The big idea
U.S. gymnasts show why Congress's oversight role is so desperately needed
This may be what it takes to get bipartisan congressional support for accountability: Four young women who have represented America at the pinnacle of sports, sharing heartbreaking and horrifying stories of sexual abuse abetted by a system that failed them at every turn.
Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman — world-class gymnasts adored for their gravity-defying feats of grace and strength — sat uncomfortably at tables before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday and implored lawmakers to act.
In their sights: USA Gymnastics (USAG), the sport’s official governing body; the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC); and the FBI — each of which, in its own way, enabled team doctor Larry Nassar to molest them and many others.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles said, choking back tears as she invoked the name of the convicted serial abuser who will likely die in prison.
“Nassar is where he belongs, but those who enabled him deserve to be held accountable,” she said. “We suffered and continue to suffer because no one at FBI, USAG or the USOPC did what was necessary to protect us. We have been failed, and we deserve answers.”
Oversight is back in vogue
The testimony came as Congress faces other tests of its willingness to hold individuals and entities to account, whether on the Jan. 6 insurrection that delayed certification of President Biden’s election victory or on Afghanistan, not just the Aug. 31 withdrawal and its aftermath but two decades of feeding the public false hopes the war was being won.
While congressional action is never guaranteed, the road to accountability here is in theory a smoother, straighter path.
Unlike the deadly Capitol riot, there’s no congressional constituency naturally inclined to side with Nassar. Unlike Afghanistan, the web of responsibility doesn’t extend across every part of government, including Congress and presidents of both parties. Unlike the torture regime America set up after 9/11, there’s no national voice dismissing the idea of punishment as “sanctimonious.”
My colleague Devlin Barrett reported from the hearing Wednesday:
“More than a year after the allegations against Nassar were first brought to the FBI in 2015, he was arrested and charged by state officials. In the interim, Nassar is estimated to have abused at least 70 more athletes, according to a devastating report issued in July by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Nassar’s victims say the figure is even higher, at 120.”
Biles zeroed in: “It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect USAG and USOPC.” Maroney described giving a graphic account of Nassar’s abuse to the FBI, only to have it dismissed and later “falsified” by agents who were never brought to justice.
Testifying after the athletes, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray apologized to the gymnasts and confirmed Devlin’s reporting that the agent who heard Maroney’s account and conducted early portions of the Nassar investigation had been fired.
But Devlin reported “after the hearing, the gymnasts were asked what else they would like to see happen, and for most of them the answer was simple: Indictments of the FBI agents and anyone else who enabled Nassar’s abuse.”
It’s not clear what Congress might do, beyond pressuring the FBI to enact and widen reforms to prevent future lapses, and driving the Justice Department, which did not provide officials to testify, to take a turn behind the witness table.
But under a law former president Donald Trump signed in 2020, lawmakers have considerable power to hold USAG and USOPC accountable: They can end official recognition for the governing body of any individual sport or dissolve the Olympic committee’s board. Or they could use those powers to accelerate and deepen reforms.
And the calls for accountability — okay, punishment — seem to be growing louder, not softer.
Here’s veteran sports columnist Jane McManus, who heads the Marist College Center for Sports Communication, today in Deadspin.
“Dismantle US Gymnastics. Take down the USOPC. Those institutions failed to do the very minimum required when training young athletes. As for the FBI, several gymnasts said it best, federal charges for those found to have covered this up.
Don’t mistake this for ‘closure.’ This hearing was another battle in the fight for these gymnasts to see some level of commitment from someone, ANYONE, to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And anything less than taking a blowtorch to these failed systems won’t suffice.”
Over to you, Congress.
What's happening now
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Parenting a child under 12 in the age of delta: It's like a fire alarm every day,” writes Ariana Eunjung Cha. “In Crofton, Md., Lise Dykes, a graphic designer and mother of two, ages 7 and 11, has been thinking a lot about a cartoon she saw recently that features a parent staring at a vast ocean. She recalled that it said something like: ‘Only 1 percent of the children are going to get eaten by the shark. It’s fine.’ ”
- "Facebook keeps researching its own harms — and burying the lead," from Will Oremos, who asks the question of why the harms revealed in the Wall Street Journal's “Facebook Files” report continue to occur. “Like other major Internet platforms, Facebook weighs concerns about its impacts on users and society alongside traditional business imperatives such as growth, profit and marketing. Unlike some rivals, however, Facebook routes weighty decisions about content policy through some of the same executives tasked with government lobbying and public relations — an arrangement that critics say creates a conflict of interest. Often, they seem to prioritize public perception over transparency.”
- “Latinos showed up for Newsom, but some Latino men tilted right. Democrats need to pay attention,” writes Post contributing columnist León Krauze.
- During a radio show interview, Roger Stone was served “a big, big stack of papers” related to the federal lawsuit filed by seven Capitol Police officers against him, Timothy Bella reports. In an episode of “Tomorrow’s News Today with Joe Hoft & Kell Brazil," Stone could be heard greeting the person at the door, who could be heard saying, “You know what I have.”
… and beyond
- China’s biggest movie star was scrubbed from the Internet, and we don’t know why, writes the Wall Street Journal’s Wenxin Fan. “Zhao Wei spent the past two decades as China’s equivalent of Reese Witherspoon, a beloved actress turned business mogul … Today, the 45-year-old star has been erased from the Chinese Internet. Searches for her name on the country’s biggest video-streaming sites come up blank. … Ms. Zhao’s online disappearance on Aug. 26 came at the onset of a broader clampdown on the country’s entertainment industry as the Communist Party attempts to halt what it sees as a rise in unhealthy celebrity culture.”
- A new nurse describes her struggles to save patients in the new coronavirus surge. “It’s so much worse this time,” Kathryn Ivey, a critical nurse at a medical center in Nashville, writes in the Scientific American.
- Democrats have a midterm dilemma: Biden’s agenda isn’t breaking through with voters yet, write McClatchy DC’s Alex Roarty and Adam Wollner. “A broad cross-section of lawmakers, party officials and strategists around the country say they are growing increasingly frustrated that their economic ... hasn’t yet broken through to the public.”
The Biden agenda
Biden will push for his economic agenda in a speech early this afternoon
Biden’s child tax credit is paying big in Republican states.
- The one-year expansion of the child tax credit, a policy championed by Biden and Democrats but opposed by Republicans, “has disproportionately benefited” states that voted for Trump in 2020, according to a Reuters review of Treasury Department.
- “Congressional Democrats are now seeking to extend the expansion for four additional years as part of $3.5 trillion social spending legislation opposed by Trump's fellow Republicans.”
- “The policy's popularity, experts said, might benefit Democrats in elections next year that will determine whether they retain control of Congress for the second half of Biden's term.”
Democrats’ strategy for raising the debt ceiling seems to be based on shaming Mitch McConnell.
- Democrats have tried shaming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before, the New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman reminds us, including that time McConnell blocked Merrick Garland’s SCOTUS nomination, or the time McConnell pushed through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the high court. Once again, Democrats are asking McConnell to back down.
- Sometime in October, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s ability to “shuffle money from government account to government account will be exhausted. The Treasury will no longer be able to pay all the nation’s creditors, unless Congress raises or suspends the limit on issuing debt.”
- But, on Twitter, McConnell remains defiant: “Let’s be clear,” he wrote Wednesday. “With a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, Democrats have every tool they need to raise the debt limit. It is their sole responsibility. Republicans will not facilitate another reckless, partisan taxing and spending spree.”
- “McConnell is adamant that if Democrats insist on spending trillions of dollars on infrastructure, climate change and social welfare, they must bear exclusive responsibility for raising the borrowing limit. A purely Democratic vote to raise the debt ceiling, of course, would fortify Republican political attacks on what they characterize as an out-of-control, ‘socialist’ party,” Weisman writes.
- But, but, but: “There are two problems with Mr. McConnell’s argument. First, the reason the government is crashing into its debt limit is the tax cutting and free spending of the Trump years.”
- “Second, a debt ceiling increase will almost certainly need at least the acquiescence of Senate Republicans to overcome a filibuster and move to a vote.”
The U.S. booster shot campaign is in doubt as the FDA prepares for a Friday vote.
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- “The scientific community is split on this matter. Two senior outgoing FDA officials recently wrote a review with other scientists that was published in the Lancet medical journal, in which they argued that ‘current vaccine supplies could save more lives if used in previously unvaccinated populations than if used as boosters in vaccinated populations.’ ”
- Nearly 7 in 10 say the recent rise in covid-19 deaths was preventable, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
Will Biden’s new deal with Australia improve relations with Canberra?
- “In less than a month, Australia has gone from an American snub to American subs,” writes Michael Miller.
- “The surprise submarine deal between the two countries and Britain signals a strengthening of the already close U.S.-Australian military partnership, and may pave the way for a thawing of the so-far frosty relationship between the two leaders ahead of a meeting next week.”
- “Experts [also] said the alliance, dubbed AUKUS, was clearly aimed at countering China’s growing military might in the region, though Biden, [Australian Prime Minister Scott] Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were careful to avoid mentioning the country … The Chinese Foreign Ministry has since slammed the deal as a threat to regional peace and provoking an arms race.” French officials also furiously condemned the deal, calling it a “stab in the back.”
In new ads, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) claims Democrats are seeking a “permanent election insurrection” by providing pathways to citizenship.
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- The ad depicts Biden with immigrants reflected in the sunglasses he is wearing and echoes the language of far-right commentators, “who have advanced a ‘replacement theory’ that espouses liberals are seeking to replace White citizens with non-White immigrants inclined to support them politically.”
Rise of food prices, visualized
Food producers have struggled with shortages, bottlenecks, and transportation, weather and labor woes, all of which have caused food prices to rise. The end is not in sight: Inflation at the wholesale level climbed 8.3 percent last month from August 2020, the Labor Department reported Friday, the biggest annual gain since the department started calculating the number in 2010.
Hot on the left
Two women of color are competing to become Boston’s next mayor, marking a historic shift. “Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George emerged victorious from a diverse slate of candidates in a preliminary election Tuesday,” Joanna Slater reports. White men have always won Boston’s mayoral race, until now. Wu, a longtime city council member, is the Harvard-educated daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who counts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as a supporter and mentor. Essaibi George, who identifies as Arab American, was raised by immigrant parents from Tunisia and Poland and has drawn a more moderate following. “Analysts say her base of support — particularly among older, moderate Democrats and White voters — represents more continuity.”
Hot on the right
MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid's opening monologue angered some conservatives after she accused Republicans of wanting the virus to spread:
Footage shared by a Fox News reporter of Haitian migrants arriving at the border in Texas also drew condemnation from conservatives on Twitter:
Today in Washington
Biden will deliver remarks on the economy, pushing for his tax plan, at 1:45 p.m.
Stephen Colbert came after Fox's Tucker Carlson for defending rapper Nick Minaj:
If you haven't yet heard about the Minaj controversy, you can read more about it here.
Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.