with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Today, we chat with Rep. Michael McCaul. But don’t miss the latest on the rescue package, major nominations, coronavirus vaccines and variants. Did you spot a politics or policy story you think has been overlooked? Send it my way. And tell your friends to sign up here.

As Congress investigates the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) believes two things: The attack was domestic terrorism, and it showed law enforcement needs broader powers to fight back, like those granted after 9/11.

“In today’s world, the FBI tells me they’re having more domestic terrorism cases than international terrorism,” McCaul, a former Homeland Security Committee chairman, said in an interview. “During my career at Homeland, it was the threat from al-Qaeda, now we’re looking at what happened January 6th.”

The riot left five people dead, including one police officer, and many more wounded. It also touched off a difficult debate over whether government needs new powers to go after the expanding threat of home-grown extremism, amid concerns about civil liberties. Some of the issues got an airing yesterday when FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing legislation, modeled on a bill introduced days after the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso. That’s when a 21-year-old White man allegedly drove more than 11 hours through Texas to go on a rampage at a Walmart, killing 22 people and leaving 26 more injured in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

The bill would broaden the list of charges prosecutors could use against suspects to bring them more in line with the tools they have to go after international terrorists. The 2019 bill would have modified the U.S. Code section on terrorism to include options for the death penalty, prison sentences and fines for attacks carried out by U.S. actors on U.S. soil.

“It gives the prosecutor more tools. The more charges you can put on a defendant, the stronger your case is,” the Texas lawmaker said.

“But I also think it sends a strong statement.”

“I don’t like injecting politics into law, but this sends a strong message to the American people that we are going to criminalize this,” said McCaul. “And that what happened January 6th is an act of domestic terrorism, that we are going to begin to charge people.” 

The Biden administration has made countering domestic extremism a priority.

It has ordered a sweeping 100-day review of the threat and the means to respond to it on his first full day in office. And the Department of Homeland Security, created in response to 9/11, has changed how it operates. The White House has not endorsed McCaul’s bill, which would give Biden an opening for bipartisan cooperation.

The debate over domestic terrorism has drawn renewed concerns about the potential impact on civil liberties after two decades of “war on terrorism” saw the government carry out warrantless wiretapping of Americans, targeting of reporters on national security grounds and the use of harsh interrogation practices that meet international definitions of torture.

“When you’re talking about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere, they’re not governed by the Constitution; but domestic terrorism is,” McCaul said. “We were very careful how we crafted the bill. We don’t get into political thought, free-speech issues that are guaranteed under the First Amendment.”

But the ACLU opposes the plan, with spokeswoman Manar Waheed saying in a statement, “A new domestic terrorism statue should be off the table.”

“The government already has more than sufficient statutory and investigative power to address white supremacist violence, including over 50 domestic terrorism-related statutes and a plethora of hate crimes, if it chooses to use them,” Waheed said.

The White House has yet to come out publicly in favor of expanded powers, but could once its review of the threat is finished.

Asked whether current laws were adequate, Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “The men and women of the FBI have proven time and again that they will work with the tools they have and they are resourceful and entrepreneurial and we've had remarkably good success at disrupting attacks using the tools that we have.”

“But certainly I think you would be hard-pressed to find any FBI director that wouldn't welcome more tools in the toolbox,” Wray said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) peppered Wray with questions about whether right-wing groups like the Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers or the Ku Klux Klan were “domestic terrorist” groups.

Wray demurred: “Under federal law, under U.S. law, there is no list of domestic terrorism organizations the same way there is for foreign terrorist organizations.”

Wray also said there was a “reasonable debate” about whether having such a list would help much.

Still, putting a sense of scale on the problem, the FBI director said his agents were pursuing about 2,000 domestic terrorism cases.

As my colleagues Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report that Wray told the committee domestic terrorism has roughly doubled over the past year. “The FBI director testified in September that the number of such cases was about 1,000. By the end of 2020, there were about 1,400 such cases, and after Jan. 6 the figure ballooned again, the director said.”

But, Wray said, the FBI doesn’t care about ideology.

Our focus is on the violence. We don't care what ideology motivates somebody,” he said. “We don't care whether it's left, right, up, down, diagonal or any other way. If the ideology is motivating violence and it violates federal law we're coming after it.”

What’s happening now

Biden and Senate Democrats agreed to tighten income limits for $1,400 stimulus checks. “Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning under $75,000 per year and couples earning under $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400 per person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear altogether for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. The deal is meant to pacify moderate Democrats who demanded more “targeted” spending.

  • The decision could leave millions of Americans wondering why they didn’t get the checks Democrats promised, notably during Georgia’s twin Senate races in January. And it could draw opposition in Congress from liberals already unhappy that the bill will not include a gradual increase in the federal hourly minimum wage to $15. Both have ramifications for the 2022 midterm elections.

It took three hours and 19 minutes for senior Army officials to approve a request for National Guard troops to be deployed to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, said in a Senate hearing “it could have made a difference” if the Guard had been deployed earlier, Matt Zapotosky, Paul Sonne and Devlin Barrett report. “Walker described the Pentagon’s restrictions as ‘unusual,’ noting that he didn’t have such limitations last June when the D.C. Guard was tasked with responding to local racial justice protests.” 

Internal reports and emails from DHS show that federal law enforcement authorities were warned of potential for violence by groups on Jan. 6. A security bulletin compiled a day before the attack warned that anti-government and racially motivated extremists were likely to participate in the rally near the White House and “use the activities as an opportunity to promote their ideologies and motivate followers to promote violence,” Shane Harris, Aaron Davis, Nick Miroff and Nate Jones report.  

Capitol Police say they have intelligence about possible plot by militia to breach Capitol on March 4, a date that some QAnon followers falsely claim will mark Trump’s return to the White House, Felicia Sonmez reports

A U.S. contractor died in a rocket attack at an Iraq base. A Pentagon spokesperson said the contractor “suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering” and died shortly afterward, the AP reports. At least 10 rockets slammed into the air base housing U.S. and other coalition troops in western Iraq. 

Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, testified before the House Appropriations Committee this morning: 

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • “ ‘I’ll get away with anything’: 13 not-so-greatest hits from the Capitol riot arrest records,” by Aaron Blake: “Kevin Loftus: Allegedly posted a selfie in the Capitol with the caption, ‘One of 700 inside’ … Joshua Lollar: Allegedly posted to Facebook after the Capitol riot saying, ‘Yeah, I’m good. Just got gassed and fought with cops.’ ” 
  • Most of us put our lives on hold over the past year. But some decided to make a big change,” by Amanda Long: “Somewhere between ‘How could this be happening?’ and ‘Is this what I want my life to be?’ some people went ahead with life-changing decisions. Despite the global health crisis — or because of it — they didn’t tread water. Instead, they created the lives they’ve always wanted. In our year of waiting, here are stories of people who didn’t wait.”
  • Biden has set out to dismantle Trump’s legacy, except in one area: Space,” by Christian Davenport: “The White House has announced support for two of Trump’s signature initiatives — the Artemis program, NASA’s effort to return astronauts to the lunar surface, and the Space Force, the sixth branch of the armed services. The endorsement of the Artemis program means it will become the first major deep-space human exploration effort with funding to survive a change in presidents since Apollo, after several fitful efforts to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond ultimately went nowhere.”

… and beyond

  • Rep. Ronny Jackson made sexual comments, drank alcohol and took Ambien while working as White House physician, Pentagon watchdog finds,” by CNN’s Manu Raju, Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Oren Liebermann: “Jackson claimed the report was politically motivated … saying the inspector general ‘resurrected’ old allegations against him because he refused to ‘turn my back on President Trump.’”
  • NYC Bar Association joins push to have [Rudy] Giuliani investigated to be disbarred,” by CNN’s Sonia Moghe: “In a letter obtained by CNN, the NYC Bar Association said allegations call for a ‘serious investigation’ into Giuliani's actions, saying he used his position as an attorney who served in senior government positions including Manhattan US Attorney's office and Associate Attorney General of the United States to ‘lend credence’ to Trump’s baseless assertions that the 2020 Presidential Election results were the product of widespread election fraud.”
  • A big tech showdown in Arizona,” by the American Prospect’s Brittany Gibson: Arizona’s House of Representatives is considering a statewide change to the Apple and Google app stores. “Arizona’s HB 2005 would make it illegal for any processing fee to be collected by mobile app stores if the customer lives in Arizona or if the app seller is based in Arizona.” 

The first 100 days

Three top House Democrats endorsed Shalanda Young to replace Neera Tanden as Office of Management and Budget chief nominee. 
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) backed Young, who is the president’s nominee to serve as OMB deputy director. If chosen and confirmed, Young would be the office’s first Black female director.
  • Biden, however, is still working through the process of picking a replacement for Tanden, CNN reports. White House officials are quietly considering other replacements, including Gene Sperling, a Clinton and Obama economic official, and Ann O’Leary, a former top Hillary Clinton adviser. 
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, also endorsed Young, saying she’ll “get my support maybe for both jobs, who knows,” referring to the deputy OMB director and director positions. “You might talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt her,” he told her. 

The Senate is heading toward an initial procedural vote on the relief bill. 

  • A Senate Democratic aide told Politico that the chamber is just waiting for official scores from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to confirm that its version of the bill doesn’t run afoul of the rules of budget reconciliation.
  • Just last night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’s confident he has enough votes to pass the bill.  
  • The Senate will have 20 hours to debate the bill, followed by a “vote-a-rama” later this week where amendments will be considered. The bill will then be sent back to the House. (CBS News)
A 29 percent spending hike in Obamacare subsidies is buried in the stimulus plan. 
  • “The CBO estimated the stimulus provision, which increases subsidies for private plans purchased on HealthCare.gov, would cost $34.2 billion to get 1.7 million more people into the individual marketplaces. Of those, 1.3 million would be previously uninsured, while the rest would be people transitioning to marketplace plans from some other type of health coverage,” report our colleagues Paige Cunningham and Alex Ellerbeck in today’s Health 202

Quote of the day

“We think this package should have been negotiated on a bipartisan basis," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "Instead, the new administration made a conscious decision to jam us.”

The Senate Finance Committee split on Xavier Becerra’s nomination to head the health department. 
  • Because of the tie, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would now need to advance Becerra’s nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote that has yet to be scheduled, Dan Diamond reports.
  • The Senate Finance Committee advanced Katherine Tai’s nomination to be U.S. trade representative. 
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she’ll support Deb Haaland’s nomination as interior secretary, signaling at least some bipartisan support for her John Wagner reports. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider Haaland’s nomination tomorrow. 
Democrats are poised to pass HR1, a sweeping voter access bill, today.
  • What: HR1, the For the People Act, would drastically broaden access to the ballot at a time when Republicans are working to advance more voting restrictions. 
  • How: The 791-page bill establishes national standards for voter access “mandating online registration, voting by mail, at least 15 days of early voting and the restoration of voting rights for released felons,” Mike DeBonis and Amy Gardner report. “The bill also mandates congressional redistricting be done by independent commissions, requires the disclosure of “dark money” contributions to political groups, and creates a system of public financing for congressional campaigns, among dozens of other provisions.”
  • Who: Democrats, led by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), expect near-unanimous support from their caucus and zero Republican backing. The bill passed the House during the last Congress when Democrats won back the majority, but it didn’t advance in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. The bill “is still likely to hit a roadblock in the Senate, however, where it's not clear there would be enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster,” CNN reports.
  • What Republicans are saying: 

At the table

Today, we're lunching with McCaul. Here is the rest of our conversation beyond his comments on domestic terrorism. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Knox: Let me turn to foreign policy. Big news in U.S.-Russia relations with the Biden administration announcing sanctions against senior Russian officials for the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. At the end of the day, though, Vladimir Putin’s in charge. What’s the best way to get him to change course?

McCaul: It’s very difficult. But I applaud the administration for the sanctions on the poisoning of Mr. Navalny who is a political dissident. But I would also urge the administration, where I think they’ve fallen a little short, to implement the mandatory Nord Stream 2 sanctions that Congress passed that will greatly cripple the Kremlin’s sources of money. This is the pipeline that goes to Europe, specifically Germany the Biden administration seems to be a little weak on that issue. If you’re really trying to hit Putin hard, you hit him where it counts, and that’s in his pocketbook.

Why in the world would we want Europe to be dependent on Russian energy, when they could have more energy coming from the United States?

I also have to demand the release of Trevor Reed, the Marine from Texas who’s being held as a political pawn in Russia. It’s what the KGB does, unfortunately very well.

Knox: The other big challenge is China. I know that this isn’t the main thing, but one notable phenomenon in recent years has been the way Beijing pressures foreign businesses, including American hotels and airlines and the NBA, etc., to accommodate its view of Taiwan or of the repression of the Uighurs. Do you see a role for federal policy here, or is this simply something the private sector has to manage?

McCaul: I think primarily the government should support our companies and support them when they are under attack by the [Chinese Communist Party]. We should also condemn American companies who seem to be aligned with them, like what we saw with the NBA. There’s a moral obligation … for us to look at the Uighur Muslim population being ethnically cleansed in an act of genocide. We can’t just whitewash these human rights abuses. We’ve got an opportunity with the Olympics to make a statement. I introduced a bill to basically … educate athletes going overseas as to how the Chinese Communist Party operates with respect to surveillance and their more clandestine authorities.

Knox: Should President Biden have taken a harder line on Mohammed bin Salman, after the report finding he approved the operation to kill Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi? 

McCaul: There should be consequences anytime [there is] a gruesome act of murder against a journalist, political dissident. We need to stand up for what we believe in as Americans. And I think there should be consequences. 

With all honesty, what the Biden administration has to balance here is standing up for our values, while at the same time trying to keep a very delicate geopolitical balance [to confront] what is the greatest threat in the region, and that is Iran.

We may not always like what the Saudis do. And I think the crown prince, when I met him, we thought he was primed to move the country in a [better] direction.

It’s very unfortunate, through this murder, that he has set back our foreign policy relations.

Hot on the right

Mike Pence broke his silence to allege that the election was “marked by significant voting irregularities." In an op-ed for the Daily Signal, Pence writes that, “Many of the most troubling voting irregularities took place in states that set aside laws enacted by state legislatures in favor of sweeping changes ordered by governors, secretaries of state, and courts," adding that "Democrats have chosen to sweep those valid concerns and reforms aside and to push forward a brazen attempt to nationalize elections in blatant disregard of the U.S. Constitution.” HR 1, he says, “would increase opportunities for election fraud, trample the First Amendment, further erode confidence in our elections, and forever dilute the votes of legally qualified eligible voters.” 

Hot on the left

“Conservative media turned 2021’s National Read Across America Day into an epic culture war meltdown,” writes Vox’s Aaron Rupar. If you watched Fox News or Newsmax yesterday, you’d be excused for thinking that a controversy over children's author Dr. Seuss was the biggest news story of the day, he notes: Both networks “ceaselessly harped upon the purported ‘cancellation’ of [Dr. Seuss] as the latest example of woke liberalism run amok — conveniently ignoring the fact that Dr. Seuss has not, in fact, been canceled.” 

Flu season among children, visualized

This week in Washington

Biden will hold a bipartisan meeting on cancer at 1:45 p.m. He will later meet virtually with the House Democratic Caucus at 5 p.m. 

Vice President Harris will swear in Gina Raimondo as commerce secretary today at 6 p.m. 

In closing

Stephen Colbert mocked Twitter's new five-strike system to combat coronavirus misinformation: