Analysis | Harris’ trip Asia is a classic of the modern VP genre

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Pageantry and pitfalls for Harris in Japan and South Korea

Cover the White House long enough, and you’ll hear two kinds of rueful jokes from the president and vice president.

The former will complain about being isolated. President Bill Clinton quipped 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was either great public housing or “the crown jewel of the federal penitentiary system,” while Ronald Reagan called it a “gilded cage.”

The latter, meanwhile, will gripe about being a powerless constitutional afterthought. The country’s first vice president, John Adams, wrote his wife Abigail it was “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

John Nance Garner, who held the position under Franklin D. Roosevelt, supposedly put it in less elegant but more memorable terms, saying the job was “not worth a bucket of warm spit” — or at least that’s how family-friendly publications put it.

It has few formal constitutional duties, no significant levers of power other than proximity to the president, and it isn’t a reliable springboard to being elected to the top job.

But it has changed quite a bit in the modern era, since the middle of the 20th Century to be precise, taking on a bigger national security role and becoming a kind of super-ambassador when the president cannot personally tend to the country’s diplomatic garden.

Vice President Harris’s ongoing trip to Japan and South Korea is a pretty good example.

It marries the symbolism of attending a state funeral for slain former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe with the substance of talks with Japan, South Korea and Australia — key partners in efforts to deal with China’s rise and rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

  • No one expects a major policy announcement. But the visit aims to lay some of the groundwork for what is expected to be President Biden’s first face-to-face (in person) meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, to be held at the Group of 20 nations summit in Indonesia in November.

And it lets Harris build up her foreign policy experience, a critical portfolio for any aspirant to the White House at a time when uncertainty remains about whether the 79-year-old Biden will run for reelection in 2024.

She has met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo — who revealed before the White House did that Harris on Thursday will visit the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

The recurring themes of her meetings have been the American commitment to bilateral alliances and regional stability, notably on the issue of Taiwan. But she has also had to manage tensions over a Democratic legislative victory that has roiled relations with key partners.

As Chris Megerian of the Associated Press pointed out on Twitter:

Harris and Han discussed “South Korea’s complaints about the Inflation Reduction Act, which makes electric cars built outside of North America ineligible for government subsidies,” Chris reported.

This is no small thing, though both sides have expressed optimism about resolving the dispute, even as Biden talks up the IRA as a major achievement to boost the American economy as he campaigns ahead of November’s midterm elections.

South Korea has reportedly been working with Japan, Germany, Britain and Sweden on a common response to the IRA, meaning this dispute reaches well beyond relations between Washington and Seoul.

A senior administration official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, played down the absence of a breakthrough, according to print pool reporter Tarini Parti of the Wall Street Journal: “The vice president was not there to negotiate an approach to the issue of electric vehicles.”

Otherwise, Harris’s message could hardly be more conventional.

  • With Kishida, she reaffirmed the “ironclad” U.S. commitment to Japanese security and called the alliance a “cornerstone” of regional stability, and they jointly condemned Beijing’s “aggressive and irresponsible provocations in the Taiwan Strait.”
  • The two leaders also discussed efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program — Pyongyang fired a short-range missile just before she arrived — and the return of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyonygang, a deeply emotional issue in Japan.
  • With Albanese, the two celebrated America’s regional commitments as well as cooperation on battling the climate crisis, according to an official White House summary.

Reaffirmed principles and alliances, no breakthroughs, no gaffes (as of this writing, no scheduled Q&A with the traveling press), and a standard trade-and-climate-and-security agenda that sets up Biden’s G-20 trip. There could still be unexpected developments (looking at you, North Korea). But this, so far, is a pretty classic vice-presidential trip. As it should be.

Top lawmakers unveil short-term spending bill to avoid partial government shutdown

Top lawmakers have unveiled a short-term spending bill to avoid a partial government shutdown later this week, a sweeping measure that would provide more than $12 billion to Ukraine, steer millions to Jackson, Miss., to deal with its water crisis and deliver billions in domestic disaster aid,” Azi Paybarah reports.

Lawsuit aims to stop Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan

“A public interest attorney in Indiana is suing to block President Biden’s plan to cancel some student debt, arguing the policy will force him to pay state taxes on the forgiven amount. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Tuesday, is the first significant legal challenge to invalidate Biden’s policy before it takes effect,” Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports.

Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Cuba as Category 3 storm; Florida on alert

Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico in the late morning, passing west of the Florida Keys later Tuesday and heading for the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane by Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Center said in its most recent advisory.,” Scott Dance reports

Putin to declare annexation of Ukraine regions within days, U.K. says

There is ‘a realistic possibility’ that Putin will use an address to the Russian parliament, which Russian state media have reported will take place on Friday, to formally announce his intention to absorb the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, despite international condemnation, the Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence report on the Ukraine war,” Mary Ilyushina reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Oath Keepers sedition trial could reveal new info about Jan. 6 plotting

Five members of the extremist group Oath Keepers, including leader Stewart Rhodes, face trial for seditious conspiracy next week, in which U.S. prosecutors will try to convince jurors that Rhodes’s call for an armed ‘civil war’ to keep Donald Trump in power on Jan. 6, 2021, was literal — and criminal,” Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Tom Jackman report

“Starting with jury selection Tuesday and opening statements as early as Thursday, Rhodes’s trial could reveal new information about the quest to subvert the 2020 presidential election results, as prosecutors continue to probe Trump’s conduct and that of his inner circle.”

Facebook parent dismantles China-based network targeting American users

“Facebook’s parent company Meta disrupted a China-based network of accounts that was seeking to influence U.S. politics ahead of the 2022 midterms, the company reported Tuesday,” Naomi Nix reports.

The covert influence operation used accounts on Facebook and Instagram posing as Americans to post opinions about hot-button issues such as abortion, gun control and high-profile politicians such as President Biden and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The network, which focused on the United States and the Czech Republic, posted from the fall of 2021 through the summer of 2022, the company said.”

Italy’s hard-right lurch raises new concerns in Washington

The latest rightward lurch of a European country — two weeks after a far-right party performed startlingly well in Sweden’s elections — is raising concerns in Washington about the continent’s combustible populism and what it could mean for some of President Biden’s foreign policy goals, including confronting Russia and defending democracy against authoritarianism,” the New York Times‘ Michael Crowley reports.

The covid-19 booster’s public relations problem

When it comes to the newest boosters, so far about 4.4 million peopleabout 1.5% of those eligible — had opted for the shots through Sept. 21, though reporting lags in some states. This time around, the messaging also needs to overcome the publicly expressed qualms of some notable vaccine experts,” ProPublica‘s Robin Fields reports.

Biden’s support for Iran protesters comes after bitter lessons of 2009

“The last time waves of protests swept Iran, after the killing of a young woman who was standing on the sidelines of an anti-government rally in 2009, Barack Obama hesitated to back the anti-government movement publicly for fear that Tehran would claim the C.I.A. was secretly sparking the unrest,” the NYT‘s David E. Sanger reports.

Thirteen years later, under remarkably similar circumstances, President Biden has taken a dramatically different approach. He publicly sided with the protesters in his speech to the United Nations last week.”

Biden to reveal plan for reducing obesity, ending hunger by 2030

The move aims to accelerate improvements in public health and ameliorate a problem that is weighing down the nation. More than 73 percent of Americans ages 15 and older are obese, based on body-mass index measurements — the second highest rate among some three dozen countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — and about 1 in 10 U.S. households are food insecure,” Andrew Jeong reports.

Biden faces pressure to waive restriction as ship idles off Puerto Rico coast

President Biden faced growing pressure Monday to grant a federal waiver and allow a BP ship loaded with diesel fuel to access a port in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of hurricane-ravaged Americans remain without power,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Jeff Stein report.

Because the ship is not U.S.-owned, it has been idling off the island’s coast, awaiting a decision by the Biden administration on waiving the Jones Act, a century-old law backed by labor unions and key to the president’s ‘Made in America’ agenda.”

How a storm surge works, visualized

“As a hurricane travels over the open sea, its powerful winds act like a giant bulldozer collecting water and pushing it forward. When this buildup of water runs into land, the sudden rise in sea level above normal tides is called storm surge, and it is sometimes the most deadly and destructive part of a hurricane,” Bonnie Berkowitz and Artur Galocha report.

Why progressive groups struggled with the Biden agenda

“In my feature piece on how the Inflation Reduction Act was the result of decades-old policy fights, one set of voices was curiously silent: the think tank leaders, single-issue advocates, and ideological organizations known as ‘the groups.’ The IRA, in the end, was an inside operation that wasn’t penetrated by outside forces,” the American Prospect‘s David Dayen writes.

This wasn’t for lack of trying. Enormous resources — hundreds of millions of dollars, but also the mindshare of thousands of people not in the administration or in Congress — were put to work trying to optimize the Biden agenda. With the one partial exception of climate, this effort didn’t succeed in piercing the Capitol Hill bubble. And many group leaders have been left to wonder why.”

How Kevin McCarthy’s political machine worked to sway the GOP field

Targeting [Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) ] was part of a larger behind-the-scenes effort by top GOP donors and senior strategists to purge the influence of Republican factions that seek disruption and grandstanding, often at the expense of their GOP colleagues. The political machine around McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out GOP candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning,” Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Marianna Sotomayor report.

At 1:15 p.m., Biden will speak about “lowering health care costs and protecting and strengthening Medicare and Social Security.”

ICYMI: NASA crashes spacecraft into asteroid, passing planetary defense test

NASA successfully collided a small spacecraft into an asteroid on Sept. 26 to test its ability to defend Earth from potential asteroids. (Video: Reuters, Photo: AFP Photo/NASA/Reuters)

“NASA managed Monday to crash a small spacecraft directly into an asteroid, a 14,000-mile-per-hour collision designed to test whether such a technology could someday be deployed to protect Earth from a potentially catastrophic impact,” Joel Achenbach reports.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.





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