March 4, 2021

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President Biden Live Updates: Merrick Garland, Covid-19 and Stimulus – The New York Times

11 min read
Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Biden’s attorney general nominee, is expected to garner broad bipartisan support.
Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Judge Merrick B. Garland appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday to begin his confirmation process to become the attorney general.

While Judge Garland is expected to garner broad bipartisan support to run the Justice Department, he is facing questions from Democrats and Republicans about how he will handle myriad politically charged matters that the department now faces: a federal tax fraud investigation into President Biden’s son, a special counsel’s inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation, and the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that has begun to edge closer to former President Donald J. Trump’s inner circle.

He will also need to reinvigorate the department’s civil rights division as America undergoes a painful and destabilizing reckoning with systemic racism, the likes of which the nation has not seen in more than half a century. The Trump administration worked to curb civil rights protections for transgender people and minorities. It also barred policies intended to combat systemic racism, sexism, homophobia and other implicit biases, which Mr. Trump said did not exist.

He is expected to assert that he will not let politics influence the department’s criminal inquiry into Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, or its look into whether Obama-era officials erred in their decision to investigate Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016.

But Judge Garland will be asked whether his Justice Department will open new investigations into Mr. Trump, his former administration officials and his inner circle. Some of those officials have been accused by government watchdogs of improper behavior and lying to investigators. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump or his associates will face scrutiny for any connections to the Capitol attack. Mr. Trump was acquitted of inciting insurrection by the Senate in his impeachment trial.

Republicans may try to push Judge Garland to commit to politically charged investigations into Democrats, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who misrepresented the number of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes, or to appoint a special counsel to investigate Mr. Biden’s son. The Justice Department has asked David C. Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, to continue to oversee the investigation into Hunter Biden.

Last month Judge Garland said he would ensure “that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends, the other for foes.”

After clerking for Justice William J. Brennan Jr., Judge Garland took a job at the Justice Department in 1989, as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington under President George H.W. Bush, where he prosecuted public corruption, drug trafficking and fraud cases.

He was chosen by Jamie Gorelick, who was deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, to serve as her top deputy; in that role, he oversaw the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing case and other major domestic terrorism cases. He was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997 with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Judge Garland is best known for being collateral damage in a political power play by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and then the majority leader, who delayed his Supreme Court confirmation hearing for eight months so that a Republican president could fill the seat left empty by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

Civil rights advocates, police unions, Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for Judge Garland’s nomination. A bipartisan group of more than 150 former Justice Department officials, including Democrats such as Eric H. Holder Jr. and Loretta Lynch, and Republicans like Alberto Gonzales, Michael B. Mukasey and Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, signed a letter supporting him as well.

Judge Merrick Garland arriving to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. He is widely expected to be confirmed as attorney general.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Five years ago, when President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, effectively killed Judge Garland’s chances by refusing to even schedule a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination.

On Monday, Judge Garland came before that committee for a hearing on whether to confirm him as President Biden’s attorney general. Mr. Grassley — now the ranking Republican on the panel — gave him a much more welcoming reception, saying that “no one doubts that Judge Garland is qualified for the job.”

“I like you, I respect you, and I think you are a good pick for this job,” Mr. Grassley said.

The warm greeting underscored why Judge Garland is widely expected to be confirmed as attorney general, in stark contrast to the Republican blockade he ran into in 2016. Republicans have lost control of the Senate, and the dynamics for a temporary confirmation to an executive-branch position are very different than for a life-tenured Supreme Court seat.

After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016, Mr. Obama selected Judge Garland, who had a centrist reputation, in hopes that Republicans would give him a chance. Judge Garland is a former Justice Department prosecutor who oversaw the investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and whose rulings from the bench have been more likely to side with law enforcement than some other Democratic appointees.

Mr. Grassley acknowledged that “my Republican colleagues and I decided not to hold a hearing on his nomination” to the Supreme Court, noting that the vacancy arose in an election year and Republicans controlled the Senate. But Mr. Grassley also noted that he did not attack Judge Garland, referring to the brutal confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

“Yes, it is true that I did not give Judge Garland a hearing,” Mr. Grassley said. “I also didn’t mischaracterize his record. I didn’t attack his character. I did not go through his high school yearbook. I didn’t make his wife leave the hearing in tears. I took a position on hearings and I stuck to it and that’s it. I admire Judge Garland’s public service. Just because I disagreed with anyone being nominated didn’t mean that I had to be disagreeable to that nominee.”

The Supreme Court issued an unsigned order on Monday requiring former President Donald J. Trump’s accountants to turn over his financial records to prosecutors in New York.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to shield his financial records, issuing a brief, unsigned order requiring Mr. Trump’s accountants to turn over his tax and other records to prosecutors in New York.

The court’s order was a decisive defeat for Mr. Trump, who had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his tax returns and related documents secret.

The case concerned a subpoena to Mr. Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, by the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat. The firm has said it will comply with the final ruling of the courts, meaning that the grand jury should receive the documents in short order.

Mr. Vance issued a three-word statement: “The work continues.”

Under grand jury secrecy rules, it would ordinarily be unclear when, if ever, the public would see the information. But The New York Times has obtained more than two decades of tax return data of Mr. Trump and his companies, and it recently published a series of articles about them.

Mr. Trump, the articles said, has sustained significant losses, owes enormous debts that he is personally obligated to repay, has avoided paying federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years The Times examined and paid just $750 in both 2016 and 2017.

The scope of Mr. Vance’s inquiry remains unclear. It arose partly from an investigation by his office into hush-money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump, relationships the president has denied. But court filings by prosecutors suggested that they are also investigating potential crimes like tax and insurance fraud.

The subpoena sought tax records and financial statements since 2011, engagement agreements with the accountants who prepared them, the underlying raw financial data and information about how the data were analyzed.

Downtown Nashville last week. Changes to the Paycheck Protection Program would attempt to steer more pandemic loans to the smallest businesses.
Credit…Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Aiming to steer more federal aid to the smallest and most vulnerable businesses, the Biden administration is altering the Paycheck Protection Program’s rules, increasing the amount sole proprietors are eligible to receive and imposing a 14-day freeze on loans to companies with 20 or more employees.

The freeze will take effect on Wednesday, the Small Business Administration planned to announce on Monday. Also, President Biden is expected to speak shortly after noon on Monday to make an announcement about small businesses.

In December’s economic relief package, Congress allocated $284 billion to restart the aid program. Banks and other financiers, which make the government-backed loans, have disbursed $134 billion to 1.8 million businesses since lending resumed last month. The money is intended to be forgiven if recipients comply with the program’s rules.

Companies with up to 500 workers are generally eligible for the loans, although second-draw loans — available to those whose sales dropped 25 percent or more in at least one quarter since the coronavirus pandemic began — are limited to companies with 300 or fewer employees. The 14-day moratorium is intended to focus lenders’ attention on the tiniest businesses, according to administration officials, who spoke to reporters at a news briefing on Sunday on the condition that they not be named.

Most small businesses are solo ventures, employing just the owner. For such companies, including sole proprietorships and independent contractors, one major impediment to getting relief money was a program rule that based their loan size on the annual profit they reported on their taxes. That made unprofitable businesses ineligible for aid, and left thousands of applicants with tiny loans — some as small as $1.

The new formula, which Small Business Administration officials said would be released soon, will focus instead on gross income. That calculation, which is done before many expenses are deducted, will let unprofitable businesses qualify for loans.

The agency is also changing several other program rules to expand eligibility. Those with recent felony convictions not tied to fraud will now be able to apply, as will those who are delinquent or in default on federal student loan debt. The agency also updated its guidance to clarify that business owners who are not United States citizens but lawful residents are eligible for loans.

Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, may not be able to win confirmation in the Senate.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Two moderate Republicans announced Monday that they would not support the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget, jeopardizing the prospects for confirmation in an evenly divided Senate.

In statements released early Monday morning and first obtained by Politico, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah said they would oppose Ms. Tanden’s opposition, citing hundreds of inflammatory, critical posts she had made on social media.

The margins for confirmation now appear all but insurmountable for Ms. Tanden, given that three senators in four days have announced their opposition. With Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, having already announced his intention to vote against the former Hillary Clinton adviser, President Biden needs the remainder of the Democratic caucus to support her nomination and at least two Republicans to endorse her.

One of many Republicans frequently targeted by Ms. Tanden on social media, Ms. Collins noted that “her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.” And Ms. Tanden’s decision to delete more than a thousand tweets ahead of her confirmation hearings, she said, “raises concerns about her commitment to transparency.”

In a statement issued shortly after Ms. Collins, a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney said that the senator “believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets.”

After Mr. Manchin on Friday announced his intent to vote against her confirmation, Mr. Biden said he planned to move forward with the nomination. Following the statement from Ms. Collins, the White House indicated it planned to move forward with the confirmation process.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Monday that Mr. Biden continued to support Ms. Tanden’s nomination.

“Neera Tanden is an accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent budget director and we look forward to the committee votes this week and to continuing to work toward her confirmation through engagement with both parties,” Ms. Psaki said in a statement.

But it was unclear once Mr. Romney’s office issued his rebuke of Ms. Tanden whether the administration would continue to push for her confirmation.

National Guard troops at the Capitol after it was overtaken by a mob of Trump supporters on Jan. 6. Their deployment was not approved for hours after the riot began.
Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

At 1:09 p.m. on Jan. 6, minutes after protesters had burst through the barricades around the U.S. Capitol and began using the steel debris to assault the officers standing guard, the chief of the Capitol Police made a desperate call for backup. It took nearly two hours for officials to approve the deployment of the National Guard.

New details about what transpired over those 115 minutes on that dark, violent day — revealed in interviews and documents — tell a story of how chaotic decision-making among political and military leaders burned precious time as the rioting at the Capitol spiraled out of control.

Communication breakdowns, inaction and confusion over who had authority to call for the National Guard delayed a deployment of hundreds of troops who might have helped quell the violence that raged for hours.

This period is expected to be a focus of a congressional hearing on Tuesday, when lawmakers will publicly question Steven A. Sund, the Capitol Police chief at the time, and other current and former officials for the first time about the security failures that contributed to the violence on that day.

“Capitol security leaders must address the decision not to approve the National Guard request, failures in interagency coordination and information sharing, and how the threat intelligence they had ahead of Jan. 6 informed their security decisions leading up to that day,” said Senator Maggie Hassan, Democrat of New Hampshire.

Some American officials have said that by the time the urgent request came to the Pentagon on the afternoon of Jan. 6, it was long past the time National Guard troops could have deployed quickly enough to prevent the storming of the Capitol. But law enforcement officials pointed out that during a melee that lasted hours, every lost minute was critical.

Chief Sund did not hear back for 61 minutes after he called for help from the National Guard. And even then, there was a catch: Though Capitol security officials had approved his request, the Pentagon had the final say. During a tense phone call that began 18 minutes later, a top general said that he did not like the “visual” of the military guarding the Capitol and that he would recommend the Army secretary deny the request.

Pentagon approval finally came at 3:04 p.m. The first deployment of National Guard troops arrived at the Capitol two and a half hours later.

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