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BY JOHN BRESNAHAN, ANNA PALMER, JAKE SHERMAN AND HEATHER CAYGLE
WITH MAX COHEN AND CHRISTIAN HALL
Happy Wednesday morning.
It seems as if the United States’ involvement in Ukraine is entering a new stage.
President Joe Biden is stepping up U.S. weapons shipments – including heavier, more lethal weapons – to Ukraine. Biden also called Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians “genocide,” the first time a top administration official used that heavily loaded term.
It’s the latest escalation of the U.S. commitment to, and involvement in, the war in Ukraine, and it comes as the White House faced pressure from lawmakers to do more to help the Ukrainians. Some in Washington believe Ukraine can defeat the far more powerful Russian forces, but what is clear is that the seven-week-old conflict is shifting into a deadlier phase with an uncertain outcome for both nations.
Biden is prepared to authorize as early as today another $750 million in weapons for Ukraine as it faces a revamped Russian offensive in the Donbas region, according to Reuters, which first broke the story. This latest U.S. shipment will include heavy artillery, as well as “Mi-17 helicopters, howitzer cannons, coastal defense drones and protective suits to safeguard personnel in the event of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack, the officials said, though they cautioned that it was not immediately clear if all of those items would end up in the final aid package,” according to the Washington Post.
Mi-17s are Russian-made helicopters used by Ukraine, Russia and dozens of other countries, including several current NATO members and other U.S. allies. They can quickly be integrated into Ukrainian service. The State Department earlier approved the transfer of former Afghan Mi-17s to Ukraine. Mexico has also shifted several Mi-17s to Ukraine.
U.S. officials will also provide “more and better intelligence with the Ukrainians, the senior defense official and an administration official said,” NBC News reported.
All this comes after Biden accused Putin and Russian forces on Tuesday of committing genocide in Ukraine, an allegation that both he and senior administration officials had avoided until then. Just last week, Biden called reports of Russian atrocities in Ukraine a “war crime” and resisted using the term genocide. Both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also declined to do so in recent interviews. Biden, however, reversed course dramatically on Tuesday.
“Yes, I called it genocide,” Biden told reporters as he prepared to leave Des Moines, Iowa, following a biofuel event. “It has become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of … even being able to be Ukrainian.”
Biden added: “It’s different than it was last week. More evidence is coming out of the, literally, the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine. And we’re going to only learn more and more about the devastation.”
Russian forces are accused of indiscriminate killings of Ukrainian civilians during their occupation of Bucha, a town outside of Kyiv. Russian artillery and missile attacks have also targeted civilian populations across Ukraine.
Biden has repeatedly escalated his rhetorical attacks on Putin, despite some efforts by administration officials to soften or tone down these comments. Biden is painting Russian actions in the clearest moral terms. “Genocide” and “war criminal” are heavily loaded terms that carry added legal signficance. Employing them as a part of a diplomatic strategy carries huge risks.
Biden called Putin a “war criminal” following an emotional address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Congress in mid-March, only to have White House officials try to walk back the remark.
Ten days later, Biden said Putin “cannot remain in power” during a fiery speech in Poland, only to have his aides try to walk that back too.
So this is the third time that Biden has done this, which means it’s no accident. Senior administration officials stake out carefully calibrated positions vis-a-vis the U.S. public response to developments in the Ukrainian conflict, only to see Biden reverse all of it in an instant.
Biden has been criticized harshly at times for these incendiary comments, such as after the Warsaw speech. Yet this is clearly a deliberate effort by the president to lead his administration into a more confrontational public stance with Russia on the Ukraine conflict. And so far, there’s been no effort to walk back these latest Biden remarks.
Biden’s stance on whether Russia has committed genocide in Ukraine is more in line with the view on Capitol Hill than the message emanating from Foggy Bottom or his own White House.
For instance, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this during an April 6 floor speech:
“It is a genocide; it was called a genocide today by a Ukrainian official. It is a genocide when these people are shot simply because of their nationality, they don’t have arms, that’s genocide, especially when it occurs in the large numbers it has already. Just individuals trying to live their own lives, targeted to be killed because of their nationality.”
Republicans praised Biden’s comments on Putin, as well as his looming order for additional weapons transfers to the Ukrainians, although they also complained it was “overdue.” This has been a consistent theme for the GOP since the war started – Republicans generally approve of Biden’s handling of the Ukraine crisis, but then complain he’s been too slow to react.
“I don’t think the name calling is nearly as impactful as heavy weapons,” Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a senior Republican who serves on the Intelligence Committee, told us Tuesday night. Cornyn is taking part in a bipartisan trip to Asia with Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.).
“Ukrainians have held on and fought back better than anyone anticipated – especially Putin. But Putin is going to keep grinding, killing civilians, and hope they capitulate. Don’t see it in the foreseeable future. Putin is looking for [a] face-saving outcome after a disastrous campaign. The problem is any encouragement guarantees a repeat performance.”
Reminder: We’re two weeks away from our first conversation in our new “Investing in Tomorrow, Today” series with Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) on equitable access to capital and credit. Join us live in person or virtually on Wed., April 27 at 9 a.m. ET. RSVP today!
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Blackstone is investing to help power sustainable growth. This means partnering with the companies building a more prosperous, greener economy. They’re investing in renewable energy assets across the world, backing businesses that offer plant-based alternatives, and helping their portfolio companies reduce carbon emissions.
THE WAY WASHINGTON WORKS
Ethics OK’d House Democrat working as a commercial pilot
We’ve engaged in some reporting on Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii). The story, as you might have gathered from previous editions, is that Kahele, who hasn’t shown up in person to vote in the House in more than three months, is spending some of his time flying A330s for Hawaiian Airlines.
It’s a very unusual situation, one that we’ve never encountered before in decades of covering Congress.
In Kahele’s biography it says he is “an active commercial airline pilot with Hawaiian Airlines where he flies the Airbus A330 wide-body aircraft on both domestic and international routes.”
Kahele’s office has a waiver from the House Ethics Committee to earn roughly $29,000 from outside income from Hawaiian Airlines. Late Tuesday evening, Kahele’s office sent us an email exchange between Christine Wagner, Kahele’s chief of staff and Tom Rust, staff director of the Ethics Committee. The two recounted a conversation Kahele had with Ethics staffers in December 2020 – before Kahele was sworn in – where Ethics Committee staff suggested it would be OK for him to continue to fly for Hawaiian. Company officials were involved in one conversation with Ethics officials and Kahele.
But issues of recusal are highly specific and should be handled on a case-by-case basis, the Ethics Committee staffers noted. Here’s the email.
As we pointed out in the Midday edition yesterday, Hawaiian Airlines lobbies Congress. Kahele is on the aviation panel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – the committee that oversees the airline industry.
As we also noted in the Midday edition, Kahele has co-sponsored several pieces of legislation that Hawaiian Airlines was lobbying on.
So, Kahele’s directly involved in considering legislation that his part-time employer – Hawaiian Airlines – is looking to influence. This is on top of serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the aviation industry.
Late Tuesday evening, Michael Arn, the congressman’s spokesperson, replied to a detailed set of questions about what appears to be a conflict-of-interest in working for a company that directly lobbies the federal government and the committee on which Kahele sits.
Here’s Arn’s response:
“There were also misleading reports concerning Congressman Kahele’s outside earned income as a commercial pilot. The Congressman’s outside employment is in accordance with rules set by the U.S. House Committee on Ethics. In 2022 all members of the U.S. House, including Congressman Kahele, are limited to earning $29,895 or less from all outside earned income sources. In 2022, Congressman Kahele has flown 3 flights for a total of 14.2 flying hours and has earned $2,861.90. In 2021 the Congressman’s outside earned income totaled $29,151.79.
“The Congressman brings a unique perspective to the T&I Committee as a current and qualified U.S. commercial air transport pilot and strengthens the voices of all pilots, cabin crews and air cargo operators at home in Hawaiʻi and throughout the United States.”
This doesn’t answer all of our questions, but does seem to answer that Kahele has likely flown for Hawaiian Airlines during the period he was voting by proxy in the House from Hawaii.
Crypto.com has inked a lobbying deal with the S3 Group. S3 will be “[a]dvocating on behalf of users of cryptocurrency and the process of how consumers invest, save, trade, in the digital place.” Crypto.com, a Singapore-based company, is a player in the digital asset space. They recently paid for the naming rights of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers arena. Crypto.com has also signed Miller Strategies, Sidley Austin, Blue Star Strategies and K&L Gates.
Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. has signed up Actum I to lobby on “[g]eneral transportation issues and transit service in the National Capital Region, including performance and safety issues.” Kawasaki built some of the new D.C. Metro cars that have had problems.
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Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is eyeing a run for Louisiana governor, raised $250,874 into his leadership fund.
The American Future Fund, which targeted former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) before he retired, got $400,000 from Thomas J. Peed, the president of Sandhill Publishing.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), a freshman, raised $158,900 into his victory committee.
PRESENTED BY BLACKSTONE
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10:15 a.m.: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will get their daily intelligence briefing.
2:15 p.m.: Harris will “convene a meeting with Cabinet Officials to discuss the Administration’s whole of government approach towards improving maternal health.”
3 p.m.: Jen Psaki will brief.
6:15 p.m.: Harris will participate in a fundraiser for the DNC.
“Intensive manhunt underway after gunman shoots 10 people on Brooklyn subway train,” by Pervaiz Shallwani, Shimon Prokupecz, Laura Ly, Artemis Moshtaghian and Travis Caldwell.
“Gas Prices Force Biden Into an Unlikely Embrace of Fossil Fuels,” by Michael Shear and Lisa Friedman
“Putin Calls Talks a ‘Dead End’ but Limits War Aim to Eastern Ukraine,” by Anton Troianovski
“Mark Zuckerberg Ends Election Grants,” by Neil Vigdor
“Ukrainian fighter pilots in old jets take on better-equipped Russians,” by Isabelle Khurshudyan in Odessa, Ukraine
“Lengthening war in Ukraine creates major problems for global economy,” by David J. Lynch
“U.S. Carrier Group Arrives as North Korea Ramps Up Threats,” by Jon Herskovitz and Jeong-Ho Lee
PRESENTED BY BLACKSTONE
Blackstone focuses on investing in sectors and companies with the greatest potential for growth – like those powering a more sustainable economy. This means investing in renewable energy assets across the world, backing businesses that offer plant-based alternatives, and helping portfolio companies reduce their carbon emissions.
Blackstone is partnering with the leaders of these companies, providing the resources they need to help accelerate their sustainable growth. They take a long-term approach to investing because building successful, resilient businesses can lead to better returns for investors, stronger communities, and economic growth that works for everyone. Learn more.
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images
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