The political power of a sinking Russian warship

Welcome to The Back Booth, a weekend edition of The DC Brief. Here, every Saturday, TIME’s political newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Subscribe to The DC Brief here.

Week 65 of the Biden presidency ended with the now all-too-familiar split-screen. On the one hand, foreign crises around the world seemed subsumed by the deepening troubles in Ukraine, as ICBMs test in Russia rightly frightens the West. On the other hand, the ongoing infighting here in Washington continues to dog President Joe Biden and his predecessor.

To make sense of the week, The DC Brief spoke with two veterans of Presidential and Senate campaigns. To the left, Bryan DeAngelis rose through the ranks of the House and Senate, serving as chief spokesman for Senator Chris Dodd as he rewrote the rules of Wall Street after the financial meltdown of 2008. DeAngelis also worked on Dodd’s presidential campaigns and Hillary Clinton.

On the right, Jeff Sadosky helped boost the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Marco Rubio. He was spokesman for the Senses. Mike DeWine and Rob Portman.

Both are now partners in their consulting firms. This conversation has been slightly edited.

Elliott: It seems that Mariupol has fallen, although there are still Ukrainians there. Does this finally give the U.S. military permission for a very limited extraction effort? Or is the political price too high to risk?

Sadosky: I have to imagine Biden is on a very short leash here despite mounting evidence of atrocities. Anything they do will have to be driven by Europeans and/or Congress, and Capitol Hill is sending a pretty clear message message to the White House at this point regarding their reluctance to see boots on the court.

DeAngelis: I agree that any decision to commit US troops will be made by Congress and in coordination with our European allies. I don’t think Biden is letting his own politics get in the way, as much as he appreciates the importance of consensus behind the decision and that the United States cannot act alone.

Elliott: Elsewhere, though, it seems Ukrainians are still surviving this. You both know communications: shipwreck the Moscow is better than anything you can say in a speech. You both worked in presidential campaigns. What’s next for Zelensky and Washington?

Sadosky: In an effort like the Ukrainians, morale and attitude can have a huge impact on the outcome, almost as much as resources and strategy. And it’s hard to find a better rallying cry for Zelensky than the sinking of the Moskva, as it reminds Ukrainians that they are up to the challenge. For Biden, that doesn’t really have much of an impact given the political constraints he’s under when you look at him from a more short-term perspective, but on a more macro level, it may further weaken Putin. internally, and Washington can use it to provide leverage in an ongoing geopolitical debate and battle.

DeAngelis: Morale, attitude, and I’ll add confidence. Zelensky has been an inspirational leader and an effective communicator, both to the people of Ukraine and to the global community. Sinking the Moskva is a huge boost as Zelensky continues to press for more support and resources from his allies. Politically, that certainly helps Biden as he returns to Congress to push for more funding for Ukraine.

Elliott: And here at home, it sure looks like the Biden administration is dash to help Ukraine and Ukrainians in United States. Will he get credit for all of this? Should he?

DeAngelis: He absolutely should, and he will. It’s Biden like announcement. I think most Americans, of both parties, expected strong leadership on foreign policy issues. The question is not whether he will get credit, but rather whether voters will focus on foreign policy issues come election time.

Sadosky: The Biden White House sees the Russia-Ukraine fight offering them far more downside risk than credit opportunity, and so has been very careful to let the Europeans and the Hill lead them where the White House might know that she must go to . The only way Russia becomes more important in the next election than inflation, spending, crime and COVID is if something goes wrong. Add to that managing the evacuation of Kabul and it’s hard to see them wanting to lead the charge. While Europeans and some Democrats in Congress might appreciate and understand this and give them credit for skillfully mitigating the risks, it’s hard to see American voters fussing over it.

DeAngelis: I don’t know if you were hoping for more debate, Phil, but I actually agree with a lot of what Jeff said.

Elliott: If the professionals agree, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It shows honest answer or mutual misunderstanding.

I wonder: with Donald Trump Jr. ready to to meet with the January 6 committee, what are the chances that he will still be welcome in Bedminster for the July 4 holiday? His texts are incredibly telling and don’t exactly share the president’s view of the failed riot. We watched Kevin McCarthy today try to undo the Jonathan Martin/Alex Burns reports that he planned to tell Trump to step down. Are any of them finding a way to regain Trump’s graces?

Sadosky: Considering Dad’s favorite and her husband have already sat down with the Jan. 6 committee, I imagine Don Jr. will be safe. But yeah, it’s pretty damning when your own son and namesake calls you out for not leading during a crisis.

DeAngelis: Privately, Junior is probably in the niche. I don’t think Trump will ever publicly acknowledge that lest it make him and his family look weak. McCarthy goes matchmaker and trump will to take advantage of him, but he’s going to have a long way back in Trump’s good graces.

Elliott: Well, one more: does it matter? If you are a member of the MAGA movement or a candidate chasing this – can you just consider this fake news and win votes? That’s my feeling, but I’m glad I’m wrong.

Sadosky: Yes, you can. But these are votes we already have. So individual candidates might be helped in intra-party squabbles, but the party as a whole and candidates running in close general elections lose when the focus is here rather than a debate with Biden about the best way forward.

DeAngelis: Unfortunately, I think the MAGA contestants will view this as fake news, as McCarthy tried to do. It will be interesting to see how he plays in the GOP primaries. Jeff is right, however, the time they spend talking about Trump and Jan. 6 distracts them from their core issues and only helps their Democratic opponents.

Elliot: Some late developments: Jonathan and Alex have the audio of the McCarthy call, Rachel Maddow aired it, and the verbatim is brutal but faithful to the original report.

Sadosky: Watching this game, I’m struck by the fact that Trump’s initial reaction is significant, which seems to bode well for McCarthy, but by no means definitive. And if some within Trumpworld or his closest allies in Congress use this as a chance to attack McCarthy for whatever reason, Trump’s opinion and McCarthy’s position may still change.

Elliott: Gentlemen, this discussion has been fantastic. Let’s do it in person soon.

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Write to Philip Elliott at [email protected]

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