Democrat Delays Biden’s Nominee to Lead C.B.P.

Daily Political Briefing

July 22, 2021, 10:55 a.m. ET

July 22, 2021, 10:55 a.m. ET

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In an unusual move by a committee chairman in the president’s own party, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is refusing to schedule a hearing for President Biden’s nominee to run U.S. Customs and Border Protection until the administration answers questions about the federal response to the unrest in Portland, Ore., last summer.

Mr. Wyden, a Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, notified the White House this week of his decision to delay a hearing for Chris Magnus, the police chief in Tucson, Ariz. Mr. Biden nominated Chief Magnus in April to run the agency, which plays a central role in addressing the influx of migrants at the country’s southern border.

Mr. Wyden said that for months, he had been asking officials from the Justice and Homeland Security Departments to answer specific questions about how the agencies, under former President Donald J. Trump, prepared for the extraordinary step of sending federal law enforcement officers into the streets of Portland, and what happened on the ground, when protests there turned violent after George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Standing up a military-type presence in the middle of downtown protests against police violence remains one of the most contentious decisions that Mr. Trump made during his time in office.

“Six months into the new administration, the Department of Homeland Security and Justice have failed to answer basic questions about how the Trump administration misused federal resources to stoke violence against peaceful protesters in my hometown,” Mr. Wyden said in a statement on Wednesday.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Mr. Wyden is a liberal who holds one of the most powerful posts in the Senate. He was elected to the chamber in 1996 after serving in the House since 1981, where he represented a district that includes parts of Portland.

“While it is clear that Customs and Border Protection faces pressing issues,” he said in the statement, “as the senior senator from Oregon, I am unable to advance this nominee until D.H.S. and D.O.J. gives Oregonians some straight answers about what it was up to in Portland last year, and who was responsible.”

The move by Mr. Wyden comes as the flow of migrants across the country’s southern border has surpassed the peak levels of recent years. The Border Patrol, which is part of Customs and Border Protection, caught migrants crossing into the country more than 178,000 times without documentation in June, the most apprehensions since April 2000.

The administration is planning for how it will lift a public health order put in place at the beginning of the pandemic, which it has used to turn back migrants at the border more than one million times. Lifting that order will further increase the number of people trying to get into the country, raising the sense of urgency to get a permanent leader in place at Customs and Border Protection.

“Given the continuing humanitarian crisis at the border, there is an urgent need for his leadership and expertise,” members of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, a group of local law enforcement officials that supports an immigration overhaul, wrote of Chief Magnus in an open letter Wednesday.

A year ago, as the protests in Portland stretched on throughout the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump was using “egregious tactics” to address the unrest in Portland.

“Homeland Security agents — without a clearly defined mandate or authority — are ranging far from federal property, stripped of badges and insignia and identifying markings, to detain people,” Mr. Biden said in a statement at the time. “They are brutally attacking peaceful protesters, including a U.S. Navy veteran.”

Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, has placed a hold on the nomination of Chief Magnus and several other homeland security officials until, he said last week, “we can actually get the Biden administration to lay out what their policy is going to be, and what they’re going to do to be able to actually enforce the law.”

That kind of move is typical of senators who are not in the president’s party, but interference from an ally of the president is not.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Homeland Security said the agency responded to Mr. Wyden privately last week and “looks forward to working with him to resolve his concerns.”

Keith Chu, a spokesman for Mr. Wyden, said the department had provided only “partial” answers to the senator’s questions. A Justice Department spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the agency was working with Mr. Wyden’s office on his requests.

According to a White House official, the administration is hopeful that the Senate will cooperate with plans to move forward with Chief Magnus’s nomination.

Downtown Portland was shuttered for weeks last summer because of people protesting against police violence after a white Minneapolis police officer killed Mr. Floyd, an unarmed Black man, on May 25. While the shooting prompted protests around the country, demonstrations in downtown Portland outlasted those in most other cities.

Positioning himself as a law-and-order president, Mr. Trump described the city as lawless, filled with “anarchists” who “hate our country.” And he praised the actions of armed federal officers from multiple agencies who fired tear gas into crowds and pulled protesters into unmarked vans. Among the officers deployed to Portland were members of a special tactical team from Customs and Border Protection that is typically deployed for operations against drug smuggling.

Doing so only incensed the protesters, who had been raising concerns that fascism was on the rise in the United States.

“The uncoordinated deployment of poorly trained federal law enforcement in Oregon, and in other parts of the country, must never occur again,” Mr. Wyden wrote in a June 9 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas.

An inspector general report released in April found that the Homeland Security Department had the authority to send federal officers to Portland, but did not properly prepare them or coordinate with other agencies.

While the report addressed some of Mr. Wyden’s questions, he is seeking additional answers about who led the agents on the ground and whether they were identifiable, with badges and uniforms. He has also asked what guidance, if any, the officers were given about how to interact with protesters and members of the media. And he has asked for a list of equipment that federal officers used while deployed in Portland.

Mr. Wyden has also asked about the deployment of federal officers to Portland hours after Mr. Biden’s inauguration.

Mr. Mayorkas began a departmentwide review in March of the decisions that led to the agency’s involvement in the Portland protests. The review is seeking “to ensure that all D.H.S. law enforcement personnel receive appropriate training and operate pursuant to policies in keeping with best practices and law,” said Marsha Espinosa, a department spokeswoman. She said the agency “is committed to respecting the rights of all individuals who peacefully exercise their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly.”

In May, Mr. Biden revoked a Trump-era executive order that had paved the way for federal law enforcement officers to descend on Portland with the stated goal of protecting federal buildings and property.


Representative Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger, spearheaded legislation that would expand the number of visas available to Afghans who helped the U.S. military during the 20-year war.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

With Afghans who helped the U.S. military facing threats from the Taliban as American troops withdraw from the country, the House on Thursday voted to expand a visa program to allow them to more quickly immigrate to the United States.

The bill would expand the number of available special immigrant visas for Afghans to 19,000 from 11,000 and broaden the universe of people eligible for them by removing some application requirements.

The legislation passed by a vote of 407 to 16, with 16 Republicans opposed.

“Many of us have expressed grave concerns about the challenges our allies face in navigating the application process,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Administration Committee. “Afghans stepped forward to serve aside our brave military.”

Under the legislation, applicants would no longer have to provide a sworn statement that they faced a specific threat or proof that they held a “sensitive and trusted” job. Instead, the measure would in effect stipulate that any Afghan who helped the U.S. government by definition faces retribution, and should be able to apply for a visa.

The legislation, spearheaded by Representative Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado and a former Army Ranger, has broad bipartisan support.

Its consideration comes as the Biden administration has announced plans to evacuate a group of Afghans who helped the United States during the 20-year war to an Army base in Virginia in the coming days. About 2,500 Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who worked with American forces, as well as their family members, will be sent in stages to Fort Lee, Va., south of Richmond, to await final processing for formal entry into the United States, officials said.

With the American military in the final phases of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the White House has come under heavy pressure to protect Afghan allies who helped the United States and to speed up the process of providing them with special immigrant visas.

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, said the Afghans have a “bull’s-eye on their back.”

“They will be killed if we don’t get them out of there,” Mr. McCaul said. “Please, Mr. President, get them out before they are killed.”

The House has already approved the first in a package of bills that would smooth the visa process by waiving a requirement for applicants to undergo medical examinations in Afghanistan before qualifying. It aims to shorten the long wait for permission to enter the United States, which can be as long as six or seven years for some applicants.

The bills face an uncertain future in the Senate, where there is bipartisan support for the Afghan visa program, but funding for its expansion has been embroiled in a broader fight over spending on Capitol security.

Some of the “Afghan allies” awaiting visas have spoken out about the threats they face from the Taliban.

Since 2014, the nonprofit organization No One Left Behind has tracked the killings of more than 300 translators or their family members, many of whom died while waiting for their visas to be processed, according to James Miervaldis, the group’s chairman and an Army Reserve noncommissioned officer.

More than 18,000 Afghans who have worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, fixers and embassy clerks for the United States during the war have been caught in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, which are available to people who face threats because of work for the U.S. government. The applicants have 53,000 family members, U.S. officials have said.

President Biden participates in a town hall hosted by CNN’s Don Lemon at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, on Wednesday.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

President Biden on Wednesday night defended the filibuster, a procedural tactic that stands to hold up much of his agenda in the Senate, even as he reiterated that he viewed it as a relic of Jim Crow.

“There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done,” he said at a CNN Town Hall in Cincinnati. “Nothing at all will get done.”

Mr. Biden said there was too much at stake to risk that level of “chaos” that a fight over the filibuster would ignite, including voting rights legislation he still wants to see passed. He also said waging a war against the filibuster would play into the hands of Republicans seeking to hold up his agenda. “Wouldn’t my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the Recovery Act?” he said.

At his first news conference as president last March, Mr. Biden thrilled progressives who want to change the rules governing the Senate’s signature procedural weapon that require a 60-vote supermajority to advance a bill. Mr. Biden said the filibuster was “being abused in a gigantic way.”

That month, he also endorsed a return to what is called the talking filibuster: the requirement that opponents of legislation be required to occupy the floor and make their case against it.

On Wednesday night, he reiterated his support for a return to the old form but made it clear that he thought a filibuster fight was only a distraction.

“I’ve been saying for a long, long time the abuse of the filibuster is pretty overwhelming,” he said.

But when it came to passing voting rights legislation, he added, “I want to make sure we bring along not just all the Democrats, we bring along Republicans who I know know better. They know better than this. What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up right now in the argument whether or not this is all about the filibuster.”

Mr. Biden rejected the idea that overturning or changing the filibuster was the only way he would pass his agenda through a divided Congress.

“I’m trying to bring the country together,” he said. “And I don’t want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster, or exception to the filibuster, or going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.”

  • Initial claims for state jobless benefits rose last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

  • The weekly figure, before seasonal adjustments, was about 406,000, an increase of 14,000 from the previous week. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 110,000, up about 14,000 from the week before. The figures are not seasonally adjusted. (On a seasonally adjusted basis, state claims totaled 419,000, an increase of 51,000.)

  • New state claims remain high by historical standards but are one-third the level recorded in early January. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as businesses return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

  • More than 20 states have recently discontinued some or all federal pandemic unemployment benefits — including a $300 supplement to other benefits — even though they are funded through September. Officials in those states said the payments were keeping people from seeking work. But judges in Maryland and Indiana have blocked the early cutoff, and legal challenges are pending in three other states.

  • A survey of 5,000 adults conducted June 22-25 by Morning Consult found that those whose unemployment benefits were about to expire felt more pressure to find work. But of all those on unemployment insurance, relatively few — 20 percent of those who had worked full time, and 28 percent of those who had worked part time — said the benefits were better than their previous work income in meeting basic expenses.

  • The Labor Department’s employment report for June showed that the economy had 6.8 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. A separate report found 9.2 million job openings at the end of May as businesses that had closed or cut back during the pandemic raced to hire employees to meet the reviving demand.

  • But there is a substantial amount of turnover, with far more workers quitting their jobs than are being laid off — a sign that many are jumping to positions that pay even slightly more. And the rush by businesses to staff up in lower-paying jobs means that many workers can afford to wait for a better deal.

Opponents of capital punishment have said they hope the Biden administration will move to end the practice.
Credit…Bryan Woolston/Reuters

One man was charged in Orlando, Fla., with kidnapping and fatally shooting his estranged wife. Another man was indicted in Syracuse, N.Y., in the armed robbery of a restaurant and the murders of two employees. And a third man was charged in Anchorage with fatally shooting two people during a home invasion.

Those cases and four others prosecuted in federal courts around the country all had a common theme — they were among cases in which the Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty if they won convictions.

But now, under a new administration, the Justice Department has moved to withdraw the capital punishment requests in each of the seven cases. The decisions were revealed in court filings without fanfare in recent months.

The decision not to seek the death penalty in the cases comes amid the Biden administration’s broad rethinking of capital punishment — and could signal a move toward ending the practice at the federal level.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a moratorium on federal executions and ordered a review of the way death sentences are carried out. But the decision not to seek the death penalty in cases where it had already been authorized goes further, taking capital punishment off the table in cases that are still being prosecuted.

It was not immediately clear whether the decision to withdraw the death penalty authorizations in the seven cases was part of a broader effort, and the Justice Department has not announced policy changes in how or when the government seeks the death penalty.

Other lawyers are still waiting for responses to their requests for de-authorization of the death penalty in their clients’ cases.

President Biden participated in a town hall hosted by CNN’s Don Lemon at Mount St. Joseph’s University in Cincinnati on Wednesday.
Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

President Biden told a town hall audience in Ohio on Wednesday evening that he expected the Food and Drug Administration would give final approval “quickly” for Covid-19 vaccines, as he pressed for skeptical Americans to get vaccinated and stop another surge of the pandemic.

Mr. Biden said he was not intervening in the decision of government scientists, but pointed toward a potential decision soon from the F.D.A. to give final approval for the vaccines, which are currently authorized for emergency use. Many medical professionals have pushed for the final approval, saying it could help increase uptake of the vaccines.

“My expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus others in the field, is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval” for the vaccines at the F.D.A., Mr. Biden said.

The president also said he expected children under the age of 12, who are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine, would be approved to get it on an emergency basis “soon, I believe.”

The president’s comments at the town hall came as the spread of the Delta variant has led to a national rise in coronavirus cases. Over the past week, an average of roughly 41,300 cases has been reported each day across the country, an increase of 171 percent from two weeks ago. The number of new deaths reported is up by 42 percent, to an average of 249 a day for the past week.

In some states, such as Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, new infections have increased sharply, also driving an increase in hospitalizations. Cases are increasing more rapidly in states where vaccination rates are low.

In Ohio, where Mr. Biden traveled on Wednesday to talk up what he pitched as the good-paying union jobs that his infrastructure plan would create, the president found himself fielding questions from audience members concerned about low vaccination rates in their communities.

“This is simple, basic proposition,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized. You’re not going to be in an I.C.U. unit. And you are not going to die.”

Later, Mr. Biden exaggerated the efficacy of the vaccine, even as some vaccinated staffers in the West Wing have recently tested positive for the coronavirus. “You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations,” he said.

In response to a move by Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier Wednesday to bar two of former President Donald J. Trump’s most vociferous Republican defenders in Congress from joining a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, Mr. Biden was unequivocal about what happened that day.

“I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated, the fact is you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the sixth,” he said. “You can’t listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.”

But speaking in a red state that Mr. Trump won in the 2020 election, as he tries to build support for his infrastructure plans, Mr. Biden kept his criticism to some of the lawmakers elected to office, rather than Republican voters who got them there.

“I have faith in the American people, I do, to ultimately get to the right place,” he said. “Many times Republicans are in the right place.”

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.

The first of two memorials to mark the Haitian president passing, this one for dignitaries held at the National Pantheon Museum in Port Au Prince, Haiti. July 20th, 2021.
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

The struggle for power in Haiti after the assassination of the country’s president has spilled onto K Street, where rival Haitian politicians, business leaders and interest groups are turning to lobbyists to wage an expensive and escalating proxy battle for influence with the United States.

Documents, interviews and communications among Haitian politicians and officials show a scramble across a wide spectrum of interests to hire lobbyists and consultants in Washington and use those already on their payrolls.

A group text chat in the days after the killing of President Jovenel Moïse that included Haitian officials, political figures and American lobbyists showed them strategizing about countering American critics and potential rivals for the presidency and looking for ways to cast blame for the killing, according to copies of the messages obtained by The New York Times and confirmed by some of the participants. The chat began before the assassination and originally included Mr. Moïse, though it appeared to take on a more frenetic tone after he was gunned down in his home this month.

The texts and other documents help bring to life how lobbyists from firms including Mercury Public Affairs — which was paid at least $285,000 in the second half of last year by the Haitian government — are working with allied politicians to position successors in the wake of the assassination. In addition to Mercury, lobbying filings show that Haiti’s government is paying a total of $67,000 a month to three other lobbyists or their firms.

At the same time, competing political factions are looking for ways to develop backing in Washington for their own candidates.

A tax agreement is needed “for the continued success of the liberal international economic order,” said Itai Grinberg, a deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury Department.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Biden administration made its case on Wednesday for why multinational corporations should support an international tax agreement aimed at cracking down on tax shelters, with a top official arguing that the deal would restore order to globalization and blunt the forces of protectionism and populism that have posed a threat to business in recent years.

The comments, by Itai Grinberg, a Treasury Department official who is representing the United States in the negotiations, offered a new rationale for the agreement, which would entail the largest overhaul of the international tax system in decades. If enacted, the deal would usher in a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent and allow countries to impose new taxes on the goods and services of the largest and most profitable corporations regardless of where the companies are based.

But the Biden administration sees the agreement as more than an end to the “race to the bottom” on corporate taxes that has been a boon to tax havens.

“We believe this deal is part and parcel of restoring the foundation for the continued success of the liberal international economic order as we have known it over the last 75 years,” Mr. Grinberg, Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for multilateral tax, told the National Association for Business Economics.

The Biden administration has been pushing for the agreement as part of its plan to raise taxes on companies in the United States without making them less competitive around the world and to get dozens of countries to drop new digital services taxes that have targeted American technology companies. More than 130 countries have signed on to a framework of the deal, which is being negotiated through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Although large companies have been anxious about the prospect of higher taxes, Mr. Grinberg argued that they had more to gain from a tax agreement. He suggested that a lack of clarity and consensus in the international tax system was leading to greater double taxation that, if left unchecked, could cause corporations to pull back cross-border investment.

“The effect of those diminished transactions would spread well beyond big companies and their shareholders, because the activity of multinationals is the backbone of the success of globalization,” Mr. Grinberg said. “And none of that would be good, because although it certainly has its flaws, globalization has brought benefits not just for multinational corporations but for people in the United States and around the world.”

The Biden administration has argued that its international tax proposals would bring more fairness to the United States and to economies around the world. They would do so, it says, by putting an end to a system that allows corporations to pay less tax than middle-class workers and by giving nations more tax revenue that they could spend on infrastructure and other public goods. Mr. Grinberg said this would be in the interest of corporations, arguing that the sense of unfairness was creating a landscape that is problematic for global businesses.

“Could globally engaged multinational business succeed if economic populism, protectionism and anti-immigrant sentiment were to become the order of the political day?” he said.

Much remains to be done between now and October, when international negotiators hope to complete the pact. Ireland, Estonia and Hungary have yet to join the agreement, and their resistance could block the European Union from moving ahead with the plan.

The Biden administration hopes that Congress will approve its proposed changes to the U.S. global minimum tax this year and that it will consider the proposal to allow other countries to tax America’s large multinational companies next year, after technical work on that plan is completed.

The tax negotiations have been a top priority for Janet L. Yellen during her first year as Treasury secretary. Mr. Grinberg has been working closely with Rebecca Kysar, another Treasury official, to shape the agreement and represent the United States in the talks.

In his remarks, Mr. Grinberg said it was important to ensure that the agreement included a dispute resolution system and a mechanism to make sure it was binding.

“Getting it right will be an essential part of encapsulating this deal in a multilateral convention,” he said.

A worker refurbishes a cell phone.
Credit…Regis Duvignau/Reuters

The Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to push harder for the right of consumers to repair devices like smartphones, home appliances, cars and even farm equipment, arguing that large corporations have cost consumers by making such products harder to fix.

All five commissioners — two Republicans and three Democrats — voted to back a policy statement that promises to explore whether companies that make it harder for consumers to repair products are breaking antitrust or consumer protection laws, and to step up enforcement of the laws against violators.

“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs and undermine resiliency,” said Lina Khan, the commission’s chairwoman. “The F.T.C. has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”

The commission’s vote on Wednesday falls in line with President Biden’s policies to prioritize initiatives to increase competition between large corporations and to limit their power. In an executive order this month, Mr. Biden encouraged the commission to crack down on companies that make it harder for consumers to get equipment or electronics repaired by third-party shops. It singled out manufacturers of farming equipment — the tractor manufacturer John Deere, for example — that use license agreements that block farmers from repairing their tractors on their own.

Wednesday’s vote was a victory for the “right to repair” movement, which has long been pushing for repair-friendly policies at the federal, state and local levels. Nathan Proctor, the senior director of the United States Public Interest Research Group’s Right to Repair campaign, celebrated the agency’s decision in a statement.

“They have pledged to assist states in making right to repair improvements, and to tackle illegal behavior from manufacturers,” Mr. Proctor said. “The F.T.C. is no longer on the sidelines.”

But TechNet, an advocacy group representing technology companies including Google and Apple, criticized the move by the commission, saying it would only jeopardize the safety of consumers.

“The F.T.C.’s decision to upend an effective and secure system for consumers to repair products that they rely on for their health, safety, and well-being, including phones, computers, fire alarms, medical devices, and home security systems, will have far-reaching, permanent impacts on technology and cybersecurity,” Carl Holshouser, the senior vice president of TechNet, said in a statement.

It sent a report to Congress in May, titled “Nixing the Fix,” in which it described how companies designed products to be harder to fix and how they narrowed repair options in order to push consumers to more frequently buy new products. There is “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions,” the report said.

It also noted that the limitations imposed by companies harmed the consumer, especially communities of color and low-income communities. According to the report, the cost of buying a new product or the difficulty of repairing a product can fall disproportionately on small businesses owned by people of color.

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