with Tobi Raji

Good Wednesday morning. Wishing everyone a belated happy Ramadan ☪️ This is the Power Up newsletter – thanks for waking up with us. 

The policies

IS THE TIME FINALLY NOW?: Gabby Giffords is hopeful that after decades of congressional inaction, bipartisan agreement on gun control legislation is now within reach. 

After a spate of mass shootings in recent weeks, the Giffords group installed 40,000 silk white flowers on the National Mall to commemorate the number of Americans killed annually by gun violence — and step up the pressure on Congress. 

Pointing to a Democratic majority, the passage of significant gun control bills in both red and blue states, and swelling bipartisan public support for universal background checks, Giffords is optimistic that the 117th Congress will break the impasse and enact meaningful gun control measures. 

  • We are in close contact with both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill,” Giffords told Power Up in an interview. “It’s clear that the tone of many Republicans has changed. They realize that inaction is no longer tenable. 
  • Key: “What remains to be seen is if their newfound willingness to agree with the premise that something must be done will lead to actual votes on the floor. We’ll keep making the case until we get the opportunity to pass universal background checks,” Giffords added. 
  • On the Mall installation: “Each of these flowers represents the life of someone who didn’t get to live out their full story or do all the things they wanted to. Our installation makes clear this isn’t a crisis that can be ended with thoughts and prayersonly action can do that,” said the former Arizona Democratic congresswoman. 

Democrats, however, have been on the precipice of passing gun control measures before.

Nearly ten years ago, Giffords exited Congress after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a mass shooting that left six people dead and 13 injured. And shortly thereafter, at the end of 2012, 26 were killed including many children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. 

Congress failed to pass any gun control legislation after Sandy Hook, the moment when Giffords decided to dedicate her career to advocating for stricter guns laws. 

  • Then-President Obama's attempts to pass gun control failed to meet the 60-vote threshold required to overcome a filibuster. Four Democrats and the majority of Republicans opposed a series of measures, including a ban on assault weapons and on high-capacity gun magazines, and expanded background checks.
  • Flashback to April 17, 2013: “Democratic leadership aides said the effort could be revived if a public groundswell demanded it,” the New York Times wrote of the news.
  • “Obama sounded exasperated that senators were not more responsive to public opinion and did not offer what he considered worthy explanations for why they voted down the measures,” The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe and Phil Rucker reported in 2013.  

Any major action on the issue eluded Congress during the Trump presidency, as well, despite some of the most deadly shooting sprees in modern history: The shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. killing 17 students and staff in 2018; the 2017 rampage by a mass shooter in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and hundreds injured; and the 2017 shooting at Sutherland Springs Church that left 26 people dead and 20 wounded. 

  • “This is the moment. When you have two incidents like that in the same weekend, I think conservatives and Republicans lose in the long run if we don’t do something to change the dynamic. And I’m about as hard a Second Amendment guy as there is, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told reporters in 2019 after back-to-back mass shootings at Walmart in El Paso, Tex. and in Dayton, Ohio. 

Following the deadly 2019 summer, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked the House-passed background check bill and the Senate never voted on the issue. 

With President Biden now prioritizing gun control, Giffords and Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords, maintain the political environment is finally conducive to change.

  • Many longtime observers of this fight never thought they’d see the day when a president would use his first 100 days in office to hold a Rose Garden event announcing gun safety measures, or a Democratic majority in the House would make gun safety a core part of their agenda,” Giffords told Power Up. “Yet, we are here, so close to fundamental change, because countless people across the country found the courage to speak up in their communities and demand their leaders make fighting gun violence a priority. Change, like recovery, is hard, but it’s always possible. You just need to be determined to make it happen.” 
  • Ambler echoed Giffords's argument in starker terms: “Now [GOP] members of the House and Senate know they will have to vote on something,” he told us.

Go it alone? Responding to mass shootings leaving 20 dead just last month, Biden announced a suite of executive actions to curb gun violence and urged the Senate to take up House-passed legislation requiring background checks for all gun buyers and an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases. 

  • “Why is it so important to get a gun in three days? What's wrong with 10 days? We wait 30 days to get something in the mail when we order it online,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who sponsored the bill that passed the House, said in an MSNBC interview last week. “I believe that there are more and more people coming to that conclusion. I think that we can get a bipartisan bill done. I do believe that if the Senate were to get the bill to the floor, I think it'll pass.”
  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said lawmakers “have a chance” to pass legislation expanding background checks and told Punchbowl News he's found “substantial interest in ‘red flag’ legislation” allowing police or family members to temporarily remove guns from someone who's a danger to themselves or others.

Though she says the gun control movement is an increasingly vocal and powerful force, Giffords warned the gun lobby is still a significant hurdle for lawmakers: “The gun lobby is diminished but is still a potent force,” she told us.

  • “For decades it was thought that the NRA would forever be the only game in town and they could never lose,” said Giffords.
  • More: “We proved that their money was no match for the might of people banding together to demand that Congress listen up. As the NRA has descended further and further into corruption and self-dealing, the gun safety movement has only become stronger," she added. "… it’s going to get harder and harder for Republicans to make the case that they’d rather side with the fear and extremism of the gun lobby over protecting their constituents.” 
  • Background: The NRA is currently in federal bankruptcy court after the New York attorney general alleged the group violated its nonprofit status as top leaders allegedly raided its coffers for personal gain.

On the Hill

🚨SAVE THE DATE APRIL 28: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday night formally invited President Biden to address a joint session of Congress on April 28, his first speech to both chambers as president,” Politico's Nicholas Wu reports. Biden accepted the invitation.

BIPARTISAN-ISH: “Senate leaders are poised to move ahead on a rare bipartisan effort aimed at investigating and halting hate crimes against Asian Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic,” our colleague Paul Kane reports. “The first test vote is likely to come [this] afternoon, when overwhelming approval is expected.”

  • “Republicans at first hesitated to adopt a position on the legislation, which carefully avoids any mention of former president Donald Trump’s comments about ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘the China virus’ as possible inspiration for attacks on Asian Americans … By Tuesday, however, Republicans rallied around a broader, bipartisan bill that would streamline federal law enforcement responses to all hate crimes, including creating a hotline and a program to rehabilitate offenders.”

BLACK LAWMAKERS WANT BIDEN TO DELIVER: “Black lawmakers pressed Biden during a lengthy Oval Office meeting Tuesday to follow through on a range of campaign promises made to one of his most important constituencies, urging him to increase the diversity of his administration, boost funding to educational institutions that serve Black students and take significant action on police brutality,” our colleagues Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Tyler Pager report

  • “Top leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus renewed their request that Biden name Shalanda Young, a Black woman, to head the Office of Management and Budget. They also sought, and received, assurances that Biden would name the first Black female Supreme Court justice if a seat became vacant, and to back legislation enacting a commission to study potential reparations for descendants of slavery.” A House committee will vote on the measure today.
  • “The meeting reflected the importance of the relationship for both sides. [It] brought into focus the issues by which Black voters will judge his tenure. Black Democratic leaders are hoping they can influence the Biden administration after being largely shut out during the tenure of Trump.”
  • Context: Black voters are a big reason why Biden is in the White House to begin with.

At the White House

BIDEN AIMS TO END ‘FOREVER WAR’: “Biden has watched a parade of presidents set sweeping goals for the United States overseas, only to become entangled in long-running, slow-bleeding problems. Now that he has the job himself, Biden is determined to avoid the same fate. His pledge to end the two-decade U.S. war in Afghanistan is the best example so far,” our colleague Anne Gearan writes.

  • Today, “Biden will lay out plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks.”
  • “Biden sees the war against the Taliban as a drag on the need to deal with bigger threats like China, climate change [and] the coronavirus pandemic. He is also focused on threats from Russia and the decline of U.S. influence abroad.”
  • But “Biden’s approach carries clear risks. The annual worldwide threat assessment published by his intelligence chiefs on Tuesday, explicitly warned that ‘the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay’ if the American-led coalition withdraws,” the New York Times’s David E. Sanger reports.
  • And lawmakers are upset. “Biden’s pledge to withdraw U.S. forces prompted immediate backlash from leading congressional Republicans, who decried his plans as ‘outrageous,’ ‘dumber than dirt’ and ‘a disaster in the making,’” our colleague Karoun Demirjian reports

What have we learned? “The easy, obvious and probably inevitable legacy of America’s two-decade-long war in Afghanistan is the recognition that there are limits to U.S. military power, especially when it comes to altering the culture and internal politics of other countries,” our colleague Greg Jaffe writes.

In the agencies

WATCHDOG SAYS CAPITOL POLICE IGNORED THREATS: “The Capitol Police had clearer advance warnings about the Jan. 6 attack than were previously known, including the potential for violence in which ‘Congress itself is the target,’ according to a scathing new report by the agency’s internal investigator,” per the New York Times’s Luke Broadwater. “The report offers the most devastating account to date of the lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries.” Read the report.

  • “Three days before the siege, a Capitol Police intelligence assessment warned of violence from supporters of Trump who believed his false claims that the election had been stolen. Some had even posted a map of the Capitol complex’s tunnel system on pro-Trump message boards.”
  • “But on Jan. 5, the agency wrote in a plan for the protest that there were ‘no specific known threats related to the joint session of Congress.’”
  • Happening tomorrow: Inspector general Michael A. Bolton will discuss his findings before the House Administration Committee.

The investigations

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BAHAMAS DOESN’T STAY IN THE BAHAMAS: “The details of that September 2018 trip are sparse, but they are critical to the allegations against Sen. Matt Gaetz (R), the Florida congressman currently the subject of a federal sex-crimes investigation that is threatening his career,” Politico’s Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon report

  • What we know: “The group took off for their Bahamas weekend getaway on three separate flights. Most of the passengers, which included at least five young women, flew out of Orlando on two separate private planes. Gaetz flew commercial.”
  • “In the Bahamas, Gaetz was joined by two GOP allies: Halsey Beshears, then a state legislator, and Jason Pirozzolo, a hand surgeon and Republican fundraiser for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Also among those on the trip: the former minor who is key to the investigation.”
  • Things don't look good for Gaetz. Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg “has been providing investigators with information since last year about an array of topics, including Gaetz’s activities,” the Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Katie Benner report.

From the courts

DEFENSE STRIKES BACK: “Derek Chauvin’s defense launched its case Tuesday with a focus on George Floyd’s drug use and its own expert to counter the prosecution’s claims that the former police officer used excessive force in the two men’s fateful May 25 encounter,” our colleague Holly Bailey reports

  • Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert hired by Chauvin's defense, “testified that Chauvin was justified in kneeling on Floyd for more than nine minutes because he resisted arrest and struggled with officers,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports

CHARGES LIKELY IN WRIGHT SHOOTING: “The shooting of Daunte Wright could lead to criminal charges against former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter as soon as [today], according to the district attorney handling the case,” per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

  • A tragic connection. Daunte Wright “was a student while [Courteney Ross, George Floyd’s girlfriend,] was a dean at Edison High School,” our colleague Robert Samuels reports. Wright was “a silly boy, as goofy as can be,” who required extra attention because he “needed a lot of love.” 

Outside the Beltway

THE TRADE-OFF FOR TRANSPARENCY HESITANCY: “The pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week threatens to create a significant hurdle to Biden’s campaign to combat ‘vaccine hesitancy,’ just as the administration approaches a critical point in its efforts to persuade Americans wary of getting vaccinated,” our colleagues Annie Linksey, Dan Diamond and Tyler Pager report.

  • “This is devastating,” Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP pollster who has been working to win over vaccine-hesitant Republicans, told our colleagues. “At the very moment that conservatives were starting to reconsider their hesitancy, they are told that their fears are real and justified. Right now, there are thousands of people saying, ‘See, I told you so.’”
  • The CDC Advisory Committee will meet today to review the cases and assess their significance.

Another trade-off global supply. “Concerns about blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines is deepening worries that the shots may not soon reach developing nations, which are far behind rich countries in immunizations and lack widespread access to costlier alternatives,” our colleague Chris Rowland reports.