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News & Politics Thread (Part 5)

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    Steve Bannon indicted by federal grand jury
    BY REBECCA BEITSCH 11/12/21 04:06 PM EST

    SB

    A federal grand jury has indicted Steve Bannon, the one-time White House adviser to former President Trump, after he failed to comply with a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

    Bannon now faces two charges of contempt of Congress, one for failing to appear for an Oct. 14 deposition before the panel and another for refusal to provide documents.

    “Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement announcing the indictment.

    “Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.”

    The indictment notes that Bannon refused to “comply in any way” with the subpoena, laying out numerous exchanges between Bannon’s attorney and the committee.

    The indictment indicates the Department of Justice is willing to seek criminal charges as the committee faces a mounting number of witnesses who are refusing to cooperate.

    If convicted, Bannon faces a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000. A federal district court judge will ultimately determine his sentence. An arraignment date has not yet been set.

    Neither Bannon nor his attorney immediately responded to request for comment.

    The House voted in late October to censure Bannon after he refused to meet with the committee, following directions from Trump who said he would challenge the committee’s moves as a violation of executive privilege.

    “We are here this afternoon to test a proposition as old as the country’s founding. Are we a nation of laws? We are here because one man has decided that we are now only a nation of men, and that rich and powerful men need not follow the law. And the question we must confront is nothing less than this: Is he right?” Rep Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said ahead of the vote.

    “Are some people now truly above the law, beholden to nothing and no one, free to ignore the law and without consequence?”

    Observers were unsure whether Garland would pursue charges given his efforts to restore the reputation of the Department of Justice and counter its politicization under the Trump administration.

    Taking such an action against a longtime Trump loyalist could counteract that mission, but the move could also bolster the committee as two other Trump associates have bucked its requests.

    Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows failed to appear before the committee for a deposition Friday, leading the committee to likewise threaten to “consider pursuing contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena.”

    Jeffrey Clark, a former mid-level DOJ attorney Trump once mulled installing as Attorney General to have him pursue his election fraud claims, also refused to cooperate with the committee last week.

    “Until such time as you reach an agreement with President Trump or receive a court ruling as to the extent, scope, and application of the executive privilege … Mr. Bannon will not be producing documents or testifying,” Bannon attorney Bob Costello wrote the committee the day before Bannon was scheduled to testify.

    The committee has largely rejected their executive privilege claims, arguing that only President Biden currently has such power to withhold documents from Congress, while Trump, as a former official, does not.

    But it was Bannon’s claims that he could not appear due to Trump’s executive privilege claims that prompted lawmakers to say it showed why his testimony would be so valuable.

    “Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however,’” committee Vice Chair Liz Chaney (R-Wyo) said as the panel was weighing whether to forward him to the full House for censure.

    “They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of Jan. 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that.”

    Bannon’s subpoena asked him to detail any involvement Trump had in planning the rally on Jan. 6, as well as any conversions he had with anyone else at the White House about the former president’s remarks at the rally.

    It also asks about activities at the Willard Hotel, where the Trump team established a “war room” to act on Trump’s faulty election fraud claims and where Bannon attended a meeting on Jan. 5.

    He was also set to be questioned about statements he made on his podcast ahead of the rally.

    “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen. … All I can say is strap in. … You made this happen and tomorrow it’s game day, so strap in,” Bannon told listeners.

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    Britney Spears’s conservatorship terminated after 13 years, finally giving freedom to pop star
    by Elizabeth Wagmeister
    Nov 12, 2021 2:12pm PT VARIETY

    FB

    Britney Spears’s conservatorship has been terminated after 13 years, a California court has determined.

    Friday’s hearing marked the most pivotal hearing for the star, who has been living under a court-ordered conservatorship that her father Jamie Spears placed her under in 2008. Around that time, the singer had endured a series of public pitfalls that were heavily covered by the tabloids.

    But, over the years, circumstances changed. The singer continued to work, touring and holding a Las Vegas residency, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars. And yet, she remained under conservatorship. As her worldwide fans began to wonder of her whereabouts and best interest, rumors spread online that Spears was being held against her will, and the #FreeBritney movement was born.

    It wasn’t until just months ago that things began to change for the star, who has seen more movement in her conservatorship case in the second half of 2021, than she has in more than a decade.

    After overseeing her conservatorship for 13 years, the singer’s father was removed this fall when Judge Penny immediately suspended him on September 29, saying, “The current situation is untenable.”

    It was at the September hearing that Judge Penny appointed John Zabel, an accountant, to assume temporarily control of the estate, and work alongside Spears’s conservator of her person, Jodi Montgomery, who manages the day-to-day wellbeing and medical decisions of the pop star.

    For the entirety of the conservatorship, the elder Spears had control over his famous daughter’s life overseeing all financial and business decisions in relation to her multi-million fortune.

    But this year, as the #FreeBritney movement ramped up and many documentaries about the conservatorship aired, public interest catapulted in Spears’s situation and her father’s conduct came into question with allegations of his questionable conduct being thrust into the spotlight.

    Then, in June, when the pop star testified publicly for the first time, everything changed. (Though, in 2019, she had given private testimony, which she said she felt was ignored by the court.)

    “I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” Spears told the judge on June 23. “I just want my life back.”

    During that blistering 24-minute testimony heard around the world, Spears called her conservatorship “abusive” and said she believes her father and other conservators should be in jail.

    The month after her impassioned testimony, Spears was finally granted the right to her own attorney. From the beginning in 2008, Spears had been represented by court-appointed attorney, Samuel Ingham III, who resigned from the case earlier this year. This summer, Spears chose to retain Rosengart, a Hollywood power player and former federal prosecutor, who made his first court appearance for the singer on July 14.

    With Rosengart representing her, the star began to have upward momentum in her long-running, contentious legal battle against her father winning legal victory after legal victory.

    As the tides began to shift in her favor, Spears’s father did a complete 180, after years of maintaining that his famous daughter needed to be held under a conservatorship. First, he abruptly agreed to step down from the conservatorship. Then, he contested the singer’s team’s effort to remove him. Shortly after, he suddenly asked the court to terminate the conservatorship altogether. After he was suspended, he changed his legal team.

    While Spears’s father had always stated that the pop star needed the conservatorship, over the past year, confidential court documents were exposed, revealing that Spears had been trying to get out of her conservatorship for years.

    More allegations were later revealed, with claims that Spears’s father and former management company, Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, were running an intense surveillance apparatus that tracked the singer’s communications, secretly capturing audio recordings from her bedroom, which included private conservations with her children. Spears also accused her conservators of preventing her from having another baby by not allowing her to remove her IUD birth control device.

    Spears father has denied allegations of wrongdoing.

    A conservatorship is when a person is appointed by a probate judge to assume legal responsibility over someone else. The court-ordered arrangement effectively removes all legal rights from the individuals. Conservatorships are intended to be a last resort for non-functioning individuals, typically elderly with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Most people under conservatorships are unable to work, and for that matter, unable to have the capacity to make any decision for their well-being.

    In comparison, Spears has not only been functioning highly enough to work over the past 13 years, but has worked long hours, as one of the most lucrative singers in the world, touring, accepting awards onstage, holding a residency in Las Vegas, and performing in numerous shows per week, serving as a judge on a reality competition series and acting in guest spots on television—all from which her conservators, including her father, have profited.

    Spears’s father had been her co-conservator since 2008. He became sole conservator in 2019 after attorney Andrew Wallet resigned from co-conservatorship. In September 2019, he temporarily relinquished his powers, and Montgomery joined the case to oversee her day-to-day well-being. In the midst of shifting roles in her conservatorship, this year, Spears’s longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, resigned after 25 years of working with the pop star since she was a teen, and wealth management firm, Bessemer Trust, pulled out as co-conservator of Spears’s estate.

    Spears told a judge earlier this summer that her conservators forced her to work against her own will, even though she pleaded to take a break from touring. Rosengart had questioned why a conservatee would be forced to work, especially when they don’t have to work. After all, she has a $60 million fortune—one that Rosengart says has been dissipated under her father’s mismanagement.

    Many moving parts still need to fall in place to end the conservatorship saga. For one thing, Rosengart’s firm has pledged to look into Spears’ father. That investigation is actively ongoing.

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    Biden taps former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu to spearhead infrastructure
    BY MORGAN CHALFANT 11/14/21 07:05 PM EST

    ML

    President Biden is tapping former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu to coordinate the implementation of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, the White House announced Sunday.

    “In this role, Landrieu will oversee the most significant and comprehensive investments in American infrastructure in generations—work that independent experts verify will create millions of high-paying, union jobs while boosting our economic competitiveness in the world, strengthening our supply chains, and acting against inflation for the long term,” the White House said in a news release.

    In Sunday’s announcement, the White House touted Landrieu’s work shepherding New Orleans through its recovery following Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu, a Democrat, served as mayor of New Orleans from 2010 to 2018. He later chaired the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan coalition of mayors across the country.

    “I am thankful to the President and honored to be tasked with coordinating the largest infrastructure investment in generations,” Landrieu said in a statement shared by the White House.

    “Our work will require strong partnerships across the government and with state and local leaders, business, and labor to create good-paying jobs and rebuild America for the middle class. We will also ensure these major investments achieve the President’s goals of combating climate change and advancing equity,” he added.

    Landrieu will assume the formal title of White House senior adviser and infrastructure coordinator. The high-stakes role will involve coordinating the implementation of over a trillion dollars in funding across multiple federal agencies, most of it invested over the next five years.

    The infrastructure bill includes money to rebuild roads and bridges, upgrade passenger rail, improve the nation’s ports of entry, create a network of electric vehicle charging stations, remove lead pipes from buildings, and expand access to broadband.

    Biden is slated to sign the infrastructure bill into law at a ceremony on Monday that is expected to include Democratic and Republican members of Congress, governors, mayors, and other boosters of the bill.

    The Senate passed the infrastructure bill with robust bipartisan support in August, but the measure stalled in the House for about three months as Democrats tried to resolve disagreements over a separate climate and social spending package. The House finally passed the infrastructure bill on Nov. 5, with 13 Republicans voting for it.

    Biden has named coordinators to oversee other major initiatives of his administration.

    He tapped Jeff Zients to coordinate the administration’s COVID-19 response and named Gene Sperling to oversee the implementation of the sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan that Biden signed into law in March. He also brought on veteran diplomat Elizabeth Jones last month to coordinate the relocation of Afghan refugees.

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    Beto O’Rourke launches bid for Texas governor
    BY TAL AXELROD 11/15/21 09:03 AM EST

    BETO

    Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) announced Monday that he intends to run for governor of the Lone Star State, setting up a heavyweight challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

    O’Rourke, who also ran for Senate in 2018 and for president last year, made the announcement in a fundraising email to supporters, where he touted himself as a unity candidate and railed against “fringe policies and incompetence that we see in Texas today.”

    “I am running for governor to serve ALL of the people of Texas,” he said. “I believe that the only way we are going to achieve great things for this state is by looking out for each other and moving forward together.”

    In a subsequent video posted on Twitter previewing his run, O’Rourke cast his decision to challenge Abbott as a result of the state government’s bungling of a winter storm earlier this year, during which hundreds of Texans died and millions more were without power due to unusually frigid temperatures.

    “This past February when the electricity grid failed and millions of fellow Texans were without power, which meant that the lights wouldn’t turn on, the heat wouldn’t run, and pretty soon their pipes froze and the water stopped flowing, they were abandoned by those who are elected to serve and look out for them,” he said. “It’s a symptom of a much larger problem in Texas right now: Those in positions of public trust have stopped listening to, serving and paying attention to and trusting the people of Texas.”

    In the video, O’Rourke indicated he would tackle a slate of issues, including strengthening the electricity grid and expanding Medicaid.

    “Instead, they’re focusing on the kind of extremist policies around abortion or permitless carry or even in our schools that really only divide us and keep us apart and stop us from working together on the truly big things that we want to achieve for one another. It’s a really small vision for such a big state, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

    O’Rourke’s entry into the race marks a win for Texas Democrats, who had privately fretted that they’d be without a top-tier challenger to Abbott if O’Rourke didn’t throw his hat into the ring.

    O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman, first saw his star rise in 2018, when he launched a challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that ignited the grassroots in Texas and across the country. He fell short by under 3 points, a margin that suggested Texas could be within reach for Democrats.

    However, he saw far less success in his 2020 presidential bid, dropping out in November of 2019 before any primaries were held. During that campaign, he adopted a slew of progressive policies, including on mandatory gun buybacks, saying at a debate that “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” a quote that will surely haunt him in a state with a prominent gun culture like Texas.

    Since suspending his presidential campaign, O’Rourke launched a voter registration campaign in Texas, touting in his fundraising email that his effort had signed on more than 250,000 new voters. That effort also sent volunteers to help residents during the winter storm.

    “Beto O’Rourke enters the race for Governor with the highest name recognition and fundraising ability of any Democratic challenger in a generation,” Ed Espinoza, president of Progress Texas, said in a statement. “Gov. Abbott has spent the past year appeasing the far-right base with policies such as banning abortion, permitless carry, and bizarre covid policies, while doing nothing to address the failing energy grid or access to affordable health care.”

    Despite his prominent standing in the state and proven ability to raise funds from across the country, O’Rourke will face stiff headwinds in his challenge to Abbott. After losing to Cruz by under 3 in 2018, Texas went for former President Trump by more than 5.5 points in 2020.

    Beyond the dynamics of the state, Abbott has amassed more than $55 million for his campaign and has won statewide several times, making him a difficult opponent to topple.

    Reacting to O’Rourke’s announcement Monday, Republicans boasted that the liberal policies he adopted in the presidential race will hurt him in a state that still leans toward Republicans and that Abbott remains in a strong position to fend off a challenge.

    “Beto 2.0 vowed to confiscate the firearms of law-abiding citizens, pledged to tear down physical barriers along the border, and supported regulations that would kill over a million jobs across the state and raise taxes and the cost of living on families and small businesses,” said Republican Governors Association spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez. “There’s no telling how far Beto 3.0 will go in his vain attempt to stay relevant after running out of promotions to chase in Washington.”

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    “QAnon Shaman” sentenced to more than 3 years in prison
    BY JOHN KRUZEL 11/17/21 11:55 AM EST

    JC

    Capitol riot defendant Jacob Chansley, known as the “QAnon Shaman,” was sentenced on Wednesday to more than three years in federal prison.

    The 41-month sentence, issued by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington, D.C., comes after Chansley pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of an official proceeding related to his conduct in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

    The sentence, which will be reduced by the time Chansley has served in jail since his arrest, was 10 months less than what federal prosecutors requested.

    But Lamberth, a Reagan appointee, denied Chansley’s request for a sentence below the range recommended by federal guidelines, saying Chansley’s conduct was so egregious that “I cannot justify a downward departure.”

    Photographs taken inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 of a shirtless Chansley, adorned with a viking hat, red, white, and blue face paint, and clutching an American flag and bullhorn, became some of the most searing images to emerge from the pro-Trump insurrection that disrupted the nation’s peaceful transfer of power following President Biden’s electoral win.

    Chansley originally faced six charges and a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. But prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining charges at the conclusion of Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.

    Chansley’s 41-month sentence is among the longest of any of the rioters who have been prosecuted to date. His attorney requested that Chansley be incarcerated in a facility close to Arizona, where Chansley’s family resides.

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    Oklahoma governor grants clemency to Julius Jones, halting his execution
    by Amir Vera and Dakin Andone, CNN
    Updated 2:41 PM ET, Thu November 18, 2021

    JJ

    (CNN) Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has granted clemency to Julius Jones, commuting Jones’ death sentence just hours before he was scheduled to be executed for a 1999 murder he says he did not commit.

    Jones’ sentence will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to an executive order filed Thursday.

    Jones was scheduled to be executed at 4 p.m. CT.

    The governor came to the decision following “prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

    Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board had recommended Jones’ sentence be commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole in a 3-1 vote on November 1.

    However, in his executive order, Stitt said neither the state constitution nor state law give the board the authority to recommend that commutation, nor do they give the governor the authority to grant it. As a result, the governor was commuting Jones’ sentence with the condition that he “shall not be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon, or parole for the remainder of his life,” the order says.

    In her own statement, Jones attorney Amanda Bass called the governor’s decision an “important step towards restoring public faith in the criminal justice system by ensuring that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man.” But she acknowledged Jones’ family and supporters had hoped he might get parole.

    “While we had hoped the Governor would adopt the Board’s recommendation in full by commuting Julius’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole in light of the overwhelming evidence of Julius’s innocence,” Bass said, “we are grateful that the Governor has prevented an irreparable mistake.”

    The 11th-hour decision Thursday comes after years of protest over Jones’ death sentence. He had been convicted of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell during a carjacking. Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years, but he, his family, attorneys and supporters say he is innocent.

    Howell’s family remains convinced of his guilt. Howell’s daughter declined to comment when reached by CNN Thursday.

    Jones’ clemency petition says he’s been on death row because of “fundamental breakdowns in the system tasked with deciding” his guilt, including ineffective and inexperienced defense attorneys, racial bias among his jury and alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

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    U.S. House of Representatives passes giant social policy and climate measure
    BY NAOMI JAGODA, ARIS FOLLEY, AND MIKE LILLIS 11/19/21 09:46 AM EST

    BBBA

    House Democrats on Friday passed their mammoth social spending and climate plan in a 220-213 vote, securing a major victory for the party ahead of the Thanksgiving break and providing a boost to President Biden at a tumultuous moment for his administration.

    The vote came a half-day later than scheduled, a delay caused by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who had commandeered the floor Thursday night for more than eight hours with an angry, rambling speech protesting legislation he warned would send the country into an economic tailspin.

    With McCarthy refusing to cede the floor, Democratic leaders scrapped their plan to vote Thursday night, reconvened the chamber Friday morning and passed the roughly $2 trillion bill on a near party-line vote. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democratic centrist from Maine, was the only lawmaker to cross the aisle, joining every Republican in opposing the package.

    To advance the bill required most of Golden’s centrist colleagues, wary of the country’s growing debt, to provide their support despite a last-minute cost analysis revealing the package would add roughly $160 billion to the deficit over the next decade.

    That Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment, released Thursday evening, flew in the face of Biden’s promise that the legislation would be fully paid for. It has sparked some debate—and plenty of confusion—over how much the bill will cost overall.

    The CBO found that, in total, the package allocates $1.64 trillion in new federal spending over 10 years. But unlike the White House, the budget office does not include the tax credits as part of that top-line number. If those credits are added to the CBO’s spending tally, the figure would jump into the $2.4 trillion range—well above Biden’s initial $1.75 trillion framework.

    The White House quickly disputed the CBO’s figures, saying the scoring agency had underestimated new revenues that would flow from increased IRS enforcement. The administration also scrambled top aides—including Brian Deese, Biden’s chief economic adviser—to meet with the moderate holdouts to win their support.

    “What I saw is that if you take Treasury estimates on the IRS provision, we end up with a surplus,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition. “And I have received sufficient information to understand how Treasury gets to their estimate, because they’re the ones that implement the IRS provisions.”

    Republicans quickly panned such arguments and accused Democrats of breaking their promise to pass a bill that’s deficit neutral.

    “Contrary to President Biden’s repeated claim that this bill will cost zero dollars, it will actually cost trillions,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), senior Republican on the House Rules Committee.

    Friday’s vote caps months of messy infighting between liberal and moderate House Democrats who have jousted over the size, scope and strategy surrounding the multitrillion-dollar package, a cornerstone of Biden’s economic agenda.

    The public divisions have helped to drag Biden’s approval numbers underwater and have shadowed the party’s efforts to utilize their control of Congress and the White House ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when they are looking to defend slim majorities in the House and Senate.

    Democrats have pressed ahead to pass popular legislation in the face of rising inflation, an ongoing COVID-19 crisis and a disastrous showing in state elections around the country earlier in the month, including a stunning loss in the high-profile Virginia governor’s race.

    “I thank Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership and every House member who worked so hard and voted to pass this bill,” Biden said in a statement Friday morning. “For the second time in just two weeks, the House of Representatives has moved on critical and consequential pieces of my legislative agenda.”

    The House vote, which sends the spending package to the Senate, comes just days after Biden signed into law a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill—back-to-back victories Democrats hope will demonstrate their governing chops and give them something to tout back home.

    “I wish we didn’t have to go through the public discourse,” Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday, adding she was “really happy” where Democrats stood.

    The social spending bill includes a host of policies that Democrats have sought for years, or even decades. The list includes child care subsidies, universal preschool, paid family leave, renewable energy tax incentives, and extensions of both the expanded child tax credit and enhanced ObamaCare subsidies.

    It also features efforts to slash prescription drug prices for seniors—a provision Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has tried to pass, unsuccessfully, since her first stint with the gavel in 2007.

    All told, Pelosi said, the package “is a spectacular agenda for the future, with transformational action on health care, family care, and climate that will make a significant difference in the lives of millions of Americans.”

    To help offset the cost of the new spending and tax cuts, the legislation includes a series of tax increases for high-income households and corporations, such as a surtax for multimillionaires and a 15 percent minimum tax for large corporations.

    The costs of the bill are also partially neutralized through increased funding for IRS enforcement—empowering the agency to go after tax cheats—and the savings generated by reducing the cost of prescription drugs under Medicare.

    It was the IRS provision that led to the disagreement between the White House and the CBO over whether the package was fully paid for. The CBO’s revenue number was much lower than the administration’s, producing the $160 billion deficit figure. But the discrepancy was well known among moderate Democrats ahead of time, which freed most of them to support the package.

    “That seems to be a matter of opinion,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).

    Debate over the bill now shifts to the Senate, which is expected to consider it after the Thanksgiving break.

    “As soon as the necessary technical and procedural work with the Senate Parliamentarian has been completed, the Senate will take up this legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Friday. “We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk and deliver help for middle-class families.”

    Senators plan to make a number of changes to the legislation, including potentially removing the family leave benefit, which has drawn concerns from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a prominent moderate whose vote is crucial to the success of the package.

    In addition, Senate Democrats have indicated that they want to take a different approach to rolling back the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, which was created by the Republicans’ 2017 tax law. Some Senate Democrats think the House approach is too beneficial for high-income taxpayers—a dynamic highlighted relentlessly by Republicans, who are accusing Democrats of showering undue tax cuts on the wealthy.

    “Democrats are rewarding their wealthy friends while sending the bill to the working families who are already paying more to put food on their tables, gas in their cars, and clothes on their backs,” said Rep. Jason Smith (Mo.), senior Republican on the House Budget Committee.

    Changes in the Senate would send the legislation back to the House for a final vote before it can reach Biden’s desk. Democrats are hoping to wrap up the entire process by the end of the year.

    “This is the end of the beginning,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.). “We all expect it will be further modified before coming back to us. But to keep the ball rolling, I think it’s important” to advance it through the House.

    Pelosi acknowledged that the Senate will make changes to the bill, adding of the final legislation, “Whatever it is, it will still be transformative and historic. And I don’t fear that.”

    Democrats have been advancing the bill using a complex process known as budget reconciliation, a strategy that would allow them to pass it through the evenly split Senate by a simple majority, bypassing a certain Republican filibuster.

    In the House, unanimous opposition from Republicans meant that Pelosi could afford only three defections to pass the bill. That razor-thin margin gets even smaller in the 50-50 Senate, where Democratic leaders will need the support of all their members, the two Independent senators who caucus with the party and a tie-breaking vote from the vice president to secure passage.

    But remaining unified has been a difficult task for Democrats amid disagreements over the size and the contents of the package—clashes that have delayed House passage for months.

    Leadership had initially set their sights on passing the ambitious spending plan in September, but that plan was punted through October and into November as progressives warred with moderates over spending.

    House progressives had insisted that passage of the spending package and the infrastructure proposal be linked to ensure that moderates, leery of the initial $3.5 trillion price tag for the larger bill, would ultimately back it.

    Democratic leaders then tried to pass the social spending plan in the first week of November. It was blocked by moderates demanding a CBO score. That impasse led to a deal struck between the moderates and progressives under which the moderates committed to backing the spending package once they received more “fiscal information” from the CBO. In return, the liberals supported the infrastructure package, which passed on Nov. 5 and was signed into law on Monday.

    The social spending package is the more contentious of the two. The CBO released a full cost estimate of the bill early Thursday evening, finding it would add $367 billion to the deficit over 10 years. That figure didn’t take into account the CBO’s estimate of $207 billion in revenue that would be raised by increased IRS funding for enforcement. Combining the two factors yields the $160 billion in deficit spending.

    The Treasury Department has estimated that the IRS funding provision would raise considerably more money than the CBO has estimated. And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement Thursday that the bill is completely paid for when looking at the combination of CBO and Treasury analyses.

    “With this bill, members of Congress have a unique opportunity to put our economy on a path to increased growth, productivity, labor force participation, and equity, while ensuring we do not burden future generations with unsustainable debt,” Yellen said. “I urge them to pass it.”

    Republicans spent the debate preceding the vote delivering the same message they’ve delivered throughout the months-long process, warning that the massive spending bill represents a gross case of government overreach that will only pile onto the deficit, exacerbate inflation and expand entitlement programs that the country simply can’t afford.

    They also accused Democrats of ramming an enormous bill through the lower chamber without ample time to weigh the impact of its many provisions. It was an attack line immediately dismissed by Democrats, who pointed to the many hours of committee hearings and markups that preceded Friday’s vote.

    “We’ve [had] exhaustive debate for months here about the bill. I think it’s been vetted from A to Z,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “We feel very strongly that there was sufficient opportunity there for people to hear what we wanted to do with this legislation.”

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    Jury finds Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges
    BY HARPER NEIDIG 11/19/21 01:14 PM EST

    KW1

    A jury on Friday acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who fatally shot two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., and wounded a third, of all charges on Friday, including intentional homicide.

    The unanimous jury found Rittenhouse not guilty of all five counts that he had been facing, bringing an end to a controversial trial that has polarized the country.

    Rittenhouse, then 17, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded a third protester last year amid demonstrations against police brutality in Kenosha, where police had shot and paralyzed a Black man named Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse has maintained he shot the men in self defense.

    Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) had activated about 500 National Guard members this week in preparation for the verdict.

    The trial’s outcome is likely to further inflame national debates over civil rights. It comes less than a year after Kenosha County prosecutors chose not to charge the white police officer who shot Blake in August 2020.

    Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-15 rifle illegally purchased for him by a friend, traveled to Kenosha from his home in Illinois during the unrest following Blake’s shooting. His lawyers told jurors that the teenager was there to protect small businesses from looting.

    Videos played during the trial showed Rittenhouse shooting the men when confronted by the protesters.

    Prosecutors had accused Rittenhouse of traveling to Kenosha to look for trouble and argued that the killings could not legally be considered self defense because he had provoked demonstrators into attacking him.

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    Biden taps Powell, Brainard to lead Federal Reserve
    BY SYLVAN LANE 11/22/21 03:11 PM EST

    JP

    President Biden said Monday he renominated Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to preserve the “stability and independence” of the central bank as the U.S. faces challenges on the road to a full economic recovery.

    Biden announced Monday he would nominate Powell, a Republican, for another four-year team leading the Fed board of governors despite pressure from the left to replace him. The president also nominated Fed Governor Lael Brainard, the only Democrat on the Fed board and the favorite among liberals to replace Powell, to serve as vice chair.

    “I believe having Fed leadership with broad bipartisan support is important, especially now in such a politically divided nation,” said Biden, flanked by Powell and Brainard, in Monday remarks at the White House.

    “In times like these we need steady, tested, principled leadership at the Fed. We need people with sound judgment and proven courage to preserve the independence of the Fed. And we need people of character and integrity, who can be trusted to keep their focus on the right long-term goals for our country. I’m confident Jay and Lael are those people,” Biden continued.

    Former President Trump tapped Powell to chair the Fed in 2017, five years after he was appointed to the Fed board by former President Obama. He previously served as a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Treasury under secretary for domestic finance under George H.W. Bush, an investment banker, private equity partner and lawyer.

    Brainard was also nominated to the Fed by Obama in 2014 after serving as his Treasury under secretary for international affairs. She was also a top economic and trade advisor to former President Clinton.

    Biden had spent weeks quietly mulling whether to renominate Powell or replace him with Brainard, sharing little insight into the parameters for his pick. Until his announcement Monday, the president said little beyond stressing the importance of Fed independence, drawing a sharp distinction between himself and his predecessor.

    While Trump nominated Powell to lead the Fed in 2017, he spent most of his presidency berating him for refusing to manipulate the value of the dollar to boost the White House’s trade battles with China and Europe. Trump once compared Powell disfavorably to Chinese President Xi Jinping and frequently threatened to fire him, but the Fed chair largely ignored the president’s attacks.

    Biden cited Powell’s refusal to bend to Trump’s will as proof of his independence as he faces another crucial test: the ongoing surge of inflation.

    Consumer prices rose by 6.2 percent in the year leading into October, the fastest annual rate in 30 years, due largely to supply chain snarls and other pandemic-related constraints. While unemployment, economic growth, consumer spending, and corporate profits have all recovered substantially, higher consumer prices have spurred intense pressure on both the White House and Fed.

    Biden touted the broader strength of the U.S. economy and praised both Powell and Brainard for stifling the initial blow of the pandemic and supporting a strong recovery. He noted that while most countries are struggling with higher inflation, none is doing so with a stronger economy than the U.S.

    “Like every country in the world, we have to deal with these issues of rising costs. But let’s remember, we have the skill and tools to get it under control. While other countries are stumbling out of this pandemic, we’re racing ahead,” Biden said, arguing the U.S. can attack inflation “from a position of strength.”

    While Biden emphasized the importance of independence when renominating Powell, his decision also cements a general alignment between the White House and Fed on how to tackle inflation and foster a full recovery.

    Powell, like Biden, expects inflation to ease as the supply chain disruptions and pandemic-related constraints on the labor force continue to fade. He has also warned against pulling back on stimulus too quickly and abruptly while millions of Americans have yet to return to the workforce.

    “Jay is a believer in the benefits of what economists call maximum employment. That’s an economy where companies have to compete to attract workers, instead of workers competing with each other for jobs,” Biden said.

    Under Powell, the Fed adopted a strategy that called for holding off on interest rate hikes until inflation was on track to run above its 2 percent annual target. The new approach was intended to make sure the job market and wage growth to become as strong as possible before the Fed stepped in to slow the economy.

    “Jay undertook a landmark review to reinforce the Federal Reserve’s mission toward delivering full employment. “We’re making strong progress toward that goal now and believe Jay is the right person to see us through and finish that effort. while also addressing the threat of inflation.”

    Though most economists expect the recent surge of inflation to fade, high price growth has tested the Fed’s commitment to its new approach and boosted pressure on the bank to act.

    While many Republican lawmakers and some moderate Democrats have questioned the Fed’s new approach to inflation, most are expected to back Powell. He was confirmed with 84 votes in 2018 and should face little trouble winning another term, even in a polarized Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

    Biden’s decision to embrace continuity also gives him a chance to make deeper changes to the Fed board. With Brainard tapped to replace Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida, another Trump-appointed Republican, the president will have three vacant positions on the seven-person Fed board to fill by January.

    Along with Clarida’s spot, Biden can name a new member of the Fed board to replace Fed Governor Randal Quarles, the former Fed vice chair of supervision who will leave the bank next month. There is also a vacant seat on the Fed board left unfilled by Trump.

    “While Jay and Lael bring continuity stability to the Fed, my additions will bring new perspectives and new voices. I also pledge that my additions will bring new diversity to the Fed, which is much needed and long overdue in my view,” Biden said.

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    Autopsy shows Brian Laundrie died by suicide, attorney says
    by Taylor Romine, CNN
    Updated 5:57 PM ET, Tue November 23, 2021

    BL

    (CNN) Brian Laundrie died by suicide from a gunshot wound to the head, an attorney for the Laundrie family told CNN Tuesday.

    “Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide,” said attorney Steven Bertolino.

    CNN has reached out to authorities for further comment, and has followed up with Bertolino regarding how Laundrie came to be in possession of a gun.

    Laundrie’s remains were found in a Florida nature reserve last month after a weekslong manhunt. He disappeared just days after his fiancée Gabby Petito was reported missing.

    The couple had been traveling across the country over the summer in a converted van and documenting their travels on social media. The case gained national attention as authorities searched for both.

    Laundrie returned to his parents’ house in Florida on September 1 without Petito. As police were trying to question the family about Petito’s whereabouts, Laundrie went missing on September 13 or 14 after leaving home with a backpack, according to his parents.

    Petito’s remains were found in Wyoming on September 19. Her death was ruled a homicide by manual strangulation.

    Petito’s family says they are “aware of the circumstances” regarding Laundrie. But they are not making an official comment at the request of the US Attorney’s Office and the Teton County Prosecutor’s Office in Wyoming, according to a statement from the family.

    The family was asked not to make any comments while the investigation into her death is ongoing, the statement said.

    A Florida medical examiner’s office confirmed Tuesday Laundrie had died of suicide by a gunshot wound to the head.

    The office won’t make the autopsy report public “until the law enforcement investigation is complete,” the office said in a release.

    What led to Petito’s death remains a mystery. The FBI had described Laundrie as a “person of interest” in her murder, but he was not charged. He had, though, been indicted for allegedly using two accounts that belonged to someone else in the days after she died.

    Laundrie’s remains were found October 20 in an area of Carlton Reserve that had been underwater during previous searches of the 25,000-acre nature reserve in North Port.

    Laundrie’s father, who was searching with authorities the day his son’s remains were found, discovered a notebook near where Laundrie’s body was found. Experts said at the time the notebook could be key in providing answers.

    The notebook was wet at the time, and officials haven’t yet said whether they have gained any information from it.

    Bertolini said in October Laundrie’s parents had discussed “several times” the possibility their son had died by suicide.

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    All 3 men in Ahmaud Arbery killing found guilty of murder
    BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL 11/24/21 01:49 PM EST

    AAV

    A jury in the state of Georgia on Wednesday found all three defendants charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery guilty on counts of murder.

    The jury found Travis McMichael, the defendant who fatally shot Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020 in a Brunswick, Ga., neighborhood, guilty of all nine counts brought against him, including malice murder.

    Gregory McMichael, who was with his son at the time of the shooting, was found guilty of four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one criminal attempt to commit a felony.

    William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the incident, was found guilty of three counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one criminal attempt to commit a felony

    Both McMichaels and Bryan had been charged with nine counts: one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one criminal attempt to commit a felony in connection to Arbery’s slaying.

    The jury first entered deliberations on Tuesday.

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    South Africa’s president calls for reversing “unjustified” omicron travel bans
    BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL 11/28/21 04:56 PM EST

    SAP

    South Africa’s president is calling on countries to reverse their “unjustified” travel bans that were put into place to combat the spread of the new COVID-19 omicron variant, contending that such restrictions are not based in science.

    “We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday, according to Al Jazeera.

    “These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries,” he added.

    Ramaphosa’s comments come after a number of countries, including the United States, issued new travel restrictions for passengers coming from South Africa and other nearby countries after the World Health Organization labeled the new COVID-19 omicron variant a “variant of concern.”

    The strain, after being first detected in South Africa, has since appeared in neighboring African countries—as well as in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.

    Starting on Monday, the U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

    While there is still much to learn about the new omicron variant, it is clear that the strain has a high number of mutations and is already spreading around the world.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday said the new variant will “inevitably” be found in the U.S., though no cases have been detected thus far.

    Ramaphosa on Sunday said the new travel restrictions will just cause “further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” adding that they are “not informed by science.”

    Fauci defended the travel restrictions on Sunday, contending that they will “slow things down.”

    He noted that travel bans for highly transmissible viruses do not “completely” prevent the infections from entering the country, but said “what you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared.”

    “And that’s the thing that people need to understand. If you’re going to do the travel ban the way we’ve done now and that we’re implementing right now, utilize the time that you’re buying to fill in the gaps,” he said.

    “And by time buying … you learn more about the virus, you learn what its relationship is to the antibodies induced by vaccines, and, above all, you use this time to really, really put your pedal to the floor and get people vaccinated and get people boosted,” he added.

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