Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, announced on Wednesday that he would oppose the creation of an independent commission to study the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, joining other top Republicans in an effort to bury the bipartisan proposal as it heads to a vote in the House.
Mr. McConnell’s comments represented a sharp and potentially decisive reversal just a day after he had signaled he was open to supporting the commission. Just hours before a House vote on legislation to establish the panel, Republican leaders were hoping they would help tamp down party support for the proposal in that chamber and doom its passage in the Senate.
“After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to oppose the House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of Jan. 6,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Mr. McConnell had emerged from that day as one of former President Donald J. Trump’s most outspoken Republican critics, pinning blame squarely on the former president for losing control of the House, Senate and White House and inspiring the most deadly attack on Congress in two centuries. But in the months since, as Mr. Trump has reasserted control over the party, Mr. McConnell has been increasingly reluctant to stir his ire.
Mr. Trump sought to apply his own pressure on Tuesday night, chastising Republicans to “get much tougher” and oppose the inquiry unless it was expanded to look at “murders, riots and fire bombings” in cities run by Democrats.
“Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening!” he said.
Still, Mr. McConnell’s reasoning differed sharply from that of Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the party leader in the House, who urged his members to oppose any accounting of the deadly pro-Trump mob without also studying “political violence” on the left. Mr. McConnell said that he believed in getting to the bottom of what had happened, but argued that investigations already underway by the Justice Department and congressional committees were sufficient.
“The facts have come out, and they will continue to come out,” he said.
His announcement came as Mr. McCarthy was facing the possibility of a wave of defections that could once again drive a wedge through a party struggling to unite in the wake of Mr. Trump’s mendacious campaign to overturn the 2020 election.
A splintering would be particularly embarrassing for Mr. McCarthy, who, after ousting his No. 3 last week for her statements on Mr. Trump, vowed to unite the party around the former president before the 2022 midterms.
The bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, which includes 29 Republicans, formally endorsed the commission late Tuesday. Other Republicans privately said they were inclined to vote “yes” in a show of solidarity with Representative John Katko, Republican of New York, who negotiated the terms of the commission at Mr. McCarthy’s behest, only to have the leader turn around and trash the product.
Mr. Katko argued on Tuesday that the commission offered Congress the best chance to dispense with politics and really get to the bottom of an attack that most members of Congress witnessed themselves in horrid detail and that both parties deemed a disastrous security failure.
“We both dispensed with our politics to do what the greater good is,” he said.
House Democrats are expected to unanimously back the commission, and President Biden formally endorsed it on Tuesday. But its fate will almost certainly be decided in the Senate, where at least 10 Republican votes are needed to pass it.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, vowed to put it up for a vote there in the coming weeks to force Republicans to choose.
“An independent commission can be the antidote to the poisonous mistruths that continue to spread about Jan. 6, and that is what our founding fathers believed in,” he said. “The American people will see for themselves whether our Republican friends stand on the side of truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s big lie.”
President Biden delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s graduation ceremony in New London, Conn., on Wednesday, his first speech at a service academy since becoming president in January.
The president saluted cadets for persevering through the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that last year’s class had not been able to hold graduating ceremonies. He also chided them, in jest, for not clapping at a joke he made at the expense of the Navy.
“You are a really dull class,” Mr. Biden said. “Come on, man, is the sun getting to you? I would think you would have an opportunity when I say that about the Navy to clap.”
He went on to praise the class and the Coast Guard, citing its role in safeguarding global trade and responding to the pandemic and to national disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires, exacerbated by climate change.
“All kidding aside, being here today is a victory in and of itself, an important mark in the progress we made to turn the tide of the pandemic, and it’s a testament of the military’s sense of responsibility you already embody,” Mr. Biden said. He added that he had no doubt the current class of graduates would “reflect the best of our country and the proudest traditions of our service.”
The president also praised the racial and gender composition of the graduating class, noting that about a third of the graduates were underrepresented minorities and a third were women.
“We need to see more women at the highest levels of command, and we have to make sure women have a chance to succeed and thrive throughout their careers,” he said, adding, “My administration is committed to taking on the scourge of sexual assault in the military.”
Mr. Biden’s commencement speech came more than a month after he announced that he would pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11. He said there was no longer any justification to believe that the United States’ military presence could turn Afghanistan into a stable democracy.
The ceremony was not open to the public, and the number of guests was reduced and social distancing measures were in place, though fully vaccinated attendees were not required to wear a mask.
Wednesday’s event was the second time that Mr. Biden had addressed the academy’s graduating class. He last gave the keynote address in 2013 as vice president.
“You’re graduating into a world that is rapidly changing,” Mr. Biden said at the time, pointing to environmental security threats and record-high levels of piracy and human trafficking.
A president last addressed the U.S. Coast Guard’s graduating class in 2017, when President Donald J. Trump delivered the commencement speech. Mr. Trump used much of his speech to defend himself, telling attendees that no leader in history had been treated more “unfairly” by the news media and Washington elites.
President Barack Obama gave the academy’s commencement address twice, in 2011 and 2015. He used the speech in 2015 to push for action on climate change, calling it “an immediate risk to our national security.”
President Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the White House principal deputy press secretary told reporters onboard Air Force One.
“Our focus has not changed,” the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said. “We are working towards a de-escalation.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden wanted the situation to reach a “sustainable calm.”
She said the call, which came before the president departed from Washington to address graduates at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday morning, did not reflect a shift in administration policy as it pertains to a cease-fire.
“This is what we have been calling for for the past eight days,” she said.
Mr. Netanyahu did not give any assurance during the call that Mr. Biden could expect a cease-fire, according to a senior administration official who received a readout of the call shortly after it happened.
After visiting Israeli military headquarters, Mr. Netanyahu said he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Still, the president’s call to the Israeli leader added to a growing chorus of international parties urging the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons as the conflict stretched into its 10th day.
France is leading efforts to call for a cease-fire at the United Nations Security Council, but it remains unclear when a resolution will be put to a vote.
Israel and Hamas have signaled a willingness to reach a cease-fire, diplomats privy to the discussions say, but that has not reduced the intensity of the deadliest fighting in Gaza since 2014.
At least 227 people in Gaza have been killed, including 64 children, and 1,620 have been wounded as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israeli airstrikes and shelling have destroyed or damaged homes, roads and medical facilities across the territory.
Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli towns on Wednesday, sending people scurrying for shelter. More than 4,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the conflict began, according to the Israeli military, killing at least 12 Israeli residents.
As Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations mediated talks between Israel and Hamas, the two adversaries indicated publicly that the fighting could go on for days.
A senior Hamas official denied reports that the group had agreed to a cease-fire, but said that talks were ongoing.
Still, with Israeli warplanes firing into the crowded Gaza Strip, in a campaign that Israeli officials say is aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure, the humanitarian crisis has deepened for the two million people inside Gaza.
The United Nations said that more than 58,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been displaced from their homes, many huddling in U.N.-run schools that have in effect become bomb shelters. Israeli strikes have damaged schools, power lines, and water, sanitation and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of people in a territory that has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade. Covid-19 vaccinations have stopped, and on Tuesday an Israeli strike knocked out the only lab in the territory that processes coronavirus tests.
“There is no safe place in Gaza, where two million people have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years,” the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in the territory, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.
President Biden’s commission to evaluate proposed overhauls to the Supreme Court held its first public meeting on Wednesday, approving its bylaws, announcing the formation of a series of subcommittees and promising to hold hearings from expert witnesses in June and July.
The 36-member, ideologically diverse panel of scholars, lawyers, political scientists and former judges, which Mr. Biden named in April, was formed after calls by some Democrats to expand the number of Supreme Court justices. But the public meeting, conducted over videoconference and streamed live on the White House website, showed that the commission’s aspirations go beyond scrutinizing court expansion — or “packing” — proposals.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us,” said Cristina M. Rodríguez, a co-chairwoman of the commission who is a Yale Law School professor and former Justice Department official. “But I’m glad that we have a number of extremely talented and committed people, and we look forward to benefiting as much as we can from members of the public and others who are interested in this very weighty subject at this moment in time.”
The commission, as The New York Times reported in April, will be made up of committees that will develop research for the full panel to consider. In addition to a working group examining the court’s size, it will have groups on other possible changes to the court, including creating term limits or a mandatory retirement age; placing greater restrictions on the court’s ability to strike down laws as unconstitutional; expanding the number of cases the court is required to hear; and limiting its ability to decide major issues without a full briefing and arguments.
The commission also made clear that the final report it will deliver to the president will scrutinize previous periods in American history when there were serious calls for changes to the structure of the Supreme Court, and it will assess what lessons those earlier episodes may offer for debates playing out today.
Mr. Biden committed during the 2020 presidential campaign to create the commission, aiming to defuse the hot-button question of whether he would support adding seats to the Supreme Court in response to Republican moves in 2016 and 2020 that shifted the balance of the court to a 6-to-3 conservative advantage.
The Constitution does not say that the Supreme Court has to have nine justices, and Congress has changed the number of seats several times by legislation, although not since the 19th Century. Many conservatives vehemently oppose the idea of expanding the court, and with the filibuster in place, any legislation in the Senate would almost certainly fail.
The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.
The debt relief was approved as part of the stimulus package that Congress passed in March and was intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other nonwhite farmers have faced from lenders and the Department of Agriculture over the years.
But no money has yet gone out the door.
Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of discrimination sued the U.S.D.A. over the initiative, The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport writes.
Now, three of the biggest banking groups are waging their own fight and complaining about the cost of being repaid early. Their argument stems from the way banks make money from loans and how they decide where to extend credit.
By allowing borrowers to repay their debts early, the lenders are being denied income they have long expected, they argue. The banks want the federal government to pay money beyond the outstanding loan amount so that banks and investors will not miss out on interest income that they were expecting or money that they would have made reselling the loans to other investors.
Bank lobbyists have been asking the Agriculture Department to make changes to the repayment program, a U.S.D.A. official said. They are pressing the U.S.D.A. to simply make the loan payments, rather than wipe out the debt all at once. And they are warning of other repercussions.
In a letter sent last month to the agriculture secretary, the banks suggested that they might be more reluctant to extend credit if the loans were quickly repaid, leaving minority farmers worse off in the long run. Some organizations that represent Black farmers viewed the intimation as a threat.
The U.S.D.A. has shown no inclination to reverse course.
The Biden administration has reappointed the scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s premier contribution to climate knowledge, after he was removed from his post last year by President Donald J. Trump.
The removal of the scientist, Michael Kuperberg, was part of an effort in the final months of the Trump administration to thwart the climate assessment, which compiles the work of hundreds of scientists and helps shape regulations.
Dr. Kuperberg was replaced last November by David Legates, an academic who had previously worked closely with climate change denial groups. Just days before Mr. Trump left office, Dr. Legates posted a series of debunked scientific reports bearing the logo of the executive office of the president.
The Trump administration also removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which helps coordinate the climate assessment. And it removed a third scientist involved in the previous version of the climate assessment after she resisted changes sought by the administration.
The reappointment of Dr. Kuperberg, whose title is executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, follows the Biden administration’s creation this month of a Scientific Integrity Task Force, which White House officials have said will “review lapses of scientific integrity and ways to remedy them.”
In a statement, Dr. Kuperberg said he looked forward to helping his office “deliver nonpartisan, science-based results” to guide climate policy.
The chief executive of Emergent BioSolutions, whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for potential contamination, and apologized to members of Congress.
“No one is more disappointed than we are that we had to suspend our 24/7 manufacturing of new vaccine,” the chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, told members of a House subcommittee that is investigating his firm, adding, “I apologize for the failure of our controls.”
Mr. Kramer’s appearance before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis marked the first time that company executives have publicly defended Emergent amid continuing questions about the firm’s manufacturing capability and whether it has leveraged its connections in Washington to win lucrative government contracts.
In more than three hours of testimony, Mr. Kramer acknowledged unsanitary conditions, including mold, at the Baltimore plant; conceded that Johnson & Johnson — not Emergent — had discovered the potential contamination; and fended off aggressive questions from House Democrats about his stock sales and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for top company executives last year.
Under aggressive questioning by House Democrats, he said he expects the Baltimore plant, which was forced to halt operation a month ago after contamination spoiled the equivalent of 15 million doses, to resume production “in a matter of days.” He said he took “very seriously” a recent Food and Drug Administration inspection showing unsanitary conditions — including mold — in the plant, and conceded that quality tests by Johnson & Johnson, not Emergent, had identified the contamination that forced Emergent to discard so many doses.
“My teenage son’s room gives your facility a run for its money in terms of its cleanliness,” Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, told Mr. Kramer at one point.
Mr. Kramer’s estimate added another 30 million doses to the number of Johnson & Johnson doses that remain on hold because of regulatory concerns about the contamination at the plant. Federal officials had previously estimated that the equivalent of about 70 million doses of that vaccine — most of them destined for domestic use — could not be released until further tests are conducted for purity. So far, the federal government has paid Emergent more than $271 million but American regulators have not released a single dose of vaccine manufactured at Emergent’s plant for use by the American public.
Mr. Kramer, who testified virtually, was joined at the hearing by Fuad El-Hibri, the company’s founder and executive chairman, who also expressed contrition.
“Let me be clear,” Mr. El-Hibri declared. “The cross-contamination incident is unacceptable. Period.”
House Democrats launched a broad inquiry into Emergent after The New York Times documented months of problems at the plant, including failure to properly disinfect equipment and to protect against viral and bacterial contamination. Committee staff released a series of confidential audits, previously reported by The Times, that found a range of violations of manufacturing standards as well as a June 2020 report by a top federal manufacturing expert warning that Emergent lacked trained staff and adequate systems for quality control.
Lawmakers are looking into whether company officials leveraged relationships with the Trump administration to win a $628 million federal contract, and whether Emergent executives accepted the award despite known deficiencies. They are also looking at Mr. Kramer’s sale of $10 million worth of Emergent stock this year, and at hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash bonuses Emergent’s board awarded to its top executives.
Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, complained that Emergent officials “appear to have wasted taxpayer dollars while lining their own pockets.” Mr. Krishnamoorthi asked Mr. Kramer sharply if he would consider turning over his $1.2 million bonus from 2020 to the American taxpayers.
“Congressman, I will not make that commitment,” Mr. Kramer replied evenly.
“I didn’t think so,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi shot back.
As to his stock trades, Mr. Kramer said they were “made pursuant to a plan that was approved by the company” and put in during “a quiet period that was also approved by the company.” He added, “My participation was completely removed from those trades.”
Early in the hearing, Mr. Kramer testified that the possible contamination of the Johnson & Johnson doses “was identified through our quality control procedures and checks and balance.” But under questioning, he later acknowledged that it was picked up by a Johnson & Johnson lab in the Netherlands.
While Democrats pressed Mr. Kramer for information about vaccine manufacturing, Republicans sought to defend the company, and tried to change the subject by talking about the unproven theory that the coronavirus emerged from a laboratory in China, the “lies of the Communist Party of China” and mask mandates, as well as the Biden administration’s call for a waiver of an international intellectual property agreement, which is strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.
“You are a reputable company that has done yeoman’s work to protect this country in biodefense!” Representative Mark Green, Republican of Tennessee, exclaimed at one point, adding, “So you gave your folks a bonus for their incredible work.”
An expansive bill that would pour $120 billion into jump-starting scientific innovation by strengthening research into cutting-edge technologies is barreling through the Senate, amid a rising sense of urgency in Congress to strengthen the United States’ ability to compete with China.
At the heart of the legislation, known as the Endless Frontier Act, is an investment in the nation’s research and development into emerging sciences and manufacturing on a scale that its proponents say has not been seen since the Cold War. The Senate voted 86 to 11 on Monday to advance the bill past a procedural hurdle, with Democrats and Republicans united in support. A vote to approve, along with a tranche of related China bills, is expected this month.
The nearly 600-page bill has moved swiftly through the Senate, powered by intensifying concerns in both parties about Beijing’s chokehold on critical supply chains. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the risks of China’s dominance, as health care workers have confronted medical supply shortages and a global semiconductor shortage has shut American automobile factories and slowed shipments of consumer electronics.
The bill, led by Senators Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, and Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, is the spine of a package of legislation Mr. Schumer requested in February from the leaders of key committees, aimed at recalibrating the nation’s relationship with China and protecting American jobs. Taken together, the bipartisan bills are the most significant step Congress has seriously considered in years to increase the nation’s competitiveness with Beijing.
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday to hear a case about a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks could end up weakening or even overturning Roe v. Wade. Depending on the ruling, legal abortion access could effectively end for people living in much of the American South and Midwest, especially for those who are poor, according to a New York Times analysis updated this week.
In more than half of states, though, legal abortion access would be unchanged, according to the analysis, a version of which we first covered in 2019.
In a federal shelter in Dallas, migrant children sleep in a windowless convention center room under fluorescent lights that never turn off.
At another shelter on a military base in El Paso, teenagers pile onto bunk cots, and some say they have gone days without bathing.
And at a shelter in Erie, Pa., problems began emerging within days of its creation: “Fire safety system is a big concern,” an internal report noted, and lice is “a big issue and seems to be increasing.”
Early this year, children crossing the southwestern border in record numbers were crammed into Customs and Border Protection’s jail-like detention facilities. They slept side by side on mats with foil blankets, almost always far longer than the legal limit of 72 hours.
Republicans declared it a crisis. Democrats and immigration groups denounced the conditions, which erupted into an international embarrassment for President Biden, who had campaigned on a return to compassion in the immigration system.
The administration responded by rapidly setting up temporary, emergency shelters, including some that could house thousands of children. But the next crisis is coming into view.
There is broad agreement that the emergency shelters, run by the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, are an improvement over the Border Patrol facilities. But interviews with children’s advocates and a review of weeks of internal reports obtained by The New York Times paint a picture of a shelter system with wildly varying conditions, some of which are far below the standard of care that the Biden administration has promised.
The United States Capitol Police confirmed on Tuesday that it was conducting a criminal investigation related to a subpoena to Twitter for information about a pseudonymous account dedicated to mocking Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California.
The investigation is examining a threat made online and is still open, said a spokesman for the police force, which protects members of Congress, adding that he was unable to say more.
Little is known publicly about the case, and it is not clear whether the user of the parody Twitter account, @NunesAlt, remains under any scrutiny as part of that ongoing inquiry.
The disclosure by the Capitol Police came a day after the Justice Department unsealed court filings that disclosed that prosecutors had obtained a grand jury subpoena on Nov. 24, while President Donald J. Trump was still in office, demanding that Twitter provide identifying information about @NunesAlt.
A person familiar with the matter told The New York Times on Monday that the Biden Justice Department had withdrawn the subpoena after Twitter challenged it. On Tuesday, the department unsealed another court filing confirming that it had done so. The filing showed that prosecutors told Twitter they had dropped the subpoena on March 17.
Twitter routinely cooperates with grand-jury subpoenas. But in this case, it saw the user as engaged in political commentary protected by the First Amendment and raised the specter that the Trump-era Justice Department had abused its power to help an ally of the president.
In the filing, Twitter noted that Mr. Nunes and his lawyer had previously filed several lawsuits trying to identify people who had criticized him on social media — including the user of the @NunesAlt parody account, which calls itself Mr. Nunes’s mother and posts memes mocking him.
When Twitter pressed prosecutors for the basis of the subpoena, they said it was for a threat investigation but declined to point to anything specific @NunesAlt had posted that was threatening, the unsealed documents show. The user of that account has said that he or she made no threat.
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