President Biden on Thursday called gun violence in the United States an “international embarrassment” as he outlined several executive actions, including an attempt to rein in “ghost guns,” devices without serial numbers that are sold in kits and assembled at home.
The announcements in the White House Rose Garden marked Biden’s first major presidential actions on guns. He pushed back on arguments that he is threatening the Second Amendment and lamented a mass shooting Wednesday in South Carolina that left at least five people dead, including two children.
Here’s what to know:
An associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is in plea negotiations to resolve the sex trafficking allegations against him, a potentially ominous sign for Gaetz if Joel Greenberg cooperates with prosecutors in a bid for leniency.
President Biden had just finished delivering remarks outlining his infrastructure plan when he sat down for an interview with ESPN’s Sage Steele in Pittsburgh on March 31. Midway through the conversation, the “SportsCenter” co-host noted that “sports and politics cross paths sometimes” and pressed the president on the campaign by some Major League Baseball players to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s controversial new voting restrictions.
Biden’s answer was swift — and seemingly definitive.
“I think today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly — I would strongly support them doing that,” Biden said of the boycott, before going on to describe the new Georgia law as “Jim Crow on steroids.”
With those impromptu remarks, Biden injected himself into a highly charged debate with major political, economic and social consequences — in a state that is increasingly up for grabs politically and crucial to both Democratic and Republican success in coming elections. Less than 48 hours later, MLB announced that it was moving the July 13 event, ultimately deciding on Denver.
In a leaked video of a recent presentation, a man who identifies himself as a GOP official in Harris County, Tex., says the party needs 10,000 Republicans for an “election integrity brigade” in Houston.
Then he pulls up a map of the area’s voting precincts and points to Houston’s dense, racially diverse urban core, saying the party specifically needed volunteers with “the confidence and courage to come down here,” adding, “this is where the fraud is occurring.”
The official cites widespread vote fraud, which has not been documented in Texas, as driving the need for an “army” of poll watchers to monitor voters at every precinct in the county.
Now, the government accountability group Common Cause Texas — which published the footage Thursday — is raising alarm that such an effort could instead serve to intimidate and suppress voters in metro Houston.
Former president Donald Trump is urging Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to run for reelection, despite Johnson’s previous promise to not seek another term. Johnson, a Trump loyalist, has recently said he is considering a run for a third term despite his pledge.
“Even though he has not yet announced that he is running, and I certainly hope he does, I am giving my Complete and Total Endorsement to Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin,” Trump said in a statement Thursday. “He has no idea how popular he is. Run, Ron, Run!”
Trump on Thursday also bestowed his “Complete and Total Endorsement” on Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Trump used the endorsement as a chance to simultaneously blast “the Swamp in Washington, the Radical Left Liberals, and especially the destructive RINOS, of which there are far too many, in Congress.”
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Biden administration spending $60 million per week to shelter unaccompanied minors
The Biden administration appears to be spending at least $60 million per week to care for the more than 16,000 migrant teenagers and children in shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, and those costs are expected to rise significantly over the coming months, according to an analysis of government data obtained by The Washington Post.
With a record number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border in the past several weeks, HHS quickly filled the 7,700 available beds in its network of permanent shelters, where the cost of caring for a child is about $290 daily and capacity has been reduced by covid protocols.
The administration has raced to set up at least 10 large emergency facilities, creating 16,000 temporary beds for migrant children in convention centers, converted oil worker camps and on military bases. About 8,500 children are living at these pop-up sites, and 4,000 more are waiting to be transferred from cramped border facilities.
Housing Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on Thursday unveiled nearly $5 billion in new grants to states and local governments across the country for rental assistance, the development of affordable housing and other services to help people experiencing or on the verge of homelessness.
The infusion of money to reduce homelessness, part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that President Biden signed in March, is the latest example of how the administration is using the American Rescue Plan to enact a sweeping anti-poverty agenda amid the pandemic.
“Let me be clear. These funds could not come at a more critical time,” Fudge said.
U.S. intelligence officials have little comfort to offer a pandemic-weary planet about where the world is heading in the next 20 years. Short answer: It looks pretty bleak.
On Thursday, the National Intelligence Council, a center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that creates strategic forecasts and estimates, often based on material gathered by U.S. spy agencies, released its quadrennial “Global Trends” report.
Looking over the time horizon, it finds a world unsettled by the coronavirus pandemic, the ravages of climate change — which will propel mass migration — and a widening gap between what people demand from their leaders and what they can actually deliver.
The intelligence community has long warned policymakers and the public that pandemic disease could profoundly reshape global politics and U.S. national security. The authors of the report, which does not represent official U.S. policy, describe the pandemic as a preview of crises to come. It has been a globally destabilizing event — the council called it “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II — that “has reminded the world of its fragility” and “shaken long-held assumptions” about how well governments and institutions could respond to a catastrophe.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters she hoped the House would pass Biden’s infrastructure package before July 4, and she defended the scope of the measure against critics who say it’s too large and those who say it’s too small.
“The president has spoken very eloquently to this point that he’s there to listen to what suggestions people may have, but it can’t be too small because what we’re talking about now needs to be transformative and it has to be big,” she said at a virtual news conference. “I think what the president has proposed is probably appropriate, as we have some in our party are saying it’s not big enough.”
Pelosi also defended the bill’s broad definition of infrastructure — beyond the traditional highways and railways to include modernized schools and housing — saying you must first identify the needs, and then figure out how to pay for them.
“I don’t think we start with the money and say our needs only are related to how little we’re willing to spend,” she said.
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Gaetz associate likely to strike plea deal with prosecutors in sex trafficking case
ORLANDO — An associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who had been charged with sex trafficking of a minor and was suspected of connecting the congressmen to women with whom he could have sex, is in plea negotiations to resolve the allegations against him, according to his lawyer and a prosecutor on the case, a potentially ominous sign for Gaetz if the associate ultimately cooperates with prosecutors in a bid for leniency.
Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Seminole County, Fla., had first been charged last summer in a bare-bones indictment that prosecutors repeatedly superseded to add charges of sex trafficking of a minor, stealing from the tax office and even trying to use fraud to get covid-19 relief money while out on bond. In the course of the investigation into his conduct, people familiar with the matter have said, federal authorities came across evidence that Gaetz might have committed a crime and launched a separate investigation into him.
At a status conference in the case Thursday, federal prosecutor Roger Handberg told a judge he expected the case to end in a plea, though negotiations are ongoing. Fritz Scheller, an attorney for Greenberg, asked the judge to set a deadline of May 15 for the two sides to either reach a deal or move toward a trial in the summer.
It was not immediately clear how far the negotiations had gotten, or to what extent a plea agreement would require Greenberg to cooperate with investigators. If prosecutors were to get Greenberg on their side as a cooperator, it is possible he could help bolster the case against Gaetz, a higher-profile target. A person who pleads guilty in a criminal case can often lessen their potential penalty by providing information that might be helpful to investigators in other matters.
President Biden’s choice to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which enforces gun laws, is a staunch gun-control advocate, which could create tension for his Senate confirmation.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday defended David Chipman as a 25-year veteran special agent of ATF who is himself a gun owner.
Psaki continued to return to those two points when pressed on whether the White House was confident Chipman would get confirmed.
“The president gets to pick who he wants to nominate,” Psaki said. “He’s nominated somebody who is qualified, who has decades of experience, who is a gun owner himself. And it is up to the Senate to decide if they move forward with his nomination.”
Chipman has worked for five years as a senior policy adviser at Giffords, an advocacy group led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords became a fierce proponent for stricter gun laws after she was severely injured in a 2011 mass shooting.
The ATF plays a key role in the government’s gun safety efforts, and has been without a permanent director since 2015.
Manhattan district attorney seizes evidence from former daughter-in-law of a Trump Organization executive
NEW YORK — Investigators from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, acting on a grand jury subpoena, took possession of financial records Thursday morning from the apartment of Jennifer Weisselberg, the former daughter-in-law of a top Trump Organization officer.
Jennifer Weisselberg was married to Barry Weisselberg — the son of Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg — from 2004 to 2018. She has previously said that she had seven boxes of financial records from both her ex-husband and his father, some of which were obtained through divorce litigation. On Thursday, she loaded three boxes and a laptop computer onto a valet cart and wheeled them from her building to a black Jeep outside.
The move by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. appears to be the latest sign that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s highest-ranking corporate officer who is not a member of the Trump family, is a key focus of the ongoing criminal probe into former president Donald Trump’s financial dealings.
Two Biden administration stumbles this week — one over whether the U.S. might shun the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, another over whether Major League Baseball should boycott Georgia due to its new voting restrictions — highlight the difficulty of trying to harness sports for political ends.
The Georgia miscue raises questions about the White House’s contacts with its closest allies in the Peach State — like former gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who warned against a boycott.
The Olympics dust-up raises questions about American communications with allies and partners, with whom Biden has promised to form a united front to contain Beijing’s rising influence.
Biden on Thursday called gun violence in the United States an “epidemic” and an “international embarrassment” during an event in the Rose Garden as he announced several executive orders to tighten restrictions.
Biden announced the actions, including one targeting kits used to assemble firearms from pieces, after deadly back-to-back mass shootings last month in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., and another Wednesday in York County, S.C.
The unilateral moves come as legislation to tighten gun controls remains stalled in Congress.
“Whether Congress acts or not. I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal as president to keep the American people safe from gun violence,” Biden said. “But there’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort, and they can do it right now. They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers, time for some action.”
Biden also directed the Justice Department to draft a new rule regulating a device that can be placed on a pistol to turn it into a short-barreled rifle. And he ordered the department to create a template that individual states can use to enact “red flag” laws, which allow judges to seize firearms from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Biden also announced David Chipman as his pick to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, although it is unclear how the nominee will fare in an evenly divided Senate.
Chipman is a senior adviser to a gun control group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely wounded in a mass shooting in 2011. She was among the gun-control advocates on hand in the Rose Garden for Biden’s announcements.
During his remarks, Biden also renewed his call for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban, saying nobody needs “a weapon of war.” He also urged Congress to renew the Violence Against Women Act and to eliminate immunity gun manufactures can claim when their products are involved in mass shootings.
Later, at a White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s team is continuing to review other potential actions he can take on his own.
Biden called deaths by gun violence “a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Biden administration is in a $50 billion race to save America’s renters from eviction
The Biden administration again extended a federal moratorium on evictions last week, but conflicting court rulings on whether the ban is legal, plus the difficulty of rolling out nearly $50 billion in federal aid, means the country’s reckoning with its eviction crisis may come sooner than expected.
The year-old federal moratorium — which has now been extended through June 30 — has probably kept hundreds of thousands or millions of people from being evicted from their apartments and homes. More than 10 million Americans are behind on rent, according to Moody’s, easily topping the 7 million who lost their homes to foreclosure in the 2008 housing bust.
Despite the unprecedented federal effort to protect tenants, landlords have been chipping away at the moratorium in court. Six lawsuits have made their way before federal judges — with three ruling in support of the ban and three calling it illegal.
A number of prominent Georgia Republicans fought back against former president Donald Trump’s baseless claims of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. But one of them subtly and gradually emerged as arguably the biggest advocate for his party moving away from Trump: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.
But on Thursday, we found out that Duncan will apparently follow the path of the vast majority of high-profile GOP Trump critics like himself: to the exits.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein reports that Duncan will probably not seek reelection in 2022, instead focusing on a new “GOP 2.0” group aimed at moving the party in a different direction.