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Treasury Department announces sanctions tied to Giuliani’s Biden attacks
Quint Forgey Mon, January 11, 2021, 11:56 AM EST The Treasury Department announced a new spate of sanctions on Monday targeting the “inner circle” of Andrii Derkach, the pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who aided Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to probe unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing by President-elect Joe Biden and his family.
The department had previously designated Derkach himself for sanctions related to foreign interference in the 2020 election in September. But on Monday, the department “took additional action against seven individuals and four entities” that it alleged were “part of a Russia-linked foreign influence network” associated with him.
“Russian disinformation campaigns targeting American citizens are a threat to our democracy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States will continue to aggressively defend the integrity of our election systems and processes.”
In his own statement acknowledging the sanctions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Derkach “has been an active Russian agent for more than a decade, maintaining close connections with Russian intelligence services.”
Those designated for sanctions on Monday included former Ukrainian government officials Konstantin Kulyk, Oleksandr Onyshchenko and Andriy Telizhenko, as well as current Ukrainain lawmaker Oleksandr Dubinsky.
Also designated for sanctions were Petro Zhuravel, a “key member of Derkach’s media team;” Dmytro Kovalchuk, a “long-time supporter” of Derkach who assisted with his media efforts; and Anton Simonenko, who “served as Derkach’s assistant for nearly a decade and helped Derkach hide financial assets,” according to the Treasury Department.
Derkach met with Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, in Kyiv in December 2019. He is also suspected of sending packets of disinformation on the Bidens to prominent Trump allies around the same time. And in August 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accused Derkach of being part of the Russian government’s efforts to damage Biden’s presidential candidacy.
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Georgia just delivered Democrats their most powerful weapon
Caitlin Emma Fri, January 8, 2021, 4:30 AM EST Get ready to hear these two words incessantly over the next two years: budget reconciliation.
It’s a powerful procedural tool that can steer billions of dollars and reshape a host of social policies all while evading the dreaded filibuster. And with Democrats clinching the Senate majority after winning the Georgia runoffs, senior lawmakers are already vowing to deploy it.
“This, of course, gives us the opportunity to have a very different set of choices, and that’s what the election was all about in Georgia last night,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Wednesday when asked about the possible use of reconciliation. Wyden is now on the cusp of chairing the Finance Committee, which would make him the Senate’s top tax policy writer.
Some restrictions exist on how reconciliation can be used; it’s not all-powerful. But by allowing the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, it will prove critical to advancing President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda. That’s particularly true if Democrats decide against nixing the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, which is unlikely amid moderates’ resistance.
And Democrats will actually have as many as have three opportunities during the 117th Congress to use reconciliation. That’s because Congress can unlock the special procedure in each budget resolution, and lawmakers never adopted a fiscal 2021 budget resolution and can still pass one for fiscal 2022 and fiscal 2023 on the horizon.
Technically, Democrats could break each reconciliation attempt into three pieces of legislation — dealing with spending, revenues and the debt limit — making for a total of nine bills over two years. But it’s far from clear whether they would choose that route.
There is precedent for using reconciliation twice in a single year, however. Republicans tapped reconciliation in 2017 in their failed bid to repeal Obamacare and then later to successfully pass their tax overhaul. Democrats previously used it to pass much of the Affordable Care Act after former GOP Sen. Scott Brown’s surprise victory took away Democrats’ 60th vote.
Reconciliation can typically be used to speed passage for any legislation with a significant effect on the federal budget, and Democrats could use it to promote their priorities on economic stimulus, health care, climate change and other priorities.
Before the election in early November, when Democrats were bullish on capturing the Senate, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a health advocacy group that Democrats “will almost certainly be passing a reconciliation bill, not only for the Affordable Care Act, but for what we may want to do further on the pandemic and some other issues that relate to the well-being of the American people.”
Democrats have also eyed reconciliation for a massive infrastructure plan backed by a prospective Biden administration.
“I don’t think there’s any question of whether we’d use it, if we had to,” House Budget Chair John Yarmuth told POLITICO last year. “The possibilities are endless. I think you’d want to do it for the biggest possible package you could.”
While Yarmuth will oversee budget action in the House, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — a staunch supporter of "Medicare for All" and a reconciliation fan — is next in line to chair the Senate Budget Committee. Of course, new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will have a lot to say over whatever Sanders’ committee produces.
Implementing budget reconciliation will also require Democrats to wade through thorny procedural obstacles. They will almost certainly face challenges from Republicans related to the Byrd rule, named for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, which limits the scope of amendments and can kill extraneous items in reconciliation legislation that some Democrats might push to include.
Meanwhile, House Republicans are already denouncing an unrelated rules change approved this week that exempts coronavirus and climate change-related legislation from so-called PAYGO budget principles, which require new spending to be offset elsewhere though it’s often waived. The change amounts to a compromise between House progressives who wanted to ditch PAYGO entirely and moderates who pushed to keep it largely intact.
“It’s only the second day of the new Congress and already House Democrats are attempting to push through their radical agenda and hoping no one will notice,” Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said earlier this week.
Still, Democrats are far from unified when it comes to their fiscal priorities. House moderates this week pledged to keep an eye on the PAYGO rules change, arguing that the party shouldn’t haphazardly waive budget requirements amid rising deficits. And progressives have already promised to push for cuts to defense spending, much to the discomfort of more vulnerable members.
With a narrow majority in the Senate and a smaller majority in the House, Democrats will have little room for defections.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, said Wednesday that Democrats should prioritize coronavirus relief and job creation when it comes to reconciliation, including robust oversight to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent. More broadly, the Blue Dogs have pledged to protect “against the excesses” when it comes to a one-party control of government.
But progressives see an opportunity to go big that Democrats can’t afford to waste.
“We have to be bold,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said last year when asked about the prospects for Democrats’ budget plans. “This is not a time for meekness. This is not a time for incremental change.”
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Hawley vows to challenge Biden electors, forcing vote McConnell hoped to avoid
Kyle Cheney Wed, December 30, 2020, 11:18 AM EST Sen. Josh Hawley on Wednesday pledged to challenge President-elect Joe Biden's victory in Pennsylvania and possibly other states on Jan. 6, when Congress is set to certify the results of the 2020 election.
The Missouri Republican's announcement guarantees that both chambers will be forced to debate the results of at least one state and vote on whether to accept Biden's victory, a process that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged Republicans to avoid, despite pressure from President Donald Trump, who is urging Republicans to overturn the democratic results.
Though Hawley's challenge will have no bearing on the ultimate outcome of the election — numerous GOP senators have accepted Biden as president-elect — it will delay the certification of Biden's victory and force every member of the House and Senate on the record affirming Biden's win.
Prior to Hawley's pronouncement, all eyes had been on Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who had signaled his willingness to support a challenge to Biden's victory. Trump had praised Tuberville and blasted other Republicans as "weak," threatening to end the political career of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who told reporters that any challenges were doomed to defeat.
The traditional rules of the Jan. 6 session — a joint meeting of the House and Senate — require a single House member and senator to join together to lodge a challenge. If they do, the branches are required to separate and debate the challenge before resuming the joint session.
Dozens of House Republicans have already pledged to challenge the results but had yet to secure unequivocal support from a senator.
The rules that govern those challenges are due to be adopted on Jan. 3. But at least some Republicans have endorsed a legal effort to scrap the rules altogether and empower Vice President Mike Pence, who will preside over the session, to unilaterally introduce electors backing Trump.
House Democrats have challenged the results of the 2000, 2004 and 2016 elections, but only after the 2004 election did a senator — California's Barbara Boxer — join in the challenge. That year, Democrats objected to Ohio's electoral votes, which forced a two-hour debate and was ultimately defeated by a wide margin.
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Pence declined to back Gohmert-led effort to upend election, lawyers indicate
Kyle Cheney Tue, December 29, 2020, 5:41 PM EST Lawyers for Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Arizona’s 11 Republican electors revealed Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence declined to sign onto their plan to upend Congress’ certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
It’s the first indication that Pence is resisting some of the most extreme calls to reverse the presidential election results, thus relying on his role as the presiding officer on Jan. 6, when Congress meets to finalize Biden’s win.
Gohmert and the Arizona electors sued Pence this week to throw out the procedures that Congress has relied upon since 1889 to count electoral votes. Instead, he said, Pence has the unilateral authority to determine which electors should be voted upon by Congress — raising the prospect that Pence would simply override the choices made by voters in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania that Biden won, to introduce President Donald Trump’s electors instead.
But in a motion to expedite proceedings, Gohmert and the electors revealed that their lawyers had reached out to Pence’s counsel in the Office of the Vice President to attempt to reach agreement before going to court.
“In the teleconference, Plaintiffs' counsel made a meaningful attempt to resolve the underlying legal issues by agreement, including advising the Vice President's counsel that Plaintiffs intended to seek immediate injunctive relief in the event the parties did not agree,” according to Gohmert’s filing. “Those discussions were not successful in reaching an agreement and this lawsuit was filed.”
On Tuesday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Kernodle of the Eastern District of Texas agreed to partially grant the request for an expedited schedule, calling for Pence to issue a response to the lawsuit by Dec. 31 at 5 p.m. and for Gohmert to issue a reply to Pence by Jan. 1 at 9 a.m. Kernodle did not agree to hold a hearing though and said none would be scheduled "absent further notice from the Court." Kernodle also ordered Gohmert and his fellow plaintiffs to immediately send a copy of the order to an attorney for Pence, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
Gohmert and the electors told Kernodle they needed an expedited schedule that would result in a ruling no later than Jan. 4, so they have an opportunity to appeal ahead of the Jan. 6 session of Congress.
Pence still has not publicly weighed in on his plans for presiding over the Jan. 6 session, when Congress will count electoral votes expected to certify Biden’s victory. He also has not publicly commented on Trump’s repeated calls to reverse the results of the democratic process and install himself for a second term.
Gohmert’s attorneys in the case, some of whom have handled some of Trump’s lawsuits intended to overturn Biden’s victory in key swing states, indicated they’ve since been in touch with lawyers in the civil division of the Department of Justice about the administration’s formal response to the suit. Further calls were scheduled for later Tuesday.
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'Why bother?': Biden, Trump advisers see little value in White House meeting
Theodoric Meyer and Daniel Lippman Mon, December 21, 2020, 5:58 PM EST As of this weekend, President Donald Trump has now waited longer than any president in nearly a century to sit down with his successor at the White House — a tradition aimed at highlighting the peaceful transfer of power that is at the core of American democracy.
And advisers to Trump say he and President-elect Joe Biden may never come face to face, even on Inauguration Day, blowing up another American political ritual.
But while Biden said in a CNN interview earlier this month that Trump’s presence at his inauguration would be symbolically important, neither side sees much value in the two men conversing … ever.
“In normal circumstances, it is one more indication of the peaceful transfer of power and the depth of our respect for democracy,” said John Podesta, who as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff welcomed President-elect George W. Bush and his top aides to the White House on Dec. 19, 2000, a meeting that was delayed by the Florida recount and court challenges to the election results.
But Biden, Podesta said, would have little to gain from meeting with Trump, who still hasn’t conceded. “My view would be, why bother?” he said.
Those in Trump’s orbit aren’t any more enthusiastic than Podesta. “Talk to him about what?” said one person close to the president, when asked whether Trump might speak to Biden.
Those close to Trump believe inviting Biden to the White House or even talking to him would risk being perceived as conceding the race, which Trump has been loath to do as he mulls another run in 2024. The same factors could keep him away from Biden’s inauguration next month.
Trump probably won’t meet with Biden or go to his swearing-in “because Joe Biden is an illegitimate president and should never be treated in such a way,” another Trump adviser said. “That’s what the president thinks and that’s what a lot of people agree with.”
Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, declined to comment on Trump’s plans.
“Anonymous sources who claim to know what the President is or is not considering have no idea,” he said in a statement. “When President Trump has an announcement about his plans for Jan. 20 he will let you know.”
Biden and Trump have already gone longer without sitting down together than any president and president-elect since Herbert Hoover’s election in 1928, according to research by the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition and POLITICO. Hoover left California by ship after Election Day on a diplomatic tour of Central and South America and didn’t meet with President Calvin Coolidge until Jan. 7, 1929.
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their Oval Office meeting Nov. 10, 2016. Most recent presidents have met with their successors much sooner. President Barack Obama hosted Trump at the White House two days after the 2016 election. George W. Bush showed Obama the Oval Office less than a week after Election Day in 2008.
Such meetings haven’t always gone smoothly.
“President Carter was kind of taken aback by the meeting with Reagan,” during their post-election meeting in 1980, Jody Powell, President Jimmy Carter’s former press secretary, told The New York Times in 2008. “There was a point where he sort of wandered off and asked questions that seemed to be only tangentially related to what they were talking about.”
Still, those sit-downs have given outgoing presidents the opportunity to warn their successors about potential threats they’ll confront once they take office — whether foreign policy or personnel. “I think you will find that by far your biggest threat is Bin Laden and the al Qaeda,” Clinton told the 9/11 Commission he told Bush when they met in 2000.
“One of the great regrets of my presidency is that I didn’t get him [bin Laden] for you, because I tried to,” Clinton added. (Bush told the commission he was sure Clinton had mentioned terrorism, but did not remember talking about al Qaeda.)
Obama, meanwhile, warned Trump when they met in 2016 not to hire Michael Flynn, whom Obama had fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Trump ignored the advice, only to oust Flynn himself weeks into his presidency. Obama also told Trump that North Korea would be the top national security issue that he would face in his presidency.
But more than delving deep into particular policy issues, the traditional White House meeting is likely to set the tone for the transition between the two administrations. When Clinton came to the White House to meet with Bush after the 1992 election, their top aides huddled at the same time in the Roosevelt Room.
“If ever you hear of anyone in our administration throwing sand in the gear, call me,” Transportation Secretary Andy Card, the head of Bush’s transition efforts, told Clinton’s aides, according to notes kept by Chase Untermeyer, another senior Bush aide.
Card later returned to the White House with George W. Bush after the 2000 election. In an interview, Card said he thought it would be good for the world to see Trump and Biden sit down together.
“I don’t know what kind of information would be transferred, but the symbolism of the meeting is important,” he said.
Trump’s administration has hardly gone out of its way to be cooperative — a Trump appointee at the General Services Administration refused to recognize Biden’s victory until three weeks after the election, and Yohannes Abraham, the Biden transition’s executive director, told reporters on Friday that Biden’s team had encountered “pockets of intransigence” during their work.
But top Trump and Biden aides are talking to one another, even if their bosses aren’t. Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House chief of staff, has had multiple conversations with Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, in recent weeks.
If Trump skips Biden’s inauguration, he’ll be the first president to do so since 1869, when President Andrew Johnson blew off Ulysses S. Grant’s swearing-in.
In an interview with CNN earlier this month, Biden said that Trump’s presence at his inauguration would be “important in the sense that we are able to demonstrate, at the end of this chaos that he’s created, that there is peaceful transfer of power, with the competing parties standing there, shaking hands, and moving on.”
“But it is totally his decision, and it’s — it’s of no personal consequence to me,” he added.
But one of the Trump advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity suggested Trump’s presence at Biden’s swearing-in would ring false after the bitter campaign.
“The Obamas and the Clintons attend the inauguration and then they spend the next years insulting Donald Trump,” the adviser said. “What does attending the inauguration mean? Maybe Donald Trump’s more honest than other people in not going.”
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