The House scrapped plans for a Thursday session after security officials warned of a possible plot by an unnamed militant group to breach the Capitol. The decision to move up votes on legislation to Wednesday night came after officials warned of credible threats of violence circulated by right-wing extremists that March 4 is the “true Inauguration Day” when former president Donald Trump will be sworn in for a second term. The Senate plans to be in session Thursday.
President Biden on Wednesday criticized the governors of Texas and Mississippi for ending mask mandates and rolling back other coronavirus restrictions, saying “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.” His comments came during a bipartisan meeting at the White House on battling cancer that is a likely preview of what will be the centerpiece of Biden’s post-pandemic health agenda.
Meanwhile, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard told senators how restrictions placed on him by the Pentagon in the run-up to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington prevented him from more quickly sending forces to quell the violence perpetrated by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
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New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said he will not resign, but he apologized and asked New Yorkers to await the state attorney general’s investigation before judging him on allegations from three women that he made inappropriate comments or engaged in unwanted touching.
Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, under pressure from moderate Senate Democrats who have pushed for more “targeted” spending in the bill.
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), a former top White House physician to two presidents, bullied his staff, made inappropriate sexual comments about a female subordinate and exhibited other concerning behavior, according to a Defense Department inspector general report.
Internal reports and emails from the Homeland Security Department show that law enforcement authorities were alert to the potential for violence by extremist groups attending a pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6.
Senate, House diverge on whether to be in session Thursday as security warns of plot to breach Capitol
Some congressional officials downplayed the seriousness of the March 4 threat, as Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) went ahead with plans to conduct a marathon session of debate Thursday and Friday, possibly stretching into Saturday, on the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue legislation.
After concluding the Senate’s Wednesday business and scheduling the Thursday session to begin at noon, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged the “apparent contradiction” in how the two chambers were approaching the rest of this week.
“Both leaders operate on information they have and draw conclusions from it. And it’s not unusual for different people to draw different conclusions. I’m not going to second guess Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, she’s doing what she thinks is best for the House. Obviously, at this point, Senator Schumer’s not reached the same conclusion,” Durbin told reporters Wednesday evening.
Now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Durbin said he would expect to have been briefed by the FBI or Justice Department officials if they considered the threat that serious — and he has not been.
“I don’t know if it’s a tease. You know, we were told on January 6 a crowd was coming back for January 20, and they didn’t appear. I can’t tell. But in light of what we went through on January 6, it’s understandable people are concerned,” Durbin said.
Additionally, Pelosi plans to hold her regularly timed weekly Thursday news conference in a basement Capitol studio, so she will be in the complex throughout the day.
One Democratic official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, suggested that the decision to rush consideration of the police bill into Wednesday night was designed to both ease members’ concerns and finish business for the week ahead of schedule — giving the House a four-day weekend.
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Ethics concerns led to criminal referral involving Elaine Chao, inspector general says
Investigators from the Transportation Department’s internal watchdog found evidence of potential ethical violations by former secretary Elaine Chao and referred the case to the Justice Department for prosecution in December, according to documents released Wednesday.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section declined to pursue the case, according to investigators from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.
There were a number of “potential ethics concerns arising from the actions of the Secretary and Office of the Secretary (OST) staff under her direction,” investigators wrote.
Among them were “tasking” political appointees to “contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the status of a work permit application submitted by a foreign student studying at a U.S. university who was a recipient of Chao family philanthropy,” according to investigators.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Biden’s nominee for the No. 2 position at the State Department on Wednesday, homing in on her role as the chief negotiator for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during the Obama administration.
The nominee for deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, faces a difficult confirmation process as Republicans and some Democrats raise concerns about the Biden administration’s promise to reenter the deal, even as some liberal groups say the White House is moving too slowly on restoring an agreement that President Donald Trump abandoned.
The debate comes as the Biden administration’s diplomacy on Iran has stalled. The European Union has proposed a meeting with the Iran deal’s original participants, but Tehran has balked at the idea because of Biden’s decision to maintain Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions. Meanwhile, U.S. personnel in Iraq have continued to come under rocket fire by militia groups, some of which have ties to Iran.
The security detail assigned to the House’s Democratic impeachment managers has been extended through this week, according to two officials familiar with the assignments. The detail may last until next week, depending on the guidance from the sergeant-at-arms, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security for lawmakers.
The extended protection comes as security officials warned of credible threats of violence circulated by right-wing extremists claiming that March 4 will be the “true Inauguration Day” for former president Donald Trump. Some congressional offices are asking staffers to stay home for the day after Capitol security officials warned of a possible plot by an unnamed militant group to breach the Capitol. Three offices have confirmed to The Washington Post that they will give staffers the option of working virtually or encourage them to work from home.
The Democratic managers argued the case against Trump last month on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, an assault that resulted in the death of a Capitol Police officer and four other people. The Senate acquitted Trump.
The House scrapped plans for a Thursday session and moved up action on legislation to Wednesday night, when it will hold its last votes for the week. The Senate plans to be in session Thursday, with a handful of committees scheduled to meet.
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Full Senate vote on Garland to be attorney general likely delayed until next week; Durbin blames Republicans
The full Senate might not vote on Merrick Garland’s nomination to be attorney general until “into next week,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday, accusing Senate Republicans of refusing to expedite Garland’s confirmation.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin said Garland “checks all of the boxes,” so he had hoped a vote on his confirmation could be expedited in the Senate. The Judiciary Committee voted 15 to 7 on Monday to advance his nomination, with four Republicans joining the panel’s 11 Democrats to approve the move. Seven Republicans opposed it.
“Unfortunately, there was an objection to expediting his nomination so he would get to work at the Department of Justice,” Durbin said. “As a consequence … it could be days, maybe even into next week before he can take the job.”
Hours after Durbin’s assertion, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter that he was holding up the nomination because Garland had “refused to answer basic questions,” posting a number of examples in which the nominee had deflected written inquiries.
“Ensuring the Senate has time to debate these issues and get answers is the same thing that Senate Democrats did for Bill Barr,” Cotton wrote, referring to Trump’s last Senate-confirmed attorney general. “We’re not going to have one standard for Trump’s nominees and another for Biden’s.”
Garland is ultimately expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support, and because Democrats control the Senate, it is only a matter of time before his nomination is taken up. If the objection remains in place, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) would have to file cloture, triggering a roughly 3½-day process that would end in a vote.
The Senate, though, is also seeking to move quickly on coronavirus relief legislation, which probably would preempt consideration of nominees for Cabinet posts.
Republicans famously refused to give Garland even a hearing when then-President Barack Obama nominated him for a spot on the Supreme Court in 2016 — a spot that was ultimately filled by Neil M. Gorsuch after Trump won the election.
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Biden blasts 'Neanderthal thinking’ of governors who lifted covid-19 mandates in Texas, Mississippi
Biden on Wednesday sharply criticized the decisions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) one day earlier to lift coronavirus restrictions in their states, calling the moves “a big mistake.”
“Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now these masks make a difference,” Biden told reporters at the White House Wednesday afternoon ahead of a meeting on combating cancer. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. … The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking — that, 'In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”
Biden added that it is “critical, critical, critical” that state leaders “follow the science” and that Americans continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“I know you all know that,” he told reporters. “I wish the heck some of our elected officials would.”
On Tuesday, Abbott ended his state’s mask mandate and boasted in all-caps on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING.” Reeves announced similar plans.
With both Texas and Mississippi still in the top 10 deaths per capita among U.S. states, health officials have warned that easing restrictions before vaccines have been widely distributed could cause another spike in cases and deaths.
An Abbott spokesman responded by asserting in a statement that the governor was “clear in telling Texans that COVID hasn’t ended, and that all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continue containing COVID.” But the spokesman added that it was also clear that “state mandates are no longer needed.”
Ahead of Biden’s remarks to reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki urged Americans to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, even as the governors of Texas and Mississippi have lifted the restrictions in their states.
“We need to remain vigilant,” Psaki said at a daily press briefing. “And [Biden] believes that — and he’s hopeful that — people in these states will continue to follow the guidelines that have been set out and the recommendations made by health and medical experts.”
Asked whether Biden plans to speak with Abbott and Reeves to ask them to reconsider their moves, Psaki said only that the president “speaks with governors of both parties on a regular basis.”
“He obviously traveled with the governor [of Texas] last Friday, and I’m sure he will raise this the next opportunity he has,” Psaki said.
Katie Shepherd contributed to this report.
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House to adjourn early over intelligence that groups may be planning another Capitol attack
The House of Representatives will take its last votes of the week this evening, ending its workweek early after Capitol Police warned of reports that an unnamed militant group planned to breach the Capitol on Thursday.
The schedule change came after Capitol security officials warned of credible threats of violence by right-wing extremists who have fabricated the false claim that March 4 is the “true Inauguration Day” when former president Donald Trump will be sworn in for a second term.
House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy P. Blodgett told lawmakers in a Wednesday memo that the Capitol Police have “enhanced their security posture” in response and noted that National Guard troops remained posted on the campus. The memo also encouraged members and staff to park in garages and use underground tunnels whenever possible — similar to the guidance they gave ahead of the Jan. 6 riot.
Rather than risk being at the Capitol, the House moved up votes on a policing reform bill that was scheduled to be debated on Thursday. Instead it is expected to be passed Wednesday night along with debate and passage of a voting rights bill.
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GOP Sen. Ron Johnson to force Senate clerks to read text of $1.9 trillion covid-relief bill, a process that could last 10 hours
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) will force Senate clerks to read aloud the entire $1.9 trillion covid-relief bill, delaying debate on it by about 10 hours.
“I will make them read their 600-700 page bill,” Johnson said, detailing his plan during an interview on a Milwaukee conservative talk radio show.
He also said he plans to force votes on a huge number of amendments to prolong the debate by several days.
“We need to keep this process going, so we can highlight how this is not covid relief, how this is a boondoggle for Democrats,” he said. “It’s a Democrat wish list setting things up for an even more socialist society, and it needs to be resisted and I’m going to lead the effort to resist it.”
Johnson said he’s forcing the drawn-out process in hopes of slicing hundreds of billions of dollars from the final bill. He’ll need at least a dozen GOP senators on the floor with him to keep the amendments going, he said.
By forcing the reading of the bill and then unlimited amendments, Johnson said it could be Sunday before the Senate votes on final passage.
The bill is publicly popular, even among Republicans, but Johnson argued that was because the Democrats tout the $1,400 relief checks in the bill, and not that it was “mortgaging our kids’ future.”
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Rep. Sarbanes was his own campaign-finance guinea pig. The House weighs his bill Wednesday.
For years, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) had an ongoing experiment: testing his campaign-finance legislation on his own reelection races.
He would set aside hundreds of thousands in high-dollar donations and would not touch it, not until he had raised at least $1,000 in small-dollar contributions from 100 different precincts in his district.
Cold-calling donors on Election Day in 2014, he told one skeptical constituent: “In a sense, I’m calling from the future. I’m calling from a time when candidates will have an incentive to reach out to the small donors of the world.”
On Wednesday, the House will consider whether to make that world a reality.
The top three House Democrats on Wednesday jointly endorsed Shalanda Young, a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, to be Biden’s new nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget following the withdrawal of Neera Tanden, his original pick.
The statement — from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and James E. Clyburn (S.C.) — was an unusually public lobbying move as Biden weighs a replacement for Tanden, who withdrew from consideration Tuesday night.
Young had been nominated by Biden as deputy OMB director, and that nomination is currently pending.
“As longtime Members of the Appropriations Committee, we take great pride in recommending Shalanda Young as Director of the Office of Management and Budget,” Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn said. “We have worked closely with her for several years and highly recommend her for her intellect, her deep expertise on the federal budget and her determination to ensure that our budget reflects our values as a nation.”
The Democratic leaders also said that the nomination of Young, an African American, would be “historic” and would “send a strong message that this Administration is eager to work in close coordination with Members of Congress to craft budgets that meet the challenges of our time and can secure broad, bipartisan support.”
The Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Biden also endorsing Young for the job, writing that she “will bring more to the role than simply an impeccable record. She has earned the respect and admiration of Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress.”
“We are prepared to take whatever action you may advise to ensure the confirmation of this exceptional candidate,” they wrote.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said not to expect an announcement on a new nominee this week.
Which senators are voting against Biden Cabinet nominees?
President Biden has 13 of his 23 Cabinet nominees confirmed. He only suffered the failure of one of his Cabinet nominees on Tuesday, with Office and Management and Budget pick Neera Tanden withdrawing in the face of bipartisan opposition and impending defeat. Although most Biden’s nominees have been confirmed with relative ease, there are Republicans voting against his picks. Who are the most dissenting senators?
The most frequent votes against Biden’s nominees have in most cases come from ambitious Republicans thought to be potential 2024 presidential candidates. Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) leads the ranking. Hawley has voted against 12 of 13 nominees. He cast his first "yes: vote Tuesday for Council of Economic Advisers nominee Cecilia Rouse.
Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) have voted against 11 nominees and Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) has voted against 10.
Newly minted U.S. education secretary Miguel Cardona stepped out for his first public event Wednesday and said his first priority will be to vaccinate teachers on the way toward reopening K-12 classrooms.
“We must continue to reopen America’s schools for in-person learning as quickly and as safely as possible,” he said. “The president recognizes this, which is why he took bold action yesterday to get teachers and school staff vaccinated quickly. As secretary of education, that is my top priority.”
On Tuesday, President Biden announced that educators would have access to vaccines through a federal pharmacy program and that all teachers, school staffers and child-care workers should be able to get at least a first shot by the end of March.
Cardona made his remarks on his second full day on the job, on a trip back to his hometown of Meriden, Conn., joined by first lady Jill Biden. He was chosen for the position in part based on his track record of pushing Connecticut schools to reopen for face-to-face instruction. Biden teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College.
Cardona stressed the benefits of in-person school and the urgency of reopening, one of the president’s top goals. Standing beneath a rainbow-colored set of monkey bars, Jill Biden and Cardona nodded along as a Benjamin Franklin Elementary School staffer explained how a sensory room can boost the mental and emotional health of a child with disabilities.
“For students with disabilities that have sensory needs, having in-person options that are safe, it’s critically important,” Cardona said. He gestured to the setup around him: “Being at home, being at the computer doesn’t match this.”
The first lady described her experiences teaching virtually and said she and her students want to return to the classroom. “I think that’s how we all feel,” she said.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he would not resign in the face of a growing sexual harassment scandal, instead asking New Yorkers to wait for a full investigation of his behavior. He also offered a more expansive apology to the women whom he acknowledged he had hurt.
“I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people,” he said. “I have learned an important lesson. I am sorry. I am sorry for whatever pain I have caused anyone. I never intended it.”
Cuomo, 63, maintained that he had never touched any woman “inappropriately” but acknowledged that his behavior had caused harm in ways he said he did not recognize at the time.
“It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it,” he said. “I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that is not easy to say. But that is the truth.”
Facebook said it would start allowing political advertisers back on its platform Wednesday, reinstating a powerful and lucrative program for reaching voters after getting pushback from political campaigns and organizations.
The social network made the controversial decision to shut off new political and social-issue advertising in the heated week before the 2020 presidential election, arguing that doing so would help ward off misinformation.
Facebook garners roughly 60 percent of all the digital political ad spending in the United States, compared with Google’s 18 percent, according to eMarketer. Google shut off political ads after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob but reinstated them in late February.
Facebook initially said the political-ad hiatus would be temporary and would last about a week. But the social network ended up extending it for months in the wake of President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims that the election was rigged. The ban had generated enormous pushback from political and social-issue advertisers, including activists for various causes who complained that they relied on the platform to get out their message.
Earlier Wednesday, the executives directors of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, two of the largest political organizations supporting Democratic candidates, publicly condemned Facebook’s indefinite political-ad ban, saying that the platform had failed to control disinformation and that the “reckless and haphazard policy” of banning ads has prevented campaigns and organizations that do provide accurate information from reaching voters.