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Biden Administration News: Live Updates – The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell on Monday dropped his demand that the new Democratic Senate majority promise to preserve the filibuster — which Republicans could use to obstruct President Biden’s agenda — ending an impasse that had prevented Democrats from assuming full power even after their election wins.

But as in past fights over the filibuster, the outcome is likely to be only a temporary solution. As they press forward on Mr. Biden’s agenda, Democrats will come under mounting pressure from activists to jettison the rule, which effectively requires 60 votes to advance any measure, should Republicans use it regularly to stall or stop the administration’s priorities.

In his negotiations with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the new majority leader, Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, had refused to agree to a plan for organizing the chamber without a pledge from Democrats to protect the filibuster, a condition that Mr. Schumer had rejected.

But late Monday, as the stalemate persisted, Mr. McConnell found a way out by pointing to statements by two centrist Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, that said they opposed getting rid of the procedural tool — a position they had held for months — as enough of a guarantee to move forward without a formal promise from Mr. Schumer.

“With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Democrats had been anticipating a capitulation by Mr. McConnell and said they believed he had overreached in the negotiation.

“We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer. “We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people.”

Even some lawmakers who have backed the filibuster strongly said they could change their minds if Republicans engaged in constant obstruction.

“I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done,” said Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change.”

Mr. McConnell’s demand for a pre-emptive surrender on the filibuster had infuriated Democrats who regarded it as evidence that the Republican leader intends to obstruct Mr. Biden’s proposals on pandemic relief, immigration, climate change, health care and more.

The stalemate created a bizarre situation in which most Senate committees were frozen under Republican control and new senators could not be seated on the panels even though Democrats now command the Senate majority.

Beyond the immediate logistical effects, the feud reflected a challenging dynamic in the 50-50 Senate for Mr. Biden. By holding out against Democrats eager to take charge, Mr. McConnell was exercising what leverage he had. But he also foreshadowed an eventual clash in the chamber that might otherwise have taken months to unfold over how aggressive Democrats should be in seeking to accomplish Mr. Biden’s top priorities.

Democrats say they must retain at least the threat that they could one day end the filibuster, arguing that bowing to Mr. McConnell’s demand now would only have emboldened Republicans to deploy it constantly, without fear of retaliation.

At issue is a rule that is at the heart of the consensus-driven Senate, which effectively mandates that any legislation draw 60 votes to advance. But like everything else in the chamber, the rule itself is subject to change if senators agree. As the majority party, Democrats could move to eliminate the filibuster and force through a change to the rules on a simple majority vote — a move known as detonating the “nuclear option” — if all 50 of their members held together and Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote.

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On Tuesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo, President Biden’s pick for commerce secretary, will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee for a confirmation hearing.CreditCredit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

Gina M. Raimondo, the Biden administration’s nominee to be the next Commerce secretary, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday that she plans to help American communities bounce back from coronavirus, aggressively enforce trade rules and try to leverage the power of the government to mitigate climate change if confirmed to a cabinet post, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.

Ms. Raimondo, who will testify before the Senate Commerce Committee, is expected to say that her experience working in the private sector as a venture capitalist and as state treasurer and the governor of Rhode Island have prepared her to help realize the Commerce department’s mission to create good-paying jobs and empower American entrepreneurs and workers.

“In this time of overlapping crises, the Commerce department must be a partner to businesses and their workers to help them innovate and grow,” Ms. Raimondo is expected to say.

Ms. Raimondo is expected to focus on her role in bringing down Rhode Island’s unemployment rate — once the highest in the nation — and will credit work force training and small business lending programs that she helped initiate. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate sat at 6.6 percent when Ms. Raimondo took office as governor in 2015. It then fell fairly steadily to a low of 3.4 percent at the beginning of 2020, mirroring a broader trend around the United States. The jobless rate has since spiked in the wake of the pandemic.

She will also focus on the effect of offshoring and factory closures on her family in the 1980s, when her father lost his job at a local watch factory and was forced into early retirement.

As Commerce secretary, Ms. Raimondo said she would help to deploy resources to businesses and workers, especially in poorer communities, to help them bounce back from the pandemic. She also pledged to work to aggressively enforce trade rules to combat unfair trade practices from countries like China, and to use the powers of her department to help reinvigorate American manufacturing and aid communities and businesses in adapting to climate change.

President Biden on Tuesday is expected to announce the establishment of a national commission to examine excessive force violations by law enforcement.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Continuing an opening salvo of executive actions intended to combat the coronavirus and nullify many of his predecessor’s policies, President Biden is set to outline a series of policy plans pointed at a central campaign pledge: advancing the cause of racial equity.

“America has never lived up to its founding promise of equality for all, but we’ve never stopped trying,” Mr. Biden said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Today, I’ll take action to advance racial equity and push us closer to that more perfect union we’ve always strived to be.”

At 2 p.m., Mr. Biden will deliver his remarks in the State Dining Room and is expected to take executive action on prison reform, affordable housing and police reform — including an order establishing a national commission to examine the use of excessive force by law enforcement, according to an aide familiar with his plans.

Mr. Biden will also sign an order reinstating a ban on the transfer of military equipment to local police departments put in place during the Obama administration and rolled back under President Donald J. Trump, the aide said.

He also plans to issue an order addressing discrimination against Asian-Americans.

At noon, Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Janet Yellen as the new Treasury secretary.

Later, Ms. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will receive their second doses of the coronavirus vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

At 12:30 p.m., Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, and Susan Rice, a domestic policy adviser, will discuss Mr. Biden’s equity agenda as well as previous executive orders dealing with the economic hardship faced by families during the pandemic.

Under President Donald J. Trump, the White House ran an ad hoc clemency process that provided an advantage to people with connections to him.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Eliyahu Weinstein got word that two-thirds of his 24-year sentence for investment fraud was going to be commuted by President Donald J. Trump after the White House chief of staff called a well-connected Washington lobbyist who had been hired to lead his clemency push.

Lawrence McCarroll learned that the petition he had filed with the Justice Department and the letter he had sent to the president had failed to win him a commutation of the remaining six years on his 33-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offense when his mother emailed from her home in Kenosha, Wis., to tell him his name had not appeared in news reports about Mr. Trump’s final round of clemency.

The contrast between the treatment of Mr. Weinstein and Mr. McCarroll underscores the two very different systems for determining who received clemency during Mr. Trump’s presidency.

In one system, people like the McCarrolls mostly hung their hopes on the regular process run by the Justice Department, which often took years to produce a response, if one came at all. In the other system, people like Mr. Weinstein skipped the line and got their petitions directly on the president’s desk because they had money or connections, or allies who did.

Of the nearly 240 pardons and commutations issued by Mr. Trump, only 25 came through the rigorous process for identifying and vetting worthy clemency petitions overseen by the Justice Department, according to a tally kept partly by a former United States pardon attorney.

In addition to rewarding people like Mr. Weinstein whose allies could afford to buy access to the highest levels of the administration, the results included pardons for people with direct personal relationships with the former president, such as his longtime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law’s father, Charles Kushner.

Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, helped fund a bus tour that promoted Donald J. Trump’s false election claims.
Credit…Erin Scott/Reuters

Twitter has permanently suspended MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell — one of President Trump’s most conspicuous remaining public defenders — for peddling debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

Mr. Lindell’s Twitter account, which had nearly 413,000 followers, was permanently suspended “due to repeated violations of our Civic Integrity Policy,” Lauren Alexander, a Twitter spokeswoman, said in an email.

Mr. Trump’s own account was permanently closed earlier this month for much the same reason — setting off a chain of high-profile bans imposed amid concerns that Mr. Trump and his supporters would use the platform to incite more violence, like the storming of the Capitol earlier this month.

After the Capitol attack, Twitter said it had updated its rules to more aggressively police false or misleading information about the presidential election. As part of that move, Twitter has moved to suspend the accounts of more than 70,000 people who have promoted content related to QAnon, a fringe pro-Trump group that the F.B.I. has labeled a domestic terrorist threat.

Many of Mr. Trump’s most erstwhile defenders backed away from him in the days following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, which was stoked by the former president’s fiery and false speech to supporters claiming massive voter fraud. Not Mr. Lindell.

A few days after the riot, he visited Mr. Trump in the White House — where photographers captured images of his notes, which while only partly visible seemed to suggest the president impose “martial law if necessary” to remain in office.

Dominion Voting Systems, the target of his unsubstantiated claims of massive, intentional voter fraud, threatened to sue Mr. Lindell last week, describing him as a leader of a “misinformation campaign” that has resulted in significant business losses and threats of violence against Dominion employees.

On Monday, Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claiming he had personally profited by using his attacks against the company to promote commercial sponsorships.

Mr. Lindell, 59, filed a lawsuit of his own on Monday, suing the British tabloid The Daily Mail, over a recent report that he was having an extramarital affair, seeking $75,000 in damages.

His high-profile defense of Mr. Trump has earned him a devoted following on the right, but might have significant implications for his business. Bed, Bath & Beyond and several other chains have pulled MyPillow products from their shelves.

The House impeachment managers walked the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

For the second time in just over a year, the House sent an article of impeachment against Donald J. Trump to the Senate for trial, thrusting his political fate into the hands of 50 Republican senators who for now appear reluctant to convict him.

On a day marked more by ceremony than substance, nine House managers on Monday walked across the Capitol to inform the Senate that they were ready to prosecute Mr. Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” a charge approved on a bipartisan basis after the former president stirred up a violent mob that stormed the Capitol this month. But senators planned to quickly hit pause, putting off the heart of the trial until Feb. 9 and buying Republicans time to prepare for a proceeding that will be as much a referendum over the future of their party as it will be on Mr. Trump himself.

Unlike Mr. Trump’s first impeachment, when Republicans quickly and enthusiastically rallied behind him, several Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have signaled they are open to convicting the former president after a mendacious campaign to overturn his election loss that turned deadly. That would allow the Senate to bar him from ever holding office again.

But at least at the trial’s outset, their numbers fell well short of the 17 Republicans that would be needed to join Democrats in securing a conviction.

Instead, with the trial on hold, Republicans’ initial fury about the Jan. 6 attack appeared to be giving way to cold political calculations about the price they might pay for abandoning Mr. Trump, given his continued hold on the voters who make up the party’s base.

A survey by The New York Times on the eve of the trial found that 27 Republican senators had expressed opposition to charging Mr. Trump or otherwise holding him accountable by impeachment. Sixteen Republicans indicated they were undecided, and seven had no response. Most of those opposed increasingly fell back on process-based objections rather than defending Mr. Trump.

President Biden, in an interview with CNN on Monday, said that while he thought the trial was necessary, he did not believe 17 Republican senators would vote to convict Mr. Trump.

“The Senate has changed since I was there, but it hasn’t changed that much,” Mr. Biden said.

Carrying a slim blue envelope bearing the impeachment charge, the House managers, led by Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, walked through a Capitol where memories of the Jan. 6 siege were still fresh. They started in the House chamber, where lawmakers ducked for cover and donned gas masks as rioters tried to force their way in; past Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite, which was ransacked by the mob; through the Rotunda, where officers fired tear gas as they lost control over the throng; and into the well of the Senate chamber, where invaders cloaked in Trump gear congregated and took turns for photo ops on the dais the vice president and senators had been forced to evacuate moments before.

After Mr. Raskin read the charge in full, the managers left. The Senate planned to reconvene on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. to issue a summons to Mr. Trump to answer for the charge and formally agree to a trial schedule for the coming weeks.

Senators will also swear a special impeachment oath dating to the 18th century to do “impartial justice.”

John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Monday. Travel bans put in place by the Trump administration will remain in place, the Biden administration announced.
Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Travel by noncitizens into the United States from South Africa will be banned over concerns about a coronavirus variant spreading in that country. And bans put in place last year on travel from Brazil, 27 European countries and Britain will be extended, the Biden administration announced on Monday.

The move comes as officials in the new administration try to get their hands around a fast-changing pandemic, with public health officials racing to vaccinate the public — and to expand the supply of vaccine — as more contagious variants of the coronavirus spread.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease specialist, has said that the variant of the virus in South Africa appears to be more highly contagious.

Moderna said its vaccine is effective against the new variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in Britain and South Africa. But the immune response is slightly weaker against the South African variant, so the company is developing a new form of the vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against that virus.

The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has predicted the vaccine supply would not increase until late March. Federal health officials and corporate executives have said it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April because of a lack of manufacturing capacity. But a third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, is expected to report the results of its clinical trial soon; if approved, that vaccine would also help shore up production.

Mr. Biden’s travel ban will go into effect Saturday and apply to non-U.S. citizens who have spent time in South Africa in the last 14 days. The new policy will not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents, officials said.

On his last full day in office, President Donald J. Trump tried to eliminate the Covid-19-related ban on travel from Britain, Ireland, 26 countries in Europe and Brazil, saying it was no longer necessary. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the ban would remain in place.

“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she said.

Ms. Psaki also said the Biden administration intended to hold regular public health briefings three times a week, beginning on Wednesday.

The first confirmed case of the Brazilian variant in the United States has been identified in Minnesota, the state’s health department said on Monday. It was found in a Minnesota resident who had recently traveled to Brazil.

The variant now spreading in South Africa appears to have not yet reached the United States. Over two dozen countries have now reported cases of the variant.

In addition to the travel bans, Mr. Biden issued an executive order last week requiring that all international travelers present negative coronavirus tests before traveling to the United States. The move extended a C.D.C. requirement for the tests that was issued by the Trump administration but was set to expire on Tuesday.

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