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President Biden on Tuesday reacted to inflationary pressures unseen by most Americans since 1981 with an announcement he believes could shave 10 cents per gallon from rising U.S. fuel prices.
“I’m doing everything within my power by executive orders to bring down the price and address the Putin price hike,” the president said, roping Russian President Vladimir Putin into his explanation about why U.S. energy prices have spiked in the wake of international petroleum sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Americans increasingly blame Biden and Democrats in Washington for rising prices that are eroding wages, rattling investors, and pressuring the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates in an effort to slow demand and tame inflation.
Biden sidestepped months of U.S. inflation pressures that preceded the war in Ukraine, triggered by wage pressures in a strong economy and supply chain problems resulting from consumer demand amid the pandemic.
The president used an Iowa ethanol plant as a backdrop Tuesday to announce the government will permit the sale of cheaper fuel with higher ethanol content during the summer months, despite rules designed to address air quality concerns (The Hill).
“Home grown biofuels have a role to play right now … as we work to get prices under control and reduce the costs for families,” Biden said in Menlo, Iowa. “Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away,” he added (The Hill).
Biden was joined during his remarks by Rep. Cindy Axne (Iowa), who is among vulnerable Democratic candidates who have been eyeing public opinion surveys that suggest the November elections may be a referendum on Biden’s leadership and Americans’ views of the economy.
The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that Senate Democrats concede inflation is a major political problem for the party, although proposed legislative remedies that have bipartisan support and price-busting appeal appear scarce.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who for months has cited inflation and federal deficits as reasons he opposes Democratic spending proposals backed by Biden and progressives, issued a blistering statement on Tuesday blaming “the administration” and the nation’s central bank for failing “to act fast enough” to address rising prices (The Hill). Manchin called for lower federal spending and less federal debt, more aggressive monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, and bipartisan support in Congress for “an all-of-the-above energy policy” that includes petroleum, natural gas and West Virginia’s coal along with renewables.
High inflation, he said, is a national problem that “one political party alone cannot fix.”
Hours before the president spoke, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose 8.5 percent in March compared with a year ago. Surging food, energy and shelter costs contributed to the gain. Core inflation, minus food and energy, rose 6.5 percent but analysts pointed to signs that core inflation appeared to be ebbing, which sparked some assessments that inflation overall may have peaked (CNBC).
The Hill: Rising household commodity prices, especially for groceries, force both households and businesses to pay more. Most affected by inflation: grains and meat, fuel, housing and rent, furniture, and automobiles.
The Hill: Democrats’ fiscal policies are the “match that set off the kindling,” said Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert during The Hill’s “Future of Jobs Summit” on Tuesday. He noted he has some “quirky ideas” to bolster the U.S. economy over the longer term, including a proposal to help preserve Americans’ meager retirement resources.
Illustration by The Hill’s Madeline Monroe
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LEADING THE DAY
UKRAINE CRISIS: Putin on Tuesday said the invasion of Ukraine will achieve what he called its “noble” aims and vowed to continue it until Moscow’s goals are completed (The Associated Press).
Putin, appearing alongside Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, asserted that a clash with Ukraine had become “inevitable,” adding that he had no choice but to launch the invasion in a bid to protect the Russian-speaking Donbas region of Ukraine. The Russian president insisted that the nation’s forces are bolstering oppressed people in separatist regions of Ukraine.
“On the one hand, we are helping and saving people, and on the other, we are simply taking measures to ensure the security of Russia itself,” Putin said during a public appearance in the distant eastern region of Russia to mark the 61st anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s space launch (BBC).
The comments came amid renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine after Russian forces were withdrawn from the Kyiv region and redeployed as part of a reassessment by Moscow.
Putin added that peace talks have hit a “dead end” with Ukraine and asserted that atrocities chronicled, photographed and reported in detail by independent journalists in Bucha were “fake” (The New York Times).
The Hill: Putin: West’s sanctions have “achieved certain results” affecting the Russian economy.
CNBC: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine captured pro-Putin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who escaped house arrest.
Bloomberg: U.S. prepares massive new surge of military aid to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Biden escalated his stance on Putin, saying that he is committing “genocide” with his invasion.
“It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian,” Biden told reporters after speaking in Iowa. The comments received praise from Zelensky, who tweeted that they were “true words of a true leader” (The Hill).
Tuesday’s comments by the two world leaders also arrived as Ukrainian and international officials investigate whether Russia used chemical weapons in the latest round of fighting. Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, said that it was possible Moscow used phosphorus munitions — which cause horrendous burns but are not considered chemical weapons — in Mariupol, but that the probe will continue (The Hill).
Adding to the issues in Mariupol, hundreds of Ukrainian marines on Wednesday surrendered in the southern port city, according to Russia’s defense ministry. As Reuters notes, if the Russians seize the Azovstal industrial district, the home to those marines, they would gain full control of Mariupol.
Bloomberg: Polish and Baltic presidents set to visit Kyiv.
Politico: Team Biden scrambles to respond to claims of Russia chemical weapons use.
The Guardian: Did Russia really use chemical weapons in Ukraine? Experts are skeptical.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS: What’s old is new again: Regions of the country are returning to COVID-19 mask precautions as confirmed BA.2 infections appear to be on the rise.
The Washington Post: COVID-19 cases rise in the Northeast as omicron’s cousin, BA.2, takes hold.
The White House is signaling the government may extend the transportation mask mandate, which has been scheduled to expire on Monday, despite the requirement’s unpopularity with the travel industry and among many fed-up travelers. The requirement to wear a mask on airplanes, in airports, on buses and on rail systems as a precaution to reduce the spread of highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus has been in place for 14 months under two administrations (The Hill).
For breaching national COVID-19 lockdown rules in 2020 and 2021 at office parties among staff, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday he apologizes and has paid a fine. He is the first British leader to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office, and his concession revived a simmering controversy and prompted new calls for his resignation (The Associated Press).
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University: 986,408. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are up slightly to 507, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
POLITICS: New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin (D) was arrested on Tuesday on federal charges of bribery, fraud and falsification of records while serving as a state senator amid an alleged campaign finance scheme (The New York Times).
Hours later, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who is running for reelection this year, accepted his resignation, saying in a statement that “it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve.”
Benjamin’s arrest and resignation could complicate Hochul’s campaign. She succeeded former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who resigned in 2021 while facing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. There was no suggestion by federal authorities on Tuesday that Hochul was aware of the former lieutenant governor’s alleged criminal conduct.
The New York Times: Hochul picked a running mate. Now she has to pick another one.
➤ 2022 troubles: Democrats are fretting that they have done an inadequate job communicating with the voting electorate about their accomplishments less than seven months out from what is expected to be a problematic election cycle.
As The Hill’s Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant write, some within the party are baffled at the president’s low approval numbers given what they consider to be a robust list of accomplishments, headlined by an improving job scene, the Supreme Court confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the COVID-19 relief bill passed last year and the bipartisan infrastructure package among other things.
However, those perceived triumphs have failed to overcome the negatives, including skyrocketing inflation, the troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan and continued pandemic fatigue.
“Look, I’m not going to BS. We’ve done a f—— horrible job, and sometimes I think we deserve to lose big in November,” one Democratic strategist told The Hill. “Democrats can say whatever they want, but it’s not honest. The narrative here doesn’t exist. … We need to wake up fast.”
The Hill’s Niall Stanage: Democrats face nightmare scenario, “biblical disaster.”
Hanna Trudo, The Hill: Progressives skeptical of Biden but unsure of alternative.
The Hill: Former President Trump faces a tough decision on whether to endorse Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
➤ State watch: Abortion became illegal in Oklahoma on Tuesday after Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed a law to make performing or attempting to peform an abortion a felony punishable by a maximum fine of $100,000, a maximum state prison sentence of 10 years or both. The law does not provide exceptions in cases of rape and incest. It is expected to be appealed in court. The move follows similar abortion restrictions in Arizona, Mississippi and South Dakota. In Idaho, the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked legislation recently signed by the governor modeled after a Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks (CNN).
In California, the state’s first-in-the-nation reparations task force meets today and Thursday in San Francisco. The panel is seen as important to 2022 politics in the state and nationally as the group continues to discuss proposed restitution to descendants of enslaved Black people (The Associated Press).
A cooler jobs market is just what this economy needs, by Conor Sen, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/38zkdJV
America created its own booster problems, by Katherine J. Wu, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3jwLqPL
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets for a pro forma session on Thursday at 1 p.m. Votes are not scheduled until after the House recess April 26.
The Senate convenes for a pro forma session on Thursday at 11 a.m. Senators are in recess until April 25.
The president and Vice President Harris willreceive the President’s Daily Brief at 10:15 a.m.
The vice president will also convene a meeting with Cabinet members at 2:15 p.m. to discuss improving maternal health. Harris will participate in a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at 6:15 p.m.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will speak to the Atlantic Council at 10 a.m.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet at 9 a.m. with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Washington.
First lady Jill Biden will travel to Knob Noster, Mo., today to visit Whiteman Air Force Base to highlight programs for children and military-affiliated students as part of the White House Joining Forces program. She will be joined by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and speak to an audience gathered for a special “Month of the Military Child” assembly at Whiteman Elementary School at 2 p.m. CT.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will visit a Jewish day school in Washington at 2 p.m. to celebrate Passover with elementary and middle school students.
The White House daily press briefing is scheduled at 3 p.m.
➤ MASS SHOOTING: A New York City subway shooting spree on Tuesday by a suspect described as wearing a gas mask and a construction vest resulted in 10 people shot and at least 23 people injured and prompted a massive manhunt that continues this morning. Police identified Frank R. James, 62, as a person of interest who rented a U-Haul van, the keys to which were found at the shooting scene in Brooklyn. He was not named as a suspect but could be a witness, police said (NBC News). Authorities early on Tuesday described a heavy-set male wearing a green construction vest and gray sweatshirt who released two smoke canisters aboard a subway car and then opened fire with a Glock 9mm handgun, hitting passengers and people in a crowd on a nearby subway platform (The New York Times). Police found the gun and ammunition with the van, according to police. New York Mayor Eric Adams (D), in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, said in an interview that a “national response” is needed to address rising violence and the latest mass shooting incident (The Hill).
➤ SELLERS ON ETSY PROTEST: The company’s new 30 percent hike in fees applied to sellers and its new rating system are among corporate changes prompting a weeklong seller boycott organized through Monday among crafters, artists and small-business owners. They object to Etsy’s efforts to transition away from being a marketplace where custom artisan and craft products and curated vintage items have long been prioritized. The weeklong strike among sellers is backed by buyers, who say in posted comments they shop on Etsy to support independent creators and businesses and will shop elsewhere if unique, small-volume sellers can’t make a living there (The Verge).
➤ TECH: DoorDash on Tuesday launched a subscription service for college students. DashPass for Students, priced at $4.99 a month, will offer students “convenient and wallet-friendly options” from restaurants, convenience and grocery stores, along with local and national retailers. Subscribers will also receive a number of pricing perks, including unlimited $0 delivery fees on orders (The Hill).
➤ 🏈 SPORTS: House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Economic and Consumer Policy subcommittee, on Tuesday referred congressional investigative evidence of “troubling financial conduct” and potential crimes by the Washington Commanders and owner Daniel Snyder to the Federal Trade Commission, describing possible withholding of refundable deposits owed to fans and concealment of team revenues owed to the NFL. The Commanders did not respond immediately to a request for a reply. Late last month, the team said it had committed no financial improprieties (The Washington Post).
And finally … 🌜Setting his sights far beyond Ukraine, Putin on Tuesday said Russia will launch a lunar probe later this year and deepen cooperation with Belarus on space infrastructure and technology (Reuters).
© Associated Press / Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr. | Moon over Moscow, 2021.