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Post Politics Now Biden issues first pardons of his presidency; Harris tests positive for covid

President Biden welcomes the Tampa Bay Lightning to the White House on Tuesday to celebrate their 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup championships. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Today, President Biden used his sweeping clemency powers for the first time, announcing three pardons and the commutations of 75 sentences of nonviolent drug offenders. The announcements signal a far more targeted use of his authority than employed by former president Donald Trump, who granted pardons to political allies and celebrities who ran afoul of the law, among others. Biden’s actions follow calls by criminal justice advocates to grant leniency in a system that often disproportionately affects people of color.

Meanwhile, Vice President Harris has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House said Tuesday. Harris tested positive on both rapid and PCR tests but has exhibited no symptoms, a spokeswoman said. Harris is not considered a close contact to Biden or first lady Jill Biden because of their respective recent travel schedules, the spokeswoman added.

Welcome to Post Politics Now, a live experience from The Washington Post that puts the day’s political headlines into context. Each weekday, we’ll guide you through the news with assists from some of the best political reporters in the business providing insights and analysis.

Your daily dashboard

  • 10 a.m. Eastern: Attorney General Merrick Garland testified on Capitol Hill on the Justice Department budget before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Watch coverage here.
  • 10 a.m. Eastern: Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified on Capitol Hill on the war in Ukraine before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Watch coverage here.
  • 3 p.m. Eastern: White House press secretary Jen Psaki and White House covid-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha provided a briefing. Watch coverage here.

Got a question about politics? Submit it here. At 3 p.m. weekdays, return to this space and we’ll address what’s on the mind of readers.

4:40 p.m.
Headshot of Dan Diamond
National reporter investigating health politics and policy
The White House’s telegenic new coronavirus communicator — Ashish Jha made his debut in the White House briefing room Tuesday, joking that it was a “little scary” to face reporters, even though the new U.S. coronavirus response coordinator is hardly a stranger to the media. And Tuesday’s news conference showed why the White House wanted the well-known pandemic pundit to be its coronavirus leader and messenger, as Jha issued an array of policy recommendations and offered a bit of medical advice.Unlike his predecessor, Jeff Zients, Jha is a practicing physician — a point he alluded to when asked which Americans should get an antiviral regimen called Paxlovid as the Biden administration works to expand access to the drug this week. (Jha’s advice: Consult with your doctor.)And while Jha was scheduled to speak to promote the administration’s latest initiatives, the doctor ended up having to calm fears about Vice President Harris’s positive coronavirus test too.The longtime professor also made his case for billions of dollars in covid aid that is stalled in Congress as lawmakers haggle over funding. It remains to be seen whether Jha’s communication skills will translate into policy wins for the White House.
3:40 p.m.
Headshot of Mike DeBonis
Congressional reporter covering the House of Representatives
Schumer’s comment on Feinstein raises some eyebrows — Sometimes, what a politician doesn’t say is newsworthy. And when Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was asked Tuesday about a recent San Francisco Chronicle report suggesting that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), 88, has suffered a substantial decline in mental acuity, he left plenty of room for speculation.Asked at his weekly news conference whether he has confidence in Feinstein’s ability to serve, Schumer stopped well short of a full-throated endorsement: “I’ve had a number of discussions with Senator Feinstein, but I’m keeping them to myself.”Feinstein insisted after the Chronicle report that she is “still an effective representative for 40 million Californians,” but the ambiguous comment from her party’s Senate leader signals that questions about her cognitive fitness aren’t going away.
1:26 p.m.
Headshot of Mike DeBonis
Congressional reporter covering the House of Representatives
Coronavirus leaves some nominations hanging in Senate — A new spate of coronavirus cases among top Democrats has thrown the Senate schedule into flux.Positive tests from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), as well as Vice President Harris, have prompted delays for at least two nominees that were expected to be confirmed on party lines this week. A Democratic aide said a scheduled procedural vote Tuesday afternoon on Lisa Cook’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors is expected to fail because of the absences and will be reconsidered later.Also at risk is the confirmation of Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission, an appointment that would give the agency a majority of Democratic commissioners.But some other Biden nominees should proceed this week. Fed governor Lael Brainard is on track to be confirmed as vice chair Tuesday afternoon, and it is possible the Senate could confirm Philip Jefferson as a new Fed governor this week, along with the reappointment of Chair Jerome H. Powell. Both of those nominees have significant Republican support.
1:02 p.m.
Headshot of Mike DeBonis
Congressional reporter covering the House of Representatives
What Manchin sees as key — Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), perhaps the key player in the future of the Biden economic agenda, left a half-hour meeting with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday declaring that any Democratic economic legislation moving on Capitol Hill this year would have to be closely focused on combating inflation.“To me it’s about getting inflation under control, paying down this debt, getting a handle on what’s going on,” he told reporters after leaving Schumer’s office.The statement was a version of what Schumer has been saying for months, but the sharpness and the timing of the message is notable: Democrats are taking a last-ditch look at whether they can pass some version of what once was a sprawling multi-trillion-dollar agenda known as Build Back Better.Manchin made clear, as he first did in December, that those outsize dreams are dead and that he would only support something much more targeted.“This conversation was all about inflation,” he said, reaffirming his support for corporate and capital gains tax hikes that could reduce the federal deficit and perhaps fund other programs that could target rising costs.But expansive social programs, he said, are out: “On social programs I said no. … We’re not talking about going down that path again.”
11:45 a.m.
Headshot of Matt Zapotosky
National security reporter covering the Justice Department
What to make of Garland’s comments on the Hunter Biden investigation? — At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland was peppered with questions about his department’s investigation of Hunter Biden — the president’s son.The wide-ranging inquiry into Hunter Biden’s taxes and business dealings has shown signs in recent weeks that it is very much ongoing. Garland went out of his way to signal the probe was being conducted independently — even seeming to try to distance himself from it. Asked by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) simply if he had been briefed on the case, Garland stressed that the person “in charge” of the investigation was Delaware U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss, who was appointed to his position by President Donald Trump and held over under Biden.“He is the supervisor of this investigation, and the normal processes of the department occur, but he is the supervisor of this investigation,” Garland said.Asked how the public could be confident the matter was being taken seriously, Garland conspicuously noted Weiss was a “Trump appointee,” and seemed to point at his own reputation as someone assiduously committed to the Justice Department’s independence.Garland’s comments are notable in that they seem to put the decision on whether to charge Hunter Biden very much on Weiss — though Garland’s acknowledgment that the department would follow “normal processes” suggested Weiss is not on an island. They also indicate just how politically sensitive the case is, and how wary Garland is of the appearance that it might be influenced by politics.
9:57 a.m.
Headshot of Josh Dawsey
Political investigations and enterprise reporter
How Trump’s pardons differed from Biden’s — While former president Donald Trump pardoned many low-level drug offenders as well, his pardons often included personal friends, individuals who had the help of lobbyists or advisers close to him, and those involved in crimes that he viewed as political or about him (Roger Stone, Stephen K. Bannon, Paul Manafort and others targeted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III).Trump did not rely on the traditional government offices that process pardons but instead took recommendations from Mar-a-Lago members, criminal justice advocate Alice Johnson, business friends, White House advisers and family members. They were often resisted by White House lawyers — who were often overruled.You can read more about how the well-connected and rich got ahead of others in the Trump era here.