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The Daily 202: Don’t laugh off the slap of Emmanuel Macron

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 6/9/2021 Olivier Knox

with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1954, Army counsel Joseph Welch publicly dismantles Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wisc.), a central figure in the decade's “Red Scare.” “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness,” Welch declared. “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

France showed the world yesterday that a Western nation’s famously fractious political class, sharply divided on virtually every major issue the country faces, can still unite in unequivocal condemnation of an act of political violence.

No major figures dismissed the literal slap in the face of President Emmanuel Macron, justified it, wrongly blamed it on antifa, insisted the assailant was basically a wayward tourist, or said other attacks on politicians were worse.

Some wry commenters on Twitter mocked the limp swat, and one Washington Post writer may have joked to a friend that the assault opened up an intriguing new world of options for vaccination incentives, beyond free beer, marijuana, or donuts.

But French politicians including far-right leader Marine Le Pen, thought to be the biggest danger to Macron’s hopes for reelection in April 2022  closed ranks behind the head of state and warned this could not be tolerated in a democracy.

While “you can battle him politically,” Le Pen declared, “it is unacceptable to physically attack the president.”

After watching the assault, it’s clear it could have been so much worse.

This didn’t rise to the level of the five assassination attempts on President Charles de Gaulle, or even the lone gunman who targeted President Jacques Chirac. It wasn’t even George W. Bush ducking two shoes at a 2008 press conference in Baghdad.

That should be both a source of relief as well as a reason not to shrug off the assault at a time when President Biden has warned democracy itself is under attack, or at least under strain, around the world.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex declared “through the head of state, it is our democracy that is targeted.”

“Democracy,” Castex told the national assembly, “is debate, it is dialogue, it is the clash of ideas, it is expression of legitimate disagreement of course, but it cannot be under any circumstances violence, verbal assault, much less physical assault.”

What a nation tolerates, Castex seemed to be saying, is what it can expect to get more of in the future.

Video shared across social media showed the former investment banker, known for an aloof and even imperious governing style, approaching what seemed to be a cordoned-off crowd of onlookers.

A man in a khaki T-shirt and light-colored mask grabbed his right arm and as he or someone else shouted a centuries-old monarchist slogan and a “down with Macronism” swung his open palm into Macron’s face. Security grabbed the assailant. Police arrested him and another man.

The president, who was in the southeastern region of Drome as part of a tour to assess the national mood, later dismissed the event as an “isolated” incident.

“Everything’s fine. We have to keep a sense of proportion about this incident, which is, I think, an isolated act,” Macron said later, warning against letting “ultraviolent individuals” influence public discourse.

(Macron’s office initially described the event as an attempted slap “tentative de gifle” but the video seems to show that the blow landed on target.)

The incident occurred on the same day two Senate committees Rules and Administration joined by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a bipartisan investigation into the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol rampage by supporters of former president Donald Trump. 

The attack was the culmination of a months-long campaign Trump waged against the validity of the election, which he falsely insisted he could only lose fraudulently, capped with a fiery speech urging the rioters to descend on the legislature.

It seems incredible to say, but Jan. 6 could also have been so much worse.

More than 100 Capitol Police were injured, five people died, some offices were in shambles, but lawmakers and Vice President Mike were evacuated from the House and Senate chambers moments before rioters hunting them burst in. The violence interrupted the certification of Biden’s win a shocking blow to the republic but it resumed late in the day.

My colleague Karoun Demirjian led with the news:

The U.S. Capitol Police had specific intelligence that supporters of President Donald Trump planned to mount an armed invasion of the Capitol at least two weeks before the Jan. 6 riot, according to new findings in a bipartisan Senate investigation released Tuesday, but omissions and miscommunications kept that information from reaching front-line officers targeted by the violence.”

Still, Karoun noted, “in a sign of the political pitfalls that remain, the report conspicuously steers clear of offering any assessments or conclusions regarding Trump’s responsibility for the mayhem, even though bipartisan majorities of the House and Senate agreed his influence was so egregious as to be impeachable.”

My colleague Aaron Blake expounded on the gaps in the report, noting its focus on bureaucratic failures and relative silence on Trump’s role.

After a flurry of initial expressions of outrage, GOP lawmakers have in recent weeks blocked the creation of a bipartisan special commission to look into the violent effort to derail the certification of Biden’s victory, while some dispute the term “insurrection” applies.

Bipartisanship means compromise, and that appears to be what happened with the report’s language.

So it’s interesting that the report’s final 22 pages are a transcript of Trump’s Jan 6. speech to a crowd that included some of the rioters.

French unity in response to the slap may fray in the coming weeks and months. Republican condemnation of Trump in the hours and days after the riot has, with a few exceptions, turned over weeks and months into making excuses and playing down the violence.

It could be so much worse.

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • From the synagogue to the Senate: the busiest Democratic senator you’ve probably never heard of,” by Jackie Alemany: “[Nevada Democratic Sen. Jacky] Rosen is quick to draw a distinction between herself and [W.Va. Democratic Sen. Joe] Manchin, who angered many of his Democratic colleagues when he dramatically announced over the weekend in a West Virginia op-ed he would oppose the For the People Act. Manchin works ‘in the way he thinks he’s gonna get the most traction on what he thinks — and I prefer to work behind the scenes with my colleagues,’ said Rosen. ... ‘I’m not a shy person,’ Rosen added. ‘I’m a persistent person. I think there’s many ways to make your position known. And you don’t always have to do it in the public eye.’”
  • Federal prisoners hold $100 million in government-run accounts, shielded from some criminal scrutiny and debt collection,” by Devlin Barrett: “Federal prison inmates are keeping large sums of money — in some cases more than $100,000 each — in government-run deposit accounts effectively shielded from court orders for things like child support, alimony or other debts, and not subject to the same scrutiny as accounts owned by non-incarcerated citizens, according to court documents and interviews. ... The program run by the Bureau of Prisons has long frustrated and angered law enforcement officials from other agencies, who say it poses significant risks for abuse, money laundering and corruption.”

… and beyond

  • Biden disliked Putin before it was cool,” by Politico’s Nahal Toosi: “One thing is unlikely to have changed since Bush met with the Russian leader back in 2001: Biden still does not trust Putin. If anything, Biden’s public comments about Putin over the past two decades, as well as accounts from current and former U.S. officials, suggest that the U.S. president harbors a deep, lasting skepticism of the former KGB officer who found himself atop the Kremlin at the turn of the century. ‘There’s nothing Putin can do to make [the president] like him,’ one former U.S. official familiar with Russia policy said. 'Biden sees Putin as someone who is rational, thuggish — someone who is not confined by any sense of morality or concern over human rights or anything of that nature … just a cold, hard realistic assessment of the man.’ ”

At the table

Today, we’re having lunch with Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) to talk about his bipartisan legislation to punish corporations that sponsor the 2022 Olympic Games in China. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Knox: What exactly would your legislation do?

Waltz: It will essentially ban these Olympic sponsors from doing business with the federal government.

Knox: There’s been talk of an Olympics boycott either totally, with athletes staying away, or a diplomatic boycott in which American athletes would go, but no officials would. What do you think of that?

Waltz: I actually was the lead legislator in proposing the Olympic boycott. I put that resolution on the House floor [in February 2021]. We were the first to do so, in calling for a full boycott. I think we need to make an important distinction between what a diplomatic boycott is, an economic boycott, and then a full boycott.

But I want to be clear that the preference is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) move the Games. That [a full boycott] is if the IOC will not move the Games, which they absolutely should, then unfortunately we’ll have to boycott.

The IOC is, unfortunately, putting our Olympians in this position. I don’t see how, as athletes of conscience, they could wave the American flag in Beijing after a clear covid cover-up, after an ongoing genocide. I would ask anyone would they compete in the Games in Rwanda in the middle of the massacre of the Tutsis? Would they compete in Serbia, in the middle of Srebrenica? Would they compete in Germany in 1944? Or in the United States if we had a million Muslims in concentration camps?

I cannot imagine the American flag flying in Beijing in the midst of an ongoing, as we speak, genocide.

On the economic piece, I’m just incredulous that so many of these companies will donate tens of millions to social-justice causes here in the United States, and then turn a blind eye to Beijing’s atrocities.

Knox: Should a diplomatic boycott extend to President Biden? He obviously has to navigate the U.S.-China relationship.

Waltz: I would think it would be at a minimum the president.

[After human rights groups pushed for the 2008 Games to be moved from China], Beijing made numerous promises, multiple promises, to improve its record. We’ve only seen it work the other way.

The other thing you have to keep in mind, from a diplomatic standpoint, is the precedent that is set when these authoritarian regimes have the international legitimacy that comes with that global spotlight.

Look at what Russia did in the wake of the Sochi Olympics, and invading Crimea six months later, we all know what Germany did [after the 1936 games], look at what China has done since 2008.

Knox: I was about 10 years old when the U.S. boycotted the games in the U.S.S.R. That didn’t change Soviet policy. What would you tell Americans who see this as merely a gesture?

Waltz: It’s arguable that it didn’t change Soviet policy. But I certainly think it put a spotlight on what was going on in Afghanistan for the American people and for the Congress.

It was quite controversial [for the U.S.] to back the mujaheddin. It was seen as destabilizing, it was seen that would be hugely disruptive of U.S.-Soviet relations in the era of containment.

What the boycott of the Games did was put a spotlight on the atrocities that were going on, with [Soviet] carpet-bombings of villages, land mines that were made to look like toys, so that children would pick them up. The spotlight was significant, and I think a lot of people have it wrong when they say the boycott did nothing.

Knox: Have you or your co-sponsors had any feedback from the White House?

Waltz: Nothing. Nothing at this point. But legislatively I think it’s important too to point out that the legislation, as it stands, would ban these companies from doing business with the federal government. I think, frankly, that is going to be a big lift.

What has a much more realistic legislative path is the defense bill. And we plan to introduce companion legislation that would ban these companies from doing business with the Department of Defense.

We successfully implemented similar language with [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro[‘s] regime, where if you’re doing business with Maduro and his government you can no longer do business with the defense department.

If Coca-Cola wants to sell on military bases, they’ll have a decision to make.

The Biden agenda

Biden left the White House this morning en route to England as he begins his first overseas trip as president.

  • The trip includes meetings with multiple allies and a highly anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, John Wagner reports.
  • “Upon arriving at Royal Air Force Mildenhall near Suffolk, England, Biden is scheduled to address U.S. Air Force personnel and their families stationed at the base. RAF Mildenhall is home to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, the only permanent U.S. Air Force air refueling wing in the European theater.”
  • Biden will meet with the Group of Seven in Cornwall, England, before heading to a NATO summit in Belgium followed by the meeting with Putin in Geneva. Along the way, Biden will meet with other world leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth II.
  • He is scheduled to return to D.C. next Wednesday. He is leaving Washington “with several of his leading legislative priorities hanging in the balance, including an infrastructure package. On Tuesday, Biden ended negotiations with a group of Republicans after the two sides failed to strike a deal after weeks of talks,” Wagner notes.
  • Biden said that his trip would demonstrate that Europe and the United States are “tight,” as he spoke briefly to reporters this morning before boarding Air Force One, Wagner reports. Biden was asked about a global coronavirus vaccine-sharing strategy that he is expected to detail at the G-7 meeting. “I have one, and I’ll be announcing it,” he said.
  • “Asked if he could work out an understanding with Putin about cyberattacks that have targeted the United States, Biden said, ‘Who knows?’ He then said it would be part of their discussions.”

The U.S. ambassador to Russia warned senators the Biden administration is at risk of repeating his predecessors’ mistakes in Russia.

  • “In a two-hour briefing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May ...  Ambassador John Sullivan suggested that Putin is not acting in good faith with the US and the Biden administration risks repeating the same mistakes of its predecessors if it does not approach the issue with clear eyes, according to one of the sources,” CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Zachary Cohen, Kevin Liptak and Jeremy Herb report. “The overarching theme of Sullivan's briefing was that Putin ‘has not really changed his stripes,’ said the first source, despite efforts by the current administration and its predecessors to curb Putin's malign behavior with sticks, like sanctions, and to shape Russia's actions in other areas using diplomacy, including through in-person engagements.”
  • “State Department spokesperson Ned Price declined to comment ‘on what was said during a classified hearing’ but called the characterizations of Sullivan's testimony ‘wildly off base.’ ”

Democratic senators say Biden is the only one who can convince Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WestVa.) to sign off on key parts of the party’s agenda.

  • “In an interview, Manchin said Biden has not leaned on him to support the sweeping elections bill that the moderate Democrat publicly rejected over the weekend. Nor has Biden covertly asked Manchin to support another Democrat-only spending bill focused on jobs and the economy. Yet,” Politico’s Burgess Everett and Laura Barrón-López report. “ ‘The president respects the institution so much because he was here and knows it better than everyone else. He does not get involved,’ Manchin said on Tuesday in the Capitol. ‘I already know where he is. I know the challenges he has, and I know basically the pressure he’s receiving all the time. We’re just trying to find a balance for it.’ ”
  • “Biden has largely remained quiet about the senator’s insistence that infrastructure bills be bipartisan and his opposition to both filibuster reform and the sweeping elections bill that expands voting access. Biden and his senior staff are regularly in [touch] with Manchin, according to a White House aide. And Biden appointed Manchin’s wife, Gayle, to the Appalachian Regional Commission. ... ‘Biden’s very perplexed by Manchin. He doesn’t know how, or what he thinks. Or what he really wants,’ said a lawmaker who has spoken with Biden recently.”
  • “Known inside their party's caucus as the ‘Two Joes,’ Manchin and Biden’s relationship is the linchpin in the Democratic Party's success over the next 18 months. ... ‘There’s a personal relationship between the president and Sen. Manchin. I think that can make a difference,’ said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). ‘He knows that he will have [an] impact on Sen. Manchin. It would not be effective at this particular moment. But I think he’s waiting for that opportunity.’ ”

The vice president wrapped up a Latin America trip that featured sharp words to would-be immigrants.

  • “In Guatemala, Vice President Harris spoke of the bonds between the nations of the Western hemisphere and offered millions in aid and investment. In Mexico, she stressed the ‘interdependence and interconnection’ between the United States and its neighbor to the south. But her tone was far more stern toward potential migrants mulling a trip to the U.S. border. ‘Do not come,’ she instructed during a news conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei,” Cleve Wootson Jr. reports. “The strong words were a nod to the shifting political ground facing the Biden administration as Harris concluded a trip aimed at tackling the root causes of migration.”

Biden revoked the Trump administration’s TikTok, WeChat ban orders and replaced them with a security review.

  • These and other Chinese apps will be subjected to a security review that could prompt fresh steps to restrict them, Jeanne Whalen and Ellen Nakashima report.
  • “A new executive order will create a process to scrutinize whether apps controlled by a foreign adversary present risks to U.S. national security and the security of Americans’ sensitive personal data, the White House said. After the review, the government can ‘take action, as appropriate,’ the administration said in a fact sheet.”

Biden suffered another setback in his push to boost millions of Americans’ paychecks.

  • “The Senate on Tuesday opted against taking up a bill that supporters said aimed to ensure that women in the workforce earn the same as their male counterparts,” Tony Romm reports. “Even with Biden’s public advocacy — and nearly every Democrat voting to try to begin debate on the measure — party leaders could not overcome Republican opposition to advance one of the central promises they made in the course of the 2020 presidential campaign.”
  • “The defeat had been widely expected given the GOP’s history siding against the measure, known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Democrats have been trying to adopt in some form for nearly 30 years.”

The Justice Department says it can “vigorously” defend religious schools’ exemption from anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws.

  • “The Justice Department in a court filing Tuesday said it can ‘vigorously’ defend a religious exemption from federal civil rights law that allows federally funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students, a move that surprised some LGBTQ advocates who said the wording went further than just an obligation to defend an existing law,” Michelle Boorstein reports. “In the filing, the Biden administration said it ‘shares the same ultimate objective’ as the conservative Christian schools named in the case.”

The administration is quietly moving to start closing Guantánamo ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

  • “[The White House is] using an under-the-radar approach to minimize political blowback and to try to make at least some progress in resolving a long-standing legal and human rights morass before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” NBC News’s Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube report. “After initial plans for a more aggressive push to close the facility — including rebuffed attempts to recruit a special envoy to oversee the strategy — the White House changed course, sources said. The administration has opted to wait before it reaches out to Congress, which has thwarted previous efforts to close the camp, because of fears that political outcry might interfere with the rest of Biden's agenda.”

Quote of the day

“Watch out for the cicadas,” Biden said this morning, recounting that one “got me” as he walked toward Air Force One. 

Hot on the left

“Trump impeachment lawyers are now representing Capitol riot defendants,” NPR’s Tom Dreisbach reports. Attorneys Michael van der Veen and Bruce Castor, who defended Trump at his Senate impeachment trial over allegedly inciting insurrection, are now  defending at least three people charged in connection with the breach. “Prosecutors allege that van der Veen's client, Marine Corps veteran Jason Dolan of Florida, is affiliated with the extremist militia group the Oath Keepers, and that he helped plan, and ultimately participated in the storming of the Capitol. Castor is representing two defendants facing much less serious charges.”

“Trump’s election fraud claims propelled them to the Capitol on Jan. 6. His ongoing comments are keeping them in jail,” Rachel Weiner and Spencer Hsu report. “Trump’s continued refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election is helping to keep some of those supporters [who rioted on Jan. 6] behind bars. ... Citing Trump’s ongoing comments, federal judges have shared fears that those defendants accused of the worst violence or threats of violence that day remain a danger to public safety.”

Hot on the right

“A doctor falsely told lawmakers vaccines magnetize people: ‘They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks,’ ” Andrea Salcedo reports: “Sherri Tenpenny, a Cleveland-based doctor invited as an expert witness Tuesday to a hearing in the Ohio House, had a grave warning for legislators about coronavirus vaccines. The anti-vaccination advocate known for spreading unfounded claims falsely told legislators that the drugs could leave people ‘magnetized.’ ... Her baseless remarks — which also suggested that vaccines ‘interface’ with 5G cellular towers — didn’t elicit strong pushback from legislators, who were listening to testimony in favor of a bill that would prevent businesses or the government from requiring proof of vaccination. Instead, some GOP representatives thanked Tenpenny for testifying in front of the Ohio House Health Committee."

The 2021 Virginia primaries, visualized.

“Virginia’s governor’s race will be viewed nationally as an early referendum on President Biden. Five Democrats vied for the nomination, with two contenders hoping to become the first Black female governor in the country. The race was notable for another novelty: A former governor, Terry McAuliffe, sought a comeback. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) could not run for reelection, as the state constitution prohibits governors from serving back-to-back terms,” our team reports. Here are the results:

graphical user interface © The Washington Post

Today in Washington

Biden and the first lady Jill Biden are traveling to the United Kingdom. They will arrive at 8 p.m. local time. At 8:45, they will deliver remarks to U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at Royal Air Force Mildenhall. They will depart Mildenhall toward Cornwall at 10:55 p.m. 

In closing

Biden’s press plane was about to head to Europe. Then Brood X cicadas “invaded” the engines.

“Reporters gathered at a Marriott hotel near Dulles International Airport were told by a White House aide that the insects had flown into the engine, causing mechanical problems that required the airline to obtain a new plane and a new captain for the flight. The journalists ended up delayed more than five hours,” Katie Shepherd reports

And Trevor Noah explained Bitcoin's troubles:


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