Plus, a reader question about personality competitions and elections.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
Today's read: 15 minutes.
It just came to our attention that we had an error in our newsletter on November 14. In our reader Q&A, we referred to Dean Phillips as a "one-term" member of Congress. We seem to have made the error while comparing Obama (a one-term senator) to Phillips, whom we mistakenly called a one-term representative (even though he is in the middle of his third term in Congress). We just discovered the correction in a reader feedback email from a few weeks ago. Our apologies.
This is our 94th correction in Tangle's 225-week history and our first correction since October 26. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.
- Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) dropped the bulk of his months-long blockade of military promotions he had launched in opposition to the Pentagon's abortion policy. More than 400 promotions were swiftly approved. (The change) Separately, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who served as interim House Speaker, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who served as House Speaker, both announced they were not running for re-election. (The announcement)
- Israel's troops are now operating in Gaza's second largest city, Khan Younis, in the south. Israel says it widened its ground invasion in order to destroy Hamas's last major stronghold. More than 1.87 million Palestinians, or about 80% of the population in Gaza, have now been displaced. (The movement)
- The United Kingdom approved new measures to limit legal migration, including a raise in the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers, after migration levels hit a record in 2022. (The announcement)
- Math scores in the United States fell sharply from 2018 to 2022 and continue to lag behind peer nations, according to the first large-scale education assessment since the pandemic. (The fall)
- Taylor Swift was named "Person of the Year" by TIME Magazine. (The win)
- BONUS: The fourth and final Republican primary debate is set for tonight. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie will participate. (The debate)
The Ukraine war. On Saturday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that there could be bad news coming out of Ukraine in the coming weeks, as fears of a stalemate with Russia grow. The comments come at a time when Congress is increasingly divided about whether to continue funding Ukraine's war effort, with Senate Republicans proposing any Ukraine funding be tied to an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. The immigration reforms Republicans are asking for largely mirror H.R. 2, which passed the House in May without any Democratic votes. The bill would restart construction of the border wall, mandate more border patrol agents, overhaul asylum eligibility, and re-establish the Remain in Mexico policy, among other changes. Former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate in the Republican primary race, has expressed support for Republicans’ stance.
On Monday, the White House said those policies were a nonstarter, warning that it could run out of funds to provide weapons to Ukraine if Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year. Congress has already allocated $111 billion to assist Ukraine, including $67 billion in military funding, $27 billion in economic assistance, and $10 billion in humanitarian aid. All but 3% of that had been depleted by mid-November, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young. In October, the Biden administration outlined a $106 billion national security funding request that includes money for Israel, investments in the Indo-Pacific, and border security measures, but it has not been considered by Congress.
Meanwhile, the war rages on. Last week, Russian Major General Vladimir Zavadsky was reportedly killed in Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine, which is still under Russian control. Over the course of the past week, Russia claims to have shot down dozens of Ukrainian drones while Ukraine has shot down 10 out of 17 Russian attack drones, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine's commander in chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny described the war as a stalemate last month, saying only a significant technological breakthrough could change the course of the conflict. Some analyses have taken the change of posture as a signal that Ukraine's counteroffensive from June is now over. Zaluzhny expected the army to advance 19 miles per day, but Ukraine has advanced about 11 miles total, according to The Economist’s estimates. Zaluzhny has said that his biggest error was expecting the high number of Russian deaths to be a deterrent for Russia.
“That was my mistake. Russia has lost at least 150,000 dead. In any other country, such casualties would have stopped the war,” he told The Economist.
On Monday, Ukraine signaled that it is shifting its military tactics toward a more defensive footing as winter approaches and after analysis of Russia's resource capabilities. President Volodymyr Zelensky also signaled that a fortification of the front lines needed to be accelerated.
Since the war began, an estimated 320,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured, according to European and U.S. analysts. A Ukrainian civic group estimates about 30,000 Ukrainian troops have died in the war, though an August report from The New York Times said U.S. officials estimate the number is closer to 70,000, with over 100,000 wounded. Some 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have also died, according to the United Nations.
Today, we’re going to examine some perspectives about the war from the left and right, as well as some views from abroad.
What the left is saying.
- The left is concerned about the long term outlook for the war and critical of Republicans for conditioning aid to Ukraine on immigration reforms.
- Some say the GOP’s proposed policies would be destructive, while others say that the party is trying to appease Trump in making these demands.
In The Messenger, Beatriz Lopez wrote about “the Republican wrecking ball aimed at America’s asylum system.”
“There is a Senate bipartisan working group in which Republicans involved are holding Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan aid funding hostage by demanding extreme permanent changes on immigration policy on the supplemental funding bill. Republican senators appear to be taking a page from the Trump-Miller handbook and pushing for an asylum ban, barriers that would make it nearly impossible to apply for asylum, as well as measures that would block humanitarian and other forms of parole,” Lopez said.
“Democrats in Congress should not be fooled by the false optics that the GOP has created. Instead, Democrats should call Republicans’ bluff and fight for the resources the Biden administration needs to do their job to secure the border, resource the cities and communities receiving migrants, as well as expand capacities to process those seeking asylum in an orderly manner. There should be no permanent changes to our immigration system in the 11th hour of supplemental talks. This is not good governance or politically smart for Democrats less than a year out from the November 2024 election.”
In The Washington Post, Greg Sargent argued “Trump is wrecking hopes for a ‘reasonable’ Ukraine deal.”
“Biden has asked Congress to provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine and Israel and an additional $14 billion to buttress the southern border with new law enforcement agents, expanded detention and other increased security measures. But Republicans won’t agree to that latter request — or the Ukraine aid — without substantial changes to immigration policy as well,” Sargent wrote. “Republicans should support much of what’s in Biden’s initial request for border security funding… which could reduce the window for migrants to exploit the system and prompt faster removals for those who don’t qualify.”
“Trump’s loud broadcasting of plans for an extraordinarily cruel immigration crackdown if he is elected president again appears to be rendering Republicans even less open to compromise without him being in the room. Hence, their slapdash demand for cuts to legal immigration and other radical measures, which seems to cast about for some way to satiate the former president’s taste for draconian nativist savagery. The bottom line: Senate Republicans are demanding that Democrats add numerous extreme concessions to a package that already gives Republicans many border security measures they ordinarily support, in exchange for Ukraine aid that many already back anyway.”
What the right is saying.
- The right questions President Biden’s leadership on Ukraine and suggests he has not met the moment.
- Some say Democrats should make a deal with Republicans on immigration in order to secure further aid to Ukraine, while others say a shift in approach will be necessary in the war.
The New York Post editorial board said Biden needs to “make the case for Ukraine before it’s too late.”
“From the beginning of the offensive, Biden failed to give the Ukrainians the equipment they needed to push back Vladimir Putin faster and decisively — he and his apparatchicks cowed by the Russian dictator’s nuclear threats. But at home he also failed to use his bully pulpit to make the case for helping Ukraine to the American people. At this 11th hour, it’s still not too late, if it were not for politics. He can still wrangle the votes for Ukraine aid, but now he’ll need to compromise by offering the GOP real changes on asylum law — closing the loopholes he’s exploited to wave millions of illegal immigrants into the interior,” the board wrote.
“Biden doesn’t like that deal and is refusing to do it. But if he believes what he himself says about the urgency of helping Ukraine, it’s his duty to make it. Just as his failure to rapidly supply Kyiv with airpower and other advanced weapons has hamstrung the now-stalled counteroffensive, Biden’s refusal to spend his own political capital in the domestic debate has empowered Putin, convincing him he only has to wait until the West tires of backing Ukraine.”
In American Greatness, Fred Fleitz wrote “the floor is falling out from under Biden’s Ukraine policy.”
“Regardless of whether President Biden and his congressional allies succeed in getting Congress to pass a new military aid package for Ukraine, with his media allies throwing in the towel and Congress increasingly resistant to sending weapons to a war that has become a stalemate, it will become more and more obvious next year that President Biden’s Ukraine policy is not sustainable,” Fleitz said. “Instead of providing weapons to Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes,’ the U.S. should pursue ways to help Ukraine ‘win the peace’ by pressing for a cease-fire and beginning efforts with its allies to massively arm Ukraine to protect and fortify its current borders and rebuild the country.
“The Ukrainian government, its supporters, and the Biden Administration will resist such a policy shift because they are clinging to the faint hope that Ukraine can still ‘win’ the war and expel Russia from all of its territory. This is a fantasy. Acknowledging this will enable the U.S. and its allies to work toward the best possible post-war arrangement for Ukraine that ends the killing and enables Ukraine to emerge as a strong democracy with a vibrant economy.”
What international voices are saying.
- Some say the U.S. and other Western democracies need to maintain their support for Ukraine in the war.
- Others propose that targeting Russia’s financial assets would be an effective way to influence the outcome of the war while the stalemate drags on.
In National Review, Poland’s Secretary of State Stanislaw Zaryn said “the West must hold strong in its support for Ukraine.”
“The growing emphasis on negotiations and a frozen front may benefit Russia in many ways. It gives it a chance to press for the lifting of sanctions and for further actions to increase the potential for aggression. At the same time, Moscow will be able to appease the West with the prospect of ‘ending the war,’ which will be received with relief by many,” Żaryn wrote. “At the same time, the intelligence on the Kremlin’s strategic plans leaves no room for doubt: Russia has embarked on an imperial course intended to stretch over many years and is consistently seeking to expand its aggressive military capabilities.”
“The bottom line is that the Kremlin plans to change the world order, especially in terms of security, and the conquest of Ukraine is a first step in that plan. If the West abandoned Ukraine now, it would be further exposing NATO to Russian aggression in the years to come. Instead, in order to avert the danger from Russia, NATO and the EU must hold strong in their support for Ukraine and continuing developing their military capabilities.”
In Newsweek, Kira Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, outlined how “the bad guys in Russia can face justice” in the war.
“Let's be honest: it is increasingly difficult for Ukraine to cope with the challenges of the war, support the army and the economy, and find the money for reconstruction. According to the latest calculations by the UN and the World Bank, the government of Ukraine needs more than $400 billion for reconstruction,” Rudik said. “At the moment, support for Ukraine from the EU has reached more than $92 billion. These are the funds of European taxpayers. The frozen Russian assets are five times that amount. We do not understand why the process of confiscation of Russian assets is taking so long, and why there is still no clear political decision regarding the transfer of those funds to Ukraine.”
“These funds can be used not only for the reconstruction of our war-damaged country but also for compensating the budgets of those countries that have been helping Ukraine,” Rudik wrote. “Not only Ukrainians but also citizens of other countries are waiting for this breakthrough, especially before various countries hold elections in 2024. During the political campaigns, the voices of populists will sound louder and louder. And effective points are needed to silence
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- This is a terrible moment in the war.
- There is great risk in continuing to fund Ukraine, but it is hard to imagine abandoning them now — and I still err toward not backing down.
- Democrats should recognize there is a genuine moment for meaningful immigration reform here, and meet Republicans at the negotiating table.
It's a horrifying reality.
The word "stalemate" is the last thing you want to read — both for the sake of the Ukrainian people and for avoiding protracted U.S. involvement in this war. If this story ends with hundreds of billions spent on defending Ukraine, only for it to lose the war or grind to a stalemate, it will become harder and harder for those who advocate defending Ukraine (like me) to stand up to the critics. I continue to believe that, of all the recent battles the U.S. has involved itself in, this one is the most just — if such a word can be used for an event involving hundreds of thousands of deaths.
But it is hard to deny the reality of where we are. Ukraine's counteroffensive has effectively failed, and the winter months loom. Just as it did last year, a long winter in the trenches plays to Russia's advantage, and you can expect the continued bombardment of Ukrainian infrastructure — that means heating, electricity, and other necessities for civilians and military alike.
No matter what, Ukrainians are going to continue to fight for their survival. And our European allies appear willing to continue to support them. Continued U.S. support is the big question. From an American funding perspective, it feels as if we've driven halfway down a dangerous road and now find ourselves stuck right in the middle, with the choice to either barrel forward and try to get out the other end or to cut bait, turn around, and return to safety.
Barreling forward is a high-risk/high-reward scenario. Ukraine winning the war outright stabilizes Europe and probably acts as a deterrent against future Russian aggression. In the long run, it may even be the most cost-effective move.
On the other hand, dumping another $100 billion into this war while watching a stalemate ensue would be devastating for Americans’ morale. It’s hard to overstate how much angst it’d create to see that money go to a failed defense of Ukraine while our schools and cities and heartland all languish. The worst outcome of all would be investing all this funding and time into Ukraine only for Russia to prevail; that would not just create a more dangerous world but would also do generational damage to trust in America's military decision makers.
And yet, leaving Ukraine behind now just feels unfathomable to me. I don't know how anyone can look at the two sides of that war and feel any kind of moral ambiguity about it or not see the threat Putin poses to the West. Even if we sink a huge amount of funding into a losing war, we still have an opportunity at the very least to help Ukraine and its people retain their statehood and be free of authoritarian rule. Comparing what we’ve spent in dollars to what Ukraine has spent in lives, it feels like the obviously right thing to do — especially if Europe continues to send aid (fifteen other countries are still giving more aid than we are when calculated as a percentage of GDP).
As to how to get there, well, I think Democrats need to meet Republicans at the negotiating table. I understand why so many people think pairing immigration reform with Ukraine funding is a conniving move, but I think Democrats accepting those terms is smart. It is tactical. And given the current migrant crisis and breakdown of our immigration system, it is also appropriately timed. How many chances has Congress had to overhaul our immigration system in the last 20 years and done absolutely nothing? Republicans see an opening here and Democrats should too.
Think about it this way: Biden is already offering billions of dollars in southern border funding, new law enforcement, and more detention of migrants who cross the border illegally — all things Republicans want. Should Republicans expect to get a border wall and kill asylum laws when they barely have a majority in the House, are in the minority in the Senate, and don't have a Republican president? No. Of course not. But pushing for some needed reforms to our asylum system — which is clearly overwhelmed and broken — makes political and logistical sense. We saw “Remain in Mexico” work as an effective deterrent to illegal immigration, though any return to that policy would need to avoid the humanitarian issues that came with it. Parts of H.R. 2 (the Republican-led Secure the Border Act) would be popular with the public, and Republicans and Democrats should be ready to give ground on some positions and meet on those points.
Instead, negotiations are apparently devolving into shouting matches. Not encouraging, or surprising, but totally disappointing. There is a real opportunity here to do two good things: Continue to show support for a sovereign nation defending itself from an authoritarian, anti-democratic aggressor, and finally wade into the difficult task of overhauling our broken and chaotic immigration system. If only we had some leaders ready to take both of those issues on at the same time.
Your questions, answered.
Q: This election seems to be more about the personalities and age of the candidates than any I can remember in the past. Issues are important, but they seem to be minor compared to the individuals themselves. Am I just forgetting past elections?
— Bruce from Minneapolis, Minnesota
Tangle: I think this is one of those instances of recency bias. Going back to the Bush-Gore election of 2000, every election has prominently featured some version of candidate personality as one of its central narratives. In answering this question, I thought it’d be informative and even a little enjoyable to go back and remember the central candidate narratives of all those past elections, starting in 2016 to avoid the redundancy.
2016: Trump v Clinton — Trump was fully reinventing the Republican brand at the time, throwing haymakers at establishment candidates like Clinton and trying to be a voice for everyone with grievances at a political system that still seemed to be getting off scot-free for Iraq and the housing crisis of 2008. For her part, Clinton was selling herself as experienced and realistic, framing Trump as not just inexperienced but brash, self-serving, and even existentially dangerous.
2012: Obama v Romney — The bloom was off the rose a bit with the Obama brand, so to speak, but he was still a youthful and moderately liberal candidate who could generate a ton of support among young voters. From the Democrats’ position, Romney was a pro-business candidate who could draw the ire of the Occupy Wall Street wing of the party. For Republicans, Romney was a smart moderate — an earnest religious conservative who also showed he could govern liberal Massachusetts, and Obama was a failed president too green to handle the economy and face global crises abroad.
2008: Obama v McCain — I’ll admit to looking back at this election pretty fondly as one with two candidates that actually had genuine respect for each other. For the right: McCain, the war hero “maverick,” against the junior Senator from Illinois who was too naive for the presidency. For the left: Obama, the candidate of “Hope” and “Change,” against the old war horse Senator who had caved to the right flank of his party by running with Sarah Palin on the ticket.
2004: Bush v Kerry — Both Bush elections were very personality driven. And the narratives for Bush in 2004 were all dominated by 9/11. The incumbent Bush was riding a huge boost in popularity for being commander in chief during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — wars which the left criticized him for starting. In terms of personality, he was panned as being in the pocket of his VP, Dick Cheney, on foreign policy and not being terribly bright. Conversely, his opponent, John Kerry, could muster little more than being a wooden protest vote, whom the Bush campaign successfully labeled a “flip-flopper.” He ran on his record of being a veteran, which the now-infamous “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign smeared.
2000: Bush v Gore — This election was as personality driven as any election that’s occurred since. Depending on your point of view, George W. Bush was either a product of nepotism who was too dumb and inexperienced to handle the job of president, or the down-to-earth candidate you can have a beer with. Al Gore was either the straight-laced experienced former VP who was ready for the job or a dull robot who was too rigid to lace up his own boots.
And I mention all this not to say that those elections were all about personality or that this one isn’t about personality at all — just to say that presidential elections have always been a mix of both personality and policy, for as long as I can remember. As much as people like me want to believe policy matters, and voters think deeply about issues, and tradition is revered, and our system is a shining beacon of democracy — sometimes, elections are basically akin to picking a prom queen.
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Under the radar.
Yesterday, CVS announced major changes to the way it prices prescription drugs that is expected to add transparency and predictability to the model. The plan comes after increased scrutiny from lawmakers and industry upstarts who have challenged the complex formulas the pharmacy chain uses to set prices. CVS will now adopt a "cost plus" model already used by some of its rivals, which means prices will be the sum of how much CVS pays to acquire the drug plus a small markup and fee. Notably, CVS owns the health insurance company Aetna. Last month, Cigna-owned Express Scripts adopted the same model. While some onlookers hope this will reduce the cost of drugs, most are in wait-and-see mode, and CVS itself has warned that adopting the model might increase the cost of some drugs. Axios has the story.
- 650. The number of days since Russia invaded Ukraine.
- 6.3 million. The number of refugees that has been recorded globally from Ukraine since the start of the war.
- 63%. The percentage of Americans who said they supported continued aid to Ukraine in an October 2023 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
- 72%. The percentage of Americans who said they supported continued aid to Ukraine in July 2022.
- 50%. The percentage of U.S. adults who said they are “extremely” or “very” concerned about Russia’s influence around the world in a November 2023 poll from AP/NORC.
- 46%. The percentage of U.S. adults who said they are “extremely” or “very” concerned about illegal immigration.
- $68 billion. The amount of U.S. aid appropriated for Ukraine that has been spent in the U.S. to build new weapons or to replace weapons sent to Ukraine from U.S. stockpiles.
- #1. The U.S.’s rank in total financial commitments to Ukraine among all countries who have sent aid.
- #16. The U.S.’s rank in financial commitments to Ukraine as a percentage of GDP.
- One year ago today we published a story about the Georgia Senate runoff election.
- The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our new YouTube video outlining what a second Donald Trump presidency might look like.
- Blah, blah, blah: 512 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking how effective the U.N. COP28 summit will be at setting goals that will reduce global warming, with 46% saying it will not be effective at all. 38% said it will be somewhat ineffective, 13% said it will be mostly effective, and 4% were unsure or had no opinion. 0 people said it will be highly effective, with many complaining about oil lobbyists present and the cost of holding the event. "How much CO2 emissions were generated by people taking private jets to the summit?", one respondent asked.
- Nothing to do with politics: A Vietnamese man discovered that his headache was caused by a pair of chopsticks in his skull.
- Take the poll. What do you think about continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
Britain's so-called "loneliest sheep," who was stuck at the foot of a remote cliff in Scotland for two years, has been rescued, according to a group of farmers who made it their mission to save her. The sheep, whose name is Fiona, has become something of a local celebrity after being discovered in 2021 on the shore at the base of a cliff in Brora, Scotland, by kayaker Jillian Turner. Photos taken by Turner showed Fiona’s dire predicament, surrounded by steep rock on one side and water on the other. In October of this year, Turner told the Northern Times she had spotted Fiona, who was unable to move from her spot, several times since. Then, one Saturday, a nearby organizer of a farming Facebook group had an exciting update for followers: He and four other men were able to bring Fiona up the slope of the cliff — putting an end to her seclusion. The Uplift has the story.
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