October 26, 2021

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Biden Administration News: Live Updates – The New York Times

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The acting Capitol Police chief, Yogananda D. Pittman, told a House panel that the agency “failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.”
Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The acting chief of the Capitol Police apologized to Congress on Tuesday for the agency’s massive security failures on Jan. 6, acknowledging during a closed-door briefing that the department knew there was a “strong potential for violence” but failed to take adequate steps to prevent what she described as a “terrorist attack.”

Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of police, also confirmed that the Capitol Police Board, an obscure panel made up of three voting members, had initially declined a request two days earlier for National Guard troops and then delayed for more than an hour as the violence unfolded on Jan. 6 before finally agreeing to a plea from the Capitol Police for National Guard troops, according to prepared testimony obtained by The New York Times.

In an extraordinary admission, Ms. Pittman, who was not the acting chief at the time of the siege, told members of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees funding for the agency, that the Capitol Police “failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.” She added, “I am here to offer my sincerest apologies on behalf of the department.”

Her comments offered the fullest detailed account to date about police preparations on Jan. 6 in which thousands of angry protesters, believing false claims that the election had been stolen, marched on the Capitol at the behest of former President Donald J. Trump.

Speaking by video conference in a virtual briefing, Ms. Pittman told the subcommittee that the department “should have been more prepared for this attack,” according to the remarks.

Ms. Pittman said that her department knew Jan. 6 would be unlike previous protests. She said her department knew that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would descend on Washington, D.C.

“We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event,” she said. “We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target. The Department prepared in order to meet these challenges, but we did not do enough.”

She said the Capitol Police had 1,200 people working on site when the attack occurred, which was “no match” for “the tens of thousands of insurrectionists.”

Two days before the attack, Steven Sund, then the chief of the Capitol Police, requested that the Capitol Police Board declare a state of emergency and authorize a request to secure National Guard support. The board denied the request, according to Ms. Pittman, but encouraged Mr. Sund to contact the National Guard to determine how many guardsman could be sent to the Capitol on short notice, which he did.

As the protesters became an increasing threat to the Capitol on Jan. 6, Mr. Sund asked for more help from federal agencies and law enforcement agencies in the area. “He also lobbied the Board for authorization to bring in the National Guard, but he was not granted authorization for over an hour,” she said.

Two of the board members at the time of the attack have already resigned, Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at arms, and Michael C. Stenger, the Senate sergeant-at-arms. The third member, J. Brett Blanton, the Architect of the Capitol, is still on the board. Mr. Blanton was nominated by Mr. Trump in December 2019 and confirmed by the Senate that same month. The chief of the Capitol Police serves in an ex-officio, non-voting capacity.

“In my experience, I do not believe there was any preparations that would have allowed for an open campus in which lawful protesters could exercise their first amendment right to free speech and at the same time prevented the attack on Capitol grounds that day,” Ms. Pittman said.

In the aftermath of the attack, many officers are suffering from PTSD, she said, “particularly after the loss of two of our officers directly and indirectly as a result of the events of January 6th.” Officers also have been an experiencing an increase in coronavirus infections.

During the briefing, the acting House sergeant-at-arms, Timothy P. Blodgett, also said it was “clear there was a failure of preparation,” citing poor communications and a weak perimeter defense of the Capitol.

“Whether it was insufficient or conflicting intelligence, lacking ability to translate that intelligence into action, insufficient preparation or an inadequate ability to mobilize partner agencies for immediate assistance, a series of events, once thought unfathomable, unfolded allowing our most sacred halls to be breached,” Mr. Blodgett said.

The House impeachment managers walked the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

For the second time in just over a year, the Senate on Tuesday will convene as a court of impeachment to try Donald J. Trump, dropping his political fate into the laps of 50 Republican senators who, for now, do not appear ready to convict him.

The trial’s opening day is expected to be largely ceremonial, with senators preparing to postpone the heart of the proceeding until Feb. 9. But first, at 2:30 p.m., senators are scheduled to take an oath, dating to the 18th century, to administer “impartial justice.” The Senate will formally summon Mr. Trump to answer to the House’s charge of “incitement of insurrection,” approved on a bipartisan basis after he whipped up a mob that violently attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 in efforts to stop Congress from finalizing his election loss.

The two-week pause will allow Democrats time to confirm more of President Biden’s cabinet nominees and give the president’s newly constituted legal team a chance to prepare a defense. For Republican senators, it is expected to be a time of fraught political calculations as they weigh the costs and benefits of joining with Democrats in voting to convict a former president who remains popular with the voters who make up their party’s base and has vowed retribution to any who cross him.

One Republican was already considering trying to shut down the process before it began. Though the timing remained unclear, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, was expected to try to force a vote ruling the trial unconstitutional — since Mr. Trump is no longer the president — compelling senators to go on record with their views. A majority appeared poised to reject the move, allowing the trial to proceed.

The tenor is starkly different from that at Mr. Trump’s first impeachment a year ago, when Republicans almost unanimously lined up behind him. Several Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now the minority leader, have denounced the president’s actions and indicated they are contemplating convicting him. If the Senate did so, it could then bar him from ever holding office again, effectively purging the party of Mr. Trump.

But as the Jan. 6 attack has receded, boiling anger toward Mr. Trump among many Republicans appeared to be cooling fast, leaving those in favor of conviction for now well short of the 17 Republicans that would be needed to join Democrats in producing a guilty verdict.

Many Republicans appeared to be coalescing around Mr. Paul’s idea — widely disputed by scholars and even the Senate itself in the past — that trying a former official was improper because the Constitution does not explicitly allow it. Party leaders had invited Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, to expound on the argument at the party’s Tuesday luncheon.

Inside the Senate chamber, senators were to dedicate the afternoon to a ritual familiar to most of them after Mr. Trump’s 2020 trial, only the third presidential impeachment proceeding in American history. Each senator was set to swear an oath that dates to 1798, some version of which was uttered at the 1868 trial of President Andrew Johnson, President Bill Clinton’s in 1999 and Mr. Trump’s last year. Then they were scheduled to sign an oath book pledging the same.

“I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, former president of the United States, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” senators must swear. “So help me God.”

Anthony J. Blinken inherits a State Department where many diplomats say they are demoralized.
Credit…Pool photo by Alex Edelman

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Antony J. Blinken as the nation’s 71st secretary of state, installing President Biden’s longtime adviser who has a mission to rejoin alliances that were fractured after four years of an “America First” foreign policy.

Mr. Blinken, 58, has already signaled he is prepared to roll back a number of State Department policies that were set under President Donald J. Trump. A centrist with an interventionist streak, he was approved by a vote of 78 to 22 after receiving mostly gentle prodding at his nomination hearing last week by senators who seemed eager to move past Mr. Trump’s confrontational approach to diplomacy.

However, Mr. Blinken also told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Tuesday that Mr. Trump “was right” to take a tougher tone against China, an overarching strategy that is certain to remain.

“I disagree, very much, with the way that he went about it in a number of areas but the basic principle was the right one,” Mr. Blinken said. “And I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.”

Yet Mr. Blinken described a measured willingness to rejoin other world powers in an agreement, which the Trump administration had jettisoned, to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

He promised a harder line on Russian cyber hacks and election meddling — even as the Biden administration said it would work to extend an arms treaty with Moscow — and said he would review American policy toward North Korea, which he described as “a problem that has not gotten better. In fact, it’s gotten worse.”

All are departures from the foreign policies under Mr. Trump.

Mr. Blinken inherits a State Department where many diplomats say they are demoralized within an agency made up of about 1,000 fewer employees than when he left as its deputy secretary in early 2017.

He told senators last week that he will view his plans to ensure diversity and multiculturalism in the diplomatic corps “as a significant measure of whether I succeeded or failed, however long I’m in the job.”

That is another difference between his approach and those of his immediate predecessor, Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state who derided multiculturalism as “not who America is” just hours before Mr. Blinken’s defense of it.

In contrast to Mr. Pompeo’s fiery rhetoric and swaggering diplomacy, Mr. Blinken is a mild-mannered strategist who grew up in New York and Paris as the son and nephew of American ambassadors and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor.

Mr. Blinken, who plays in a rock band, is also a new father. He and his wife, a former senior State Department official, have two very young children at home, and he will be the first secretary of state in modern times to be raising toddlers while serving in office.

Janet L. Yellen being sworn-in on Tuesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Janet L. Yellen was sworn in as Treasury secretary on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, a history-making moment as both women are the first to assume two of the most powerful jobs in the United States government.

Ms. Yellen is the nation’s 78th Treasury secretary and the first woman to assume that role in the institution’s 232-year history. She is also the first woman to have held all three top economic jobs in the government, having served as chair of the Federal Reserve and the Council of Economic Advisers.

She is taking on the job at a time of economic crisis, with millions still out of work and the recovery slowing as the virus persists. Ms. Yellen will quickly be thrust into fraught negotiations over how to design and pass a robust stimulus package to help revive an economy that has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Standing outside the White House, Ms. Yellen took the oath of office with her husband, the economist George Akerlof, and her son by her side. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Ms. Harris said, “Congratulations, Madam Secretary.” To which Ms. Yellen replied, “Thank you, Madam Vice President.”

In a sign of the task ahead, the Treasury Department has been rapidly adding staff and advisers in recent days. Ms. Yellen was confirmed by a bipartisan vote on Monday but her top deputy, Wally Adeyemo and other senior officials who will oversee the department’s international affairs, sanctions and domestic finance divisions are not yet in place and will require Senate confirmation.

The White House and lawmakers in Congress have begun the fraught process of negotiating over President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief bill. Ms. Yellen, a labor economist and former Federal Reserve chair, will now assume a central role in making the case for why the economy needs more fiscal support.

At her confirmation hearing last week, Ms. Yellen told senators that it was time to “act big” and that doing so would be fiscally responsible in the long run by creating a healthier economy.

Gov. Gina Raimondo testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
Credit…Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, President Biden’s nominee to be the next commerce secretary, told lawmakers on Tuesday that she plans to help American communities bounce back from coronavirus, aggressively enforce trade rules to combat unfair practices from China and leverage the power of the government to mitigate climate change if confirmed to a cabinet post.

Ms. Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist, reassured members of the Senate Commerce Committee that she planned to work with them on priorities like protecting American fisheries, expanding broadband access that has become particularly vital for students during the pandemic, and promoting American research into cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced communications.

The Trump administration made heavy use of the department’s authorities to crack down on Chinese technology firms, turning often to the so-called entity list, which allows the United States to block companies from selling American products and technology to certain foreign firms without first obtaining a license. Dozens of companies have been added to the Commerce Department’s list, including telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE, which many American lawmakers see as threats to national security.

Ms. Raimondo declined to commit to keeping Huawei or other Chinese companies on the entity list when pressed to do so by Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas. But she vowed to use the powers of the Commerce Department “to protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference,” adding, “that’s Huawei, ZTE, or any other company.”

“China’s actions have been anti-competitive, hurtful to American workers and businesses, coercive, and as you point out, they are culpable for atrocious human rights abuses,” she said. “Whether it’s the entity list, or tariffs, or countervailing duties, I intend to use all those tools to the fullest extent possible to level the playing field for the American workers.”

Asked about the steel and aluminum tariffs levied on foreign countries by the Department of Commerce during the Trump administration, Governor Raimondo declined to say whether they would be removed or changed. She said that the Biden administration would carry out a broad review of trade policies in consultation with its allies, aggressively pursue uncompetitive trade behaviors from China and ensure that the process that excludes certain companies from the tariffs is swift, fair and objective.

Several senators praised her combination of public and private sector experience, saying those skills could help the country deal with economic damage from the pandemic, invest in American workers and business, and promote the marine and space economies, which the Commerce Department oversees.

Governor Raimondo, said that her background in the private sector as a venture capitalist and her experience as state treasurer and governor of Rhode Island have prepared her to help realize the Commerce Department’s mission to create good-paying jobs and empower American entrepreneurs and workers.

“In this time of overlapping crises, the Commerce Department must be a partner to businesses and workers to help them innovate and grow,” Ms. Raimondo said.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell on Monday dropped his demand that the new Democratic Senate majority promise to preserve the filibuster — which Republicans could use to obstruct President Biden’s agenda — ending an impasse that had prevented Democrats from assuming full power even after their election wins.

But as in past fights over the filibuster, the outcome is likely to be only a temporary solution. As they press forward on Mr. Biden’s agenda, Democrats will come under mounting pressure from activists to jettison the rule, which effectively requires 60 votes to advance any measure, should Republicans use it regularly to stall or stop the administration’s priorities.

In his negotiations with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the new majority leader, Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, had refused to agree to a plan for organizing the chamber without a pledge from Democrats to protect the filibuster, a condition that Mr. Schumer had rejected.

But late Monday, as the stalemate persisted, Mr. McConnell found a way out by pointing to statements by two centrist Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, that said they opposed getting rid of the procedural tool — a position they had held for months — as enough of a guarantee to move forward without a formal promise from Mr. Schumer.

“With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Democrats had been anticipating a capitulation by Mr. McConnell and said they believed he had overreached in the negotiation.

“We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer. “We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people.”

Even some lawmakers who have backed the filibuster strongly said they could change their minds if Republicans engaged in constant obstruction.

“I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done,” said Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change.”

Mr. McConnell’s demand for a pre-emptive surrender on the filibuster had infuriated Democrats who regarded it as evidence that the Republican leader intends to obstruct Mr. Biden’s proposals on pandemic relief, immigration, climate change, health care and more.

The stalemate created a bizarre situation in which most Senate committees were frozen under Republican control and new senators could not be seated on the panels even though Democrats now command the Senate majority.

Beyond the immediate logistical effects, the feud reflected a challenging dynamic in the 50-50 Senate for Mr. Biden. By holding out against Democrats eager to take charge, Mr. McConnell was exercising what leverage he had. But he also foreshadowed an eventual clash in the chamber that might otherwise have taken months to unfold over how aggressive Democrats should be in seeking to accomplish Mr. Biden’s top priorities.

Democrats say they must retain at least the threat that they could one day end the filibuster, arguing that bowing to Mr. McConnell’s demand now would only have emboldened Republicans to deploy it constantly, without fear of retaliation.

At issue is a rule that is at the heart of the consensus-driven Senate, which effectively mandates that any legislation draw 60 votes to advance. But like everything else in the chamber, the rule itself is subject to change if senators agree. As the majority party, Democrats could move to eliminate the filibuster and force through a change to the rules on a simple majority vote — a move known as detonating the “nuclear option” — if all 50 of their members held together and Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote.

President Biden on Tuesday is expected to announce the establishment of a national commission to examine excessive force violations by law enforcement.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Continuing an opening salvo of executive actions intended to combat the coronavirus and nullify many of his predecessor’s policies, President Biden is set to outline a series of policy plans pointed at a central campaign pledge: advancing the cause of racial equity.

“America has never lived up to its founding promise of equality for all, but we’ve never stopped trying,” Mr. Biden said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Today, I’ll take action to advance racial equity and push us closer to that more perfect union we’ve always strived to be.”

At 2 p.m., Mr. Biden will deliver his remarks in the State Dining Room and is expected to take executive action on prison reform, affordable housing and police reform — including an order establishing a national commission to examine the use of excessive force by law enforcement, according to an aide familiar with his plans.

Mr. Biden will also sign an order reinstating a ban on the transfer of military equipment to local police departments put in place during the Obama administration and rolled back under President Donald J. Trump, the aide said.

He also plans to issue an order addressing discrimination against Asian-Americans.

At 4:45 p.m., Mr. Biden is scheduled to give brief remarks updating the country on “the fight to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” part of the administration’s commitment to offering updates on its response to the crisis several times a week.

At noon, Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Janet Yellen as the new Treasury secretary.

Later, Ms. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will receive their second doses of the coronavirus vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

At 12:30 p.m., Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, and Susan Rice, a domestic policy adviser, will discuss Mr. Biden’s equity agenda as well as previous executive orders dealing with the economic hardship faced by families during the pandemic.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the Biden administration was taking the step as part of its commitment to inclusivity.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Biden administration announced this week that it would include an American Sign Language interpreter in its daily press briefings, a step that the previous administration avoided taking until a court ordered it to do so late last year.

The move is a “historical first,” according to Howard A. Rosenblum, the chief executive officer of the National Association of the Deaf.

Past administrations have occasionally had A.S.L. briefers at some White House events and meetings, but President Biden is the first to make it a fixture.

“The president is committed to building an America that is more inclusive, more just and more accessible for every American, including Americans with disabilities and their families,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said during Monday’s briefing. She introduced the interpreter as Heather.

Last year, Mr. Rosenblum’s advocacy group and five deaf Americans sued the Trump administration for holding briefings on the coronavirus without a sign language interpreter present, arguing that it was a violation of the First Amendment.

The government responded that it had provided closed-captioning, but the plaintiffs said that was not an adequate substitute. A federal judge in Washington sided with the plaintiffs, and the Trump administration started including an interpreter in November.

During his first few hours in office, Mr. Biden signed an executive order directing senior officials to look at ways to make sure people with disabilities and other minorities were not denied opportunities or government benefits.

Mr. Biden also directed top leaders to break down federal data, including economic indicators, “by race, ethnicity, gender, disability, income, veteran status or other key demographic variables” to measure progress on equity goals. The move was praised by many economists.

Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, helped fund a bus tour that promoted Donald J. Trump’s false election claims.
Credit…Erin Scott/Reuters

Twitter has permanently suspended MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell — one of President Trump’s most conspicuous remaining public defenders — for peddling debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

Mr. Lindell’s Twitter account, which had nearly 413,000 followers, was permanently suspended “due to repeated violations of our Civic Integrity Policy,” Lauren Alexander, a Twitter spokeswoman, said in an email.

Mr. Trump’s own account was permanently closed earlier this month for much the same reason — setting off a chain of high-profile bans imposed amid concerns that Mr. Trump and his supporters would use the platform to incite more violence, like the storming of the Capitol earlier this month.

After the Capitol attack, Twitter said it had updated its rules to more aggressively police false or misleading information about the presidential election. As part of that move, Twitter has moved to suspend the accounts of more than 70,000 people who have promoted content related to QAnon, a fringe pro-Trump group that the F.B.I. has labeled a domestic terrorist threat.

Many of Mr. Trump’s most erstwhile defenders backed away from him in the days following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, which was stoked by the former president’s fiery and false speech to supporters claiming massive voter fraud. Not Mr. Lindell.

A few days after the riot, he visited Mr. Trump in the White House — where photographers captured images of his notes, which while only partly visible seemed to suggest the president impose “martial law if necessary” to remain in office.

Dominion Voting Systems, the target of his unsubstantiated claims of massive, intentional voter fraud, threatened to sue Mr. Lindell last week, describing him as a leader of a “misinformation campaign” that has resulted in significant business losses and threats of violence against Dominion employees.

On Monday, Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claiming he had personally profited by using his attacks against the company to promote commercial sponsorships.

Mr. Lindell, 59, filed a lawsuit of his own on Monday, suing the British tabloid The Daily Mail, over a recent report that he was having an extramarital affair, seeking $75,000 in damages.

His high-profile defense of Mr. Trump has earned him a devoted following on the right, but might have significant implications for his business. Bed Bath & Beyond and several other chains have said they plan to stop selling MyPillow products.

Under President Donald J. Trump, the White House ran an ad hoc clemency process that provided an advantage to people with connections to him.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Of the nearly 240 pardons and commutations issued by President Donald J. Trump, only 25 came through the rigorous process for identifying and vetting worthy clemency petitions — an action overseen by the Justice Department, according to a tally kept partly by a former United States pardon attorney.

For example, Eliyahu Weinstein got word that two-thirds of his 24-year sentence for investment fraud was going to be commuted by Mr. Trump after the White House chief of staff called a well-connected Washington lobbyist who had been hired to lead his clemency push.

Lawrence McCarroll, who is serving a 33-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offense, learned from his mother that the petition he had filed with the Justice Department and the letter he had sent to the president had failed to win him a commutation of the remaining six years of his sentence. His mother emailed from her home in Kenosha, Wis., to tell him his name had not appeared in news reports about Mr. Trump’s final round of clemency.

The contrast between the treatment of Mr. Weinstein and Mr. McCarroll underscores the two very different systems for determining who received clemency during Mr. Trump’s presidency.

In one system, people like the McCarrolls mostly hung their hopes on the regular process run by the Justice Department, which often took years to produce a response, if one came at all. In the other system, people like Mr. Weinstein skipped the line and got their petitions directly on the president’s desk because they had money or connections, or allies who did.

In addition to rewarding people like Mr. Weinstein whose allies could afford to buy access to the highest levels of the administration, the results included pardons for people with direct personal relationships with the former president, such as his longtime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law’s father, Charles Kushner.

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