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News & Politics Thread (Part 5)

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    Pelosi announces plans for “9/11-type commission” to investigate Capitol attack

    by Clare Foran, Ryan Nobles and Annie Grayer, CNN
    Updated 4:32 PM ET, Mon February 15, 2021

    (CNN) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in a letter to House Democrats on Monday plans for the creation of a “9/11-type commission” to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

    “To protect our security, our security, our security, our next step will be to establish an outside, independent 9/11-type Commission to ‘investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021 domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex,'” Pelosi wrote.

    Pelosi has previously called for the formation of such a commission and said she believes there is a need for it.

    A commission of this nature would be established by a statute, passed by both chambers and signed into law by the President. The commission members would not be elected leaders and would be outside the government.

    In a separate letter to House Democrats earlier this month, Pelosi wrote that it is “clear that we will need to establish a 9/11-type Commission to examine and report upon the facts, causes and security relating to the terrorist mob attack on January 6.”

    The deadly attack prompted House Democrats to move swiftly to impeach former President Donald Trump in January. The Senate impeachment trial of the former President concluded over the weekend, and ended in Trump’s acquittal on a single charge of incitement of insurrection.

    Efforts to shore up security at the Capitol and shed light on what led to its breach by a violent, pro-Trump mob on January 6 are still ongoing, however.

    In mid-January, Pelosi announced that retired Lt. General Russel Honoré will lead a review of the “security infrastructure” of Capitol Hill in the wake of the attack.

    “For the past few weeks, General Honoré has been assessing our security needs by reviewing what happened on January 6 and how we must ensure that it does not happen again,” Pelosi wrote in her letter on Monday.

    “He has been working with Committees of Jurisdiction and will continue to make proposals. It is clear from his findings and from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened,” she said.

    Earlier this month, Pelosi told reporters as she left a news conference that a 9/11-style commission to investigate the insurrection would look “different” than the one formed following the September 11, 2001, terror attack — and would have a greater emphasis on diversity.

    “Different from 9/11. What were there, nine people? All white, one woman. It will look different,” she said at the time.

    Although Pelosi complimented the 9/11 commission, she said that now “it’s a different world.”

    Asked then about who she had in mind to serve on the commission, Pelosi confirmed that members would not be serving on it, saying, “It’s an outside commission.”

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    Perdue files paperwork to explore 2022 Senate run

    Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) filed paperwork with Federal Election Commission (FEC) indicating he is exploring a 2022 Senate run.

    Perdue, who lost his seat to Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) in the last election, filed FEC documents to designate a “principal campaign committee” for “Perdue for Senate,” signaling a possible run against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

    Warnock defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in the same set of runoffs that sent Ossoff to the Senate, but will be up for reelection in 2022 because he is filling the remainder of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) term.

    Aides to Perdue told Fox News and the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Perdue has not made a decision on whether to take on Warnock. But sources told both outlets that he was leaning toward launching a campaign.

    Perdue will make a decision on whether to run by March 1 and announce his campaign in April, an adviser told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

    Sources told the Atlanta newspaper that Loeffler and former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) are also considering running against Warnock, but both are reportedly awaiting Perdue’s decision on whether to jump in the race.

    Perdue and Loeffler lost their Senate seats last month after a contentious runoff race against Ossoff and Warnock, respectively, switching Georgia’s two senators from being both Republican to both Democrat.

    The wins came after President Biden narrowly won the state, as the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992, hinting at Georgia’s potentially purple or blue status.

    Perdue served one term in the Senate starting in 2015.

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    State lawmakers introduce legislation to make Nevada first primary state

    State lawmakers in Nevada introduced legislation that would move the state from a caucus to primary system for selecting presidential nominees and put it at the beginning of the primary calendar for the 2024 election.

    The legislation, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers Jason Frierson, Teresa Benitez-Thompson and Brittney Miller, would shift the state’s primary to the Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January, bumping Iowa and New Hampshire from the first and second spots, respectively.

    It’s unclear if the national parties, which set the primary schedule, would approve of the change.

    The bill also “requires a period for early voting for a presidential preference primary election that begins 10 calendar days before the election and extends through the Friday before the election.”

    Nevada State Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy lauded the effort as “a critical next step” in a statement Monday.

    “Last year, Democrats did incredible work to make our caucuses more accessible by including early voting and introducing multilingual trainings and materials, but the only way we can bring more voices into the process is by moving to a primary,” he said. “This legislation is yet another reason the Silver State deserves to be the first presidential nominating state in 2024. We are a majority-minority state with a strong union population and the power structure of the country is moving West.”

    Nevada currently uses a caucus system for its presidential nominating contests, but caucuses have become less popular.

    Critics say the system leads to fewer people getting to have a say in the contests due to the caucuses not being in a person’s normal voting place and only taking place over the span of a couple of hours.

    Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s positions at the front of the nominating calendar have also come under fire from those who say putting a more diverse state first would better represent the Democratic party.

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    Rush Limbaugh has died at 70 of lung cancer.

    https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/17/media/rush-limbaugh-obituary/index.html

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    Cruz travels to Cancun, Mexico, as Texans remain without power amid historic winter storm

    by Paul P. Murphy, Betsy Klein, Daniella Diaz and Manu Raju, CNN

    Updated: Thu, 18 Feb 2021 20:11:27 GMT

    Sen. Ted Cruz and his family flew to Cancun, Mexico, he confirmed in a statement to CNN, as a winter disaster in his home state left millions without power or water.

    Cruz, a Texas Republican, said in the statement he flew down for a night because his daughters “asked to take a trip with friends.”

    “With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” he said in the statement. “My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe.”

    Cruz tested negative for Covid-19 before returning, an aide told CNN.

    His statement comes hours after multiple Twitter users posted photos showing Cruz and his family at Houston’s airport and aboard a flight bound for Cancun, Mexico.

    The trip was immediately criticized, including by Texas state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat representing southwest Houston, who tweeted a photo of Cruz aboard a flight, saying Cruz was flying south “while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water.”

    Cruz’s office also requested that the Houston Police Department assist the senator during his departure from Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told CNN Thursday.

    The police request from Cruz’s office is not unusual as members of Congress have been advised by law enforcement to seek police assistance as they travel by air.

    Congress is not in session this week following the President’s Day holiday.

    Cruz, who was retweeting notices about electricity and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday, has been silent on social media Thursday.

    In a radio interview Monday, Cruz told people to “stay home” and not “risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids.”

    As an official elected to federal office, Cruz doesn’t have an on-the-ground role in the response to the storm, but natural disasters are often a time in which constituents often reach out to their elected officials for help and access to resources.

    The blame for the outages has largely been placed on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

    Abbott said Wednesday afternoon that he spoke with both the lieutenant governor and the state speaker and that an investigation of ERCOT is slated to begin next week.

    But in the meantime, millions of Texans were left without power or running water in the wake of the storm. Power is slowly being restored to homes.

    Since last Thursday, 16 Texans have died due to the extreme weather, according to a CNN tally.

    This story has been updated with additional developments.

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    Supreme Court allows release of Trump tax returns to NY prosecutor

    by Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter
    Updated 11:44 AM ET, Mon February 22, 2021

    (CNN) The Supreme Court cleared the way for a New York prosecutor to obtain former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, dealing a massive loss to Trump who has fiercely fought to shield his financial papers from prosecutors.

    The documents will be subject to grand jury secrecy rules that restrict their public release.

    The ruling is a bitter loss for Trump, even if the tax records are shielded from public disclosure, after he consistently argued that the subpoena issued by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was overbroad and issued in bad faith.

    It means that the grand jury investigation into alleged hush money payments and other issues will no longer be hampered by Trump’s fight to keep the documents secret.

    The ruling was issued without comment or noted dissent.

    Vance celebrated the order, saying in a tweet, “The work continues.”

    Trump’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Although Trump’s personal lawyers may continue to fight their appeal in the case, the fact that the documents will be released by Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, effectively ends the dispute.

    Mazars, in a statement, says it is “committed to fulfilling all of our professional and legal obligations.”

    The company adds: “Due to our industry’s professional obligations Mazars cannot discuss any clients, or the nature of our services we provide for any client, in a public forum without client consent or as required by law.”

    Last July, the Supreme Court, voting 7-2, rejected the Trump’s broad claims of immunity from a state criminal subpoena seeking his tax returns and said that as president he was not entitled to any kind of heightened standard unavailable to ordinary citizens. The justices sent the case back to the lower court so that the president could make more targeted objections regarding the scope of the subpoena.

    In October, a federal appeals court said “there is nothing to suggest that these are anything but run-of-the-mill documents typically relevant to a grand jury investigation into possible financial or corporate misconduct.”

    Trump’s personal lawyers then took the case back to the Supreme Court, urging the justices to put the lower court ruling on hold while the justices considered whether to take up the appeal.

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    Oscar-nominated actor Gerard Depardieu charged with rape committed in 2018

    https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/french-actor-gerard-depardieu-charged-with-rape-claims-report-b1806326.html

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    Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine effective, safe: FDA analysis

    Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine is effective at preventing moderate and severe cases of COVID-19, according to an analysis of the trial data published by the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.

    The company’s single dose vaccine is 66 percent effective, well within the agency’s standards. The vaccine is also safe to use, according to the analysis.

    More specifically, the vaccine is more than 85 percent effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and completely prevents hospitalizations and deaths.

    Overall, there were seven deaths in the trial, all in the placebo group.

    The company initially announced the 66 percent effectiveness in a press release last month but had not yet released trial results.

    The information was published ahead of an FDA advisory committee meeting Friday, which will debate whether to grant the vaccine emergency authorization. The promising data gives hope that a third coronavirus vaccine could be authorized as soon as this weekend.

    While the other coronavirus vaccines already on the market may appear to be more effective than Johnson & Johnson’s, experts say it is difficult to compare them head-to-head.

    The vaccine was tested in a 44,000-person clinical trial across the U.S., Brazil and South Africa geographic regions, all of which have seen mutated versions of the virus.

    There was a lower efficacy against moderate to severe/critical disease endpoints observed in South Africa compared to the United States and Brazil, but vaccine efficacy against severe or critical COVID-19 infections was “similarly high in all 3 countries,” the review found.

    Still, the varying efficacy is a warning sign about mutations, especially from the variant found in South Africa. The effectiveness against moderate to severe illness dropped from 72 percent in the United States to 57 percent in South Africa, where a new coronavirus variant is prevalent.

    The vaccine was less effective in a subgroup of adults older than 60 with underlying conditions, but regulators noted there were no deaths or cases requiring medical intervention a month after those older adults received vaccines.

    The most frequently reported local adverse reaction was injection site pain, which was reported more by younger participants aged 18 to 59 than people older than 60.

    If granted authorization, the U.S. won’t see a significant increase in available vaccine supply. Johnson & Johnson has said it will have about 4 million doses ready to ship immediately upon emergency authorization. A company executive told Congress that it expects to provide 20 million doses by the end of March and 100 million by summer.

    However, the shot could ease the complicated logistics of the U.S. vaccine rollout. Unlike the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson’s shot can be stored in a normal refrigerator for several months, rather than at ultra-cold temperatures.

    And as a single shot, there won’t be a concern about scheduling or having enough supplies for a second dose.

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    Biden’s chief of staff at center of controversy over White House budget pick, Neera Tanden

    Jeff Stein, Seung Min Kim THE WASHINGTON POST

    White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain is at the center of the controversy over President Biden’s choice to lead the budget office, a pick now likely to deal the administration its first significant political defeat.

    Klain is an ally of Neera Tanden’s and a key advocate who recommended her to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to four senior Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of private conversations. As Tanden’s strongest supporter in Biden’s inner circle, Klain has been adamant that the administration should continue to push for Tanden’s nomination despite the long odds, the officials said.

    The rocky rollout of Tanden’s nomination is partly the result of the White House misjudging how harshly Republicans and at least one Democrat would judge her record, as well as some problems in failing to consult lawmakers ahead of the nomination. Tanden’s challenges in being confirmed also underscore the risks for the president’s chief of staff, who must maintain Biden’s confidence across a range of personnel and policy decisions.

    Tanden is broadly popular among senior White House officials, who cite her life experience and long record in key policymaking positions, and has been repeatedly strongly backed by the president himself. The vast majority of congressional Democrats have also supported Tanden. Klain declined to comment.

    “This was Ron, Ron, Ron, Ron,” one of the senior Democratic officials said. “Ron is doing a great job, but this was not his best moment.”

    Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week.

    Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) announced he will vote against Tanden, imperiling her nomination in a narrowly divided Senate and putting the White House in the awkward position of scrambling to find Republican votes to secure her confirmation. One key GOP senator — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — said Wednesday that she has not made a decision, although she was critical of Tanden’s past rhetoric and skeptical of the White House’s efforts to persuade her. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), whom administration officials named as a potential supporter, said Thursday that he would oppose Tanden.

    If Tanden’s nomination is withdrawn, Klain’s handling of it may face scrutiny. Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.) was not given a heads-up about Tanden’s nomination, although Sanders and Tanden have often been at odds. Critics also contend that Klain and other White House officials should have known Tanden faced a difficult path to Senate approval, based on her reputation among GOP lawmakers, and that they should have reached out to Republicans earlier.

    “The White House misjudged this,” said Brian Riedl, conservative scholar at the libertarian= leaning Manhattan Institute. “Had they done outreach to Republican senators, they would have known that Tanden has long been well-known in Republican circles.”

    Appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday night, Klain strongly defended Tanden as a “superb” pick to lead OMB and said “we’re fighting our guts out” to get her confirmed. If rejected by the Senate, Klain said, Tanden would be given an administration position not requiring Senate confirmation. The White House declined to comment or make Klain available for this story.

    “Let me be clear: We’re going to get Neera Tanden confirmed. That’s what we’re working for. And she will be prove her critics wrong as an outstanding budget director that works with people on both sides of the aisle,” Klain said on MSNBC Wednesday night. “That’s what I think her record truly shows.”

    Klain and Tanden have overlapped in Democratic circles for more than two decades. Klain served as a board member at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the Center for American Progress, the think tank led by Tanden.

    After serving as Biden’s chief of staff during the Obama administration, Klain was brought in as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Tanden is a long-standing Clinton confidante. And Klain’s relationship with the Clintons dates to Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House, as well as serving as chief of staff to former vice president Al Gore.

    When Klain was appointed to coordinate the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak during the Obama administration, Tanden issued an effusive statement in 2014, praising him.

    White House officials said that Tanden is well-liked across the administration and that the president is sticking by the nomination — something acknowledged even by those skeptical of the pick.

    Biden has said that Tanden is “smart as hell” and called her a “brilliant policy mind with critical, practical experience across government.” The president has repeatedly vowed to find the votes to secure her approval through the Senate. Biden did not come up with the idea to nominate Tanden but closely reviewed her nomination before deciding to support her, the Democratic officials said.

    Other senior administration officials — including Vice President Harris; White House counselor Steve Ricchetti; and Reema Dodin, deputy legislative director — are also among those viewed as loyal to Tanden and supportive of her continuing to fight for her nomination, according to two people granted anonymity to share details of internal dynamics.

    One senior official involved in the selection of Biden’s Cabinet, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details from internal conversations, said Tanden was a “no-brainer for a high-level policy role” in a Democratic administration and enjoyed substantial support among Biden’s team.

    In addition to recommending Tanden, Klain also strongly recommended Merrick Garland, Biden’s pick for attorney general; Deb Haaland, his pick for interior secretary; Jennifer Granholm, the nominee for energy secretary; and Cecilia Rouse, his choice to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers, according to one person granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations led by the president. Those nominees are all expected to have a smoother path to confirmation, with Manchin announcing Wednesday that he will vote for Haaland.

    Still, Tanden’s selection has fueled Republican complaints about the direction of the administration, particularly because of her insults of GOP lawmakers on Twitter. She called Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) “the worst” and referred to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as “Voldemort,” among other epithets. Tanden deleted many of these tweets before her confirmations hearings and apologized for them repeatedly during her hearings.

    “This administration has a lot of experienced people in it, and I was surprised that red flags did not go off, or that they weren’t raised when Neera Tanden was first discussed,” Collins said Wednesday.

    To some, Tanden’s nomination represented a surprising misfire by Klain when it was announced along with other economic appointments on Nov. 29. At that point, Republicans appeared likely to maintain control of the Senate, and the Georgia runoff elections were more than a month away. Even some Biden transition officials knew it would be a challenge for Tanden to secure approval through the Senate, two of the senior Democratic officials said.

    Tanden surprised skeptics by working hard to assuage the concerns of lawmakers. “She really did reach out to everyone and apologize, and busted her tail, and said all the right things,” one senior Democratic official said. “What’s happened is deeply sad in a lot of ways because she’s thrown herself into the work. She took time to really dig in and learn about Republican priorities and the work of OMB. Recognizing the challenge, I think she has done almost twice as much as other nominees.”

    Tanden has engaged with at least 44 senators, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Her allies also believed that Manchin was going to be supportive before the West Virginia senator announced his opposition to her nomination, two senior Democratic officials said.

    Biden allies also thought President Donald Trump’s Cabinet selections might make it easier for Tanden to be approved, several senior Democratic officials said. Democrats had assumed Tanden’s path to the OMB job would be easier given that conservative firebrands Russ Vought and Mick Mulvaney had both led the budget office under Trump. They have also pointed to Tanden’s experience, both at high levels of government and while leading the Center for American Progress, a multimillion-dollar think tank central to Democratic policymaking.

    While Tanden has faced criticism for her partisan streak, Mulvaney once called himself a “right-wing nutjob” and also launched personal attacks on lawmakers including Trump, his eventual boss, whom he called a “terrible human being” in 2016, according to the Daily Beast. Mulvaney was confirmed by the Republican Senate in 2017. Trump’s personal insults of GOP and Democratic lawmakers were also prodigious.

    “Republicans are guilty of astounding hypocrisy, astounding hypocrisy,” former governor Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) said. “For them to complain about calling somebody names on Twitter — after they stood by and supported the president — is just pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.”

    But problems from Tanden’s past have continued to interfere with her nomination, even among Democrats. In addition to Manchin, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sanders (I-Vt.) have not yet said how they would vote for Tanden.

    Sanders staffers and Klain had a close relationship in the aftermath of the Democratic presidential primary, working together on the Democratic platform. Some said they felt blindsided not to have been told about the selection of a Sanders adversary to a major Cabinet post, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private matter.

    Asked about the matter on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news conference that Sanders is frequently consulted on other matters and works closely with the president. She added that during the transition “there often was consultation with a limited number of members, but it typically was not very broad.”

    As of Wednesday, White House officials were still expressing optimism that a GOP senator could be convinced to salvage Tanden’s nomination. Whether they succeed will be an early test for Klain, who has emerged as one of the more crucial figures in shaping the direction of the Biden administration.

    Along with White House Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, Klain helped spearhead Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan and resisted pressure from Republican lawmakers — as well as some moderate Democrats — who argued that its price tag was too high.

    That stimulus package is not expected to garner any GOP votes. After a meeting in the Oval Office earlier this month between Biden and 10 Senate Republicans, Collins and other Republican aides complained that Klain shook his head in silent disagreement, while they talked. A senior administration official later said Klain disagreed when he thought Republicans had their facts wrong or considered their suggestions hypocritical.

    So far at least, Klain has helped hold together the Democratic coalition during the contentious stimulus negotiations, earning plaudits from a broad range within the party. White House officials have also touted broad support for most of Biden’s nominees to this point, with 10 Cabinet picks confirmed so far, despite a delay because of Trump’s rejection of the election results. Other nominees are expected to be confirmed imminently.

    “Klain seems like he’s really listening to the grass roots. It’s a change obviously from Trump but even from the Obama era when it was mostly a one-way street of the White House telling people what to do,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, a left-leaning advocacy group.

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    Biden to nominate 3 to USPS Board of Governors

    (CNN) President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced three nominees to fill most of the vacancies on the US Postal Service Board of Governors, fulfilling a promise that the administration would make the board and the agency a priority in the early days of his presidency.

    The nominees include Ron Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general who resigned under the previous administration; Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of American Postal Workers Union; and Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute.

    The nominations come amid public outcry over delayed mail and increased pressure on Biden from Democratic lawmakers and postal service unions to take action to improve the USPS.

    On Tuesday, the American Postal Workers Union called on Biden to swiftly fill the board’s four vacancies. Some Democratic lawmakers have gone further, calling on Biden to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

    If confirmed, his nominees will answer calls to diversify the board and alleviate concerns of the unions, who have complained that the current Trump-appointed board had no one with previous postal service experience serving on it.

    “I encourage you to ensure your appointees are reflective of the 600,000 dedicated workers they will lead,” Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley wrote in a letter Biden last week. “We need a Board of Governors that includes women, people of color, and individuals who have direct experience working for the USPS and serving our communities.”

    The nominations come after a heated day on Capitol Hill, where DeJoy appeared in front of the House Oversight Committee to discuss improving the USPS. DeJoy sparred with Democratic lawmakers over woefully slow mail delivery rates, the 2020 election and his forthcoming 10-year plan to overhaul the Postal Service.

    Last week, scores of Democratic lawmakers sent two separate letters to DeJoy and Biden, filled with grievances about the postmaster general and urging the President to take action amid months of complaints over mail delivery delays.

    “It is your duty, first and foremost, to protect service and ensure timely mail delivery for every person in this nation,” 34 Democratic senators wrote in a letter to DeJoy, acknowledging that USPS “fulfilled its duties during the 2020 general election and executed extraordinary measures to prioritize timely delivery of election mail” but that concerns remain about delivery delays.

    That letter was sent after a group of 80 House Democrats sent a separate letter to Biden in which they urged him to fill vacancies on the board of governors so new members can “seriously consider” DeJoy’s future.

    The President does not have the power to remove the postmaster general.

    Only the Postal Service Board of Governors — which is comprised of members nominated by the President and confirmed in the Senate — has the power to do so, and DeJoy continues to have the support of the Trump-appointed board.

    On Wednesday, DeJoy made it clear he has no intention of leaving willingly. When asked how much longer he intended to stay, DeJoy responded: “A long time, get used to me.”

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    Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill

    Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Thursday that a plan to boost the minimum wage as part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill doesn’t comply with budget rules.

    The decision from the key Senate official is a significant blow to progressives, who viewed the plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour as one of their top priorities in the massive coronavirus relief plan.

    Because Democrats are trying to pass the coronavirus bill through reconciliation — a fast-track process that lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster — every provision has to comply with arcane budget rules.

    The ruling, confirmed by a Senate aide to The Hill, means House Democrats will either need to strip the language out of the bill before it passes Friday, or they’ll need to muster 60 votes for it in the Senate — support it doesn’t have.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, immediately declared victory.

    “Very pleased the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a minimum wage increase is an inappropriate policy change in reconciliation,” he said.

    This decision reinforces reconciliation cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change — by either party — on a simple majority vote.

    “This decision will, over time, reinforce the traditions of the Senate,” he added.

    A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about if the House will address the ruling before passing the bill or send it to the Senate without changes.

    The ruling caps off weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts by both sides to try to sway the parliamentarian in their favor.

    Staffers for both parties had a final meeting with the parliamentarian Wednesday morning to try to make their case for a final time.

    Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose staff helped make the case to try to include the wage hike, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision but pledged to keep fighting to try to pass it.

    “We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families. The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality,” he said.

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    US intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing
    BY LAURA KELLY AND REBECCA KHEEL – 02/26/21 01:19 PM EST

    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, according to a declassified report released by the Biden administration on Friday.

    The report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto leader, “approved an operation … to capture or kill” Khashoggi.

    “We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report said.

    “Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” it continued.

    The four-page report’s release was highly anticipated and is part of President Biden’s strategy to “recalibrate” the relationship with Saudi Arabia, where he has committed to emphasize democratic values and human rights in Washington’s dealings with Riyadh.

    “For too long, the United States failed to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of journalist, dissident, and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in statement Friday. “I’m encouraged to see the new administration taking steps to rectify that by releasing this long-overdue congressionally mandated report into his killing.”

    The report was released the day after Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. A White House statement on the call did not mention Khashoggi or the report, but said the president “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.”

    On Wednesday, Biden said he had read the report, without elaborating.

    Asked Friday whether Biden raised Khashoggi with the king, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to elaborate on the call, but stressed to reporters that officials “at every level” have publicly raised concerns about human rights abuses.

    Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad, including a bone saw-wielding forensic doctor, in October 2018 while he was at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for a marriage license. Turkish authorities have said he was strangled soon after entering the consulate and dismembered.

    The report’s release Friday was paired with an announcement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken of visa restrictions against 76 Saudi individuals believed to be engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to those connected to Khashoggi’s murder.

    “While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values,” Blinken said in a statement. “To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States.”

    Called the “Khashoggi ban,” the visa restrictions can be imposed on any individual believed to be directed by a foreign government to seriously harass and threaten people perceived as dissidents.

    The Treasury Department also announced sanctions on Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, who the department said was “assigned to murder” Khashoggi and was the “ringleader” of the operation.

    Treasury also slapped sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force, Crown Prince Mohammed’s elite personal protective detail whose members were part of the hit squad. But the sanctions notably did not target the crown prince himself.

    Administration officials have not detailed whether punitive measures would be taken against Crown Prince Mohammed.

    The Trump administration levied sanctions on 17 Saudi officials connected to the slaying, but resisted blaming the top levels of the Saudi government despite a reported CIA assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed was responsible.

    The release of the unclassified report was required under a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act included after members of Congress were briefed on the details of the classified intelligence. The bill required an unclassified report on who ordered and helped in Khashoggi’s killing.

    The Trump administration delivered Congress a classified version of the report last year, but it resisted releasing an unclassified version as required by law, arguing that doing so could compromise sources and methods.

    Former President Trump fostered close relations with Riyadh, which he saw as critical to his counter-Iran policy and as an economic boost for U.S. weapons companies. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized in 2018 that the U.S. did not have direct evidence linking the crown prince to the murder.

    The report on Friday listed the names of 21 individuals U.S. intelligence officials have “high confidence … participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in or responsible for” Khashoggi’s murder “on behalf of” Crown Prince Mohammed. Still, it says the United States can’t confirm if the individuals knew the operation would result in the journalist’s death.

    The report highlighted that members of the hit team included officials linked to the Saudi Center for Studies and Media Affairs, whose leader publicly said in 2018 he did not make decisions without the crown prince’s approval.

    The team also included seven members of Crown Prince Mohammed’s elite personal protective detail, who the U.S. officials “judge would not have participated in the operation against Khashoggi without Muhammad bin Salman’s approval,” the report said.

    Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who represents the Virginia district where Khashoggi resided, called for a “reevaluation” of the U.S. and Saudi relationship in the wake of the crown prince’s responsibility.

    “This report lays the blame for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, my constituent, directly at the feet of the Crown Prince. Saudi Arabia must be held accountable, and that demands a careful and complete re-evaluation of the US relationship with the Kingdom,” Connolly said in a statement. “It is a dark stain on the Trump administration that they were willing to keep this report from the American people in order to protect its relationships with the Crown Prince over and above basic American values and Jamal’s life itself.”

    Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a U.S. organization founded by Khashoggi shortly before his murder, said the report’s release helps confirm previously reported details.

    “At minimum, certainly this information is really just further confirmation of what we all know — and that is that Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal, our founder,” she said.

    Whitson said DAWN is likely to include the ODNI report in its own civil suit against the crown prince, which was filed with Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia and seeks monetary damages.

    Whitson added the report’s release serves as a warning against such brazen violent actions.

    “It is an important warning and we hope an important measure of deterrence against other despots who think they can go around the world killing people they don’t like in foreign countries,” she said.

    Biden has already taken actions shifting the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, in part over Khashoggi’s murder and supported by Congress. They include ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen, as well as relevant weapons sales to the kingdom.

    Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, urged the Biden administration to follow the report’s release with “serious repercussions against all of the responsible parties it has identified, and also reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

    “We must ensure that if foreign governments target journalists simply for doing their jobs, they are not immune to serious repercussions and sanctions, because restoring confidence in American leadership requires we act in accordance with the values that have long set America apart,” Schiff said. “The administration should take further steps to diminish the United States’s reliance on Riyadh and reinforce that our partnership with the Kingdom is not a blank check.”

    The State Department on Friday is reportedly expected to announce further restrictions on offensive weapons to the kingdom.

    Still, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stressed after the report’s release that Saudi Arabia “remains a strategic partner in the region.” He declined to comment on the ODNI report itself, describing it as outside the purview of the Defense Department.

    “We have to be courageous enough as friends to speak candidly and to make clear our concerns about the rule of law and about civil and human rights, even with friends and partners,” Kirby said. “From a military perspective, as I’ve said many times, we take seriously our security commitments to Saudi Arabia with respect to their ability to defend themselves, and they do need to defend themselves, particularly along that southern border.”

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    Senate passes Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan after all-night votes

    by Manu Raju, Clare Foran, Ted Barrett and Alex Rogers, CNN
    Updated 2:39 PM ET, Sat March 6, 2021

    (CNN) The Senate passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan on Saturday, after an all-night “vote-a-rama” and a 12-hour struggle to get one Democrat to support the party’s plan on a critical issue.

    The vote was 50 to 49 on a party-line vote. The House will vote Tuesday on the bill to approve changes made in the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced, and then it will go to Biden to be signed into law.

    Biden hailed the Senate passage in remarks from the White House Saturday afternoon, touting his plan’s widespread public support even if it didn’t earn any Republican votes.

    “By passing this plan, we’ll have proved that this government, this democracy, can still work. It has to be done. It will improve people’s lives,” Biden said.

    And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer defended the relief bill’s passage along party lines, saying it showed the Republicans that they could do it alone.

    But Democrats have faced fierce pressure to stay united to pass the administration’s top legislative priority before March 14, when jobless benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s unexpected opposition on Friday to a Democratic deal boosting unemployment benefits ground the Senate to a halt, prompting a furious lobbying effort between the two parties.

    Democrats kept a Senate roll call vote open for 11 hours and 50 minutes, the longest in recent history, as Manchin signaled he would accept the Republicans’ less generous proposal.

    The dispute was a sign of the centrist Democrat’s power in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats control the narrowest possible majority, and an example of how a single senator can derail the President’s agenda.

    After a long negotiation Friday evening, and with a flurry of other amendments to consider, Manchin finally agreed to extend $300 weekly unemployment benefits through September 6, about a month earlier than what Democrats had envisioned. The West Virginia Democrat also limited a provision to make the first $10,200 in benefits nontaxable apply only to households making less than $150,000.

    “We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with unexpected tax bills next year,” said Manchin in a statement.

    White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday evening that Biden “supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome.”

    The nearly $2 trillion package includes up to $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans, and billions of dollars for states and municipalities, schools, small businesses and vaccine distribution.

    It also extends a 15% increase in food stamp benefits from June to September, helps low-income households cover rent, makes federal premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies more generous and gives $8.5 billion for struggling rural hospitals and health care providers.

    The Senate passed the bill after a vote-a-rama, a Senate tradition that the minority party uses to put members of the majority on the record on controversial issues in an effort to make changes to a bill that they oppose.

    Senate Republicans introduced a number of amendments overnight that were narrowly defeated by the Democratic majority. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine pushed to replace Biden’s bill with a $650 billion version. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wanted to tie school funding to reopening requirements. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina advocated for greater transparency for state nursing home investigations following the scandal in New York. And Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah proposed cutting billions of dollars from the bill to states that had better-than-expected revenues despite the pandemic, noting that California actually ran a big surplus last year.

    But the vast majority of the GOP amendments failed, along with one by Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester to require Biden to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which the President blocked in January by executive order.

    Only a few amendments were adopted, including Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s compromise with Manchin on unemployment benefits, New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan’s measure incentivizing schools to reopen in-person learning and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s effort to strike a bipartisan deal protecting veterans’ educational benefits for legitimate institutions.

    The first, extraordinarily long amendment vote — on a measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 a hour, introduced by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — was an early test of Democratic party unity.

    Eight senators in the Democratic conference — Manchin, Tester, Hassan, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Angus King of Maine, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware — opposed the minimum wage amendment, along with every Republican senator.

    Democrats then rejected a Republican motion to adjourn late Friday, banking that Republicans will grow weary and won’t offer as many amendments.

    Early Saturday, the Senate adopted Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s plan to extend weekly jobless benefits at $300 through July 18. Manchin also voted for the GOP proposal, but the Democrats’ alternative plan, which was adopted early Saturday morning, will superseded the Portman amendment.

    The Senate’s effort to pass the $1.9 trillion legislation kicked into high gear Thursday when Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris voted to open debate. Republicans then forced the 628-page bill to be read aloud.

    Schumer, a New York Democrat, criticized Republican tactics to slow down the process and on Friday thanked the Senate floor staff for the nearly 11 hours of reading the bill, calling them “the unsung heroes of this place.”

    The Democratic-controlled House passed the legislation at the end of last month, along with an increase in the minimum wage to $15 a hour. But the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the wage hike could not be included in the Senate’s version of the bill under reconciliation. That change and others, including the alterations to jobless benefits, will force the House to vote again on the legislation, which is expected to happen next week.

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