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Zelensky's Historic Address
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Zelensky’s Historic Address

Ukraine's president visits Washington as Congress scrambles to finalize its budget for 2023.

Happy Thursday! President Biden signed a bill into law yesterday banning most private ownership of big cats, including tigers, lions, leopards, and cheetahs.

Unfortunately, the legislation does nothing about problematic ursine ownership.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • With a surge in respiratory viruses leading to shortages across the country, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday it will release Tamiflu, the prescription antiviral, from the Strategic National Stockpile to states that request it. Tamiflu hasn’t been quite as difficult to find in recent weeks as other medications—like children’s Tylenol—but the flu has been particularly pervasive so far this fall.
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced this week it seized about 50 million fentanyl tablets and 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder in 2022, by their calculations enough of the synthetic opioid to produce 379 million “potentially fatal doses.” The 50 million tablets seized were approximately double what the DEA captured in 2021, when a record 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses.
  • President Joe Biden told a woman at a political rally last month that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is “dead, but we’re not going to announce [that it’s dead],” according to a recently resurfaced video of the exchange. Citing Iran’s crackdown on protesters and support for Russia’s war effort, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told Axios Tuesday that resurrecting the Iran deal is “not our focus right now” and they “don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon.” On Wednesday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on an Iranian manufacturing company and several Iranian officials—including the country’s prosecutor general and members of the Basij Resistance Forces paramilitary group—in response to the regime’s recent killing of two protesters.
  • The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday the median existing-home sales price in the U.S. was $370,700 in November—down from a record $416,000 in June, but up 3.5 percent from November 2021—while sales of previously owned homes declined for the tenth straight month, down 35.4 percent year-over-year.
  • Incoming Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries announced Wednesday he is appointing Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the 2024 cycle, putting her in charge of efforts to recapture the House majority. The Republican National Committee announced Wednesday the GOP’s 2024 national convention will be held in Milwaukee from July 15-18, 2024.

Zelensky Addresses Congress

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on December 21, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee / Getty Images.)

Back in March, just three weeks after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave a virtual address to Congress, pleading for America to come to the beleaguered nation’s aid. Nine months of brutal fighting later, Zelensky addressed Congress again Wednesday—and this time it was in person, his first known trip outside Ukraine since the war began.

Zelensky’s visit, geared towards shoring up what he described as “solid, bicameral, and bipartisan” American support, comes at a critical moment in the war, as Congress scrambles to pass an omnibus bill that includes $45 billion in military assistance to Ukraine before Christmas. The narrow Republican House majority that will take control of the lower chamber in January is expected to be less amenable to such spending.

The trip had apparently been in the works for weeks, with a formal invitation from the White House extended last week and final logistical details hammered out over the last few days. And it was conducted under high security: Zelensky took a train to Poland followed by a flight to Joint Base Andrews near Washington in a U.S. plane.

Shortly after his arrival, Zelensky met with President Biden at the White House. In the Oval Office, Zelensky—who on Tuesday visited troops in Bakhmut, near the front lines of the war—presented Biden with a medal he had awarded to a captain among those troops. The soldier had asked that it be passed along to Biden, Zelensky said.

After a closed-door meeting, the two men emerged for a press conference, where they touted a new $1.85 billion security package the Biden administration has pledged to Ukraine via a combination of presidential drawdown authority (which allows for direct transfers of Defense Department weapons stocks in crisis situations) and the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (under which contracts with industry for the supply of weapons, rather than the weapons themselves, are procured).

The most critical part of the package is a single battery of Patriot missiles. The American air defense system has long been a Ukrainian priority, though it will require significant training and manpower to operate and may not be battlefield-ready until the spring.

“This is a very important step to create a secure airspace for Ukraine,” Zelensky said through an interpreter. “And that’s the only way we would be able to deprive the terrorist country and their terror attack to strike our energy sector, our people, and our infrastructure.”

But Biden also made it clear that the U.S. is still unwilling to grant Zelensky’s military the full arsenal it would like to receive, including tanks and long-range missiles that would allow Ukraine to strike targets in Russia itself. Member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance and the European Union would not be unified behind such aid, Biden suggested: “They’re not looking to go to war with Russia. They’re not looking for a third world war.” 

Later in the afternoon, members of both parties welcomed Zelensky to Capitol Hill, where he met with House and Senate leaders of both parties. Shortly after 7:30, he was escorted into the House chamber.

In his speech—delivered in English—Zelensky appealed to the values of freedom and democracy shared by both Americans and Ukrainians, saying the conflict was about what kind of world “our children and grandchildren” will inherit.

He made specific references to two historical battles: the Battle of Saratoga, commonly cited as a key turning point in the American Revolutionary War, and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

“Just like the brave American soldiers, which held their lines and fought back Hitler’s forces during the Christmas of 1944, brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing this same to Putin’s forces this Christmas—Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender,” he said.

Zelensky emphasized that “Ukraine never asked American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us.”

“I assure you Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves,” he said.

And he asked Congress to view its financial investment in the war not as charity, but as an “investment in global security and democracy” that Ukraine will “handle in the most responsible way.”

Zelensky also said he spoke with Biden about a proposed 10-point formula for peace, reiterating that Ukraine is ready for peace so long as its sovereignty and territorial integrity are not compromised. 

Notably, Zelensky repeatedly referred to Russia as a “terrorist state,” subtly hinting at a debate among American policymakers over whether to formally declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports making that designation, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been more hesitant.

Zelensky spoke about the Christmas by candlelight that millions of Ukrainians will experience this weekend, after Russian attacks on critical infrastructure led to the loss of heat and running water.

“But we do not complain,” he said. “We do not judge and compare whose life is easier. Your well-being is the product of your national security; the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories. We, Ukrainians, will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success. … On this special Christmastime, I want to thank you, all of you. I thank every American family which cherishes the warmth of its home and wishes the same warmth to other people.”

Lastly, Zelensky gave Congress a gift: a Ukrainian battle flag signed by the troops he met in Bakhmut on Tuesday. In return, Pelosi gave him the American flag that flew over the Capitol yesterday.

While Zelensky received a warm welcome from many members of both parties, some Republicans who are opposed to more U.S. spending on the Ukrainian war effort dissented.

Before the speech, Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted that Zelensky is “basically an entitled international welfare queen,” and commentator Benny Johnson called him an “ungrateful piece of sh*t.” During the address, a handful of Republican members, including Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, remained seated during most if not all of Zelensky’s applause lines when the rest of the members in attendance gave the Ukrainian president a standing ovation.

That style of isolationism didn’t sit well with GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas. “We’ve made a pretty good investment here, incapacitating a strategic adversary who—only a fool would think he would stop,” Crenshaw told reporters after Zelensky’s address. “There are many fools who do—naive ones who believe the world is a very different place than it actually is and perhaps have never seen what the real world truly is. And it really frustrates me.”

What’s in and What’s Out of the Omnibus

As Monday slipped by with the text of the overdue omnibus government funding bill still unreleased, news trickled out explaining the holdup: lawmakers couldn’t agree on whether the new FBI headquarters should be placed in Virginia or Maryland. When the bill’s text was finally published at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, lawmakers had reached a compromise: officials would meet with representatives from both states and decide later.

This 11th-hour sausage-making is just one sample of how Congress produced this year’s $1.7 trillion bill, a 4,155 page conglomeration of major spending and minutiae, with a few important policy changes tossed in for good measure. As is the case seemingly every year around this time, lawmakers are complaining that the last-minute scramble to pass a gargantuan package before Christmas is forcing them to rubber-stamp a bill they haven’t read—and some Republicans are going so far as to threaten obstruction next year if it passes.

Lawmakers gave the Pentagon a 9.7 percent raise to $858 billion—a sum $45 billion higher than what President Joe Biden sought—which will replenish arms stockpiles, give service members a 4.6 percent raise, and bankroll new fighter jets, refueling planes, and ships. Also in the package: some $45 billion in additional Ukraine aid, guaranteeing Zelensky & Co. continued funding through much of 2023 before a more isolationist House GOP majority takes the reins in a few weeks. This aid includes money for weapons, shoring up Ukraine’s government and power grid, and helping Ukrainian refugees. In a nod to those Republican concerns, however, the omnibus will require the Pentagon to report back on what it’s doing to ensure weapons don’t get diverted and spend $27 million funding inspectors general at various agencies to keep an eye on the aid money.

It isn’t just the Defense Department: Virtually everything else is also getting a raise. The bill sends $770.8 million to fund state and local police departments—nearly $100 million more than last year’s allotment—and gives the FBI $11.33 billion, $524 million more than Biden asked for and around $570 million more than last year, in part to fund “efforts to investigate extremist violence and domestic terrorism.” Funding for Pell grants, preschool for low-income families, and food stamps will all get a boost, as does the National Labor Relations Board. In addition to the more traditional funding heavy-hitters—$47.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $118.7 billion for veterans’ healthcare—the omnibus will bankroll some pretty niche projects. $3 million to plant pollinator-friendly vegetation near highways? Check. $5 million to study how culverts and other infrastructure affect endangered salmon? Check.

With more than 7,200 earmarks totaling $15 billion sneaking their way into the final legislative text from lawmakers in both parties, there’s no shortage of seemingly random pet projects—$3.6 million for a Georgia hiking trail named after Michelle Obama, $150,000 for sidewalk repairs in a small Maine town—included in the bill. But there were still plenty of policies left on the cutting room floor.

Biden’s call for $9 billion more in COVID-19 response money was not answered, for example. Other provisions that didn’t make the cut include the Afghan Adjustment Act that would’ve given Afghan evacuees permanent legal status in the U.S., a measure to give the cannabis industry more access to banking, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act—intended to strengthen requirements that employers make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees.

Not everything that made its way into the omnibus is funding related—lawmakers also tacked on some significant policy changes. After months of handwringing over whether the Electoral Count Act would be passed, lawmakers simply appended it to the must-pass legislation at the last minute. Lawmakers also included with relatively little fanfare a measure to ban TikTok from federal government devices, a sign of growing security concerns over the app’s Chinese Communist Party-controlled parent company. And the spending package directs the Capitol police to consider whether outgoing House speakers need extended security protection—Pelosi’s husband was attacked in their home recently—and expand residential security for Senators amid the rising tide of threats against lawmakers.

These are some of the highlights we’ve found so far, but we’ll confess that we haven’t yet sat down with a pot of coffee (or seven) and plowed through all 4,155 pages of the bill. Neither, it seems, have most lawmakers. “We deserve proper consideration and the chance to read, debate and amend—not a backroom deal,” Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah tweeted. “The Bible is about 1,200 pages long. Could you read it [three] times before Friday?” 

More than a dozen current and incoming House Republicans signed a letter earlier this week complaining about the omnibus process—and that their Senate counterparts are striking a deal with Democrats now, rather than waiting two weeks for a GOP House majority. “If any omnibus passes in the remaining days of this Congress, we will oppose and whip opposition to any legislative priority of those senators who vote for this bill—including the Republican leader,” the letter reads. “We will oppose any rule, any consent request, suspension voice vote, or roll call vote of any such Senate bill, and will otherwise do everything in our power to thwart even the smallest legislative and policy efforts of those senators.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threw his weight behind the threat. 

While it’s unclear as of this writing exactly when the package will pass—or what changes still might be made, as negotiations stalled Wednesday night over whether to include a measure keeping Title 42 in place—Senate Republicans don’t seem to be taking the House warnings all that seriously. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito called the letter an “idle threat,” and Sen. Mitt Romney attributed McCarthy’s support to his quest for the speakership: “We’re enduring the silly season of the campaign.”

There’s a good case to be made McCarthy doesn’t actually want this omnibus to fail, since that would leave him the mammoth task of negotiating an entirely new spending package next year with incredibly thin partisan margins. “We’re going to do our best to help him get into a position so he can actually accomplish some things,” Sen. Mike Rounds told Axios. “He can’t say it, but we can: it’d be much better, and he’ll be much more effective, if we give him a clean slate.”

Worth Your Time

  • For obvious reasons, Zelensky’s address to Congress last night drew parallels to Winston Churchill’s speech 81 years earlier. “Some people may be startled or momentarily depressed when, like your President, I speak of a long and a hard war,” the British Prime Minister said in December 1941. “Our peoples would rather know the truth, somber though it be. And after all, when we are doing the noblest work in the world, not only defending our hearths and homes, but the cause of freedom in every land, the question of whether deliverance comes in 1942 or 1943 or 1944, falls into its proper place in the grand proportions of human history. Sure I am that this day, now, we are the masters of our fate. That the task which has been set us is not above our strength. That its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause, and an unconquerable willpower, salvation will not be denied us. In the words of the Psalmist: ‘He shall not be afraid of evil tidings. His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.’”
  • With Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris passing away yesterday at the age of 72, take a few minutes to read this retrospective account of “The Immaculate Reception” as told by Mike Silverstein, who was a 24-year-old radio fill-in at the iconic 1972 game. “Since I had a field pass hanging from my neck, I slipped out of the tunnel and took a quick left turn onto the field and down to the end zone…then crossed over to the Steelers side of the field where I made a beeline for Franco Harris. Nobody stopped me,” he remembers. “‘Frank! Frank!’ I hollered, turning on the tape recorder. ‘Tell me what happened.’ Franco was still panting, short of breath. It wasn’t so much from the play, as much as from being on the bottom of the celebratory pile. He turned to face me, and walked a step or two in my direction. Speaking into my microphone, Franco recounted how he was back to block on the play, but when the pocket collapsed and Bradshaw started to scramble, he headed into the flat. He kept trying to catch his breath while reliving the play, giving his account an amazing feel of excitement. He said he headed in that direction when the pass was thrown to Fuqua because maybe he could block somebody. When the ball came caroming to him, he just caught it and kept running.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment 

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s jam-packed episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah jump from vaccine mandates, to Title 42, to the Electoral Count Act, to the Federalist Society. Will it be enough to stave off an emergency podcast over Christmas?
  • Jonah was off the grid last week, so he invited The Dispatch’s own Andrew Egger to join him on Wednesday’s episode of The Remnant and fill him in on what he missed. From Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House speaker, to Ron Desantis’ vaccine posturing, to Donald Trump’s new trading cards, there’s no shortage of things to discuss.
  • And on today’s episode of The Remnant, Jonah is joined by The Fair Jessica—his wife—to discuss what it takes to be a successful ghostwriter, how the right changed during the Trump years, and what it’s like writing speeches for prominent politicians. Plus: memories of Jonah’s mom, their recent trip to Istanbul, and the case against human-bear interaction.
  • And in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒) Jonah takes a sledgehammer to Stanford University’s new Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative. “If you’re going to strip certain words from the acceptable lexicon, the least you can do is provide alternatives that do the job required of the purged terms,” he writes. “Taking a valuable linguistic piece off the board without a suitable replacement is just stupid.”
  • Scott’s latest edition of Capitolism (🔒) looks at all the ways excessive regulations and tariffs make life more expensive for American families. At the root of it all? Scott’s least-favorite Washington tradition: “throwing ever-increasing taxpayer money at groups supposedly failed by the ‘free market,’ without any examination of the existing government policies contributing to the problems these folks face.”
  • Why did the Ukrainian president risk coming to the United States yesterday? “While I’d like to believe that even a reptile like [Kevin McCarthy] will do the right thing on Ukraine aid eventually, there’s enough doubt that Zelensky felt compelled to put his own life in jeopardy to lobby him in person,” Nick writes in Wednesday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒). “If McCarthy is destined to pull the plug on Ukrainian sovereignty because his weak grip on power requires him to kowtow to the strongmen fanboys of the vaudeville circuit, Zelensky’s at least going to make McCarthy look him in the eye before he does it.”
  • On the site today, Charlotte Lawson reports on Iran’s persecution of the Baha’i religious minority group, and Natalie Ecanow argues that the United Nations’ decades-long peacekeeping mission in Lebanon has failed to achieve its aims.

Let Us Know

Do you think Zelensky’s trip and speech on Wednesday will materially affect how much aid Ukraine receives from the United States in 2023 and beyond?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Price St. Clair is a former reporter for The Dispatch.