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Georgia Representative Arrested for Knocking on Governor’s Door
Park Cannon, a Democratic state representative in Georgia, was arrested on Thursday for lightly knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s door as he signed a law to restrict voting access.
“The governor is signing a bill that affects all Georgians. Why is he doing it in private, and why is he trying to keep elected officials who are representing us out of the process?” “Exactly.” [talking] “Yeah, you said you gave her one more time, like you’re going to do something.” “That’s it —” “Are you serious?” “No, you are not —” “She’s not under arrest.” “For what? Under arrest for what? For trying to see something that our governor is doing? Our governor is signing a bill that affects all Georgians, and you’re going to arrest an elected representative. Why does the governor have more power than a representative? Why are you arresting her?” “That’s what I’m asking.” “Stop arresting her.” “Why are you arresting her?” “Stop — cite the violations, cite the code. What is she in violation of? I want you to cite the code, cite the code — cite it! What — cite the code, cite the code. Cite the code. Why are you arresting her? Under what, under what?” “Ma’am, back up, get on the —” “Under what law are you arresting her?”
Park Cannon, a Democratic state representative in Georgia, was arrested on Thursday for lightly knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s door as he signed a law to restrict voting access.CreditCredit…Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press
A question looming over the last four years — whether Trumpism would outlast Trump — was answered emphatically with the passage of a new law in Georgia curbing voting access for state residents, redefining a national debate on terms dictated by the former president.
The measure, passed weeks after former President Donald J. Trump tried to overturn President Biden’s victory in the state, was very much in line with Mr. Trump’s false claims that expanded voter access had led to widespread fraud and, in turn, his defeat.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Biden condemned the law as “un-American” and “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
“It’s an atrocity,” he told reporters outside the White House before leaving for Delaware. “If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can’t provide water for people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote. You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting.”
Asked after landing in Delaware whether the White House could do anything to safeguard voting rights in Georgia, the president responded: “Well, we’re working on that right now. We don’t know quite exactly what we can do at this point. The Justice Department’s taking a look as well.” He did not specify whether law enforcement officials were examining the new law itself.
The law, signed on Thursday by the Republican governor, Brian Kemp — who was browbeaten by Mr. Trump for not supporting the effort to overturn the election — introduces more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limits drop boxes and expands the legislature’s power over elections.
It will have an outsize impact on Black voters, who make up roughly one-third of Georgia’s population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
The legislation followed Democratic victories that flipped the state at the presidential and Senate levels, and was part of a national push in Republican-controlled state legislatures for the most extensive contraction of voting access in generations.
“The Republican Party was transformed under Donald Trump in a way that won’t be reversed anytime soon — fanning grievance, disregarding the truth and perpetuating the myth that Trump’s votes weren’t counted,” said Ben LaBolt, an adviser to former President Barack Obama in the White House and on his campaigns. “The Georgia law is part of this battle.”
Mr. Trump welcomed the law in a statement and invoked his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, complaining that the rule changes would have helped him if they had been enacted sooner.
In the short term, Republican lawmakers say they have regained the political initiative by applying pressure in statehouses. Their efforts have, indeed, prompted an internal Democratic dispute over scrapping the filibuster to void the state-level efforts to restrict voting access.
But in the long term, Democrats think the strategy could prompt a progressive backlash that would invigorate their party’s base.
In a scene with echoes of the civil rights era, Senator Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator since Reconstruction, visited a Democratic state legislator in jail on Thursday after she was arrested for lightly knocking on Mr. Kemp’s door as he was signing the bill.
“What we have witnessed today is a very desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy,” Mr. Warnock said after visiting State Representative Park Cannon in the Fulton County Jail.
“The people are being locked down and locked out of their own democracy,” Mr. Warnock said, adding that the new law only reinforced the determination of Black voters to have their voices heard.
Asked about Ms. Cannon’s arrest, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday, “I think anyone who saw that video would have been deeply concerned by the actions that were taken by law enforcement.”
Credit…Stephen Speranza for The New York Times
Supporters of gun control lashed out at President Biden on Friday for suggesting that gun legislation would not be his next priority even after two mass shootings in a week.
Mr. Biden had initially said on Tuesday that he did not need to “wait another minute” to address the epidemic of gun violence, calling on the Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to close background check loopholes.
But on Thursday, at the first formal news conference of his presidency, Mr. Biden left gun control proponents dumbstruck and disappointed when he said that the key to legislative success was ordering priorities, and that infrastructure was next on his list.
“I’m disappointed he has the nerve and audacity to say he’s going to do things in sequential order,” said Maisha Fields, the vice president of organizing for Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group. “It’s out of order to have to bury your child. It’s out of order to be shopping for eggs and to have your life disrupted.”
Greg Jackson, the national advocacy director for the Community Justice Action Fund, a group focused on gun violence in communities of color, said, “This crisis is beyond any other crisis we’ve seen.”
At the news conference, Mr. Biden was asked about his plans for promoting gun legislation or taking executive actions on the issue. In response, he pivoted to a lengthy explanation of why infrastructure was a bigger priority.
To some, the response reflected a pragmatic approach by a president dealing with crises on multiple fronts and Republican opposition to any gun control measures.
But gun control supporters said they were appalled by Mr. Biden’s shift in tone from a year ago, when he said on the campaign trail, “Every day that we do nothing in response, it is an insult to the innumerable lives across this nation that have been forever shattered by gun violence.”
Mr. Biden had also promised to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office that would repeal liability protections for gun manufacturers and close background-check loopholes. He has not done so yet, 65 days into his term.
The House passed two gun control bills this month, but they are languishing in the Senate in the face of Republican opposition and the chamber’s 60-vote threshold for passing most legislation.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
As President Biden signaled this week that he would let a May 1 deadline pass without withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, some officials are using an intelligence assessment to argue for prolonging the military mission there.
American intelligence agencies have told the Biden administration that if U.S. troops leave before a power-sharing settlement is reached between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the country could fall largely under the control of the Taliban within two or three years after the withdrawal of international forces. That could potentially open the door for Al Qaeda to rebuild its strength within the country, according to American officials.
The classified assessment, first prepared last year for the Trump administration but not previously disclosed, is the latest in a series of grim predictions about Afghanistan’s future that intelligence analysts have delivered throughout the two-decade-long war.
But the intelligence has landed in a changed political environment. While President Donald J. Trump pushed for a withdrawal of all forces even before the terms of the peace deal required it, Mr. Biden has been more cautious. He said Thursday that he did not view May 1 as a strict deadline, although he said he “could not picture” troops being in the country next year.
The decision looms as one of the most critical of Mr. Biden’s young presidency. When he was vice president, he argued for a minimal presence in Afghanistan, but he is said to have privately described as haunting the possibility of allowing the country to descend into chaos.
Some senior Biden administration officials have expressed skepticism of any intelligence prediction that Al Qaeda or the Islamic State will resurge in Afghanistan. Taliban commanders remain opposed to the Islamic State, and Al Qaeda, which has little current presence in the country, could regroup instead in any number of lawless regions around the world.
Also left unanswered by the intelligence warning is the question of whether Afghanistan could really prosper if American troops remained indefinitely. Their presence would most likely prevent a collapse of the Afghan security forces and allow the government in Kabul, the capital, to retain control of major cities. But the Taliban would still be likely to gradually expand their power in other parts of the country, including curbing the rights of women.
The White House will continue to hold meetings on Afghanistan. On Thursday, Mr. Biden said he was waiting for briefings from Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for advice.
Credit…Altaf Qadri/Associated Press
President Biden on Friday invited 40 world leaders, including Presidents Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China, to participate in a climate summit next month.
The summit will begin on Earth Day, April 22. Like all of Mr. Biden’s international meetings so far, it will be held virtually, and a White House announcement said it would be “live streamed for public viewing.”
That format may ensure a fair bit of public posturing by the leaders on how climate is an issue on which they can all work together — and it eliminates the potential problem of “pull aside” meetings on other topics with American adversaries. Over the past 10 days, Mr. Biden has called Mr. Putin a “killer” and said that Mr. Xi did not have a democratic “bone in his body.” But he has promised to cooperate with them on common challenges.
The summit is part of an effort to get the United States and its partners back on track after Mr. Biden re-entered the Paris agreement, the global pact intended to avert catastrophic global warming. It is his chance to galvanize efforts to reduce emissions, set standards for limiting the warming of the atmosphere, and make good on his promise that efforts to stem climate change can also create jobs.
Among the invitees are the leaders of all the United States’ major European and Asian allies, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and the leaders of some tiny nations such as Bhutan and the Marshall Islands.
Mr. Biden invited King Salman of Saudi Arabia but not the de facto leader of the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The United States said in an intelligence report last month that Prince Mohammed had approved the operation that led to the killing of the journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, which had prompted an international outcry.
Credit…Pool photo by Greg Nash
Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, as the House sergeant-at-arms on Friday, a move that will place the security of both chambers of Congress in the hands of accomplished military leaders after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
General Walker will become the first Black person to lead security in the House in its 232-year history.
“General William Walker has proven to be a leader of great integrity and experience who will bring his steady and patriotic leadership to this vital role,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement. “His historic appointment as the first Black American to serve as sergeant-at-arms is an important step forward for this institution and our nation.”
Ms. Pelosi added that General Walker’s experience would “be an important asset to the House, particularly in light of the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
General Walker, who served for 30 years as a National Guardsman and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, most recently led both the Army and Air Force components of the District of Columbia National Guard. In that role, he ensured that troops were ready to respond to national emergencies, including deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
As guard commander, he oversaw the 113th Wing, which secures the skies over the nation’s capital, and the C-40 Clipper, which provides air transportation for members of Congress and other dignitaries.
After a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, he spoke out against what he called “unusual” restrictions placed on the National Guard beforehand, saying the military’s fears of a repeat of aggressive tactics used during racial justice protests last year had slowed decision-making and squandered time as the violence escalated.
In testimony this month before a Senate committee, General Walker said he had not received approval to mobilize troops to respond to the riot until more than three hours after he requested it.
General Walker added that he could have dispatched 150 troops to the Capitol complex hours earlier. The violent rampage, which unfolded over nearly five hours, caused injuries to nearly 140 police officers and led to at least five deaths.
In the Senate, another former military leader, the retired Army Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson, took office as sergeant-at-arms this week.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
The calculus around vaccine production is about to change, with significant and unpredictable political and policy implications.
Vaccine manufacturers have been steadily increasing their output, and states have snapped up new doses as quickly as the government could deliver them. But officials expect the supply of vaccines to outstrip U.S. demand by mid-May, if not sooner, and are grappling with what to do with looming surpluses when scarcity turns to glut.
President Biden has promised enough doses by the end of May to immunize all of the nation’s adults. But between then and the end of July, the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers for doses to cover another 100 million people — totaling tens of millions more than the nation’s entire population.
Whether to keep, modify or redirect those orders is a question with significant implications, not just for the nation’s efforts to contain the virus, but also for how soon the pandemic can be brought to an end. Of the vaccine doses given globally, about three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have not yet injected a single person.
And global scarcity threatens to grow more acute as nations and regions clamp down on vaccine exports. With infections soaring, India’s government is holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million daily doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That action follows the European Union’s decision this week to move emergency legislation that would curb vaccine exports for the next six weeks.
Biden administration officials who are inclined to hold on to the coming U.S. surplus point to unmet need and rising uncertainty: Children and adolescents are still unvaccinated, and no one is certain whether or when immunity could wear off, which could require scores of millions of booster shots.
Vaccine manufacturers and some top federal officials say decisions about what to do with extra vaccine orders must be made within weeks, or the uncertainty could slow production lines.
The manufacturing process can take up to 10 weeks, so changes for a foreign market need time. The regulatory rules that govern vaccine shipments present another hurdle, as does the limited storage life of the drug substances that make the vaccine.
Senior officials say the administration is leaning toward keeping the doses it has ordered, and at some point directing the excess to other nations in one-off deals or giving it to Covax, an international nonprofit backed by the World Health Organization that is trying to coordinate equitable vaccine distribution. The Biden administration has already donated $4 billion to that international effort.
Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times
If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.
Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received Covid-19 vaccinations.
Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “Covid-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the Covid-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”
Bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chat rooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.
These groups tend to portray vaccines as a symbol of excessive government control. “If less people get vaccinated, then the system will have to use more aggressive force on the rest of us to make us get the shot,” read a recent post on the Telegram social media platform, in a channel linked to members of the Proud Boys charged in storming the Capitol.
The marked focus on vaccines is particularly striking on discussion channels populated by followers of QAnon, who had falsely prophesied that Donald J. Trump would continue as president while his political opponents were marched off to jail.
“They rode the shift in the national conversation away from Trump to what was happening with the massive ramp up in vaccines,” said Devin Burghart, the head of the Seattle-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors far-right movements. “It allowed them to pivot away from the failure of their previous prophecy to focus on something else.”
Apocalyptic warnings about the vaccine feed into the far-right narrative that the government cannot be trusted, the sentiment also at the root of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The more vaccine opponents succeed in preventing or at least delaying herd immunity, experts noted, the longer it will take for life to return to normal and that will further undermine faith in the government and its institutions.
Last spring, a common purpose among far-right activists and the anti-vaccination movement first emerged during armed protests in numerous state capitols against coronavirus lockdown measures. That cross-pollination expanded over time.
On Jan. 6, while rioters advanced on the Capitol, numerous leading figures in the anti-vaccination movement were onstage nearby, holding their own rally to attack both the election results and Covid-19 vaccinations.
Fox News and its powerful owner, Rupert Murdoch, are facing a second major defamation suit over its coverage of the 2020 presidential election, a new front in the growing legal battle over media disinformation and its consequences.
Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that was at the center of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy about rigged voting machines, filed a lawsuit on Friday that accused Fox News of advancing lies that devastated its reputation and business.
Dominion, which has requested a jury trial, is seeking at least $1.6 billion in damages. The lawsuit comes less than two months after Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named several Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion’s legal team, led by the prominent defamation firm Clare Locke, portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that Dominion had altered vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the election.
Those claims were false, but they were relentlessly pushed by President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, in public forums, including appearances on Fox programs. In January, Dominion sued Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation.
The company also sued Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a Trump ally who was also a frequent guest on Fox programs, as well as shows on other conservative media outlets. Each of those suits seeks damages of more than $1 billion.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers wrote in Friday’s complaint against Fox. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
In a statement on Friday, Fox said that its 2020 election coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism” and pledged to “vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court.”
Fox Corporation previously filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of covering a fast-breaking story of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox’s legal team wrote in the motion.
Dominion, which was founded in 2002, is one of the largest manufacturers of voting machine equipment in the United States, and its machines were used by election authorities in at least 28 states last year, including several states carried by Mr. Trump.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
As tensions between the United States and China escalate, a little-known federal agency is at the center of a debate in the Biden administration about how tough an approach to take when it comes to protecting American technology.
The Bureau of Industry and Security, a division of the Commerce Department, wields significant power given its role in determining the types of technology that companies can export and that foreign businesses can have access to.
In recent months, Washington lawmakers, lobbyists and other interested parties have been vying to influence how the agency, under the Biden administration, will approach a technology relationship with China that is crucial for both American industry and national security.
China hawks, including national security experts, Republican lawmakers and progressive Democrats, say that American industry has held too much sway over the bureau. They have pressed the administration to select a leader for the agency who will more aggressively regulate the technology that the United States exports, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Their opponents — including some current and former Commerce Department employees, and many in industry and Washington think tanks — caution that putting a hard-liner at the helm could backfire and harm national security by starving American industry of revenue it needs to stay on the cutting edge of research.
“It’s a very complicated relationship between the economic and national security interest,” said Lindsay Gorman, a fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund. “The fine line the Commerce Department has to walk is protecting against national security risks that may not be top of mind for the industry in the short run, without killing the golden goose.”
The Biden administration is still carrying out a review of its China policies and has not indicated how it plans to use the bureau’s powers. Its engagement with China got off to an acrimonious start last week at a meeting in Anchorage, and President Biden, in his first news conference on Thursday, emphasized investing heavily in new technologies to compete with Beijing.
“The future lies in who can, in fact, own the future as it relates to technology, quantum computing, a whole range of things, including in medical fields,” Mr. Biden said.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
Gavin Schmidt, a leading climate scientist, was recently named to a newly created position as senior climate adviser to NASA. Now he faces the challenge of bringing NASA’s climate science to the public and helping figure out how to apply it to saving the planet.
Dr. Schmidt, who had headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 2014, will be working with an administration that is making climate policy one of its priorities. The Biden team is adding positions throughout the government for policymakers and experts like Dr. Schmidt who understand the threats facing the planet.
“Climate change is not only an environmental issue that belongs to the E.P.A., it’s not only a science issue that belongs to NASA and NOAA,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “Climate change is an everything issue,” she said, and “it needs to be considered by every single federal agency.”
Dr. Schmidt has written some 150 scientific papers, and has an active and sometimes acerbic social media presence. At the Goddard Institute, he led development of one of the most authoritative models of Earth’s climate system.
“Climate change changes what you need to worry about,” he said, and the space agency can help the nation, and the world, figure out what we all need to know. That includes things like “How do we accelerate the information that you need to build better defenses against coastal flooding?” and “What do we really understand about intensifying precipitation?”
In announcing Dr. Schmidt’s appointment, the acting NASA administrator, Steve Jurczyk, said, “This position will provide NASA leadership critical insights and recommendations for the agency’s full spectrum of science, technology and infrastructure programs related to climate,” though the position will have no separate budget or staff.
The space agency, which launches the satellites that monitor the conditions of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, snow, ice and more, is one of the wellsprings of hard science that inform us all about climate change. But its leaders have sometimes had a difficult time talking about it.
“Not every administration was interested in calling it ‘climate change,’ the Trump administration most notably,” said Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator who is now chief executive of Earthrise, a nonprofit that promotes using satellite data to address global warming.
Ms. Garver said she was “thrilled” by Dr. Schmidt’s appointment, calling it a message that “this will be a top priority for NASA.”
Credit…Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
If there was ever any doubt of Mike Pompeo’s political ambitions, the former secretary of state put them to rest on Friday by becoming the first big-name Republican to meet with voters in Iowa this year and lay the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign.
Speaking near Des Moines in Urbandale, Iowa, Mr. Pompeo largely cast his remarks to the Westside Conservative Club as an effort to win a Republican majority in Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. But his breakfast speech was tinged with references to the presidential campaign in 2024 — a race that Mr. Pompeo has never denied eyeing.
“These elections in 2022 will have a real impact on how 2024 ultimately goes as well, and it’s why I’m out here today,” Mr. Pompeo told the small crowd, according to Fox News. “It’s why I’m going to continue to go out and campaign.”
“If we get 2022 right, 2024 will solve itself,” Mr. Pompeo said.
The former top diplomat — who also served as C.I.A. director to former President Donald J. Trump before becoming secretary of state in 2018 — is also scheduled to speak to Republicans in New Hampshire on Monday on a video call to a fund-raiser for a state House candidate.
Iowa and New Hampshire have been the first two states to cast votes in presidential campaigns in recent election cycles. Mr. Pompeo said he is also helping Republicans in Texas, Nebraska and Alabama.
While at the State Department, Mr. Pompeo made little secret of his political aspirations.
He was the first sitting secretary of state in modern history to address a party’s national convention, a platform he used to introduce himself to a domestic audience while on a taxpayer-funded diplomatic visit to Jerusalem last August. He also hosted about two dozen dinners at the department, over a two-year period, for foreign policy discussions with American business leaders and political conservatives whose support would be crucial in future campaigns.
In the two months since leaving office, Mr. Pompeo has repeatedly criticized the Biden administration’s policies on a range of topics, including China, immigration and aid to Palestinians. (He has, however, steered clear of directly criticizing his successor, Antony J. Blinken, the current secretary of state.) Mr. Pompeo has also taken aim at social issues, like transgender athletes and the so-called cancel culture movement, to firmly establish his conservative bona fides.
He has adopted Mr. Trump’s mantra of “America First” and on Friday told the breakfast crowd in Iowa that “America will be the country that comes out in a way that delivers good outcomes for our people and for people all across the world — and it’ll be because of all the good work that we all do.”
Curiously, in a Fox News interview earlier this week, Mr. Trump did not mention his former secretary of state while enumerating the Republicans he thinks are the future of the party.
Asked by @LisaMarieBoothe which Republicans represent future of the party, Trump names Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Sarah Sanders and Kristi Noem.
— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) March 22, 2021
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Congress is set to leave town for a two-week recess as one of the most tumultuous stints in Washington in recent memory comes to a close.
After lawmakers faced a deadly attack by a mob of Trump supporters at the Capitol, they spent the following weeks impeaching and acquitting a president, confirming a slew of cabinet members and passing a sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, one of the largest injections of federal aid since the Great Depression.
On the Senate floor on Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, listed the policy areas he intended the chamber to focus on when lawmakers returned in April, including voting rights, infrastructure and gun safety. He also said the Senate would consider legislation to “reform our broken immigration system.”
“When the Senate returns to session, our agenda will be no less ambitious than it was over the past few months,” Mr. Schumer said.
At his first formal news conference on Thursday, President Biden said he would do “everything in my power” to pass the voting rights legislation that Democrats were trying to advance through the Senate and called Republican efforts to limit voting in some states “sick” and “un-American.” The news conference came hours before Georgia passed a major law to limit voting access.
But despite his sharp words on voting rights, Mr. Biden said his administration’s “next major initiative” would be infrastructure, an issue that lawmakers from both parties agree should be addressed — though they disagree on details like how to pay for it and what constitutes “infrastructure.” The president pointed to the issue as his priority when asked about the prospects for gun safety legislation in Congress, in the wake of mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia that left 18 people dead.
Much of the news conference focused on immigration, as a surge of migrants have arrived at the border, creating a pressing challenge for the new administration. Mr. Biden said his administration was working to have Mexico take back more migrant families and vowed to accelerate efforts to move children out of crowded facilities at the border.
But the prospects for major immigration legislation remain dim. The House voted last week to create a path to citizenship for about four million undocumented immigrants. As with so much of the president’s agenda, the roadblock is in the Senate, where each party holds 50 seats.
Mr. Biden said at his news conference that he was more open to the Senate changing its rule that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and approve most legislation. Such a change would allow Democrats to pass laws without Republican support.
With Congress on an extended recess, Mr. Biden’s plans include continuing to promote his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.
Hoping to capitalize on a Democratic push on voting rights, activists who support making the District of Columbia a state say they want a stand-alone statehood measure added to a sweeping national election overhaul that the Senate is beginning to consider.
Some backers of statehood say that the comprehensive legislation is the most expedient route and that the current Democratic effort to protect minority voting rights would fall short if residents of the nation’s capital still lacked representation.
“We believe that including D.C. statehood in S-1 offers the most viable path to enfranchising the 700,000 mostly Black and brown citizens of D.C.,” said Stasha M. Rhodes, a campaign director for the pro-statehood coalition 51 for 51, referring to the bill number of the Senate proposal. “We think it is our responsibility to ensure that D.C. statehood is not left out of the conversation.”
The call to include statehood in the broader legislation is a strategic shift for the activists. They had coalesced behind an independent measure that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state and entitle residents who pay federal taxes to voting representation in the House and Senate. The change in tactics is not endorsed by Senate backers of the legislation, who still see a separate statehood bill as the best approach for both statehood and the voting rights measure.
But activists said they feared that the amount of political capital needed to pass the so-called For the People measure over deep Republican resistance would leave little remaining to push the statehood bill. They want to make sure Congress acts while President Biden, a statehood supporter, is in the White House and Democrats hold majorities in both chambers.
It creates a delicate situation for Senate Democrats, more than 40 of whom are sponsoring the statehood measure. They support making the District of Columbia a state, which would create a House seat and two Senate seats. But they see the voting rights bill as an extremely heavy lift and worry that trying to add statehood at this stage would be a significant complication for a measure they say is urgently needed before elections next year.
Credit…Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
At the end of a winding answer about competing with China and about his relationship with Xi Jinping, a man he said did not have a democratic “bone in his body,” President Biden offered a revealing assessment of one of America’s most pressing challenges.
“This is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” he said on Thursday at his first news conference as president. “We’ve got to prove democracy works.”
Mr. Biden said that Mr. Xi, China’s president, was “a smart, smart guy” who shared with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia the belief that “autocracy is the wave of the future and democracy can’t function” with the complexities of the modern world.
Among the biggest tasks of his presidency, Mr. Biden seemed to be arguing, is to prove to a skeptical world that both American democracy and its model of democratic capitalism still work — and that it is superior to the system Mr. Xi is ruthlessly enforcing as he tries to extend China’s influence.
For a president barely 10 weeks into office, casting the United States as engaged in a global struggle with the Chinese model has clear political benefits. One of the few issues that unites Democrats and Republicans is the need to compete head-on with Beijing.
Mr. Biden’s aides say his view of the challenge is not solely one of foreign policy. He plans to use the fear of Beijing’s ambitions as he introduces his infrastructure initiative next week.
There will be hundreds of billions of dollars for technologies and projects that the Chinese are also pouring cash into, including semiconductors, artificial intelligence and 5G networks, as well as big breakthroughs in electric cars and synthetic biotechnology.
At the core of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure and supply-chain initiatives is an effort — parts of which began in the Trump years — to ensure the West is not dependent on Chinese technology. It is a battle that blossomed over Huawei, the Chinese maker of next-generation communications networks, but has now spread to fears that Chinese apps like TikTok could be a pathway for attacks on American infrastructure.
“China is out-investing us by a long shot,” Mr. Biden said, “because their plan is to own that future.”
Credit…David Guralnick/Detroit News, via Associated Press
The chairman of Michigan’s Republican Party drew swift criticism on Friday after a video surfaced that showed him calling top Democratic officials in his state “witches” and referring to assassination while discussing two Republican congressmen who had voted to impeach former President Donald J. Trump.
The video was taken at a local Republican meeting in Clarkston, Mich., on Thursday. In it, the chairman, Ron Weiser, said his party needed to vote out three top Democratic officials, whom he called “three witches”: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
“Our job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure we have good candidates to run against them, that they are ready for the burning at the stake,” Mr. Weiser said. All three are up for re-election in 2022.
While discussing intraparty politics, Mr. Weiser joked about assassination in response to a question about supporting potential candidates running against Representatives Fred Upton and Peter Meijer, Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection.
Democrats denounced Mr. Weiser’s comments as dangerous, noting the plot to kidnap Ms. Whitmer that was disclosed last year by law enforcement officials.
“Given the dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials during the Trump administration, this type of rhetoric is destructive and downright dangerous,” Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for Ms. Whitmer, said in a statement.
A Michigan Republican Party spokesman said on Friday that Mr. Weiser’s comments about assassination were being misconstrued.
“Chairman Weiser and our executive director, Jason Roe, both made very clear that it is up to the voters to determine the nominees of the Republican Party, and to suggest anything else is dishonest and irresponsible,” the spokesman, Ted Goodman, said.
He did not respond to questions about Mr. Weiser’s comments on Democratic officials.
The Detroit News reported on and published the video on Friday.