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March 2, 2014

As the West begins to shape its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the emerging conventional wisdom is that there is little the world can do to stop Vladimir Putin from doing whatever he wants to do. Here is Peter Baker in The New York Times warning that Russia will likely get away with its Soviet-style land grab fairly easily:

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies. [The New York Times]

Ben Judah, writing in Politico Magazine, goes further, arguing that wealthy interests in Europe are too invested in Russia's oligarchical scheme to put any pressure on it:

Moscow is not nervous. Russia's elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner — everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident — confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. [Politico Magazine]

In this view, the West has neither the means nor the will to draw Putin's blood. But it does have the means, including the visa bans and banking sanctions that Judah cites, which would chip at the heart of the Russian regime; a revived effort to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which were scrapped amidst a "reset" in relations that is obviously dead and gone; and a general strengthening of Western-friendly governments around Russia, including Georgia, Poland, and the provisional government in Kiev (whether this includes NATO membership in the case of Georgia and Ukraine is a debate for another day).

Does the West have the will? To suggest that it doesn't seems to underestimate the historical significance of the moment. This is a naked land grab on a different order of magnitude than Russia's move into Georgia in 2008, which was legitimately shrouded in a fog-of-war-type situation. Now that the scales have fallen from everyone's eyes, now that Putin's territorial ambitions and agenda have been so totally exposed, the West has little choice but to make his transgressions as painful as possible — otherwise what would stop Putin from expanding his thug regime? Ryu Spaeth

2:18 p.m. ET
Joel Saget/Getty Images

Early projections put centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in position to advance to the second round of voting in France's runoff presidential election. Per numbers from The Guardian, Macron has a slight lead with about 23.7 percent of the vote and Le Pen follows with about 22 percent.

The other two (of 11 total) candidates thought to have a shot at advancing, center-right François Fillon and far-left populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, are each projected to take around 19.5 percent. The second vote is May 7. Bonnie Kristian

1:04 p.m. ET

A government shutdown is not what the Trump administration wants, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney told Chris Wallace in a conversation on Fox News Sunday. A shutdown will occur on Friday, April 28, if Congress cannot pass a spending package by that date.

"President Trump has talked about a number of items that he would like to see in this government funding bill," Wallace asked, alluding to the White House's Thursday demand that any spending package include money for President Trump's southern border wall. "Which are so important that he's willing to see the government shut down if he doesn't get them?"

"I don't think anybody is trying to get to a shutdown," Mulvaney replied. "Shutdown is not a desired end. It's not a tool. It's not something that we want to have." Still he added, the White House wants "our priorities funded and one of the biggest priorities during the campaign was border security, keeping Americans safe and part of that was a border wall."

Also on Sunday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an ABC interview and President Trump on Twitter reaffirmed Trump's campaign pledge that Mexico (or perhaps Mexicans, since the plausibility of the Mexican government cutting a check is miniscule) will pay for the wall eventually:

Watch Mulvaney's full interview below. Bonnie Kristian

12:16 p.m. ET

“We're going to get paid for it one way or the other," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said of President Trump's proposed border wall while speaking with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. After raising the issue, Stephanopoulos asked if Sessions has any evidence Mexico will fund construction, as Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail.

Sessions conceded he does not expect the government of Mexico to "appropriate money," but maintained the United States has other options to get money from Mexicans. We could "deal with our trade situation to create the revenue," he suggested, or, "I know there's $4 billion a year in excess payments," Sessions continued, "tax credits that they shouldn't get. Now, these are mostly Mexicans. And those kind of things add up — $4 billion a year for 10 years is $40 billion."

Sessions appears to be referencing a 2011 audit report Trump also cited while campaigning. As Politifact explains, the report said that in 2011, $4.2 billion in child tax credits was paid to people filing income taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number. Some of these filers are illegal immigrants, but many are legal foreign workers, and the audit did not say how many are Mexican.

"The vast majority of that $4.2 billion, the filer may be undocumented, but you have to have a child to receive it," said Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "And the children are overwhelmingly U.S. citizens." Watch an excerpt of Sessions' remarks below. Bonnie Kristian

11:22 a.m. ET

"The last thing we can afford is to send a message to the world that the United States government, by the way, is only partially functioning," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Sunday in an interview with Face the Nation on CBS, citing tension with North Korea, the French election, and turmoil in Syria as situations that could be dangerously complicated by a U.S. government shutdown.

"I mean, that would just have catastrophic impact in my view or certainly very destabilizing I should say impact on global affairs," Rubio added. "And so we should keep that in mind going into this week." In 2013, Rubio indicated he was willing to "go all the way," which in context meant voting against a spending bill if it did not defund ObamaCare, even if that meant allowing the government to shut down.

A shutdown is expected if Congress does not pass a federal budget or spending extension by Friday, April 28. The White House has demanded any funding package include money for President Trump's proposed wall along the southern border, as well as a spending bump for the Defense Department. Congressional Democrats, suffice it to say, are not enthused.

Watch Rubio's comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian

10:14 a.m. ET
KNS/Getty Images

North Korea detained a Korean-American man named Tony Kim at the airport in Pyongyang on Friday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Sunday. Kim is a professor who was in North Korea teaching a course at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

Kim is the third American citizen currently held by the isolated nation. The other two detainees were both arrested last year and sentenced to hard labor for subversive acts. Pyongyang has yet to comment on why Kim is in custody.

"The cause of his arrest is not known but some officials at PUST told me his arrest was not related to his work at PUST. He had been involved with some other activities outside PUST such as helping an orphanage," said PUST Chancellor Chan-Mo Park. "I sincerely hope and pray that he will be released soon." Bonnie Kristian

9:58 a.m. ET
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

President Trump continues to have record-low approval ratings with the general public, but he is maintaining his core base of supporters, finds a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday in advance of the 100-day mark of Trump's presidency on April 29. Just 42 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing so far, compared to an average of 69 percent approval for past presidents around the same time in their administrations.

A majority of respondents said Trump does not understand their problems, is not trustworthy, has yet to score a major accomplishment as president, and is not guided by a clear set of principles. However, more Americans say Democrats are out of step with the public than feel the same about the GOP, and 96 percent of Trump voters said they would back him again today. Bonnie Kristian

8:34 a.m. ET
U.S. Navy/Getty Images

North Korea on Sunday said it is prepared to bomb the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. aircraft carrier leading a Navy carrier strike group toward North Korea in a show of force.

"Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike," said an editorial in a newspaper run by the Kim Jong Un regime's Workers' Party. The article called the ship a "gross animal" and the potential strike "an actual example to show our military's force."

The carrier strike group was first said to be on its way toward North Korea in early April, only to be sighted thousands of miles away, near Singapore. The Trump administration blamed the confusion on miscommunication, and the Vinson is now in transit to the Sea of Japan off the coast of North Korea. Bonnie Kristian

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