President Biden said Wednesday that “diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way” as he defended his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, completing the military exit by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Biden said the United States needs to “fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20” as he delivered a speech from the White House. He later visited Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place for service members who died in recent conflicts, including in Afghanistan, pausing at some of the tombstones.

Here’s what to know:

  • A House committee is expected to vote to advance legislation that would create a commission to study whether to pay reparations to descendants of enslaved people.
  • Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), an influential player in the House Republican conference, announced that he will not seek reelection.
  • The Senate moved ahead on a rare bipartisan effort aimed at investigating and halting hate crimes against Asian Americans amid the pandemic.
  • A Florida politician at the center of an investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has provided federal law enforcement with information about Gaetz’s activities as he seeks a plea deal to resolve his own legal woes.
1:00 a.m.
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Democrats to introduce bill to expand the size of Supreme Court

A group of Democratic lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court from nine to 13.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, Hank Johnson (Ga.) and Mondaire Jones (N.Y.) will unveil their proposal on the steps of the Supreme Court in a press conference on Thursday morning.

The move follows Biden signing an executive order last week creating an independent commission to examine changes that could be made to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, which some have argued has become too politicized.

The court is currently comprised of six justices nominated by Republican presidents and three by Democrats. Advocates for expanding the size of the court argue that the small bench has led to situations where major decisions are sometimes made by one “swing” justice. The U.S. Constitution does not stipulate how many judges sit on the nation’s highest court.

Republicans, who for years prioritized stacking the federal courts with conservative judges, are fervently opposed to growing the Supreme Court bench. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) sponsored legislation in February that preemptively attempts to block any bill that would change the number of justices.

12:07 a.m.
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Group of GOP senators are working on an alternate infrastructure plan

A group of moderate Senate Republicans on Wednesday signaled they are preparing to offer their own proposal to reform the nation’s infrastructure, as GOP lawmakers seek to significantly pare back the approximately $2 trillion in new spending endorsed by President Biden.

The Republican alternative is expected to be less than half the size of the White House’s plan, according to party lawmakers, who in recent days have suggested its total price tag could ultimately be between $600 billion and $800 billion.

Moderate GOP members of Congress also have pledged to narrow their focus to include only the elements they consider traditional infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, while jettisoning the corporate tax increases that Biden has endorsed in favor of other ways of financing the overall package.

The discussions appear to be underway among a group of 10 Republicans, including Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Bill Cassidy (La.), who each hinted at the early legislative effort during interviews over the past day. Romney told reporters Wednesday that the process is still in its “early stages,” though he signaled Republicans would potentially discuss it Thursday. He also said GOP leaders could eventually try to engage with 10 centrist-leaning Democrats to broaden their coalition.

12:02 a.m.
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Tensions mount between GOP and corporations over voting laws

Top Republican officials continue to push back against a surge of major companies and corporate leaders who oppose new voting laws being pursued by Republicans in dozens of states, with fresh signs that some in the GOP are waiting to see how far companies are willing to go on this issue.

Even as executives representing a wide swath of corporate America discussed via Zoom last weekend potentially withholding political donations and business investments over the issue, speakers at the Republican National Committee retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., were pledging to continue the fight. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was applauded at the RNC meeting for attacking Major League Baseball, among others, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post.

“Major businesses who are getting in bed with the left, the corporate media and Big Tech ... these corporate executives have no backbone, they don’t want to be criticized by the corporate partisan media — they cave, they virtue-signal in one direction,” DeSantis said.

“You have these woke corporations who are colluding with all those folks," he continued. “We have to stand up for ourselves, we’ve got to fight back.”

On Wednesday, hundreds of major companies and corporate leaders released a joint statement that said voting is "the lifeblood of our democracy” and “we must ensure the right to vote for all of us” — a seeming rebuke of the hostile tone coming from Republicans who insist the voting laws are needed for election security and that companies should stay out of politics.

9:53 p.m.
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Rep. Liz Cheney says she would not vote for Trump in 2024

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the highest-ranking GOP woman in the House, who drew the ire of some of her Republican colleagues when she voted to impeach former president Donald Trump, said she would not support Trump if he was the party’s presidential nominee in 2024.

“I’ve been clear about my views about what happened on January 6th, about my views of the president’s culpability,” Cheney said in a Fox News interview Wednesday. “I obviously voted to impeach him. I think that it was the gravest violation of an oath of office by any president in American history. And I’m going to continue to make sure people understand that.”

Cheney was one of only a few congressional Republicans to unequivocally criticize Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and vote to impeach him for it.

Asked if she would support Trump in 2024, Cheney said flatly, “I would not.”

Other Republicans who criticized Trump in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6 have walked that back, and many, including former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both said they would support Trump if he were the party nominee in 2024.

9:40 p.m.
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Armed ‘quick reaction force’ was waiting for order to storm Capitol, Justice Dept. says

As the Capitol was overrun on Jan. 6, armed supporters of President Donald Trump were waiting across the Potomac River in Virginia for orders to bring guns into the fray, a prosecutor said Wednesday in federal court.

The Justice Department has repeatedly highlighted comments from some alleged riot participants who discussed being part of a “quick reaction force” with stashes of weapons. Defendants have dismissed those conversations as bluster. But in a detention hearing for Kenneth Harrelson, accused of conspiring with other members of the Oath Keepers militant group to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Nestler said the government has evidence indicating otherwise.

“This is not pure conjecture,” Nestler said. In a court filing this week, he noted, prosecutors obtained cellphone and video evidence from the day before the riot showing that Harrelson asked someone about the quick reaction force. He then went to a Comfort Inn in the Ballston area of Arlington for about an hour before driving into D.C., prosecutors said. The day after the riot, surveillance video from the hotel shows him moving “what appears to be at least one rifle case down a hallway and towards the elevator,” according to the court records.

9:28 p.m.
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Gary Gensler, outspoken critic of Wall Street, confirmed to lead the SEC

The Senate confirmed Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, voting 53 to 45 to install the aggressive regulator and critic of Wall Street as the financial sector’s leading watchdog in Washington.

Gensler is taking the helm of the agency as the Biden administration seeks stricter oversight after years of Trump-era deregulation.

Gensler already has laid out an ambitious agenda, signaling that he will push rules forcing companies to disclose more about their climate risks and political spending.

“In 2021, there’s tens of trillions of dollars of invested assets that are looking for more information about climate risk,” Gensler said at his Senate confirmation hearing last month. “And I think then the SEC has a role to play to bring some consistency and comparability to those guidelines.”

9:28 p.m.
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Biden to tap Moritsugu to serve as senior adviser overseeing outreach to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities

President Biden has selected Erika Moritsugu, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, to serve as a senior adviser overseeing outreach to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, according to three people with knowledge of the decision.

The move comes after weeks of pressure from Asian American leaders to diversify the upper ranks of the White House.

Neither Moritsugu nor the White House immediately responded to a request for comment. Biden is scheduled to meet with the leadership team of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in the Oval Office on Thursday.

Moritsugu previously worked at the Anti-Defamation League and served on the staffs of Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and the late Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

Moritsugu is expected to report to Bruce Reed, Biden’s deputy chief of staff, and hold the rank of deputy assistant to the president, one of the people with knowledge of the decision said. All the three people spoke on the condition of anonymity because Moritsugu’s position has not yet been announced.

She has also held various policy roles at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration and oversaw Senate legislative affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

9:08 p.m.
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Senate overwhelmingly votes to move forward on anti-Asian American hate-crime bill

The Senate overwhelmingly voted to limit debate on a bill aimed at understanding and combating the harassment and violence directed at Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic, with only six Republicans voting against it.

The bill directs the Justice Department to expedite a review of the uptick in hate crimes in the Asian American community, believed to be stoked by President Donald Trump and other Republicans who insisted on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or other such stigmatizing terms.

The 92-to-6 vote came after some uncertainty earlier in the week about whether Republicans would support the narrowly focused legislation. The Republican senators who opposed it were Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), Roger Marshall (Kan.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.).

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled his support on Tuesday, noting that his wife, former Trump transportation secretary Elaine Chao, is Asian and that the racism aimed at the Asian community is real.

But McConnell also said he expected the bill to be amended to direct the Justice Department to improve its reporting of hate crimes broadly.

8:43 p.m.
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Group of Republican senators introduce bill to strip Major League Baseball of its antitrust exemption

A group of Republican senators on Wednesday introduced legislation to strip Major League Baseball of its antitrust exemption in response to the league moving its All-Star Game out of Georgia to protest the state’s sweeping new voting law.

“MLB and woke mega-corporations have been coddled by government for too long,” Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) said in a statement. “For decades, the MLB has been given a sweetheart deal by Washington politicians. But if they’d prefer to be partisan political activists instead, maybe it’s time to rethink that.”

Joining Hawley in sponsoring the legislation are Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.).

The Georgia voting law, pushed by Republicans after former president Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, curtails the use of drop boxes and imposes new ID requirements for mail voting. Critics argue that the law is designed to suppress the vote among minorities.

Earlier this month, the league announced that it was moving its July All-Star Game out of Atlanta and would hold it instead in Denver amid a backlash to the Georgia law.

Baseball has had exemptions from the Sherman Antitrust Act since the 1920s. The GOP-led bill faces hurdles in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

8:17 p.m.
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Hoyer says attendance will be limited at Biden’s first address to Congress later this month

Congress will continue to approach the spread of the coronavirus with caution, including at Biden’s first joint address to Congress later this month.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said there will be a significant limit on attendance but did not disclose the exact number of people who could watch Biden deliver his speech in the large chamber that can comfortably sit all members of Congress.

“There will be a limited number of members from the House, from the Senate, from the Supreme Court and other entities,” he told reporters. Hoyer added that Biden will be allowed to bring guests and that the Cabinet will also be invited to attend.

Biden will deliver his joint address April 28 when the House is scheduled to be out of Washington but virtually convening to continue committee business. The move will already naturally decrease the number of people who would typically attend. Hoyer said he will talk with White House officials to see if they will have a virtual component to allow members not present to feel as if they are part of the yearly event.

Physical safety also remains at issue in the chamber, which is expected to soon provide supplemental security appropriations to address failures seen during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Hoyer said he hopes that will be finalized “sooner rather than later.”

Asked whether the House would take any action against Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) after reports of younger female staffers and reporters expressing that they have not felt safe walking alongside a congressman facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Hoyer said he would have to review the accusations.

“If there was any allegation of Gaetz acting against staff, press, visitors, I think under those circumstances, certainly action would be warranted if they were found to be grounded in fact,” he said.

The House Ethics Committee is investigating claims that Gaetz engaged in sexual misconduct and illicit drug use and showed images of naked women on the House floor. He has denied any wrongdoing.

7:50 p.m.
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Biden says decision to pull troops from Afghanistan wasn’t a hard choice

Biden walked alone among the tombstones in a section of Arlington National Cemetery for Americans who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stood before a wreath, his head bowed, and made the sign of the cross before stepping back slowly and saluting.

“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?” he said, approaching reporters. “I’m always amazed at generation after generation of women and men prepared to give their lives for the country.”

“I have trouble these days ever showing up at a cemetery and not thinking of my son, Beau, who proudly” went with his unit to Iraq and gave up “his spot as attorney general in the state of Delaware because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Biden said, wiping his eyes.

“Look at them all,” he said, gesturing to the tombstones.

A reporter asked Biden if it had been difficult to decide whether to bring troops home from Afghanistan.

“No, it wasn’t,” Biden said. “To me it was absolutely clear, absolutely clear.”

7:44 p.m.
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House committee approves D.C. statehood, setting up likely passage in the full chamber

Legislation to make D.C. the 51st state advanced from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Wednesday, paving the way for approval by the full House for the second consecutive year — possibly as soon as next week.

The Democratic-majority committee voted along party lines to pass the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, quashing every Republican amendment during Wednesday’s markup.

Though largely expected, the vote injects another shot of momentum in Democrats’ favor as they seek to seize on their majorities in both chambers of Congress and control of the White House to push D.C. statehood further than it has gone before. Once a fringe issue, granting statehood to the city has become a central part of the party’s voting rights platform.

“Congress can no longer exclude D.C. residents from the democratic process, forcing residents to watch from the sidelines as Congress votes on laws that affect the nation or votes even on the laws of the duly elected D.C. government,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the bill’s sponsor, said Wednesday. “Democracy requires much more.”

7:05 p.m.
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Biden defends pulling troops from Afghanistan: ‘It’s time to end the forever war’

President Biden on April 14 said he will withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning May 1. (The Washington Post)

Biden defended his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, arguing that it was never meant to be a multigenerational war, that the United States had achieved its goals of killing Osama bin Laden and dismantling al-Qaeda, and that is was “time to end the forever war.”

“I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place, to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again,” Biden said. “We did that. We accomplished that objective.”

I said along with others, we’d follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell if need be. That’s exactly what we did. And we got him,” Biden added.

Biden noted that he is now the fourth U.S. president to preside over the war in Afghanistan. He said he had spoken to former president George W. Bush, who sent troops to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks nearly 20 years ago, about his decision to bring all U.S. troops home. He didn’t say how Bush felt about it but said the two leaders shared the same gratitude for the sacrifice of the men and women who served.

“He and I have had many disagreements over policy throughout the years,” Biden said of Bush. “We’re absolutely united in our respect and support for the valor, courage and integrity of the women and men in the United States armed forces who served. … We as a nation are forever indebted to them and their families.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had called Bush and former president Barack Obama to inform them both about his decision. In a statement, Obama, who ordered the military action that killed bin Laden, said: “After nearly two decades of putting our troops in harm’s way, it is time to recognize that we have accomplished all that we can militarily, and that it’s time to bring our remaining troops home. I support President Biden’s bold leadership in building our nation at home and restoring our standing around the world.”

Biden also noted that he is the first president in 40 years to have had a child serving in a war zone, calling his late son, Beau, his “north star” in making this decision.

He spoke directly to critics who believe the United States needs troops on the ground in Afghanistan to maintain its diplomatic relationships in the region.

“I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence and stand as leverage,” he said. "We gave that argument a decade — it never proved effective, not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and not when we’re down to a few thousand. Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way.”

6:05 p.m.
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Biden’s pick for top civil rights post spars with Republicans over police funding

Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee to run the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told senators Wednesday that she supports his efforts to invest an additional $300 million for local law enforcement agencies and pledged to find common ground with police if she is confirmed to the job.

Clarke, 46, testified during a contentious confirmation hearing that she does not support the push from Black Lives Matter to broadly defund police departments. Under intensive questioning from Republican lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Clarke said she has advocated for reallocating limited existing funding to bolster mental health care and other social services to help alleviate pressure on overburdened police officers.

“I know from talking to and working with law enforcement that they want this help,” said Clarke, a civil rights lawyer who began her career two decades ago as a line attorney in the department’s civil rights division. “They want to see more resources committed to meeting the mental health and emotional health needs of our communities. I have talked to sheriffs who say their jails are being transformed into mental health detention centers.”