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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Chances of a deal on police reform quickly dim

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds. One of the creators of the new reality TV series “MILF Manor” told our colleague Emily Yahr that her son informed her “MILF” was an acronym for “Mother I Love Forever.” That’s … not what it stands for. Tips: Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition …  Scoop: Hunter Biden’s allies weigh a legal-defense fund for the president’s son, Matt Viser, Michael Scherer and Carol D. Leonnig report ... The White House woos Gonzales on border debate … Biden to end covid national emergencies in May … What we’re watching: The Fed ... Michael Luttig envisions ‘the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’ ... but first …

On the Hill

Chances of a deal on police reform quickly dim

After the release of a video on Friday showing Memphis police officers fatally beating Tyre Nichols, 29, earlier this month, there were hopes that Congress might once again begin negotiating how to reform policing practices, as anger grew over the death of another Black man following a violent encounter with local law enforcement.

But by Monday, any optimism for a big legislative deal seemed to have been squashed. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who was a key part of negotiations that almost produced a deal last year, gave a defiant speech on the Senate floor Monday night, blaming politics and unreasonableness for last year’s failure to reach an agreement. He did not sound like a man in search of a big compromise. 

  • “Politics too often gets in the way of doing what every American knows is common sense,” Scott said. “Here we find ourselves again having the same conversation with no action having happened.”

Scott negotiated with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on a comprehensive policing bill during the last Congress that sought to increase accountability for police officers, including by limiting their immunity from lawsuits over their actions on the job.

On Monday, Scott seemed to lay a more modest offer on the table, calling for “simple legislation” and name-checking a few items, including more funding to police departments for things such as de-escalation training and more resources for officers on the scene, who have a “duty to intervene” when a police interaction with a civilian dangerously escalates.

Those are only a few of the issues Booker and Scott negotiated in the aftermath of the 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. President Biden signed a bill by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) last month that would help police departments implement de-escalation training.

Scott said he never left the negotiating table, but as the South Carolina Republican gears up for a potential presidential run, the politics of legislating police accountability seem no more favorable than they did in September 2021, when formal discussions fell apart.

Many Republicans did not get behind Scott’s previous efforts, and the party made painting Democrats as soft on crime and hostile toward police a major part of their midterm message to voters. 

“The problem is the crime problem,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said. 

Graham repeated his previous stance that police departments should be held liable for police behavior, not individual officers. While Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called him to see if talks could be jump-started, Graham said, “I don’t know what the space is for that.”

Unlike when Scott and Booker previously negotiated, Republicans now control the House, and they’ve shown little to no interest in the type of policy changes the pair discussed in 2021.

“I think it’s probably less likely to happen now with divided government,” Cornyn said. 

Pressure on Biden

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he spoke with Scott over the weekend and that the caucus wants to be at the table with Scott, Booker and House Republicans if there is movement on any legislation. 

But absent that, Horsford called on Biden to focus his Feb. 7 State of the Union address on police reform and do what he can unilaterally to change policing practices. 

  • “Our goal right now is to get the president to use the power of his office to make this issue a centerpiece of his State of the Union,” Horsford told The Early. He invited Nichols’ mother and stepfather to the speech before Congress. 

Horsford said the president played a role in passing gun legislation, an infrastructure bill and a microchips manufacturing bill last Congress with bipartisan support and that he should try to do the same on policing. 

“We want him to be involved in this because it's important enough to the American people that all of our communities are safe,” Horsford said. 

Biden told reporters on Monday that he’d meet with the Congressional Black Caucus and that Congress should pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House in 2021 mostly along party lines but couldn’t get 60 votes in the Senate. 

The Investigations

Hunter Biden’s allies weigh legal-defense fund for president’s son

Bills, bills, bills: Hunter Biden’s allies have held initial discussions about creating a legal-defense fund to pay for a growing team of attorneys that is helping him confront both a years-long federal tax investigation and a host of new congressional inquiries,” people familiar with the matter told our colleagues Matt Viser, Michael Scherer and Carol D. Leonnig.

  • “The effort has been triggered by Hunter Biden’s struggles to pay his mounting legal bills amid increasingly stretched resources and his pursuit of a new, aggressive legal strategy, the people said.”
  • "A constellation of lawyers have worked for Biden over the years, and he continues to add new ones as he prepares to confront the investigations that House Republicans are starting to pursue."
  • “It’s unclear exactly how much the president’s son owes in legal fees, in part because some of the bills were expected to be discounted or treated as pro bono work. But three people familiar with his situation estimate his current legal debt at well into the millions of dollars, and the figure is likely to grow as he faces additional congressional investigations.”

At the White House

The White House woos Gonzales on border debate

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) will meet with White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice on Wednesday to discuss border security, according to a person familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting has not been publicly announced. 

Gonzales’s meeting with a top White House official comes on the same day the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), is holding its first hearing of the year focused on the border. No administration officials are testifying. 

  • Gonzales, whose district spans hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, has been critical of House Republicans’ singular focus on border security initiatives, pushing the GOP to take a broader look at immigration issues. He helped force House Republicans to postpone putting a border security bill on the floor last week that would make changes to the asylum system.

Gonzales has been asking for a meeting with the administration for more than a year. 

The administration had mostly refused to engage on border issues since Biden took office despite the increased flow of migrants. But after the midterms, when Republicans won control of the House, Biden made his first trip to the border, signifying that it’s an issue he’s going to pay more attention to ahead of his 2024 reelection bid.

Gonzales’s more moderate stance on immigration within the House GOP conference makes him a potentially appealing lawmaker to work with on the issue. But he has also been highly critical of the administration’s border policies. Wednesday’s meeting should be interesting.

Biden to end covid national emergencies in May

The end of an era: President Biden told Congress on Monday that he will end the national and public health emergencies against the coronavirus on May 11 — a move that also fulfills immigration groups’ hard-fought goal of ending Title 42, the border-control public health measure that allows the U.S. to expel migrants without granting them the opportunity to seek asylum, our colleagues Tyler Pager and Lena H. Sun report.

  • “The Administration supports an orderly, predictable wind-down of Title 42, with sufficient time to put alternative policies in place,” the White House said in a statement Monday. 
  • Title 42 — which has been used to expel migrants more than 2 million times since March 2020 — was on track to end in December until the Supreme Court intervened. The court allowed the policy to remain in place while it waits to hear oral arguments on the matter in March.
  • Some House Republicans criticized the White House statement, arguing Title 42 isn't tied to the public health emergency and that it exists at Biden's discretion.

What we're watching

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will conclude his three-day trip to the Middle East today with a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Blinken will continue to press for peace amid a renewed wave of violence in the region. He is also expected to discourage Abbas from pursuing war crimes investigations through the International Criminal Court.

  • The meeting follows Monday’s visit to Jerusalem and a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which Blinken reaffirmed the pursuit of a two-state solution.

Biden, meanwhile, is heading to New York today, where he’ll announce $292 million in funding from the 2021 infrastructure law to help build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and rehabilitate the old tunnel, according to a White House official.

Finally, the Federal Reserve will hold its first policy meeting of the new year. The central bank is expected to raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point throughout the year, a move away from last year’s steep rate hikes intended to slow the economy a cool rising inflation.

From the courts

Michael Luttig envisions ‘the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’

Our colleague Manuel Roig-Franzia sat down with former federal judge and well-known conservative jurist J. Michael Luttig. In a wide-ranging interview about counseling Vice President Mike Pence against overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election, Luttig (pronounced LEW-tig) told our colleague that he envisions “the beginning of the end of Donald Trump.” Here’s an excerpt: 

‘The quest of a lifetime’: Luttig “famously kept his clerks — the ‘Luttigators’ — working for hours as he fastidiously pored over each sentence of the draft opinions they helped him write. Luttig’s desk had a computer monitor and a keyboard so he could tweak and re-tweak; the clerks sat at a round mahogany table with computer screens but no keyboards. Occasionally he would invite them to his house on weekends, ostensibly to watch football, only to flip the channel to C-SPAN.”

  • “If they devoted themselves to him for a year, he would tell them, ‘I’ll devote myself to you for the rest of your career.’ Almost all of his clerks — more than 40 over the years — went onto clerkships at the Supreme Court.”
  • But “the one person Luttig couldn’t get a job at the Supreme Court was J. Michael Luttig. He was long considered by many to be almost a shoo-in but was passed over in 2005 in favor of [John] Roberts and Samuel Alito. He left the federal bench the following year for a lucrative but low-profile job as general counsel at Boeing, noting the looming cost of his children’s college tuition. 
  • “And so it was that one of the most celebrated legal minds of his generation failed to ascend to the highest court in the land — freeing him to play another, perhaps more consequential role.”

The Media

Early reeeads

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