March 2, 2021

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Biden Live Updates: Capitol Riot Hearing, Stimulus and Covid – The New York Times

11 min read
Paul D. Irving and Michael C. Stenger, the former sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate, have come under scrutiny since the Capitol attack. Both have resigned.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Capitol security officials planned on Tuesday to defend their actions ahead of and during last month’s riot as two Senate committees begin an investigative hearing to scrutinize the security breakdowns that failed to prevent the deadly rampage by Trump supporters.

“The intelligence was not that there would be a coordinated assault on the Capitol, nor was that contemplated in any of the interagency discussions that I attended in the days before the attack,” Paul D. Irving, the former House sergeant-at-arms, planned to testify, according to his submitted remarks.

At a joint hearing, senators began questioning of officials who were in charge of securing the Capitol during the attack, when Capitol Police officers and members of the District of Columbia police force called in as reinforcements were overrun as the vice president and members of Congress were gathered inside.

The meeting of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee was the first time the public has heard from the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, the top two security officials at the Capitol on the day of the assault. Both resigned after the attack.

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‘Hold the Line, Patriots’: Scenes From the Capitol Riot

Our cameras captured the mayhem, confusion and chaos outside the Capitol as Trump supporters entered and disrupted certification of the Electoral College results.

“… the police are … I’m just giving you guys a heads-up. They already secured the White House. I’m just giving you a heads-up. Hold the line, patriots. Hold the line. National Guard is on their way.” Crowd: “The steal is real. The steal is real …” “The steal is real.” [cheering] “They’re not operating by our [expletive] laws. This is real. And theirs is fake.” [cheering] “Put the knife away.” “Y’all are out here, they’re gone. Why are we here?” “Yeah, but you’re holding a knife.” “He just [expletive] got in my face, a man.” “That’s a good point, but you got a knife.” “A man just got in my face.” “I know. It’s wrong, it’s wrong.” “OK, well talk to him. Don’t talk to a woman that jumped in my face.” “You got a lot of people here to defend you. A lot of people.” “I will [expletive] kill anybody.” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” [coughing] “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Every one of us in the front line got hit really hard with pepper spray. A lot of it. And so that pushed us back. But they’re still working on getting inside the building and taking their stand.” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Listen up. Hey! Listen up! We need to go take down MSNBC, CNN, you know where all this [expletive] started and put out the fire. They started the fire.” “We’re not here to be violent. We are not here to be violent. We’re not here to be violent with you guys.” “Who has water?” “Me.” “Water, water.” “The ones who protected you. The ones who stood by your side when you were being attacked.” “Traitors! Traitors! Traitors!” “Now you’re attacking us.” “[Expletive] garbage people. Such a [expletive] shame.” “My 5-year-old son’s more of a [expletive] man than you are!” “Move! Move!”

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Our cameras captured the mayhem, confusion and chaos outside the Capitol as Trump supporters entered and disrupted certification of the Electoral College results.CreditCredit…Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

Mr. Irving and Michael C. Stenger, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms, have come under scrutiny amid reports that they did not act swiftly enough to call for the National Guard. The committees were also hearing from Steven A. Sund, the former chief of the Capitol Police, who has also resigned, and Robert J. Contee, the chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Mr. Irving planned to take issue with statements submitted to Congress by former Chief Sund that the former sergeant-at-arms rejected National Guard support because of “optics.” He also planned to dispute Mr. Sund’s timeline of events on Jan. 6 that indicated Mr. Irving waited half an hour before approaching political leaders about calling in the guard.

“Certain media reports have stated that ‘optics’ determined my judgment about using those National Guard troops. That is categorically false,” Mr. Irving planned to testify. “‘Optics’ as portrayed in the media did not determine our security posture; safety was always paramount when evaluating security for Jan. 6.”

Chief Contee laid the blame for the slow deployment of the National Guard solely on the Defense Department, noting that the Army had expressed reluctance to send in the troops.

“I was stunned at the response from Department of the Army,” Chief Contee said.

He added that he understood defense officials’ concerns about planning the deployment and the appearance of the military at the Capitol. But “these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted,” he said.

Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza testified to the violence she confronted Jan. 6. After she was called in early to duty at 1:30 p.m., she fought to keep rioters from damaging the Capitol, nearly breaking her arm and suffering burns from gas deployed in the Rotunda.

“I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day,” Captain Mendoza told senators.

After fighting the mob for four long hours, she spent the next day at the hospital with the family of Officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed after suffering injuries during the siege and later died.

“It’s sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens,” Captain Mendoza added.

The hearing was the first of a series of oversight hearings organized by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota and the chairwoman of the Rules Committee, and Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, along with the top Republicans on both panels, Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio.

But already, the congressional investigation of the Capitol riot — the deadliest attack on the building in 200 years — has turned political. Republicans are resisting a proposal by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, to form an independent, bipartisan commission modeled after the one that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, arguing that her blueprint would skew the panel toward Democrats.

If confirmed, Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, would be the first Latino to serve as secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

President Biden’s nominee for health secretary, Xavier Becerra, will appear before a Senate committee Tuesday morning, where he is expected to face tough questions from Republicans who are trying to paint him as an extremist and to use his confirmation as a political cudgel against Democrats up for re-election in 2022.

If confirmed, he will immediately face a daunting task in leading the department at a critical moment, during a pandemic that has claimed half a million lives and taken a particularly devastating toll on people of color. He would be the first Latino to serve as secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Becerra, a former member of Congress who is now attorney general of California, lacks direct experience as a health professional. But he took a deep interest in health policy while in Washington, and has more recently been at the forefront of legal efforts on health care, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by Republicans.

Republicans and their allies in the conservative and anti-abortion movements have seized on Mr. Becerra’s defense of the A.C.A. as well as his support for abortion rights. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, took to Twitter on Monday, where he branded Mr. Becerra an “unqualified radical” in a post that featured a political advertisement targeting Democrats who support Mr. Becerra’s confirmation.

“Any Senator supporting him will pay a price with voters,” Mr. Cotton wrote.

The Conservative Action Project, an advocacy group, issued a statement on Monday signed by dozens of conservative leaders, including several former members of Congress, complaining that Mr. Becerra had a “troubling record” with respect to “policies relating to the sanctity of life, human dignity and religious liberty.”

They cited in particular his vote against banning “late-term abortion,” and accused him of using his role as attorney general “to tip the scales in favor of Planned Parenthood,” a group that advocates abortion rights.

Democrats are emphasizing Mr. Becerra’s experience leading one of the nation’s largest justice departments through an especially trying period. In a statement, Senator Patty Murray, who will preside over Tuesday’s hearing as chairwoman of the Senate health committee, said Mr. Becerra had “proven himself as an executive leader” and spotlighted his commitment to social justice.

“He has held companies accountable for flouting Covid-19 safety rules and putting workers at risk,” Ms. Murray said. And, she added, “he has worked throughout his career to advocate on behalf of communities of color across health, immigration, education and more.”

Heading into Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Becerra has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill; as of Monday he had met with at least 40 senators. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden transition, called him a “tested, qualified leader” who has “decades of health policy experience,” including “a strong record of fighting to lower costs for patients.”

Tuesday’s session will be the first of two confirmation hearings held this week by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. On Thursday, the panel will consider the nominations of Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon general and Dr. Rachel Levine for assistant secretary of health.

If the Senate approves, Dr. Murthy would reprise his role as surgeon general under former President Barack Obama, and Dr. Levine would become the first openly transgender official to win Senate confirmation.

The Manhattan district attorney is set to obtain eight years of federal income tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The United States Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the Manhattan district attorney to obtain eight years of federal income tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump and other records from his accountants. The decision capped a long-running legal battle over prosecutors’ access to the information.

Whether prosecutors find evidence of crimes, however, will also depend on other information not found in the actual returns.

The New York Times last year provided a preview of what awaits the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., when it obtained and analyzed decades of income tax data for Mr. Trump and his companies. The tax records provide an unprecedented and highly detailed look at the byzantine world of Mr. Trump’s finances, which for years he has simultaneously bragged about and sought to keep secret.

The Times’s examination showed that the former president reported hundreds of millions of dollars in business losses, went years without paying federal income taxes and faces an Internal Revenue Service audit of a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed a decade ago.

Among other things, the records revealed that Mr. Trump had paid just $750 in federal income taxes in his first year as president and no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years. They also showed he had written off $26 million in “consulting fees” as a business expense between 2010 and 2018, some of which appear to have been paid to his older daughter, Ivanka Trump, while she was a salaried employee of the Trump Organization.

The legitimacy of the fees, which reduced Mr. Trump’s taxable income, has since become a subject of Mr. Vance’s investigation, as well as a separate civil inquiry by Letitia James, the New York attorney general. Ms. James and Mr. Vance are Democrats, and Mr. Trump has sought to portray the multiple inquiries as politically motivated, while denying any wrongdoing.

An empty classroom at a public school in Baltimore.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would not allow broad cancellation of standardized tests this year, but would offer flexibility from some high-stakes federal mandates.

In a letter sent to state education chiefs on Monday, Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant education secretary, wrote that the Education Department was “not inviting blanket waivers of assessments,” which the Trump administration had issued at the outset of the pandemic. However, the department said in a statement that it was encouraging states to make wide-ranging modifications, such as extending the testing window to summer and fall, giving assessments remotely and shortening their length.

The department also said it would consider applications from states looking to waive certain federal requirements, such as an accountability provision in the federal K-12 law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, that requires a 95 percent test participation rate. The department will also allow waivers from rules that would require states to identify and overhaul their lowest-performing schools based on data from the current school year.

“The intent of these flexibilities, and the accountability waivers, is to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports,” Mr. Rosenblum wrote.

The highly anticipated decision was met with mixed reactions from key stakeholders.

The issue of standardized testing has divided the education community. Some education groups, including teachers’ unions, believed that testing students would be cumbersome and impractical in a year that has completely upended the education system. Other groups, like organizations that promote educational equity, believed that assessments would provide crucial data points for grasping the toll that the pandemic has taken on student achievement.

Mr. Rosenblum also wrote in his letter that “it is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning,” and that “state assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a powerful ally of the Biden administration, said that while the administration had done “admirable work” in managing the pandemic, “it is a frustrating turn to see the administration ask states to continue requiring assessments during this tumultuous school year.”

Ms. Weingarten said that the union supported the use of “locally developed, authentic assessments that could be used by educators and parents as a baseline for work this summer and next year.”

A national survey released by the National PTA on Monday found that 60 percent of parents were worried that their child was behind and wanted more information on their academic progress, and 52 percent of parents favored end-of-year testing this spring. A majority of parents also wanted to see modifications, and believed that the results should not be used against students or their schools.

“Statewide assessments are one of multiple measures that, when combined, help give a clearer picture of where children are academically and help equip parents to effectively advocate on behalf of their child’s learning,” the organization’s president, Leslie Boggs, said in a statement.

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