with Tobi Raji

It's Good Friday which means Joe Biden is very close to being able to eat ice cream again. Have a wonderful and (hopefully) vaccinated Easter. We love Peeps and this is the Power Up newsletter

The policies

SOCIAL ENGINEERING: The presidential candidate slammed during the 2020 Democratic primary for his record with minority communities is now at the tip of the Biden administration's spear to dismantle and rebuild transportation infrastructure it believes perpetuates racial disparities. 

On the trail, Pete Buttigieg struggled to win over Black voters. And his record as mayor of South Bend, Ind. received mixed reviews from residents of color who criticized him for his relationship to his Black constituents on issues of racial justice and equality. 

Now, as President Biden's transportation secretary, Buttigieg is in charge of the $2 trillion push to overhaul the country's highways and bridges. But the massive plan, which could total $4 trillion in the end, is also seeking a social aim: to redress the economic and racial disparities the original interstate highway system had on communities of color.

Connect the people: Biden's multi-pronged effort to reshape the American economy calls for a $621 billion investment in transportation infrastructure — and $20 billion for redressing historic inequities to “reconnect neighborhoods cut off by old transportation projects." The administration wants the massive effort to “reverse long-running racial disparities in how the government builds, repairs and locates a wide range of physical infrastructure," the New York Times reports.

As transportation secretary, Buttigieg has spoken extensively on his view that the federal government reinforces racial and economic inequality through “misguided” transportation policies. Biden's infrastructure plan called out two examples, specifically: the Claiborne Expressway that cuts through New Orleans, and Interstate 81 in Syracuse, N.Y., an elevated stretch of highway built on top of a Black neighborhood. 

  • “Too often, past transportation investments divided communities — like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse — or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options,” the White House statement said in a 25-page fact sheet. 

It's unclear what other highways will be targeted. But transportation officials are meeting with local officials and organizers:

  • “They see I-81 as a prime candidate for a demonstration on how to do federal transportation projects the right way,” Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh told Syracuse.com's Teri Weaver earlier this year on his meeting with members of Buttigieg's staff.
  • Read our colleague Robert Samuels's 2019 dispatch from Syracuse on the issue: “The spine of America — its railroads, runways and highways — was often literally built on top of Black neighborhoods. Many of those communities had been segregated as a result of redlining and blighted because of a lack of credit. In the 1950s, they were destroyed in the name of urban renewal.”

Responding to the news of the Biden administration's plans to address Claiborne Expressway, a spokesperson for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell told our colleague Ian Duncan “she appreciated the Biden administration’s acknowledgment of ‘the devastation to surrounding African American businesses’ the highway construction has caused.” 

  • “This is the first time that we’ve seen highway and transportation infrastructure considered through a social lens as well as a transportation lens,” Ben Crowther, who runs  advocating for walkable cities, told Ian.
  • “These highways were essentially built as conduits for wealth,” Eric Avila, an urban historian at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times's Jim Tankersley and Zolan Kanno-Young.  “The highways were built to promote the connectivity between suburbs and cities. The people that were left out were urban minorities. African Americans, immigrants, Latinos.”

Buttigieg, who identified racial equity as a priority for his agency, has also intervened to pause the expansion of Interstate 45 near Houston: 

  • “DOT's intervention follows complaints from local activists that the state's proposed widening of Interstate 45 would displace an overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic community, including schools, places of worship and more than 1,000 homes and businesses,” Politico's Sam Mintz reports. 

The undertaking is also intended to alleviate some of the traffic-related pollution that's hit Black communities particularly hard — a continuation of the department's push to address climate change and environmental justice. 

  • “I live with the ills of the highway every day,” Amy Stelly, an architectural designer who can see a ramp to the Claiborne Expressway from her second-floor porch, told Ian.
  • “In addition to dedicated funding for neighborhoods split or splintered by past infrastructure projects, the proposal also includes money for the replacement of lead water pipes that have harmed Black children in cities like Flint, Mich.; the cleanup of environmental hazards that have plagued Hispanic neighborhoods and tribal communities; worker training that would target underserved groups; and funds for home health aides, who are largely women of color,” per Tankersley and Kanno-Youngs report. 

The investigations

GAETZ INQUIRY SAID TO BE FOCUSED ON CASH PAID TO WOMEN: “A Justice Department investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments,” Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt report.

  • “Investigators believe Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., who was indicted last year on a federal sex trafficking charge and other crimes, initially met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances.” 
  • “Greenberg introduced the women to Gaetz, who also had sex with them, the people said.”

“Gaetz has sought to divert attention from the Justice Department investigation by claiming that he and his father were the targets of an extortion plot by two men trying to secure funding for a separate venture,” per Benner and Schmidt.

  • “The men — Robert Kent, a former Air Force intelligence officer who runs a consulting business, and Stephen Alford, a real estate developer who has been convicted of fraud — approached Gaetz’s father, Don Gaetz, about funding their efforts to locate Robert A. Levinson, an American hostage held in Iran.”
  • “They suggested to Don Gaetz that Levinson’s successful return could somehow be used to secure a pardon for Matt Gaetz.”

There’s more. “Gaetz [has] gained a reputation in Congress over his relationships with women and bragging about his sexual escapades to his colleagues,” CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles report

  • “Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, including while on the House floor.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)'s response:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on April 1 said if recent allegations against Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) are true then he should be removed from committees. (The Washington Post)

N.Y. ATTORNEY GENERAL PROBES TRUMP AIDE'S FINANCES: “The New York attorney general has gathered personal financial records of the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer [Allen Weisselberg] and his family — another sign of legal pressure on one of former president Donald Trump’s closest aides,” our colleagues David A. Fahrenthold and Shayna Jacobs report

  • Why it matters: “In complex investigations, prosecutors often seek evidence of wrongdoing by subordinates as a way to pressure them to ‘flip’ and reveal damaging information about their bosses. The pressure by [state Attorney General Letitia James (D) and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D)] being brought to bear on Weisselberg appears designed to pursue that strategy against Trump.”

From the courts

CHAUVIN SUPERVISOR SAYS OFFICER SHOULD HAVE STOPPED: David Pleoger, a retired Minneapolis polic sargent, testified in the George Floyd trial that “Derek Chauvin should not have knelt on George Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting,” our colleagues Holly Bailey and Hannah Knowles report.

  • “Asked his ‘opinion’ on whether that was an appropriate use of force, Pleoger told prosecutors, ‘When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended the restraint.’”
  • Key nugget:  Pleoger said "he called Chauvin after getting a call from a concerned 911 dispatcher who was watching a city security camera and saw police holding Floyd on the ground. ‘She called to say she didn’t mean to be a snitch, but she’d seen something while viewing a camera that she thought was concerning,’” said Pleoger, according to Holly and Hannah.
  • Floyd's sister, Bridgett, is trying to take her mind off the trial by volunteering at the Salvation Army, per the Star Tribune's Maya Rao: "It's been an emotional roller coaster," Bridgett Floyd said. "I'm here to stand tall for my brother. To let everyone know that he was not the guy that officers made him to be. ... He had a family. He had a little girl that he left behind. And he left people behind that really cared about him. The community was his heart."

At the White House

BIDEN WEIGHS IN ON GEORGIA: “In an interview aired on ESPN, Biden said he would ‘strongly support’ players who believe Major League Baseball should move the summer All-Star Game from Truist Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Braves — a site eight miles from where Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the new election measures into law,” our colleague Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports.

  • “Biden called Georgia’s new slate of voting rules ‘a blatant attack on the right to vote, the Constitution and good conscience’ and ‘un-American.’ Later he declared it ‘Jim Crow on steroids.’"
  • Context: “Georgia has become a key battleground in the partisan fight over voting rights, as Democrats in Washington attempt to push through far-reaching legislation aimed at dramatically expanding access to elections.”

Meanwhile, in Texas, “corporate giants American Airlines and Dell Technologies on Thursday became the first business heavyweights to lend their opposition to Republicans’s legislative proposals to restrict voting” in the state, the Texas Tribune's Alexa Ura reports

  • The proposed legislation prohibits “extended or overnight voting hours, outlaws drive-through voting, makes it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications to vote by mail voters, allows partisan poll watchers to video record voters and sets specific rules for the distribution of polling places in the state’s largest counties.”

It’s not just Texas and Georgia. 

Outside the Beltway

PLANT THAT BOTCHED VACCINE DOSES HAD PRIOR VIOLATIONS: “In April last year, an investigator from the Food and Drug Administration reported problems he had discovered at a Baltimore plant operated by Emergent BioSolutions, a major supplier of vaccines to the federal government,” our colleagues Jon Swaine and Christopher Rowland report

  • “Some employees had not been properly trained. Records were not adequately secured. Established testing procedures were not being followed. And a measure intended to ‘prevent contamination or mix-ups’ was found to be deficient.” 
  • “Soon after the inspection, Emergent’s Baltimore plant was given an important role in Operation Warp Speed. Emergent secured deals totaling more than $740 million with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca to produce coronavirus vaccines for both companies.”
  • “The FDA report was dated April 20, less than six weeks before Emergent’s Warp Speed award was announced on June 1.”

HOW CLOSE ARE WE TO HERD IMMUNITY? “The United States will at some point achieve herd immunity,” our colleague Philip Bump writes. “That will happen in one of two ways: Enough people will be vaccinated against the virus that it won’t be able to find a new host, or enough people will be immune to that particular iteration of the virus after having already been infected with it.”

  • That means closing the infections-vaccinations gap. “As of Wednesday, the most recent day for which we have full data, nearly every state had more fully vaccinated residents than residents who had contracted the virus at some point.”

But so far, only 99.6 million Americans, roughly 30 percent of the population, have received at least one vaccine dose. “It’s not clear what percentage of the population needs to be immune to achieve herd immunity, but experts tend to agree it’s north of 70 percent,” Bump writes.

  • “In other words, we’re a long way from herd immunity, though the gap is closing rapidly.”

Global power

U.S. POLICY TOWARD EGYPT SPARKS CONFLICT: “As criticism mounted after the Biden administration decided not to punish the Saudi crown prince for the killing of a journalist, a quieter conflict was brewing in Washington over another troubled U.S. alliance in the region,” our colleagues Yeganeh Torbati and John Hudson report. 

  • “Biden’s aides had signaled a renewed focus on human rights in foreign policy, and while campaigning, Biden said there would be ‘no more blank checks for Trump’s favorite dictator,’ referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi by a nickname Trump reportedly used.”
  • “But Biden’s talk of a fresh start clashed with the State Department’s approval in February of a $197 million sale of missiles and related equipment to Egypt. The decision — and timing — raised concerns among some Democratic lawmakers who have oversight responsibilities of weapons transfers.”
  • “Those concerns were reinforced this week with the release of the State Department’s annual human rights report, which excoriated the Sissi government for ‘unlawful or arbitrary killings … forced disappearance; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government … harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention,’ and other injustices.”

In the media

WEEKEND REEEADS: 

Viral

LET THEM EAT CHEESECAKE (AND AVOCADO EGGROLLS): “When you think of Washington ‘power restaurants,’ Cheesecake Factory probably doesn’t come to mind. But what is a power spot if not simply a spot where powerful people like to gather? As it turns out, the chain is pretty darn popular with members of the White House press corps. So when a new location opened yesterday just a block from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, it was the talk of the Blue Checkmarks,” the Washingtonian’s Jessica Sidman writes