiles to shoot down several missiles flung at the Gulf emirate by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The emergency was a reminder that despite some hopes of renewed nuclear talks with Iran, the Islamic Republic’s regional power plays are a grave risk to US personnel. And the vicious war in Yemen, prosecuted by Washington ally Saudi Arabia with terrible civilian consequences, endangers the US by association.
And if Washington was tempted to forget the frightening prospect of a nuclear North Korea, its leader Kim Jong Un has other ideas. One of a string of recent missile tests by Pyongyang triggered extraordinary ground stops at some US West Coast airports, which underscored the nightmare scenario for any US President that the extreme hermit state could have the US mainland in its sights.

Putting American power to the test

Each of these challenges concern foreign states and nationalistic leaders making hard-eyed decisions to advance strategic goals, seeking to increase their power, expand or cement anti-democratic political systems and dominate their spheres of influence outside their own sovereign territory. They also know that with the US under pressure elsewhere, they may have an opening.
Putin, for example, is well aware that Biden wants to pivot to the hoka shoes China threat — so it makes sense to probe to see whether the US is distracted. Beijing, for one, would be happy for the US to get bogged down in Europe. The US probably needs China to help cool North Korea’s provocations. And Russia is a key player in the Iran nuclear talks. It didn’t go unnoticed in Washington that Iran, Russia and China held a third set of naval drills in the Indian Ocean last week.
Since the US is, still, the world’s dominant power, with allies across the globe, and the leader of the democratic bloc of nations, each thrust by one of its adversaries draws it deeper into a confrontation and preventive diplomacy.
The building challenges to US authority come at a moment when there is a widespread perception abroad that Washington is not the power it was for the second half of the 20th century. Despite Biden’s assurances that “America is Back,” the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year raised questions about US competence and commitment. US adversaries know Americans are exhausted by 20 years of war abroad, a factor that may lead some to calculate that Washington could waver on its strategic obligations for political reasons.
Biden caught on hot mic calling Fox reporter 'a stupid son of a bitch'
And foreign leaders understand domestic US politics too. With a significant percentage of the country convinced Biden is illegitimate thanks to former President Donald Trump’s election lies, and Republicans lambasting him as weak under Putin’s challenge, there’s rarely been a better time for foreign nations to test a modern President’s character and stamina. The possibility that Trump, who was a four-year force for global instability, could return to office, meanwhile, has some allies doubting that the US can keep any commitments it does make.
Some foreign leaders might look at events in Washington on Monday and wonder whether the stress is beginning to weigh on the President. After a White House event, Biden was asked about inflation by a Fox reporter and in a stunningly unguarded moment on an open mic, he responded: “What a stupid son of a bitch.” The President later called the reporter to apologize.
Putin’s infuriating maneuvering
Each of the geopolitical factors listed above are on display in Putin’s challenge to the West over Ukraine as he seeks to restore some of the strategic sway once held by the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe around the symbolic 30th anniversary of his beloved empire’s collapse.
After massing more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, the Russian leader made a series of demands for US concessions, including an assurance that the Kyiv government will never join NATO and for the alliance to pull back troops and armaments from ex-Warsaw Pact states that joined the West since they feared the kind of Russian resurgence that Putin is trying to engineer.
Biden has responded by seeking a gradual escalation of pressure designed to convince Putin that the cost of invading Ukraine would be too high, promising sanctions that could cripple the Russian economy and cause knock-on political threats to his rule.
Now, the President is mulling a reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank with possible troop deployments. The alliance on Monday announced some smaller deployments to the Baltic and Eastern European member states. For the first time since the Cold War, a US carrier strike group will be placed under NATO command in the Mediterranean for a high-level maritime exercise this week.
This is all meant to project resolve, deterrence and to show that Putin’s olukai shoes attempt to get the US out of Europe will fail. It is incumbent on Biden to show Washington has the back of its allies. If he doesn’t, NATO will count for nothing. But it’s a high-risk plan since US deployments could prompt the Russian leader to pull the trigger he has to Ukraine’s head and to argue he must invade to protect Russian security.
Putin is an infuriating, unpredictable adversary, and has forced the US to react to his provocations for weeks. It’s impossible to read his intentions. US diplomacy so far, including a Biden-Putin meeting in Geneva last year and more recent online encounters between the presidents, have yielded no breakthroughs. It has, however, handed Putin the prestige of Cold War-style summits that led Republicans to accuse Biden of that dreaded word — appeasement.
In the latest demonstration of Putin’s penchant for mind games, he and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke by phone on Monday and agreed to deeper cooperation. Some Russian military officials have suggested deploying military assets to Cuba and Venezuela during the crisis over Ukraine. The allusions to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 — the US-Soviet standoff in which the world came close to nuclear war — are hard to miss.
More showdowns lie in wait for Biden
Some analysts believe that Putin has put himself in a box and will be unable to exit the showdown without at least a limited penetration into Ukraine that would save face. This is why Biden whipped up so much controversy last week when he suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia would not draw the full sanctions broadside. But the US President was also telling the truth, apparently referring to divisions among allies in Europe about how to handle Putin.
The Russian leader’s timing is no accident as he tries to probe divisions between European powers internally and with the United States over the crisis. This is a transitional period for the three major European powers. Germany has a new governing coalition that is split on foreign policy, knows it is reliant on Russian gas in the winter and remains wary of offensive military operations owing to its historic scar of militarism. French President Emmanuel Macron faces reelection in April, and is using the crisis to push for a more aggressive European Union role that might weaken US authority. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is mired in boozy scandals and struggling to cling onto power. The government in London is also locked in a bitter estrangement with its near allies over its exit from the EU.
Biden made a public point of addressing divides in Europe on Monday, gathering leaders in a video call and orchestrating a series of statements on both sides of the Atlantic promising unity on the crisis and the costs that Russia could face.
“I had a very, very, very good meeting — total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters afterward.
But there’s reason to doubt his confidence. The European Union, for example, saw no need to follow the US in authorizing the departure of nonessential staff and family members from Kyiv. Officials on the other side of the Atlantic have not used the same kind of alarmist language as the Biden administration about the imminent threat of a Russian invasion.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Monday that though unity and pressure on Russia was vital, the situation was not irretrievable.
“Certainly, I have reason to be concerned but I don’t want to go in a nervous attack,” Borrell told Hala Gorani on CNN International.
Managing different threat perceptions with Europe is just one of the challenges that Biden faces in navigating the Ukraine showdown, one of the most testing moments in the recent history of NATO.
And he knows that even if he can engineer a peaceful resolution, China, North Korea and Iran are up next, posing more intractable challenges for a presidency never free from crises.

Democrats walk on eggshells around Breyer as GOP plans another blockade for any Biden Supreme Court pick

Senate Republicans are poised to deny President Joe Biden an appointment to the Supreme Court if they take the majority in the 2022 midterm elections.

Five Republican senators raised the stakes around Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, telling CNN they’d oppose any likely nominee out of this White House.
But Democrats in the Senate and the White House, though they’ve come off the November elections more worried in recent weeks about a potential wipeout in the midterms, are still avoiding calling directly for Breyer to quit, fearing that it would backfire and encourage the 83-year-old to stay on the bench.
Breyer has told several people who’ve made unofficial efforts to push him to retire that he thinks the confirmation process shouldn’t be political, according to people told of those discussions, and Democrats worry he’d remain as an act of resistance to show he’s not bowing to politics.
Still, top Democrats across Washington would like Breyer to announce he’s going even before the end of the court term in June, so they can get moving on confirmation hearings well before the midterms. More than the political calendar is on their minds — with their 50-50 margin and several aging Senate Democrats coming from states with Republican governors, they head into the new year fearing that their control of the chamber could collapse at any moment.
Stephen Breyer says now isn't the time to lose faith in the Supreme Court
Privately, multiple Senate Democrats complain that Breyer seems to have let his ego overtake him and he is not being realistic to how radically Supreme Court confirmation politics has changed in the last five years.
Publicly, they continue to approach Breyer gingerly. Asked if the 50-50 Senate divide, the health of his colleagues and Breyer’s own health should accelerate the justice’s timeline, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse chose his words carefully, noting that he’d deliberately avoided calling for Breyer’s retirement.
“I would hope,” the Rhode Island Democrat finally said, “the choice and its consequences are apparent to the justice.”
And the White House is stuck in the middle, with the President adamant that Breyer should get to make his own decision.
Biden has so far avoided the kind of pressure that Barack Obama tried to exert on Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2013, when the President hosted the aging justice at the White House for lunch to nudge her toward the exit. But in the West Wing and among civil rights leaders, the frustration is about more than just a Supreme Court seat: every day that Breyer remains on the bench is a day that Biden isn’t able to fulfill his campaign pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo in April.

There are also the political considerations, with Democrats eager to excite their base ahead of next year’s elections.
“The President made a bold commitment,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial. “I hope it would add to the thinking to make that kind of history.”

Republicans ready for replay of Merrick Garland pick

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans aren’t shy about laying out how they’d handle a nomination from Biden if they take the majority: They wouldn’t.
“You know what the rule is on that,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “You go back to 1886 and ever since then, when the Senate’s been of one party and the president’s been of another party, you didn’t confirm.”
There is no such rule.
Senate Republicans have invoked a number of what they call “rules” in recent years to explain, for example, refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, the now-attorney general who was Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, or their rushing to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s choice to replace Ginsburg.
But the then-Democratic majority Senate voted to confirm President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Anthony Kennedy in 1988 and President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of David Souter in 1990 and Clarence Thomas in 1991, all while Grassley was in the Senate. Back then, the Judiciary Committee chairman was a senator from Delaware named Joe Biden.
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has sought to downplay this talk — “I’m not going to start talking about what might happen if I’m the majority leader,” he said last week when asked about Supreme Court nominations — he was the mastermind of the GOP efforts to upend the confirmation process to seize seats. And many of his members were more willing to discuss where this is headed, particularly if the seat were to come open in 2023 or 2024, when they would use being in a presidential election cycle to make a similar justification for stonewalling a pick as McConnell did in 2016.
Then-President Barack Obama joins then-Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland during his nomination announcement in March 2016.

“Constitutionally, the Senate has an obligation to advise and consent. The Senate can take up nominations when it wants to,” said GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Not that most Republicans could imagine supporting a Biden nominee at any point.
“Given the pattern of judicial nominees he’s put forward so far, he keeps being captive to the radical left in his party. If he nominated a radical leftist justice who would ignore the rule of law and undermine our constitutional rights, I can’t imagine a Republican Senate would confirm an extreme justice,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Sen. Thom Tillis, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans would make a choice if they didn’t like a Biden pick: “Either don’t move on him or have him fail in committee.”
“It’s not our intention to rubber stamp nominees,” the North Carolina Republican said.
McConnell's Supreme Court
Sen. John Cornyn, who sits on the committee but also is a member of leadership, said how the GOP would act on a nominee depends on when a vacancy would occur.
“Usually if we are in the majority and Biden is still in office, what that produces is a negotiation,” the Texas Republican said. “I haven’t really thought about filing the vacancy or not, so I think a lot of that has to do when in that two years of time it occurs.”
Cornyn added: “The later it occurs in his term, the less likely it will be; the earlier, more likely.”
Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, both Judiciary Committee members, declined to comment on whether they’d be willing to consider a Biden nominee for the Supreme Court. When asked if there’s a Biden nominee he could envision supporting, Cotton suppressed a chuckle.

Democrats scramble for a response

Democrats have struggled to respond to Republicans’ escalation of Supreme Court partisan warfare.
Many who presume Breyer will announce that he’s retiring in June also presumed he was going to announce he’d quit this past June. He’s been on the court since 1994, confirmed a few months before the massive Republican wave in that year’s midterms, and is quickly moving up the ranks of the longest serving justices ever (he’s currently at No. 23).
“I’m deeply concerned,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who’s a member of the Judiciary Committee, said when asked about a Breyer retirement in a GOP majority. “In effect, the threat of Republican control in the Senate is a dagger aimed at the heart of the Supreme Court, which would be potentially out of balance and out of the mainstream if there are more right-wing ideologues appointed.”
Blumenthal said he is not urging Breyer to retire but added: “I’m just hoping he assesses as strategically and intelligently as I know he will do … the potential dangers of a GOP majority.”
Justice Stephen Breyer speaks during an interview on "The David Rubenstein Show" in New York, in September.

In public interviews in recent months, Breyer has also downplayed America’s current divisions, arguing the country has survived other tough times in the past.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, often talks to colleagues about how they’re “a heartbeat” away from the minority with the current 50-50 Senate. Privately, multiple Democratic senators acknowledge that — with seven of their members over age 70 coming from states with Republican governors who’d get to appoint replacements — they worry how right, literally, he’ll turn out to be.
Those senators include Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy from Vermont, who are both over 80 and have been suddenly hospitalized in recent years — Sanders for his heart attack in October 2019 and Leahy for feeling “unwell” last January.
“Absolutely,” said Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, when asked if it were a real worry when looking around at the number of his aging colleagues from states with Republican governors. “No question about it.”
A spokesman for Leahy, who as the then-Judiciary Committee chairman tried to encourage Ginsburg to step down before Obama invited her to lunch to ramp up the pressure, didn’t respond to an emailed question about whether the senator thinks Breyer should step down now. But Leahy’s announcement last month that he won’t seek another term has only increased anxiety about his health among colleagues.
Not only did Republicans seize the opportunities created by Scalia’s and Ginsburg’s deaths, but Trump’s White House counsel carefully worked Kennedy to retire on their timeline ahead of the 2018 midterms, assuring him that he’d want to guarantee that another conservative took his spot.
The secret Supreme Court: Late nights, courtesy votes and the unwritten 6-vote rule
“Clearly the examples of Justice Ginsburg and Justice Kennedy put in very plain relief what the difference can be for the make-up of the court,” said Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democrat who’s become a leading voice for changes at the Supreme Court.
“Breyer may pine for a time that never was — a fantasy era when judicial selection wasn’t political,” said Robert Raben, an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration who has since become an advocate for increasing diversity on the bench. “That’s a chimera, and we on the left need to accept the fact that if you’re assigned a bill number and marked up in a committee, it’s politics.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar told CNN over the summer that she hoped Breyer would retire “sooner rather than later.” Those feelings have spread and intensified among her colleagues in the months since, and Senate Democratic leaders have already had preliminary discussions about how they would conduct a confirmation process, according to people involved.

A close eye on Breyer

When Breyer sat for a round of interviews this summer to promote his new book, White House aides carefully parsed his answers about potential retirement, including when he told CNN that both his health and his new position as the court’s senior liberal would weigh on his thinking. Later he expanded further to the New York Times, saying he would factor in who was choosing his successor when making a decision about stepping down.
Justice Breyer says return to in-person Supreme Court arguments is a 'big improvement'
The comments led to rounds of speculation among some Biden advisers of what Breyer’s intentions really were as it became clear the justice would not retire ahead of this year’s term. Some viewed the comments as a sign he was taking into consideration the make up of the Senate.
Asked in October about calls for him to retire while the Democrats were secure in their Senate majority, Breyer told CNN, “That’s their point of view,” adding, “I think I have most of the considerations in mind. I simply have to weigh them and think about them and decide when the proper time is.”
Breyer said he does not want to die on the court. Presented with the history of previous justices giving early word of their retirements to presidents, Breyer said, “I’ve looked through the various practices.” In some years, justices who are planning to retire at the end of the term have told the president several months ahead of time.
Still, among many Democrats close to and inside the White House, Breyer’s decision to remain on the bench this year was a serious disappointment. Inside the White House, the prospect of a Breyer retirement has been simmering underneath the surface since nearly the moment Biden took office.
Among other factors, it’s hard to press an 83-year-old justice to retire when Biden says he’s planning to run for reelection when he will be in his early 80s himself.
Then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Stephen Breyer meets with then-Sen. Joe Biden meet in Biden's office on Capitol Hill in May 1994.

Various candidates to replace Breyer have been suggested to Dana Remus, the White House counsel, by Democrats close to Biden, who are eager to put forward names. Biden allies have also approached Vice President Kamala Harris and members of her team with candidates. There’s even been outside rumor mongering that Biden could appoint Harris.
Among members of Biden’s senior team, at least one maintains a close connection to Breyer: national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who clerked for the justice in the early 2000s. Sullivan’s wife, Maggie Goodlander, also clerked for Breyer three years ago and Breyer attended their wedding on the campus of Yale Law School in 2015.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who was a top Senate Judiciary Committee staffer under Biden and has been hyper-focused on judicial nominations since the beginning of this presidency, has a decades-long friendship with Justice Elena Kagan, one Breyer’s few fellow liberals still on the court.
Thinking back on that lunch attempting to nudge Ginsburg in 2013, several Obama aides note that the former President turned out to be justified in his interest in seeing her retire while Democrats had the majority.
Biden has insisted on a more hands-off approach to Breyer.
“The President’s view is that any considerations about potential retirements are solely and entirely up to justices themselves,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates. Anxiety about potential backfire from pushing Breyer to retire also comes up often in discussions with top West Wing aides, according to several who’ve had those conversation.
Most of the speculation on a potential pick focuses on Ketanji Brown Jackson, confirmed this spring for the DC circuit court of appeals, a traditional feeder for the Supreme Court. A former Breyer clerk, she has already been vetted by the Biden team and interviewed by the President and has been supported in the past by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a prominent Republican who is related to her by marriage.
California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger is also discussed. She is seen as helped by being well liked among the alumni of the solicitor general’s office, where she was a top official in the Obama administration. She has not, however, been as thoroughly vetted.
Biden Supreme Court commission's draft report details 'profound' disagreement over adding seats to bench
Other names currently circulating: Minnesota district court Judge Mimi Wright, outgoing NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill, Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Eunice Lee, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, and J. Michelle Childs, a South Carolina judge who’s been pushed by House Majority Whip James Clyburn and whose nomination is currently pending for a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals seat. Clyburn, notably, gave Biden the endorsement that helped salvage his campaign in the 2020 primaries after getting him to promise to appoint a Black woman.
Clyburn, who has previously said he didn’t think it was his place to call for Breyer’s retirement (and who’s 81 himself), is sticking by that position, according to an aide.

Process becomes a problem

Even if Breyer announces his retirement in the spring and they’re still in the majority, Democratic senators and top aides on Capitol Hill worry about how long confirmation could take, between the regular order of the process and expected GOP efforts to slow it down.
Republicans “use power maximally especially as it relates to the judiciary, and I think we should expect nothing different going forward,” said Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
And, as with everything these days, Democrats worry about securing votes from Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The current Supreme Court's partisan moment rivals Bush v. Gore
Republicans have also proven much more adept at activating their base voters around Supreme Court confirmations, whether when Scalia’s seat was in the balance in the 2016 elections, when Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings exploded ahead of the 2018 elections or when Barrett was rushed onto the bench ahead of the 2020 elections.
Democrats warn against thinking that they’d be the ones who would benefit politically from a retirement ahead of an election, even with a historic pick and potentially momentous abortion ruling motivating their base. The threat to Roe. v. Wade is another reason why they want Breyer to announce he’s leaving ahead of schedule.
“Securing the seat is more important than trying to be cute about the timing for some midterm impact,” said Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, a Democratic group focused on judicial nominations.
In 2016, McConnell’s refusal to at least give confirmation hearings to Obama’s nominee left the seat open for almost a year, enraging Senate Democrats and making several of his own Republican members deeply uncomfortable.
Republicans say they’re now ready to leave a seat open for years, if that’s what it would take to wait out a Democrat in the White House. And the stakes could get even higher, if future election challenges make their way to the Supreme Court, which would have an even number of justices if Breyer is no longer in his spot.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who doesn’t sit on the committee, believes it’s “unlikely” Republicans would keep a seat vacant for two years.
“I would presume we’d go for the hearings and make a decision,” Romney said. “By the way, we might vote no, but we might as well have a hearing and make a decision.”
Multiple Republican senators say they’d rather avoid the kind of showdown that a retirement would set off in a GOP majority, or in a presidential election year — or both.
“If he’s going to retire, he needs to retire next year,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the former Judiciary Committee chairman. “It would be a lot easier.”