President Biden on Thursday announced sanctions on Russia for interference in the 2020 election, calling them “measured” and proportionate, while setting the stage for a summer summit in Europe with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden said in remarks at the White.

Separately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) voiced opposition Thursday to consideration of legislation by fellow Democrats to expand the size of the Supreme Court, saying the issue should be studied first by a commission recently announced by Biden. The issue is being pressed by liberal Democrats.

Here’s what to know:
  • Americans filed 576,000 initial jobless claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, with such claims falling to their lowest level since March 2020.
  • Biden will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month at the White House.
  • The U.S. intelligence community has “low to moderate” confidence in reports of Russia encouraging Taliban attacks on U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, the White House said.
  • The Senate voted 49 to 34 on Thursday to advance the nomination of Vanita Gupta to be associate attorney general, with a confirmation vote likely next week.
1:41 a.m.
Link copied

Sens. Kaine and Warner want to make Virginia’s gun restrictions go national

On the eve of the 14th anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) have reintroduced the Virginia Plan to Reduce Gun Violence Act, modeled after historic gun-control bills passed on the state level last year in Richmond.

The Senate bill, which follows a recent spate of high-profile mass shootings, would require universal background checks, limit handgun purchases to one a month, and allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people shown to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

It would also close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” to prevent abusive unmarried partners from possessing firearms, create penalties for people who “recklessly” leave loaded guns unsecured in the presence of children, and require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours.

Virginia “has gone from the state where, well, the NRA is headquartered there — Virginia will never do anything — to a state that has now taken meaningful steps to keep people safe,” Kaine said. “I have this attitude that I tell my colleagues — if we can do it in Virginia, we can do it in Congress. And I really believe that.”

1:12 a.m.
Link copied

Hawley raises $3 million after leading objection to Biden’s win

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) drew in $3 million in the first three months of the year, a high total for a sitting senator not up for reelection this cycle, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show.

Slightly more than half of the haul, $1.7 million, came from donors giving $200 or less.

Hawley raised a significant amount even after a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to stop certification of the presidential election results. Hawley, a Trump loyalist, led efforts to object to Biden’s win and voted against certifying the electoral college votes even after the Capitol siege.

Between Jan. 7 and the end of the month, Hawley’s reelection committee brought in nearly $1 million from donors giving small amounts. In comparison, Hawley raised only $120,000 in the first quarter of 2020.

10:53 p.m.
Link copied

VA Secretary McDonough, Rep. Takano tout $18 billion proposed investments to VA hospitals

VA Secretary Denis McDonough and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) highlighted the benefits to veterans in President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan, calling $18 billion in proposed investments to VA hospitals long-overdue modernizations.

“When you think about all the technology we’re moving into modern hospitals, you can see why we’re so concerned about VA’s footprint,” McDonough said at a meeting with reporters to underscore VA’s share of the plan. “We’re spending a lot of money on upkeep of older facilities at the moment.”

McDonough compared the 11-year median age of a private hospital to 58 years for a comparable VA facility, many of which were built to care for veterans returning from World War II. The $18 billion would cover upgrades and new construction of about 10 hospitals, with the goal of improving medical care, including for female veterans.

Administration officials said they expect the infrastructure plan’s emphasis on workforce training and expanding small businesses in underserved areas will accrue to veterans, many of whom have faced economic challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

The infusion of money for VA comes as the agency gears up to review its hospital system to determine if some facilities are underused while others face high demand, and consider if closing some and expanding others makes sense.

“This is way more [money] than VA is used to seeing, especially for upgrading facilities,” Takano said. “If we’re going to build back veterans’ trust in VA we have to start making some serious investments in the outdated infrastructure that serves them.”

10:31 p.m.
Link copied

The Trailer: Initial winners and losers of the first fundraising quarter

Not every fundraising quarter starts with a riot.

The first campaign money-chase of the 2022 cycle began on Jan. 1, with Republicans narrowly in control of the Senate, Democrats more narrowly in control of the House, and the quadrennial certification of the electoral college vote expected to last a few hours longer than usual.

One week into the year, Democrats had flipped the Senate, the Capitol was invaded by protesters trying to overturn the election, and a number of corporations swore off any donations to the Republicans who, they argued, had enabled the insurrection.

We’re only now getting a picture of fundraising in post-Jan. 6, all-Democratic Washington. The vast majority of campaign finance reports have been published. A few more will be squeezed in by tonight’s midnight publication deadline. Former president Donald Trump’s Save America PAC, like other PACs, doesn’t have to report its fundraising until this summer.

Most of the data is in, more is coming, but here are the first takeaways and the first big surprises.

9:35 p.m.
Link copied

Biden picks 9 career diplomats for U.S. ambassador posts

The White House announced Biden’s first nominees to serve as U.S. ambassadors abroad, awarding nine career diplomats the top Foreign Service posts.

The nominees are: Larry Edward André Jr. to Somalia; Elizabeth Moore Aubin to Algeria; Steven C. Bondy to Bahrain; Maria E. Brewer to Lesotho; Marc Evans Knapper to Vietnam; Christopher John Lamora to Cameroon; Tulinabo S. Mushingi to Angola and Sao Tome & Principe; Michael Raynor to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau; and Eugene S. Young to the Congo Republic.

Presidents often reward big donors and supporters with cushy ambassador jobs in sought-after locales like France, Sweden and the Caribbean islands, but Biden has yet to dole out those jobs.

Noncontroversial ambassadors, who still must be confirmed by the Senate, have also been caught in recent years in the backlog of nominees who’ve waited for months, sometimes years, to get confirmed, if at all.

9:25 p.m.
Link copied

Biden calls U.S. sanctions on Russia for interference in 2020 election ‘measured’

On April 15, President Biden announced sanctions and the expulsion of Russian officials as consequences for Russia’s interference in the 2020 election. (The Washington Post)

Biden on Thursday said that his decision to impose sanctions against Russia was restrained and that he made clear in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week that he wanted to de-escalate tensions between the two countries.

Earlier Thursday, his administration imposed the first significant sanctions targeting the Russian economy in several years to punish the Kremlin for a cyberespionage campaign against the United States and efforts to influence the presidential election, according to senior U.S. officials.

The administration also sanctioned six Russian companies that the United States says support Russian spy services’ cyberhacking operations and will expel 10 intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover in the United States. It formally named the Russian intelligence service SVR as responsible for the hacking operation targeting SolarWinds software that was used to attack a number of federal agencies.

“I told him that we would shortly be responding in a measured and a proportionate way because we had concluded that they had interfered in the election and SolarWinds was totally inappropriate,” Biden told reporters at the White House late Thursday afternoon.

“I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so. I chose to be proportionate,” he added. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia.”

Biden said he had been “unequivocal” during his campaign that, if elected, he would “respond to any attempt to influence our elections.” He said that Putin agreed that personal and direct communication between the two of them would be essential in moving forward.

“Now is the time to de-escalate. The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process,” Biden said.

8:53 p.m.
Link copied

Senate votes to advance nomination of Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general

The Senate voted 49 to 34 on Thursday to advance the nomination of Vanita Gupta to be associate attorney general, with a confirmation vote likely next week.

Gupta, Biden’s nominee for the Justice Department’s No. 3 post, had faced criticism from Republicans for her positions on police reform and drug enforcement. As they did for some of President Biden’s other nominees, Republicans sought to paint Gupta as a liberal partisan unfit for the job, citing some of her past personal criticisms of GOP leaders in editorials, testimony and tweets.

Gupta, 46, apologized for the “coarse language” and “harsh tone” she had aimed at some Republicans while advocating on behalf of a broad civil rights coalition during the Donald Trump administration. But she implored her critics to judge her work over more than two decades — including a stint at the Justice Department in the Barack Obama administration — and pointed to her efforts to forge consensus among liberal groups, conservative leaders and police organizations.

8:18 p.m.
Link copied

Harris announces $39 billion to bolster child-care industry, help parents stay in workforce

Vice President Harris announced Thursday that $39 billion in funding from Biden’s recently passed coronavirus relief package would be released to help rescue the child-care industry, which has been hit hard in the pandemic.

Calling it the “single largest investment in child care in the nation’s history,” Harris said the funds would help day-care centers and family child-care providers stay open, thereby allowing parents — particularly mothers — to remain in or rejoin the workforce. The pandemic has forced a disproportionate number of women out of their jobs.

Harris pointed out that even before the pandemic, child care was too expensive, difficult to find or inaccessible for many families. And for child-care providers, the pandemic has introduced new expenses while enrollment has dropped.

“The pandemic has accelerated the flaws and the fissures in our systems,” Harris said. “Nearly half of parents say their current child-care situation is unsustainable.”

Harris estimated that the funding would also allow for states, tribes and territories to provide child-care subsidies to more than 800,000 of the country’s neediest families and also increase a tax credit families with children can receive toward the cost of care.

Under the new plan, families making less than $125,000 can receive a tax credit of up to $4,000 for one child and $8,000 for two or more children. Those making between $125,000 and $438,000 can receive a partial credit.

“This is a dramatic expansion and a significant help for more than 7 million families,” Harris said. “Taken together, this historic investment will give child-care providers a chance. It will give child-care providers and workers a lifeline, and it will give parents peace of mind.”

Harris recalled that when she was a child, a neighbor watched Harris and her sister so their mother could work as a cancer researcher.

“Without the care that Mrs. Shelton provided, my mother would not have been able to make the contributions that she did in the effort to find a cure for breast cancer,” Harris said. “For many, many people — and many women in particular — child care has often been the prerequisite for their ability to work. And for many others, child care is their work."

She continued: “And that’s why in America, child care should be readily available and affordable for all of those who need it. Child-care workers should be paid fairly and treated with dignity and respect, and small-business owners who run child-care centers must be fully supported.”

7:53 p.m.
Link copied

How the Justice Department came to investigate Rep. Matt Gaetz

The missive arrived at an Orlando-area preparatory school in October 2019, outlining a damaging allegation against a music teacher there.

The teacher, in the letter’s telling, had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the purported student who had written it. And the writer claimed to offer proof: private Facebook messages in which the teacher, Brian Beute, told the letter writer: “Please remember to keep this a secret. I could go to jail.”

Beute, who had recently announced his candidacy in the local tax collector’s race, knew the allegation was a lie, as investigators quickly determined. What he could not foresee is how the ploy to sabotage his run for local office would drag the seedy politics in Seminole County, Fla., into the national spotlight and put a U.S. congressman in the crosshairs of a Justice Department investigation.

The allegations against Beute, federal investigators concluded, had been fabricated by his incumbent opponent, Joel Greenberg, in a bid to smear him. When authorities arrested Greenberg and sifted through his electronic records and devices — according to documents and people involved in the case — they discovered a medley of other alleged wrongdoing, leading them to open an investigation of possible sex trafficking involving a far more high-profile Florida Republican: Rep. Matt Gaetz.

7:31 p.m.
Link copied

Biden hosts AAPI lawmakers at White House, praises Senate work on anti-Asian hate crimes bill

President Biden met with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Executive Committee on April 15. (The Washington Post)

Biden celebrated the overwhelming support in the Senate for a bill targeting hate crimes against Asians during a meeting with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

The president was joined in the Oval Office by Vice President Harris, Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Kaiali’i Kahele (D-Hawaii) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).

Biden joked that the bill, which would expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes against Asians that increased during the pandemic, had been “really close,” after it cleared a procedural hurdle Wednesday to move forward 92 to 6.

“That’s a big deal. … I thought it was going to pass, but my Lord. I’ve got to tell you,” Biden said. Then, turning to Hirono, who sponsored the hate crimes bill, he joked, “We took a vote here in the administration, you’re going to handle the jobs bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he expects the Senate to pass the bill next week as he negotiates with Republicans on which amendments to consider.

“Rarely do you see 92 senators agree to move forward with any piece of legislation, but if there was ever a topic that deserves a strong showing of bipartisan support, it’s standing up to bigotry and racism against a particular group of Americans,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.

7:17 p.m.
Link copied

Inspector general says police order to hold back riot-control weapons compromised Capitol on Jan. 6

An order to hold back heavier less-than-lethal weapons put Capitol Police at a significant disadvantage in protecting Congress from the violent right-wing riot Jan. 6, the force’s inspector general told lawmakers Thursday, as he urged an overhaul of campus policing.

“It would be very difficult to say absolutely it would have turned the tide, but … it certainly would have helped us that day to enhance our ability to protect the Capitol,” Inspector General Michael Bolton told members of the House Administration Committee, in response to a question from its chairperson, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

Bolton said that an assistant deputy chief of police, whom he did not identify by name, gave the order not to use the heavier crowd-control weapons — such as “stingballs” and 40-mm launchers — out of concern that “they could potentially cause life-altering injury and/or death, if they were misused in any way.”

7:03 p.m.
Link copied

Poll finds sharp income divide among Republicans over coronavirus relief bill

Two-thirds of Americans support the coronavirus economic relief bill signed by Biden in March, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday. That includes a wide 93 percent majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, while 65 percent of Republicans and those leaning Republican opposed the bill. But views among Republicans varied sharply by family income levels.

Lower-income Republicans were far more likely than those with higher incomes to approve of the aid bill and to say it would benefit them. Fifty-five percent of lower-income Republicans approved of the bill, compared with 31 percent of middle-income Republicans and 18 percent of high-income Republicans.

The bill, called the American Rescue Plan, authorized another round of stimulus payments of up to $1,400 for most adult Americans; extended enhanced unemployment aid for millions still out of work; and made major changes to the tax code to benefit families with children.

Previously, Biden had overstated support for the economic relief bill among Republicans, claiming that “Republican voters agree with what I’m doing,” even though several polls showed majorities of Republicans opposed the bill.

Pew found that lower-income Republicans were also more likely than upper-income members of their party to say the bill would have a positive impact on their family and the country. Over 4 in 10 lower-income Republicans said that the bill would have a positive impact on their family (43 percent) and the country (42 percent) while 12 percent of upper-income Republicans said the bill would benefit their family and 16 percent said the same of the country.

Among Democrats, overwhelming majorities approved of the relief bill regardless of their income level, but there were differences in how people perceived the impact. Lower-income Democrats were more likely to say it would have a positive impact on their family, while upper-income Democrats were more likely to say it would benefit the country.

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted April 5-11 among 5,109 U.S. adults through the American Trends Panel, an online panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. Overall results have an error margin of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

6:57 p.m.
Link copied

Former vice president Mike Pence has pacemaker installed

Former vice president Mike Pence underwent surgery Wednesday to receive a pacemaker after experiencing a slow heart rate over the past two weeks, according to a statement from his office.

Pence is expected to make a full recovery and be able to resume normal activity in a few days.

“I am grateful for the swift professionalism and care of the outstanding doctors, nurses and staff at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute, including Dr. Brett Atwater and Dr. Behnam Tehrani. I also appreciate the consultation of my longtime Indiana physicians, Dr. Michael Busk and Dr. Charles Taliercio at Ascension St. Vincent,” Pence said in a statement. “My family has been truly blessed by the work of these dedicated healthcare professionals.”

As candidate for vice president in 2016, Pence released his medical history, which revealed an “asymptomatic left bundle branch,” which is a cardiovascular condition that affects the pathways that make the heart beat.

Pence’s father died of a heart attack, but Pence’s doctor noted that he had been a cigarette smoker and that Pence was in good health and never smoked or drank alcohol.

6:32 p.m.
Link copied

Gallows or guillotines? The chilling debate on before the Capitol siege.

In the weeks before supporters of then-President Donald Trump assaulted the U.S. Capitol, commenters on forum debated how best to build a gallows for hanging — or simply terrifying — members of Congress deemed disloyal. What kind of lumber? What kind of rope? And how many nooses?

A user named “Camarokirk” had a different suggestion: “I think you should build a guillotine,” he wrote Dec. 30. “A guillotine is more scary.”

User AsaNisiMAGA countered with a practical concern: “It’s better symbolism in every way. But it might prove more difficult to get that big blade into town.”

Such conversations flowed freely and visibly on for weeks, underscoring the openly violent intent of some of the thousands of Trump enthusiasts who thronged the Capitol on Jan. 6, as well as the intelligence failures of the authorities charged with preparing for that day. The clashes left five people dead, among them a Capitol Police officer.