Daily Political Briefing
Sept. 21, 2021Updated
Sept. 21, 2021, 9:16 p.m. ET
Sept. 21, 2021, 9:16 p.m. ETImageU.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback try to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sunday.Credit…Paul Ratje/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Democrats and civil rights leaders expressed outrage on Tuesday toward the Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants in response to images and video of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing down and blocking migrants.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, speaking from the Senate floor, said that the images were “completely unacceptable.”
He said that the administration could not “continue these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws,” adding that asylum seekers must be afforded due process.
Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, echoed those comments, calling the images “horrific and disturbing.”
And in a statement, Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., also compared the practices of the Border Patrol agents to the inhumane immigration policies of the Trump administration.
“The humanitarian crisis happening under this administration on the southern border disgustingly mirrors some of the darkest moments in America’s history,” Mr. Johnson said. “If we were to close our eyes and this was occurring under the Trump administration, what would we do? The inhumane treatment of the Haitian refugees seeking help is utterly sickening.”
The Homeland Security Department, which includes the Border Patrol, said on Monday it was investigating what was shown in the footage.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment but Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday described the images as “horrible.” She said she planned to discuss the matter with Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary.
“What I saw depicted about those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were, was horrible. And I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into exactly what is going on there,” she said.
The criticism from a leading civil rights organization was the latest sign that the crisis at the border is alarming some outside groups whose counsel Mr. Biden has turned to and whose support he has courted since the campaign.
On Tuesday, Mr. Johnson demanded a meeting at the White House to discuss the refugee crisis. “In the words of William Clay, ‘We have no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, only permanent interests,’” Mr. Johnson said. “The N.A.A.C.P. only has permanent interests. We look forward to our meeting with the President.”
Mr. Biden, a lifelong member of the organization, has met with Mr. Johnson multiple times since his election. Their last meeting was on July 8, when they discussed strategy to pass legislation on voting rights.
The rise in Haitian migration began in the months after Mr. Biden took office and as the administration began reversing Trump-era immigration policies. That was interpreted by many as a sign that the United States would be more welcoming to migrants. In May, the administration extended temporary protected status for the 150,000 Haitians already living in the country and that was extended again over the summer for Haitians living in the U.S. before July 29.
But thousands started crossing the border into the town of Del Rio, Texas, last week, in what Mr. Mayorkas on Tuesday called an “unprecendented” increase of migrants crossing one part of the southern border.
Read moreSpeaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol on Tuesday.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
The House on Tuesday approved legislation to keep the government funded through early December, lift the limit on federal borrowing through the end of 2022 and provide emergency money for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery, setting up a fiscal showdown as Republicans warn they will block the measure in the Senate.
The bill is urgently needed to avert both a government shutdown next week, and a first-ever debt default next month, whenever the Treasury Department reaches the limit of its borrowing authority. But it has become ensnared in partisan politics, with Republicans refusing to allow a debt ceiling increase at a time when Democrats control Congress and the White House.
In pairing the debt limit raise with the spending package, Democrats had hoped to pressure Republicans into dropping their opposition to raising the debt ceiling, a routine step that allows the government to meet its obligations. But even with crucial funding for some of their states on the line, no Republicans voted for the legislation.
The bill passed with only Democratic votes in the closely divided House, 220 to 211.
And the prospects for passage in the 50-50 Senate appeared dim, as Republicans vowed they would neither vote for the legislation nor allow it to advance in the chamber, where 60 votes are needed to move it forward.
The legislation would extend government funding through Dec. 3, buying more time for lawmakers to negotiate the dozen annual spending bills, which are otherwise on track to lapse when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. The package would also provide $6.3 billion to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States and $28.6 billion to help communities rebuild from hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
“It is critical that Congress swiftly pass this legislation to support critical education, health, housing and public safety programs and provide emergency help for disaster survivors and Afghan evacuees,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.
But the decision by Democratic leaders to attach it to legislation lifting the federal debt limit through Dec. 16, 2022 could ultimately jeopardize a typically routine effort to stave off a government shutdown, heightening the threat of fiscal calamity.
Led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, Republicans have warned for weeks that they had no intention of helping Democrats raise the limit on the Treasury Department’s ability to borrow. While the debt has been incurred with the approval of both parties, Mr. McConnell has repeatedly pointed to Democrats’ efforts to push multi-trillion-dollar legislation into law over Republican opposition.
Republicans have said that they would support the package absent the debt ceiling provision. As soon as the House vote gaveled shut, Mr. McConnell and Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, unveiled their own funding legislation, without the debt ceiling increase included.
Democrats, who joined with Republicans during the Trump administration to raise the debt ceiling, have argued that the G.O.P. is setting a double standard that threatens to sabotage the economy. Should the government default on its debt for the first time, it would prompt a financial crisis, shaking faith in American credit and cratering the stock market.
Democrats, who have narrow majorities in each chamber, cannot afford to lose many votes. That narrow margin in part led Democratic leaders to remove a provision providing $1 billion to the Israeli government for its Iron Dome air defense system against short-range rockets, according to a person briefed on the decision, citing opposition from some liberal Democrats.
The decision to jettison it for now infuriated some moderates in their ranks and sparked a flurry of Republican criticism. But Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said on Tuesday he would bring up a bill later in the week to provide that funding, under a suspension of the House rules.
“I was for that, I’m still for it — we ought to do it,” Mr. Hoyer said on the House floor, adding that he had spoken to Yair Lapid, the Israeli foreign minister, earlier in the day and offered his commitment to ensuring that it would clear the House. Senate Republicans included the provision in their own version of the spending package, which was released late Tuesday.
Read moreSidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani at a news conference in Washington on Nov. 19.Credit…Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Days before lawyers allied with President Donald J. Trump held a news conference in November promoting election conspiracy theories, his campaign had determined that many of those claims were false, according to court filings released Monday evening.
At the news conference on Nov. 19, Mr. Trump’s lawyers laid out a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that a voting machine company, Dominion Voting Systems, had worked with an election software firm, the financier George Soros and Venezuela to steal the presidential election. But by that point, Mr. Trump’s campaign had already prepared an internal memo determining that those allegations were untrue.
The court papers — which were filed late last week in a defamation lawsuit brought against the Trump campaign and others by a former Dominion employee, Eric Coomer — suggest that the campaign sat on its findings even as Sidney Powell and other lawyers publicly attacked the company and filed four federal lawsuits accusing Dominion of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Mr. Trump.
The false theories they spread quickly gained currency in the conservative media and endure nearly a year later.
The Texas abortion law’s unique enforcement mechanism was intended to circumvent judicial review.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times
When the United States’ most restrictive abortion law went into effect in Texas on Sept. 1, it worked exactly as intended: It essentially stopped all abortions in the second-most populous state.
But its very ingenuity — that ordinary citizens, and not state officials, enforce it — has begun to unleash lawsuits that are out of the control of the anti-abortion movement that fought for the law.
On Monday, a man in Arkansas and another in Illinois, both disbarred lawyers with no apparent association with anti-abortion activists, filed separate suits in state court against a San Antonio doctor who publicly wrote about performing an abortion. The suits appear to be the first legal actions taken under the law, known as Senate Bill 8, which deputizes private citizens — no matter where they live — to sue doctors or anyone else who “aids and abets” an abortion performed after an embryo or fetus’s cardiac activity is detected.
Legal experts said these lawsuits might be the most likely way to resolve the constitutionality of the Texas law, which has withstood legal tests so far. Two more sweeping challenges filed in federal court by abortion providers and the Justice Department raise difficult procedural questions.
The law’s unique enforcement mechanism, designed to circumvent judicial review, invites private individuals to sue anyone involved with the procedure other than the pregnant woman. Should plaintiffs win, they would receive $10,000 and have their legal fees covered.
From the anti-abortion movement’s perspective, neither of the two men who sued this week is an ideal plaintiff. The Arkansas man, Oscar Stilley, who described himself in his suit as a “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer, said he was “not pro-life” and merely wanted to “vindicate” the law. The Illinois man, Felipe N. Gomez, described himself in his complaint as a “pro-choice plaintiff.”
“These out-of-state suits are not what the bill is intended for,” said Chelsey Youman, the Texas state director and national legislative adviser for Human Coalition, an anti-abortion group that said it had no plans to file a lawsuit against the physician, Dr. Alan Braid, or to encourage others to do so.
Read moreMore than 200 government officials may have been injured in mysterious incidents that were first reported at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday authorizing additional support for U.S. officials who were injured in a series of mysterious episodes that caused traumatic brain injuries.
The Senate first passed the legislation, pushed by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, on June 7. Because the House voted on that version of the bill, it will now go to President Biden to sign.
Passage comes as the number of incidents continues to grow. A C.I.A. officer traveling in India with William J. Burns, the agency director, was injured earlier this month, exhibiting symptoms consistent with the so-called Havana syndrome. The incidents could be attacks by hostile intelligence services, but the United States has not drawn a conclusion about what the precise cause is and who is responsible.
Officials believe that more than 200 people could have been injured in episodes. While microwave devices or other directed-energy equipment are a possible cause, administration and congressional officials have not determined the source of the injuries, which were first observed in Cuba and have come to be known as Havana syndrome.
Since then, U.S. diplomats and C.I.A. officers have been injured in China, Central Asian countries and Europe, including Vienna. At least two possible episodes in the United States are being investigated, but officials are even more unsure about the circumstances.
“The number is going up all the time,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in an interview this summer.
The bill was originally expected to be passed by the House in July, but partisan procedural battles delayed the vote.
Mr. Biden supports the bill and congressional efforts to provide additional support to victims, a senior administration official said. In a July address to intelligence officers, Mr. Biden said his administration was making sure that people affected in the incidents “have the best possible care.”
Some officials have pointed to Russia as the most likely culprit, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. Other officials believe multiple adversaries could be responsible.
“From the descriptions that I’ve heard firsthand from some of the victims, they seemed quite purposeful, quite deliberate and very specific,” Mr. Schiff said. “And that’s suggestive of a foreign bad actor.”
But, he added, “there is still much more we don’t know about this than we do.”
The bill will ensure that the Biden administration keeps Congress informed about its investigation and will compensate victims for their injuries, Ms. Collins said.
“Far too many ‘Havana syndrome’ victims have had to battle the bureaucracy to receive care for their debilitating injuries,” she said in a statement. “For those victims, the Havana Act will ensure that they receive the financial and medical support that they deserve. It also affirms our commitment to making sure that our government finds out who is responsible.”
Some victims of the attacks said they have struggled to get the government to cover medical costs for themselves and family members. Several praised the congressional action, including Mark Lenzi, a State Department security engineering officer who was injured in China, from what some officials believe was a pulsed microwave attack.
“This legislation is crucial for those of us at the State Department injured in the line of duty who, like myself, have thousands of dollars of medical bills that the State Department has refused to pay,” Mr. Lenzi said.
Mr. Burns, the C.I.A. director, has spoken publicly about the importance of discovering the cause of the episodes and has made a priority of improving health care for affected agency officers, including increasing access to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which has expertise in treating brain injuries. But some victims’ groups said the State Department had been slower to improve how it had handled cases.
Mr. Schiff said the legislation established criteria for treatment and compensation. It should also prod the government to standardize the reporting and classification of the episodes.
While some officials have said they are worried that people experiencing symptoms unrelated to the Havana syndrome could seek compensation or treatment, Mr. Schiff said he was more worried about giving care to people who need treatment, and the bill errs on the side of providing assistance.
“We want to make sure that everybody that’s been impacted by these anomalous incidents gets the health care that they need,” he said. “So we want it to be broadly interpreted.”
Biden Urges Unity Against Common Threats in an ‘Interconnected’ World
President Biden called for an era of international cooperation in tackling global threats in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly as president.
We stand, in my view, at an inflection point in history. And I’m here today to share with you how the United States intends to work with partners and allies to answer these questions, and the commitment of my new administration help lead the world toward a more peaceful, prosperous future for all people. Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources to the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future. Ending this pandemic, addressing the climate crisis, managing the shifts in global power dynamics, shaping the rules of the world on vital issues like trade, cyber and emerging technologies, and facing the threat of terrorism as it stands today. We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan. And as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy, of using the power of our development aid, to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world, of renewing and defending democracy, of proving that no matter how challenging or how complex the problems you’re going to face government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people. And as the United States turns our focus to the priorities and the regions of the world like the Indo-Pacific that are most consequential today and tomorrow, we’ll do so with our allies and partners through cooperation and multilateral institutions like the United Nations to amplify our collective strength and speed, our progress toward dealing with these global challenges. Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view, as never before, and so I believe we must work together as never before.
President Biden called for an era of international cooperation in tackling global threats in his first address to the United Nations General Assembly as president.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden delivered his debut address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday amid strong new doubts about his ability to vault the United States back into a position of global leadership after his predecessor’s promotion of “America First” isolationism.
Speaking to a smaller than usual audience of his peers because of the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Biden called for a new era of global unity against the coronavirus, climate change, emerging technological threats and the expanding influence of autocratic nations such as China and Russia.
“No matter how challenging or how complex the problems we’re going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people,” he said, insisting that the United States and its Western allies would remain vital partners.
“Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view as never before,” Mr. Biden said.
Calling for the world to make the use of force “our tool of last resort, not our first,” he defended his decision to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a chaotic withdrawal of American troops that left allies blindsided.
“Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed by the force of arms,” he said. “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants.”
But Mr. Biden’s efforts to move America past President Donald J. Trump’s more confrontational policies come amid growing frustration among allies with his administration’s diplomatic approach.
His familiar refrain that the world must choose between democracy and autocracy looks different now that the Taliban are once again in control of Kabul, reversing many of the democratic gains of the past 20 years. Covid is resurging in much of the world. And the French just recalled their ambassador in outrage — not just over losing a $60 billion-plus submarine contract, but because it was made clear they are not in the inner circle of allies.
Listening to Mr. Biden.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
The event is a major test of credibility for Mr. Biden, who was among the first to address the 193-member General Assembly. The last to speak in the morning session was President Xi Jinping of China, via prerecorded video, bookending with the competing views of the two most powerful countries in the world.
Both leaders announced potentially significant steps to address climate change, a rare moment of common purpose: Mr. Biden said he intended to double the American financial contribution to developing countries’ efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and Mr. Xi said China would stop financing coal-fired power projects abroad, a major source of heat-trapping gases.
Secretary General António Guterres, who has openly fretted about the bitter rivalry between China and the United States, said he was encouraged by “the leaders of the world’s two largest economies regarding their commitment to climate action.”
Still, a dominant theme of Mr. Biden’s speech was what he described as the choice faced by s the world between the democratic values espoused by the West and the disregard for them by China and other authoritarian governments.
“The future belongs to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand authoritarianism,” he said. “The authoritarians of the world, they seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong.”
But the president vowed not to pursue a new era of sustained conflict with countries like China, saying that the United States would “compete vigorously and lead with our values and our strength to stand up for our allies and our friends.”
“We’re not seeking — say it again, we are not seeking — a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” he said.
Climate change and the pandemic are also expected to dominate the week, and Mr. Biden planned to host a Covid summit on the sidelines to push other countries to increase capacity to manufacture vaccines for poor countries.
“This year has also brought widespread death and devastation from the borderless climate crisis,” Mr. Biden said. “Extreme weather events that we’ve seen in every part of the world — and you all know it and feel it — represent what the secretary general has rightly called Code Red for humanity.”
On Covid, Mr. Biden urged leaders to move more quickly to rein in a pandemic that has killed millions.
“We need a collective act of science and political will,” he said. “We need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible, and expand access to oxygen, tests, treatments, to save lives around the world.”
Read moreRepresentative Pramila Jayapal of Washington told Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday that most progressive Democrats would oppose a bipartisan bill until a larger package is passed.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
The fate of a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package remained in limbo on Tuesday, as the liberal and moderate wings of the House Democratic caucus continued to argue over whether that measure should pass while a sweeping, $3.5 trillion economic package was unfinished.
Moderate Democrats were adamant that the Senate-passed infrastructure package receive a floor vote next week. They previously secured a promise from party leaders that it would be sent to the House floor on Sept. 27, even if the larger bill, which some of them oppose, was not done.
But Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, emerged on Tuesday from a lengthy meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California to say that a majority of liberal lawmakers would oppose the bill until the Senate passed the second, far larger package, which is expected to carry the climate, child care and health care provisions they have championed.
“I wanted to make sure she understood exactly where we were,” Ms. Jayapal said, adding that she had requested the meeting. “Over half of our caucus has committed that we are planning to move both bills at the same time, but we can’t move one without the other.”
Asked what she would say to moderates who believed progressives were bluffing, Ms. Jayapal replied, “Try us.”
As the two groups of Democrats jockeyed for leverage, President Biden’s entire agenda hung in the balance. Democratic leaders spent much of Tuesday urging unity among their members and racing to iron out the intraparty differences that have delayed the release of a final version of the $3.5 trillion legislation. Because Democrats plan to use an arcane budget process to pass that bill without the support of any Republicans, they can afford to lose the support of only three Democrats in the House and none in the Senate.
“I think both will pass,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “I said that in this morning’s caucus, that I thought, based upon my conversation with members, various different perspectives in the caucus, that both bills will have the majority of support of the members of the House of Representatives on the Democratic side of the aisle.”
Amid the standoff, Mr. Biden is expected to meet with Ms. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the plans. He is also expected to host a series of meetings with other lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum, a second person confirmed on the condition of anonymity, to hear their perspectives and make the case for his agenda.
Read moreRansomware and cyberattacks are “a direct threat to our economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.Credit…Erin Scott for The New York Times
The Biden administration took action on Tuesday to crack down on the growing problem of ransomware attacks, expanding its use of sanctions to cut off digital payment systems that have allowed such criminal activity to flourish and threaten national security.
The Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on a virtual currency exchange called Suex, in the administration’s most pointed response to a scourge that has disrupted U.S. fuel and meat supplies this year, when foreign hackers locked down corporate computer systems and demanded large sums of money to free them.
The illicit financial transactions underpinning ransomware attacks have been taking place with digital money known as cryptocurrencies, which the U.S. government is still determining how to regulate.
The Treasury Department said Suex had facilitated transactions involving illegal proceeds from at least eight ransomware episodes. More than 40 percent of the exchange’s transactions had been linked to criminal actors, the department said.
“Ransomware and cyberattacks are victimizing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.
The department offered few details about Suex, declining to say where the company was based or what kinds of transactions it dealt with, though a Russian computer executive confirmed on Tuesday that he was the founder.
Treasury officials did say that while some virtual currency exchanges are exploited by criminals, Suex was facilitating illegal activities for its own gain.
Cybersecurity experts see exchanges as a weak point for ransomware gangs that otherwise operate wholly in the ether of the internet, all but untouchable by law enforcement. But the exchanges are an interface with the real world used to cash out cryptocurrency and public-facing companies that are vulnerable to financial sanctions.
Vasily Zhabykin, a graduate of a prestigious Russian university that trains diplomats, said by telephone on Tuesday that he had founded Suex to develop software for the financial industry. He denied any illegal activity and said it was possible that the Treasury Department had mistakenly targeted his company.
“I don’t understand how I got mixed up in this,” he said in a brief interview. Suex, which is registered in the Czech Republic, was mostly a failure and had conducted only a half dozen or so transactions since 2019, Mr. Zhabykin said, adding that he had three employees.
Russia is believed to be home to the most sophisticated ransomware groups, where they seem to operate with impunity. Other countries such as Iran and North Korea host the groups, cybersecurity experts say.
Over the past decade or so, key technologies came together in a tool kit for the ransomware industry: malware to scramble victims’ computers, routers that render communication anonymous and digital currencies for payments.
A weak point, according to a study of ransomware published in 2019 in The Journal of Cybersecurity, is exchanges: the businesses that convert digital currency into cash, where criminals lurking in the digital world eventually have to make an appearance to be paid.
Many exchanges have popped up in Russia in recent years, often leasing office space in Moscow’s financial district alongside banks. Russia pivoted from trying to ban digital currencies outright to enacting regulation this year allowing ownership.
The Treasury Department’s action came three months after President Biden, meeting in Geneva with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, demanded a crackdown on ransomware operators suspected of working from Russian territory. Mr. Putin made no promises. Before the meeting, one attack had taken out Colonial Pipeline, which provides much of the East Coast’s gasoline and jet fuel; another had penetrated JBS, a major U.S. meat supplier.
Attacks seemed to abate for a few months, and a major ransomware operator, DarkSide, appeared to have shut down.
But late this summer, attacks began to rise again. Paul M. Abbate, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, who specializes in cybercrimes, said at a conference last week that “there is no indication that the Russian government has taken action to crack down on ransomware actors that are operating in the permissive environment that they’ve created there.”
He added that few actions had taken against those in Russia facing indictments in the United States.
Intelligence officials report the same, and they say they believe that some Russian military and intelligence services make use of the ransomware operators to hide actions that may be conducted on behalf of the state, or at least with its acquiescence.
An attack against another food supplier was playing out on Monday, even as the Treasury Department was preparing its action. New Cooperative, a grain cooperative in Iowa, said it was part of “critical infrastructure” and noted that BlackMatter, a relatively new ransomware group, had promised not to attack such groups. But in responses that appeared in screenshots on Twitter, BlackMatter said it did not consider New Cooperative to be critical infrastructure. The two were in an open dispute over the definition of the category.
“We don’t see any critical areas of activity,” the ransomware group responded.
BlackMatter demanded just shy of $6 million to decrypt the company’s files. That figure declined drastically over time.
The Treasury Department said that in 2020, ransomware payments topped $400 million, four times as high as they were in the previous year. The economic damage, it said, was far greater.
Read moreA voting rights rally in Washington last month. Privately, White House officials have been trying to assure activists that they plan to turn their attention to the issue after their push on infrastructure.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times
President Biden’s passionate language on reducing gun violence, safeguarding access to abortion and protecting voting rights has lifted the hopes of progressives who were once wary of electing a traditionalist who champions compromise.
But now, as they look past the final push on a $3.5 trillion spending bill that the White House has made its policy priority, they are growing more concerned that Mr. Biden’s actions will not be as bold as his tone — at least when it comes to some of their key issues.
The spending plan that Democrats are trying to get through Congress would be transformative, affecting almost every American at every stage of life, from free universal prekindergarten to coverage of elder care. It includes money not only for social programs and an expansion of the social safety net, but also to address climate change.
But in order to take up some of the other issues Mr. Biden has framed as threats to the foundations of American democracy, he will have to confront arcane rules that guide the institution of the Senate that he reveres — and that so far he has made clear he does not want to pressure senators to change.
Privately, White House officials have been trying to assure activists that they will turn their attention in earnest to voting rights after their push on infrastructure is over at the end of the month. But that has done little to ease anxiety.
“I’m guardedly concerned,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said he was nervous that Mr. Biden would not follow up his lofty statements and speeches with action. “There’s a difference between passion and marriage.”
Mr. Sharpton said he wanted the White House to pressure senators to support a “carve-out” in the filibuster to allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority.
“They have not said they’re going to do that,” Mr. Sharpton said.
House Democrats Unveil Protecting Our Democracy Act
Democrats aimed to use the legislation to strengthen checks on the presidency, making it harder for presidents to take certain actions related to pardons, oversight and potential conflicts of interest.
“When we talk about this legislation, we’re talking about restoring ethics and the rule of law. We’re talking about establishing key safeguards. Our founders, our founders, in their wisdom, had a system of checks and balances and separation of powers, and they had guardrails for the president, and one of them was the Congress of the United States.” “The Protecting Our Democracy Act will ensure that no president can abuse their power and weaponize their office for political or personal gain. It will bar our elected leaders from placing their own personal and financial needs above the needs of the American people. It will do so through a variety of means, including the expedition of congressional subpoenas; the protection of whistle-blowers and inspector generals; it will provide an enforcement mechanism for the emoluments clause; it’ll stiffen penalties under the Hatch Act. It will strengthen the independence of the Justice Department and ensure that no president can violate the law with impunity by tolling the statute of limitations for violations of law either before office or during office by a president of the United States. It will better protect Congress’s power of the purse and put limits on presidential declarations of emergency meant to circumvent the Congress’s power of the purse.”
Democrats aimed to use the legislation to strengthen checks on the presidency, making it harder for presidents to take certain actions related to pardons, oversight and potential conflicts of interest.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
House Democratic leaders introduced on Tuesday a much-anticipated package of proposed new limits on executive power, launching a post-Trump push to strengthen checks on the presidency that they hope will compare to the overhauls that followed the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War.
Democratic lawmakers have been negotiating with the Biden White House to refine their broad set of proposals, which amount to a point-by-point rebuke of the ways that President Donald J. Trump flouted norms.
The legislation, called the Protecting Our Democracy Act, would make it harder for presidents to take a series of actions, including offering or bestowing pardons in situations that raise suspicion of corruption; refusing to respond to oversight subpoenas; spending or secretly freezing funds contrary to congressional appropriations; firing inspectors general or retaliating against whistle-blowers; and taking “emoluments” or payments while in office, including from commercial transactions.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said executive power had been gradually growing for years but that threats to the system of separation of powers seriously “picked up steam” during the Trump administration. She portrayed the bill as an “inoculation” against future abuses of presidential authority.
Ms. Pelosi had directed Democrats to compile various bills containing ideas for curbs into the package, which is chiefly sponsored by Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California.
The two appeared at an event with lawmakers who chair several committees that contributed pieces, including two New York representatives, Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee and Carolyn Maloney of the oversight committee, and Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the Budget Committee.
Ms. Pelosi has not announced any timeline for when the bill might come to the floor, though Mr. Schiff has said he hopes the House will pass the package “this fall.”
It is expected to face headwinds in the Senate, where it would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to bring it to a vote. There, supporters say, the package is likely to be broken into pieces that will be attached to other bills.
Read moreThe abortion rights group Reproaction outside the U.S. Supreme Court this month.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times
HOUSTON — A man in Arkansas and another in Illinois on Monday filed what appeared to be the first legal actions under a strict new abortion law in Texas that is enforced by ordinary citizens, regardless of where they live.
The Arkansas man, Oscar Stilley, who was described in the complaint as a “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer, said in an interview that he had filed the lawsuit against a Texas doctor, who publicly wrote about performing an abortion, to test the provisions of the law. The Supreme Court declined to stop the law, which has effectively ended most abortions in the state since going into effect this month.
The law bars enforcement by state officials, a novel maneuver aimed at circumventing judicial review, and instead relies on citizens to file legal claims against abortion providers or anyone suspected of “aiding or abetting” an abortion. Successful suits can bring the plaintiffs awards of at least $10,000.
Proponents of the law and anti-abortion activists had been satisfied that the threat of legal action appeared to stop most abortions in Texas. Some feared that the openness of the law — allowing anyone to file suit — could result in a first test case that was unfavorable to their cause.
Mr. Stilley said he was not trying to halt abortions by Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who wrote in The Washington Post on Saturday that he had violated the Texas law — which prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, or roughly six weeks into pregnancy.
“I’m not pro-life,” Mr. Stilley, 58, said in an interview. “The thing that I’m trying to vindicate here is the law. We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws. What’s the law?”
The Justice Department has sued Texas over the law, known as Senate Bill 8, and argued in an emergency motion last week that the state adopted the measure “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.”
“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’” the department said in the lawsuit, referring to the standard set in the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade. “But Texas has done just that.”
Dr. Braid was also sued on Monday by an Illinois man, Felipe N. Gomez, who described himself in his complaint as a “pro-choice plaintiff.” Mr. Gomez could not be immediately reached for comment about his lawsuit, which was earlier reported by KSAT news in San Antonio.
Both suits were filed in state court in San Antonio and both men are representing themselves.
“Neither of these lawsuits are valid attempts to save innocent human lives,” said John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, which lobbied for the new abortion law. “Both cases are self-serving legal stunts, abusing the cause of action created in the Texas Heartbeat Act for their own purposes.”
He added that he and others at Texas Right to Life “believe Braid published his Op-Ed intending to attract imprudent lawsuits.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group that represents Dr. Braid, said he had not been formally served and declined to make him available for an interview. In a statement, the group’s senior counsel, Marc Hearron, said the Texas law “says that ‘any person’ can sue over a violation, and we are starting to see that happen, including by out-of-state claimants.”
In his opinion essay for The Post, Dr. Braid said he had decided to violate the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest, out of a firm belief in abortion rights. “I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care,” he wrote. “I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
Mr. Braid wrote that on the morning of Sept. 6, he had “provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit.”
After reading that, Mr. Stilley said he decided to file suit. His complaint includes a description of his own legal troubles, which he said included a federal conviction for tax evasion and conspiracy; he was released to home confinement after a decade in prison.
Mr. Stilley said in the interview that he believed in a woman’s right not to have an unwanted child, and that because his lawsuit was a win-win for him, he rushed to file it.
“I’m going to get an answer either way,” he said. “If this is a free-for-all, and it’s $10,000, I want my $10,000. And yes, I do aim to collect.”
Ruth Graham contributed reporting from Dallas.
Source by www.nytimes.com