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Bipartisan group of senators reaches agreement on infrastructure proposal
Axios Thu, June 10, 2021, 6:37 PM A bipartisan group of 10 senators said Thursday they reached an agreement on an infrastructure spending framework they hope to sell to congressional leaders and the White House.
Why it matters: The announcement comes just days after negotiations officially broke down between President Biden and a group of Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).
What they're saying: The latest agreement is a “realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies,” the statement released by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said.
"This investment would be fully paid for and not include tax increases,” the senators added.
“We are discussing our approach with our respective colleagues, and the White House, and remain optimistic that this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support from both parties and meet America’s infrastructure needs."
The group consists of Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Details: The group did not release any specific details about the plan, but multiple reports said the framework is focused on traditional infrastructure and includes $579 billion in new spending over five years. The plan would cost $974 billion over five years and $1.2 trillion over eight years, per the Washington Post.
The big picture: The senators still must win over congressional leaders and the Biden administration.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was briefed on the plan on Wednesday, said he was "open" to it, Romney told reporters Thursday, per CNBC.
"It is unclear now if the package will be comprehensive enough to appease Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Biden," CNBC notes.
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GOP Sens. Graham and Sasse praise Biden's purchase of 500M Pfizer vaccines to share globally
Ivana Saric Thu, June 10, 2021, 4:01 PM Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on Thursday praised the Biden administration's decision to purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to share with countries around the world, calling the decision the "right move."
The big picture: Their statements represent a rare moment of praise of Biden by Republicans.
Sasse has advocated for the U.S. to distribute 1 billion vaccines worldwide by Thanksgiving, and in a previous statement called the Biden administration's global vaccination plans "timid."
What they're saying: “Health diplomacy is a smart investment and buying these vaccines is the right move. America should have an aggressive strategy to vaccinate a billion people around the world this year," Sasse said in a statement.
"America should administer these vaccines directly in order to counter the Chinese Communist Party's strategy of using the pandemic to gain the upper hand."
"We should move quickly to share these life-saving shots with friends in Asia and across the developing world with a simple message: Uncle Sam, not Chairman Xi, cares about your health.”
Graham said in a statement that the "roughly $3.5 billion required to purchase and distribute 500 million doses of vaccine will help prevent a reemergence of the COVID-19 virus which makes America and the world safer."
“I support the effort of the Biden Administration to donate vaccines to at-risk populations throughout the world and hope other countries will follow America’s lead. I believe this to be a good investment by the American taxpayer.
“Again, I do hope other nations will contribute their fair share. The sooner we have vaccines available to the world, the better," Graham added.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with Graham's statement.
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Senate confirms Biden's first judicial nominee as Schumer vows to restore "balance" to courts
Orion Rummler Tue, June 8, 2021, 12:18 PM The Senate voted 66-33 on Tuesday to confirm Julien Xavier Neals to be U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey.
Why it matters: Neals is President Biden's first judicial nominee to be confirmed, as Democrats begin a push to "restore the balance" of the courts after the GOP-led Senate confirmed a record number of conservative judges under former President Trump.
Trump's aggressive judicial appointments were his most lasting, substantive legacy, as he appointed more than 200 judges to the federal bench — including three Supreme Court justices — in just one term.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged that Senate Democrats would bring "balance, experience and diversity back to the judiciary" with Biden's nominees.
Background: Neals was previously nominated to serve on the district court by former President Obama in 2015, but his nomination expired after then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to bring it for a vote.
What to watch: There are currently 71 district court vacancies and nine appeals court vacancies, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Liberal activists have pushed for 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer to retire while Democrats still have control of the Senate.
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Former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn agrees to House panel interview on Russia report
Rebecca Falconer Wed, May 12, 2021, 11:17 PM Former White House counsel Don McGahn agreed Wednesday to speak with the House Judiciary Committee about former President Trump's alleged attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation — with certain conditions, per a court filing.
Why it matters: The agreement ends a two-year standoff after McGahn, a key player in former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, repeatedly refused to agree to a subpoena for testimony — resulting in the matter being taken to court.
Of note: One of the conditions is that the committee conducts a "transcribed interview" to happen behind closed doors, rather than calling for McGhan to testify at a public hearing, according to the filing.
The big picture: The Judiciary committee and the Biden administration announced Tuesday they had "reached an agreement in principle" in the case of McGhan.
The Mueller report found no evidence of a Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia, but his team compiled 10 different episodes where the former president may have potentially committed obstruction of justice. Trump was never charged over the matter.
The Judiciary committee stressed in its Tuesday court filing that Trump isn't a party to the McGahn case and is "not a party to the agreement."
What they're saying: Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Wednesday, "When the former President vowed to fight 'all of the subpoenas' aimed at his Administration, he began a dangerous campaign of unprecedented obstruction. We begin to bring that era of obstruction to an end today."
The other side: Representatives for Trump did not immediately return Axios' request for comment. But his spokesperson Jason Miller said Tuesday that the former president hadn't agreed to the deal and he was reviewing his options as he regarded communications with close advisers as confidential, per Politico.
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Merrick Garland rapidly erasing Trump effect at Justice Department
Zachary Basu Fri, April 30, 2021, 5:30 AM Attorney General Merrick Garland is quickly negating the Trump administration’s law enforcement legacy, dismaying conservatives with a burst of aggressive reversals and new policies.
Why it matters: As a former prosecutor and respected federal judge, Garland's devotion to the rule of law has always been core to his identity. That reputation has taken on new importance in his first 50 days on the job, after four years of allegations that Trump's DOJ was improperly politicized.
Attorney General Bill Barr played a central role in the Trump administration's most high-profile controversies, from undermining the Russia investigation to intervening in the cases of indicted Trump associates to ordering the forcible clearing of protesters in Lafayette Square Park.
DOJ's broad authority also overlaps with many of the issues at the top of President Biden's agenda, including restoring faith in government, promoting racial justice and police reform, and curbing gun violence.
Driving the news: Liberal fears that the soft-spoken Garland might resist prosecuting Trump and his allies for the sake of unity were partially eased on Wednesday, when news broke that federal agents had raided the Manhattan home of Rudy Giuliani.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which Giuliani once led, is known to be highly independent.
But under Attorney General Bill Barr, the department repeatedly blocked SDNY prosecutors from executing a search warrant for Giuliani's electronic records in the final months of 2020, according to the New York Times.
The Justice Department also announced on Wednesday that three Georgia men were charged with federal hate crimes in the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, whose death was a rallying cry during last year's racial-justice protests.
In Michigan, a superseding indictment was filed against five men accused of plotting last year to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with prosecutors referring to the alleged crimes as "domestic terrorism" for the first time.
That shift comes amid new developments in the investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which has been described as the most complex probe in DOJ history. Garland, who played a leading role in the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, has vowed to make prosecuting the Capitol rioters his "first priority."
Other major steps taken in Garland's first 50 days include:
"Pattern or practice" investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, following the deaths last year of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
A 30-day "expedited review" into how DOJ can better prosecute and track hate crimes amid a surge in violence against Asian Americans.
The revocation of a Trump-era policy that restricted federal funding for "sanctuary cities."
Responsibility for five of the six executive actions on gun control ordered by Biden.
What to watch: Garland's commitment to depoliticizing DOJ will undergo a key test when a charging decision is made in the case of Hunter Biden, whose finances are under investigation.
Special counsel John Durham is also expected to submit a report concerning alleged abuses by Obama-era intelligence officials during the Russia investigation.
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