Federal Judge Orders Trump Administration to Fully Reinstate DACA Program

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Trump administration must allow all eligible immigrants to file new applications for protection under the DACA program, and find a way to contact individuals who are eligible for the protection to notify them of the change, a federal judge ruled Friday evening.

The program, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was created by President Barack Obama in 2012, to protect immigrants who were brought into the country as minors by their parents or other adults.

To date, more than 800,000 of these individuals, known as “Dreamers” have applied for protection from deportation and met the government’s strict eligibility requirements.

But President Donald Trump has targeted the program for elimination since the beginning of his administration, saying it was unconstitutional, soft on illegal immigrants and allowed various kinds of criminals into the country.

He unilaterally moved to end DACA in September 2017, but a protracted legal battle ensued.

This past June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Trump had gone too far, and had attempted to end the program without following the proper procedures.

In the wake of that ruling, Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security partially reinstated the program, refusing to allow new immigrants to apply and trimming the length of renewals to one year, instead of the two years previously allowed under the program.

Late Friday, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who was appointed to the federal court in Brooklyn by President Bill Clinton, reversed Wolf’s policy, ordering the administration to open the application process to all eligible individuals.

According to some estimates, that could include about 300,000 people.

“The DHS is directed to post a public notice, within 3 calendar days of this order, to be displayed prominently on its website and on the websites of all other relevant agencies, that is accepting first-time requests for consideration of deferred action under DACA … based on the terms of the DACA program prior to Sept. 5, 2017,” Garaufis wrote.

The administration has been ordered to produce a status report on its efforts to the court by Jan 4, the day after the swearing in of the 117th Congress and just weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“The court believes that these additional remedies are reasonable,” Garaufis said. “Indeed, the Government has assured the court that a public notice along the lines described is forthcoming.”

Biden has vowed to restore the DACA program when he takes office next month.

Congress Close to Breakthrough on Economic Stimulus Proposal

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved a $1.4 trillion relief package closer to approval Friday by joining pandemic assistance and economic stimulus measures into a single bill headed toward a vote in Congress.

Negotiations dragged on for months between Republicans and Democrats before the election.

Democrats sought $2.2 trillion in economic aid for Americans ravaged by economic collapse accompanying the spread of COVID-19.

Republicans wanted a more modest $500 million stimulus that relied heavily on helping the businesses most likely to rehire laid-off workers.

The negotiations took on greater vigor as the death toll from the pandemic set new U.S. records daily this week. Nearly 2,800 deaths were reported Thursday while infectious disease experts predicted the rate could climb to 4,000 per day.

In addition, President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden urged swift action by Congress. Both said they would sign a bill approved by Congress.

The apparent breakthrough came Thursday during discussions between Pelosi, a California Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. It was the first time they had met in weeks.

McConnell said he saw “hopeful signs” for an agreement after earlier criticizing the Democrats’ proposals as too expensive.

Pelosi said at a press conference that the combined fiscal 2021 funding package, along with pandemic relief spending, “is the vehicle leaving the station.”

The economic stimulus portion of the bill is a $908 billion proposal divided among support for businesses as well as state and local governments. It does not include another round of stimulus payments to individuals, like the $1,200 checks given out last spring.

The biggest item would be $288 billion for businesses, particularly through the Paycheck Protection Program that would give them forgivable loans.

State and local governments would get $160 billion to help them avoid further staff and service cuts.

Other measures in the bill would grant a temporary liability shield to protect employers from coronavirus-related lawsuits; $82 billion for schools; $45 billion for transportation agencies and $25 billion for housing and rental assistance.

The $600-per-week unemployment benefit that expired in July would be replaced by a $300 a week benefit for 18 weeks.

The pandemic relief portion of the bill would be used to purchase and distribute the vaccines that are expected to win Food and Drug Administration final approval within days.

Pelosi denied during her press conference that she allowed negotiations with Republicans to drag on for months in hopes of winning concessions.

Instead, she said Biden’s victory during the election, along with the record pace of vaccine development by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Inc. and Moderna, Inc. changed the prospects for a deal in Congress.

“That is a total game changer, a new president and a vaccine,” Pelosi said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent adversary of Pelosi, said Thursday, “I’ve never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill.”

Biden said in a statement Friday that he was “encouraged” by the progress of the negotiations but added that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not enough. It’s just the start. Congress will need to act again in January.”

He said his economic advisors were putting together another economic stimulus to propose after he takes over as president in January.

Bill to Decriminalize Cannabis on Federal Level Gets Bipartisan Support

WASHINGTON – The House passed legislation that would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level — the first time either chamber of Congress has voted on such a measure.

And significantly, the measure received bipartisan support.

When the figurative smoke cleared, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act, was approved by a 228-164 vote, with five Republicans voting for it, and six Democrats voting against it.

After the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the bill’s passage was an important step toward addressing systemic racism and reforming the criminal justice system.

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust,” Hoyer said.

“As a result of those convictions, many now have difficulty finding jobs or obtaining loans, effectively excluding them from economic opportunity, which, in the context of the severe racial disparities of those convictions, represents a modern-day form of segregation,” he continued.

“That’s why we passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act today,” he said noting the bill would decriminalize cannabis possession and create a process to expunge the records of those convicted of non-violent possession in the past.

A recent Gallup poll found 68% of Americans support legalization of cannabis on the federal level, and big ballot wins in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota in November opened the door to legal adult use in those states.

Erich Mauff, president and founder of Jushi Holdings, a vertically integrated, multi-state cannabis operator said these developments are the herald of “a new era in the cannabis industry.

“Cannabis legalization will result in billions of dollars in infrastructure investment, create thousands of service level jobs, and add billions of dollars in tax revenues,” he said, predicting the MORE Act “will generate and encourage unprecedented economic stimulus for an America that wants to move past the unconstitutional injustices of its past.

“Cohesive and meaningful federal oversight is a critical next step for this country, as we work with vigor and passion to reimagine an industry that cultivates equitable opportunities while embracing diversity and inclusion across every platform,” Mauff said.

Kyle Kazan, co-founder, chairman and CEO of the Glass House Group, operator of the largest cannabis greenhouse operation in the world, said the passage of the MORE Act “will open up the cannabis industry in a big way, resulting in a huge boom in the American investment market.

“While it still needs to pass the Senate, it is a great first step toward cannabis decriminalization,” he said.

The bill now faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, but some wish it went even further than it does today.

“The MORE Act is a long overdue step toward addressing our nation’s draconian federal marijuana laws,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“While we applaud the House for passing a bill that will help most communities immediately, this measure falls short of the comprehensive racial justice solution that we advocated for to help all communities of color demanding justice. We urge both chambers to work with us to include needed provisions in the legislation and achieve an equitable way forward,” he said.

Meeks, Scott Make History As First African-Americans to Hold Respective Chairs

WASHINGTON – House Democrats made history on Thursday when the caucus voted to make Reps. Gregory Meeks, of New York, and David Scott, of Georgia, the first African-Americans to chair, respectively, the chamber’s Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Committees.

Meeks, who was the third-ranking member of the committee, bested Rep. Joaquin Castro, of Texas, 148-78.

Rep. Brad Sherman, of California, another contender and the second-ranking member of the panel, withdrew from the race earlier this week.

In January, Meeks will take over the chair being vacated by Rep. Eliot Engel, of New York, who lost his June primary contest to progressive challenger, Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman.

He’s told reporters that among his first priorities will be getting the State Department “up and running again.”

“We’ve got to make sure that the morale is returned there and we get our diplomats back in, and things begin to happen again,” Meeks said during a recent interview with NBC News.

Meeks also suggested that he plans a thorough inquiry into what happened at the agency under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“How can you assure our diplomats that this won’t happen again if we don’t look into what did happen?” he said.

After the vote on Foreign Affairs chairmanship, Meeks said that in the next Congress, the committee will preside over an historic shift in U.S. foreign policy.

“There is no shortage of work ahead of us,” he said.

“Not only will we need to re-engage with a world that has felt the marked absence of US global leadership, but we must also rethink traditional approaches to foreign policy,” he added.

Meeks said these efforts won’t represent a return to normal, but instead will be “a leap” towards a new way of doing business.”

“We will broaden our scope and outreach to parts of the world we’ve historically overlooked. We will return as partners to our European allies, but we will also need to build new multilateral relationships in the Western Hemisphere and Africa. We can only address the systemic challenges posed by Moscow and Beijing with the help of like-minded friends,” he said.

In a statement, Engel congratulated his successor and went on to say that in their many years working together on the committee “I’ve seen up close Greg’s deep knowledge of foreign policy issues, his profound commitment to an American foreign policy rooted in our values, and his understanding of the importance of Congress’s role in these matters.

“The Democratic Caucus chose Chairman-elect Meeks as the best leader to stand up for its members’ priorities. I’m confident that he will also carry forward the committee’s tradition of legislating and oversight driven by what’s best for American interests, not partisan gain,” Engel said.

Georgia Democrat David Scott has been a member of the Agriculture Committee since his election to Congress in 2002.

In a statement announcing his candidacy for chair the day after the general election, Scott reflected on a childhood spent living and working on his grandparents’ farm.

“The core lessons I brought from these experiences still resonate throughout farming communities today, and I have drawn upon them as I have fought to support the needs of rural and urban America,” he said.

At the same, Scott said, it’s critical that lawmakers recognize that “farm systems” have evolved.

“And our policies must reflect and urge forward these changes,” he said.

“The challenges before us go beyond simply fixing the mistakes of past administrations,” Scott added. “The lessons of the past can inform our growth as we respond to the demands of the future. Each hearing, markup, and legislative action must take a step forward toward building a more equitable, dynamic, and resilient agriculture industry that lays forth a new path for future generations.”

On Thursday, he defeated Rep. Jim Costa, his only rival for the post, by a 144-83 vote.

Capitol Hill staffers, speaking on background, said Scott, who represents parts of metro Atlanta, is something of a departure from past chairs, who typically hail from rural areas, but they said it signals a renewed emphasis on issues related to the federal school lunch and food stamp programs.

Scott hinted at as much in his candidacy letter.

“While millions of Americans are one financial setback … away from food insecurity it is the duty of Congress to set forth programs that provide a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens,” he wrote.

After the votes were counted Thursday, Scott said he owed his election “to a diverse coalition of members from across our nation.”

He also vowed to “use this critical opportunity to represent the values of our entire caucus and advance our priorities for trade, disaster aid, climate change, sustainable agriculture, SNAP, crop insurance, small family farms, specialty crops, and rural broadband. 

“The fault lines dividing our rural and urban communities are running deep, and climate change is now threatening our nation’s food supply. As Chairman, I will lead the fight to rise up and meet these challenges,” he said.

Among those congratulating Scott on his election was Rep. Tom O’Halleran, of Arizona, the ch-chair for policy of the Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats.

Scott is a member of the Blue Dogs.

“A longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition, Rep. Scott knows that in order for the next economic recovery to be successful, it must run through our rural communities,” O’Halleran said, adding “A strong rural economy means a strong American economy.

“Rural Americans are proud of their tight-knit communities, their hard work, and their way of life. They provide us with the material to make the clothes on our backs and produce the food that’s on our tables,” he continued. “They’re looking for a level playing field—a fair shot to work their way up the ladder, create prosperity in their communities, and participate in the country’s economic growth. Rural America has a champion in Rep. Scott, who has a deep understanding of what it takes to strengthen our rural communities, and we look forward to working with him to make that happen.” 

Experts Lend Advice on COVID Relief Policy for Biden Administration, New Congress

In a virtual roundtable event co-hosted Tuesday by the Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, economists discussed what economic policies should be prioritized by the in-coming Biden Administration and Congress. 

The panelists who participated in the event, presented by the Brookings Institution, were comprised of fiscal and public policy experts. 

Wendy Edelberg, senior fellow of Economic Studies at Brookings, Douglas Elmendorf, Don K. Price professor of Public Policy and dean of faculty at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and Michael Strain, director and Arthur F. Burns scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, talked about potential fiscal policy for short-term relief. 

Despite stimulative gains following the 2008 economic recession, Elmendorf said subsequent regressions constrained growth in following years. 

“That premature tightening of fiscal policy was one of the greatest mistakes in macroeconomic policy of the past half-century, in my view,” Elmendorf said at the event. “I am afraid that we are on the cusp of making a similar mistake again. We should at this point go fast and go big.” 

Time is an important factor when discussing economic relief solutions, he said. Millions of Americans stand on the precipice of losing unemployment insurance benefits without corrective action taken by the legislature. 

Under the CARES Act, states were given the option to extend unemployment compensation to independent contractors and other laborers that are usually ineligible for unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Labor. Pandemic unemployment insurance provides up to 39 weeks of benefits and the program’s enrollment period ends Dec. 31. 

“There are back-of-the-envelope calculations I’ve seen suggesting that a trillion dollars of fiscal stimulus might be enough,” he said. “Other calculations show — in my view — $2 trillion would be a more appropriate amount of stimulus. The point I want to emphasize is that we’d be much better off airing on the big-side than the small-side of fiscal stimulus.” 

In comparison, the CARES Act allotted $1.8 trillion in direct economic relief to individuals and businesses, according to the Heritage Foundation. Across three separate coronavirus-relief packages passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, more than $2 trillion in federal spending has been allotted to COVID-19 relief measures — more than any other stimulus package in United States history. 

Because of the “inexact” nature of macroeconomic forecasting, Elmendorf said large-scale stimulus measures present smaller risks than small-scale measures. If demand for goods and services becomes too high, the Federal Reserve can act to remedy this by raising interest rates or withdrawing from other attempts of economic remedy. 

In contrast, Strain noted smaller-scale economic stimulus measures were more likely to pass through Congress quickly. With the optimal size of any potential coronavirus-relief remaining ambiguous, Strain said lawmakers should come to a compromise that can be enacted with haste. 

“I would rather see something that’s a little bit smaller but that could pass this week or next week, rather than wait for something that’s a little bit bigger but won’t pass until February,” Strain said during the event. “If you look at the output gap, I think a trillion dollars is a reasonable figure for the next round of stimulus. I think Democrats should be willing to take a couple hundred billion dollars less than that, Republicans should be willing to take a couple hundred billion dollars more than that.” 

Although the amount of relief remains a point of contention on Capitol Hill, Edelberg said Congress needs to act soon one way or another. Retaining unemployment benefits established by earlier relief measures needs to be prioritized in any compromise bill passed by the legislature. 

These benefits were provided by a provision of the CARES Act known as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, according to the Department of Labor. Under this program, states are permitted to extend unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks if a worker’s regular unemployment compensation benefits were exhausted. 

“I am in a state of near-panic about the lapsing of unemployment insurance benefits that according to Department of Labor numbers could mean that for upwards of nine million people on December 26th they abruptly lose all of their unemployment insurance benefits,” Edelberg said during the event. 

Drug Policy Analysts Tell Congress New Strategy Needed Against Cartels

WASHINGTON — Drug policy analysts told a congressional committee Thursday that the U.S. government has largely failed to stop illegal drug smuggling because of an unfocused strategy against the cartels.

Instead, they recommended flexibility that seeks solutions based on local conditions.

In one example analysts mentioned during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, the U.S. government uses a crop eradication strategy to destroy crops that Latin American growers transform into cocaine or heroin.

Soon after the crops are destroyed by U.S. and local law enforcement agents, they are replanted elsewhere, resulting in minimal drug interdiction.

“What we did find was that there was not a one size fits all approach,” said Shannon O’Neil, chairwoman of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission.

The Council on Foreign Relations is a New York-based public policy foundation specializing in foreign policy and international affairs. It issued a report recently that described serious flaws in U.S. policy against drug smuggling.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee called the hearing to consider alternatives to the problems mentioned in the report.

In the example of crop eradication, O’Neil and other analysts said better solutions could include incentives to combat government corruption, business advice to farmers to help them turn away from growing drug crops and building better rural roads that allow police to respond to reports of illegal activity.

She called the plan a “more context-based approach.”

Despite decades of a confrontational strategy, “The trafficking of drugs has not ended,” O’Neil said. Instead, it has “morphed” from an emphasis on cocaine and heroin to include opioids that originate in China.

In some cases, Latin American governments have grown weary of cooperating with U.S. policy, she said.

“They’re less interested, frankly, than we have seen in past governments,” O’Neil said about current Mexican officials.

Cliff Sobel, vice chair of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, said some U.S. policies seek to stop drug smuggling but lack an effective method for determining whether they succeed.

“We need to be more focused on evaluating these programs,” said Sobel, who also is a former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. He suggested better “metrics” for measuring whether foreign investments are achieving drug interdiction.

Several members of Congress asked whether decriminalization of marijuana that has swept through U.S. states since 2012 might halt some of the illegal drug smuggling.

Mary Speck, executive director of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, said, “Decriminalization is unlikely to remove a significant source of income because these groups are so diverse.”

Their recent enterprises have included thefts of fuel that they sell on the black market.

“They have evolved into multi-faceted mafias,” Speck said.

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee mostly agreed U.S. anti-drug policy showed serious problems but disagreed on how to resolve them.

Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who chairs the committee, said, “We need to increase investment into drug treatment.”

He also recommended more law enforcement efforts to prevent smuggled guns from reaching the Mexican drug cartels that continue operating through murder and intimidation.

Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said that with current U.S. policies, “We’re treating symptoms” but overlooking core problems, such as the economics and government corruption that fuel illegal drug trade.

“We have to look at a different approach from the $2 trillion we have spent on the war on drugs,” Yoho said.

Rep.Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., referred to what he called “banana republics” and China when he said, “The reality is they can stop it if they want but they won’t.”

He suggested tough economic sanctions against illegal drug exporting countries “to hit them in their pocketbooks.”

‘Russia is a Predictable Power’ Says Federation Ambassador Antonov

WASHINGTON — Since the end of the Cold War, the relationship between the United States and Russia has been complicated, often described more as competitive and conflicting than cooperative. Yet a new administration in the U.S. could bring a fresh opportunity to balance some elements of the alliance.

The Brookings Institution hosted Russian Federation Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for a think tank conversation on U.S.-Russian converging interests under a Biden administration, which largely became a discussion of nuclear arms control.

“Our proposals have never taken the form of ultimatums but always been invitations to a dialogue,” said Antonov, stressing that the strategic stability of arms control was predicated on the two nation’s enshrined bilateral relationship that needed to be reinforced not only by a treaty extension but also updated terms.

After 11 years, what many consider the gold standard of arms control agreements, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), is set to expire on February 5, 2021. With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Open Skies Treaty, New START is the only remaining agreement limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. 

While it is nearing the end of a one-year extension, Antonov’s preference would be a further extension of a five-year term with some additional conditions on the part of Russia, including freezing nuclear warheads for the entire term and a moratorium on INF missiles among other ideas.

“We have never made a secret of our desire to make a New START. We need time to work out new agreements that would address new threats that have emerged in recent years,” he said. “Maintaining strategic stability enhances every country’s security. Our country needs New START as much as the U.S. does.”

While experts agree Biden would likely agree to extend New START, his administration may also seek to negotiate further nuclear arms cuts. 

But Antonov contends that “Washington should not wish for additional conditions… New START has confirmed its key role in security and mutual trust. [It] signals to the world that our two countries are serious about global peace and security… [and] provides the necessary level of security and predictability.”

“Russia is a predictable power,” he said. “Under no circumstances are we going to start an arms race.” 

Instead of imposing additional restrictions on arms, he suggested that the parties look at specific measures to find an appropriate balance. Missile defense, global strike systems, and future space systems are all issues of concern for Russia. 

“We have to build equality… or give up and submit to one state… We do not support the idea of creating so-called islands of stability,” Antonov said.

“We have to identify what should be the focus of future negotiations. The next round of negotiations will be very difficult,” he admitted. “Frankly, I don’t understand why the current administration decided to [forget] transportation systems. The next treaty should consist of ceilings or arrangements concerning delivery systems or warheads.”

“We have time [for an extension]. We can get it done very quickly. If anyone can call me now from the White Home or State Department, I’m ready to come,” Antonov half-joked. 

He also said that he would prefer to negotiate without the mass media. 

“Today, there are a lot of debates about better formats, and engaging England and France to

open [the treaty] to multilateral dialogue. But forcing anyone to participate is a counterproductive approach,” he said, recalling President Trump’s insistence that China join.

“We are open [to a different format]. We understand that the U.S. would like to involve China. At this juncture, [we believe] Chinese colleagues are not happy with the invitation and would like to reject it. China is not ready to become a partner.” 

“We would like to have pragmatic friendly relations with the U.S.,” Antonov said, and despite recent U.S. actions like expelling diplomats, ramping up sanctions, and approving the sale of weapons to Ukraine, “we are still in a good mood and still in favor to develop relations.”

He believes Russia and the United States can erect a base of cooperation on five elements: arms control, nonproliferation, space, the fight against terrorism, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are doomed for collaboration; the whole world depends on us working together,” Antonov said. “Our approaches to potential agreements may be different, but [the idea of] maintaining peace is what we share.”

Third Way Hosts First Installment of Virtual “Wine with Wonks” Series

WASHINGTON – Third Way, a Washington D.C.- based think tank, launched its inaugural “Wine with Wonks” virtual series this week that features scholars from its ACADEMIX Upshot series in an effort to promote their research and explore various education topics in a round-robin style of discussion groups. 

The ACADEMIC Upshot series is a short form research series that was launched earlier this year to examine the impact of COVID-19 on America’s education system. 

According to Third Way, research featured in the ACADEMIX Upshot series is aimed, “to equip lawmakers with the actionable, evidence-based information they need to consider how their decisions will impact student outcomes and the behavior of colleges and universities by partnering with academic researchers to deliver timely and relevant information.” 

“We established our ‘Wine with Wonks’ event series as an opportunity to dissect very wonky higher ed topics, like negotiated rulemaking, accreditation, admissions and recruiting, and the cohort default rate, and make them more accessible to Hill staffers, press, and friends from the policy/advocacy community in DC,” explains Nicole Siegel, the senior education communications manager for the ACADEMIX Upshot series. 

Siegel continued, “Pre-COVID, the format of these events was in the style of a reception, inviting guests to move freely around the room to converse with our expert wonks. 

“Incorporating the interactive elements of this event series into a virtual setting was key to ensuring policymakers, press, and other stakeholders had an opportunity to connect and learn from academic scholars.” 

Among the topics explored for the inaugural virtual installment of the “Wine with Wonks” series included the shift to online education, the vulnerability of regional public universities, the long-term effects of investing in financial aid, as well as the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on young adults aging out of foster care

In Dr. Mauriell Amechi’s “The Forgotten Students: COVID-19 Response for Youth and Young Adults Aging Out of Foster Care,” the policy brief outlines the difficulties young adults are facing amid the pandemic as they age out of the foster care system. Included in Amechi’s brief are excerpts of testimony from former foster youth reflecting on the challenges they have faced in recent months. 

“COVID-19 has recently changed my life because, to be honest, it has triggered a lot of past childhood traumas,” says Ivory Bennett, a member of the National Foster Youth Initiative

“For example, food insecurity, I don’t feel like I have access to enough food all the time. I feel nervous having to either go out and get it or spend extra money on delivery services.” 

“I wish the government did a better job in assisting foster youth, so when things like [the coronavirus pandemic] happen, they aren’t pushed to the backline or it’s not as hard on [us],” stated Michael Thomas, another member of the National Foster Youth Initiative. 

“[As] an at-risk population, we have to fight so much harder because, for some reason, our voices never really get heard to the full force until something happens. And I wish it was different,” added Thomas. 

In an interview with The Well News, Amechi explained his intention of including testimony from former foster care youth. 

“Centering foster youth as experts on their lived experience allows them to have a voice in decision-making processes that affect them,” stated Amechi. “Humanizing statistical evidence is critical to fully understanding complex problems. 

“All too often, public discourse, research journals, films, and other various forms of media paint a monolithic, bleak, and hopeless portrait of youth and young adults impacted by child welfare systems. 

“As a contributor to Third Way’s ACADEMIX Upshot series, one of my goals was to craft a brief that drew upon the voices of individuals with lived experience in foster care.” 

In his discussion with “Wine with Wonks” participants, Amechi reiterated his policy recommendations of a nationwide extension of foster care benefits to age 21, as well as a strengthening of postsecondary data that can help provide a clearer picture of the experiences and outcomes of students with foster care experience nationally. 

Additionally, Amechi’s brief stated that Congress should pass H.R. 6766 and H.R. 7947 to provide additional funding towards the Chafee program, which provides essential resources for foster care youth entering adulthood. 

“Federal policymakers must consider the vast number of young adults aging out of foster care and entering adulthood during the coronavirus pandemic,” reads Amechi’s brief.

“Without sufficient resources, support, and preparation for independent living and access to higher education, many will encounter roadblocks even more detrimental than those they face during regular economic times.” 

Dr. Oded Gurantz, assistant professor at the University of Missouri, presented his research findings and recommendations from his brief, “Paying for Itself: How Financial Aid is a Smart Investment in Our Nation’s Future.” 

Gurantz outlined the successes of the Cal Grant program, a financial aid program in California that covers the charges of “full tuition and fees at any in-state four-year public college or provides a tuition subsidy for private school enrollment of roughly $10,000 per year.”

Gurantz explained that over his 15-year study of the Cal grant program, the investment in financial aid for eligible students yielded significant results such as increases in graduation rates and an increased likelihood of students attending graduate school. 

“Financial aid programs produce positive impacts on education and employment outcomes and can even pay for themselves through increased tax revenues—provided that policymakers are willing to take the long view,” noted Gurantz in his brief. 

“As such, it is important that policymakers do not cut back on financial support at this crucial juncture, even as government budgets are increasingly strained,” continued the brief. 

The “Wine with Wonks” virtual series with Third Way experts will continue in 2021. For those looking to participate in future “Wine with Wonks” events, future calendar dates will be announced on Third Way’s website

To find out more about the ACADEMIX Upshot series, visit Third Way’s ACADEMIX Upshot page

Trump Allies File Emergency Petition at Supreme Court Over 2020 Election

WASHINGTON — Weeks after President Donald Trump said the Supreme Court should decide whether to throw out millions of ballots in what he dubbed a fraudulent election, and with state and federal courts rejecting nearly all his legal team’s lawsuits in multiple states, a case from Pennsylvania has limped meekly to the nation’s highest court.

The emergency petition filed Thursday is no Bush v. Gore, the 2000 case about the disputed Florida recount that determined who won the state’s electoral votes and therefore the White House. The dispute about Pennsylvania’s election results could not by itself change the outcome of the presidential race.

Instead, the appeal comes from Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Kelly and other Trump allies, in a lawsuit they filed after the election to challenge a 2019 state law that allowed voters to cast mail-in ballots for any reason.

Election experts have called the lawsuit, which seeks to throw out all mail-in ballots in the state in the 2020 election, ridiculous. They panned the chances that the Supreme Court would agree to hear it.

Election law expert Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, wrote about it with this title: “Perhaps the Dumbest Argument Ever Made in Emergency Petition to the Supreme Court Appears in Pennsylvania Election Case.”

On Saturday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the lawsuit in a three-page ruling, essentially because it was filed too late. The state’s mail-in voting law had been in place for more than a year at that point, and had already been used in the June primary elections and November general elections.

The court pointed out that the Republicans also sought an outcome — invalidating all mail-in ballots from the 2020 election or directing the state legislature to appoint its own slate of presidential electors — that would “result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Pennsylvania voters.”

Hasen wrote that the emergency petition to the Supreme Court now argues that the state legislature failed to follow the state constitution when it created the mail-in ballot law, and that somehow violates the U.S. Constitution. The petition then points to part of the U.S. Constitution that gives state legislatures the power to set election rules.

“So how could that possibly be violated by a state legislature setting election rules?” Hasen wrote on his blog. “Even worse, the state supreme court is the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of the state constitution, not the U.S. Supreme Court, and so it is not for the U.S. Supreme Court to say if the PA legislature violated the PA constitution.”

The Supreme Court still has not acted on an appeal from Pennsylvania lawmakers in a separate case. They have asked the justices to decide whether the state can tally mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after Election Day amid concerns that mail delivery has slowed.

State Democrats, in a filing Tuesday at the Supreme Court, said there weren’t ballots that arrived in that three-day period to make a difference in the outcome of the election.


(c)2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Cornyn Says Congress Has ‘No Reason’ to Overturn Electoral College

WASHINGTON — Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a senior Republican and adviser to the majority leader, said flatly Thursday that President Donald Trump has no realistic path to overturning the election.

After weeks of court defeats, he noted, Trump’s legal team has yet to show evidence of fraud and ballot tampering despite claims of massive, widespread tampering that padded Joe Biden’s tally by hundreds of thousands if not millions of votes.

“It looks to me like a pathway for the president has narrowed if not closed,” Cornyn said.

And if Trump allies try to overturn the will of the Electoral College in Congress, they won’t find an ally in Cornyn.

“I know of no reason that would justify Congress not doing that,” the senator said in a call with Texas news outlets.

Members of the Electoral College meet Dec. 14 to cast ballots. Biden’s tally is 306-232. The half-dozen states where Trump mounted recounts and court challenges have all certified their votes.

By law, Congress meets Jan. 6 to certify that result, and that’s almost always a mere formality.

But some Trump supporters in the House have threatened to try to derail that, which requires at least one House member and one senator to object in writing. No senator has stepped forward so far to say they’d be willing to do that.

Cornyn has refrained from referring to Biden as the president-elect, or the winner. On Thursday’s call, he referred to him as “Former Vice President Biden” in discussing some of Biden’s picks for Cabinet and other senior posts. Asked directly whether he views Biden as president-elect, Cornyn said “no,” reiterating the stance he’s taken for weeks.

Only two Texas Republicans in Congress have explicitly acknowledged Biden’s victory. Rep. Will Hurd of suburban San Antonio did so as soon as Biden was declared the winner on Nov. 7. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth said Nov. 20 that “it’s time to move on.”

Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, along with 20 other GOP members of the House from Texas and seven incoming House freshmen have all refrained from acknowledging Biden’s win.

Thursday marked one month since Election Day. Saturday will mark four weeks since Biden’s victory became apparent, and the TV networks, Associated Press and other independent election analysts deemed him the winner, after results in Pennsylvania became clear enough to put him over the top_at least 270 out of 538 electoral votes.

As counting of mail ballots has continued, Biden’s lead in the popular vote has hit roughly 7 million.

Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million four years ago, though he notched the same electoral margin initially. His final margin was 304-227, because some electors refused to cast votes in line with their states’ voters.


(c)2020 The Dallas Morning News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

NewDEAL Forum Releases Policy Proposals on Education and Jobs Mismatch in COVID Era

WASHINGTON – As part of the 10th Annual NewDEAL Leaders Conference held this week, the NewDEAL Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, released a new education report detailing policy solutions for providing high quality college and career pathways for students of all education levels. The NewDEAL Forum has released similar reports since 2018. 

The NewDEAL Forum report, titled “Policy Proposals for Aligning the Future of Education with Workforce Opportunities,” provides state and local lawmakers with policy models in the following areas:

  • Expanding access to high-quality college and career pathways 
  • Easing the transition between high school and higher education 
  • Engaging employers in work-based education and training 
  • COVID-19 – Crisis management and recovery planning 

The report itself is intended to act as a guide to bring together America’s educational institutions and employers in order to address the, “huge mismatch between the outcomes of our K-12 system and the opportunities in our workforce,” according to the group.

“The state and local elected officials involved in this effort witnessed how the virus affected schools and communities – particularly our nation’s most vulnerable students,” said Georgia state Sen. Elena Parent and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, the co-chairs of the NewDEAL Forum Education Policy Group. 

Parent and Cabaldon continued stating, “Nationwide school closures spotlighted and exacerbated inequities that have existed for years. 

“In addition, job losses that resulted from COVID-19 hit low-skilled workers particularly hard, further highlighting the need to develop strong pathways to college and careers… State and local leaders understand the links between strong schools and a strong economy. They know that addressing a wider range of educational issues will lead to the policies that promote broadly shared economic prosperity.” 

The report details action plans and examples of previously successful implementations of policy models from legislative leaders across the country. 

Recognizing that COVID-19 has upended educational opportunities across the country, the report also includes a section on responding to the pandemic, focusing on ways for state and local leaders to expand access to broadband and better serve the most vulnerable students. 

Within the coronavirus response section, the report calls on lawmakers to establish a “digital student bill of rights” to provide all students with broadband access, devices, and technical support. 

According to the report, “State and local leaders can create a student entitlement to internet access and devices necessary to participate in virtual instruction – for example, though a ‘digital student bill of rights’ – and provide school districts with the support and funding necessary for implementation. 

“Policymakers can also require tracking of which students and families have internet access – and how they get online – so resources are targeted better.” 

Additionally, the report urges lawmakers and educators to consider not just students’ technology needs but other basic necessities such as housing, meals, and health care when servicing students year-round, not just during the active school calendar. 

“I am proud to partner with the NewDEAL Forum to support the development of the recommendations being released today,” said Deb Delisle, president and CEO of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national non-profit policy and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., that partnered with the NewDEAL Forum on the report. 

“We must educate our way out of today’s economic downturn,” continued Delisle. 

“These recommendations offer concrete steps state and local officials can take to close the opportunity gaps that COVID-19 has brought to light and prepare students for the postsecondary education they will need to succeed in today’s economy. 

“I look forward to giving students hope for their future by working with NewDEAL Leaders to implement these policies,” concluded Delisle. 

The NewDEAL Forum is a sister organization to the NewDEAL, a nationwide network of 180 of the most innovative state and local officials across the country who are chosen for their forward-thinking, results-driven approach to governing. 

To read the full recommendations and policy model analysis from the NewDEAL Forum, the report can be found on the organization’s website

Hopes Raised That Congress Will Agree on a COVID-19 Stimulus Plan, But Obstacles Remain

WASHINGTON — Pressure is building on Congress to pass another economic aid package before the end of the year, and Democratic and Republican leaders said Thursday they’re hopeful a deal is possible.

But with only a few days left on the legislative calendar, it’s far from certain that optimism will lead to actual relief for millions of Americans who stand to lose pandemic-related assistance after Dec. 31.

Lawmakers have become increasingly panicked about leaving Washington for the year without providing another round of assistance as coronavirus cases and deaths surge across the country, and hospital intensive care units overflow.

House and Senate leaders have discussed attaching a short-term extension of some aid, such as expanded unemployment insurance, to a government spending bill that must pass by Dec. 11 to prevent a government shutdown.

“It’s been heartening to see a few hopeful signs in the past few days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., said on the Senate floor. Hours later, he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) spoke by phone about a potential aid package, the first time they’ve directly discussed COVID-19 economic aid since at least the election, aides said.

But major issues remain, including how much money to provide and where to spend it.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D- N.Y., embraced a compromise $908 billion package proposed this week by a bipartisan group of representatives and senators, backing down from their previous insistence on a $2.1 trillion package.

“Let’s use the bipartisan framework, developed by eight senators from both sides, as our starting point. We have precious little time left before the end of the year, and the country has some desperate needs,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Although the full text of that compromise bill has not been written, it is expected to include a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, 18 more weeks of federal unemployment insurance at $300 rather than $600, as well as money for food assistance, student loan payment deferrals, child care and vaccine distribution.

But it does not include direct cash payouts to individuals, such as the $1,200 checks in the CARES Act, or paid family or personal leave, which has allowed people to care for sick loved ones without losing their jobs.

It also includes a moratorium on liability lawsuits if a customer or worker gets sick at a business, and $160 billion in funding for state and local governments, a major sticking point for many conservatives, including McConnell.

McConnell appeared to dismiss the compromise bill when it was announced Tuesday, telling reporters, “We just don’t have time to waste time.” But he said on Thursday that “compromise is within reach.”

McConnell is circulating his own proposal, similar to the $500 billion plan that has twice failed to pass the Senate, which includes protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits, about a month of extended unemployment insurance and more Paycheck Protection Program loans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., has said McConnell’s proposal should be the base line for negotiations, not the compromise deal backed by Pelosi and Schumer.

When asked about McConnell’s proposal, President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he supports a deal. “I want it to happen. And I believe we are getting very close to a deal,” he said.

Senior Senate Republicans, including allies of the president, have given the compromise proposal measured support in recent days. After meeting with Trump at the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- S.C., told reporters he supports the compromise bill and is optimistic the president will support it once it is fleshed out.

“I have never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill,” he said.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R- Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, indicated he would be willing to support the compromise deal if the details were right.

“It’s a little high for me. But more important for me is the things that are in it, and if everything in it has some bipartisan support,” Grassley said.

For months, prospects for another economic aid package this year appeared poor despite pleas from economists and lawmakers in both parties that something more needed to be done to help millions of people out of work because government officials have ordered businesses to close amid the pandemic.

Whether a deal is possible this year will become clear in the next few days. Before members head home for the holidays, Congress also needs to approve the national defense authorization, which Trump has threatened to veto, and a spending authorization to keep the government from shutting down.

Much of the pandemic response approved by Congress in March through the CARES Act expires Dec. 31, including extra weeks of unemployment insurance for people who have exhausted the benefits their state offers, a ban on eviction or foreclosure from some properties, and a mandate that health insurance plans cover the cost of coronavirus testing.

The extra $600 a week in federal unemployment already expired in July and the Paycheck Protection Program has not been able to authorize new loans since August.


(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

US Employers Add a Modest 245,000 Jobs as Virus Intensifies

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s employers scaled back their hiring last month as the viral pandemic accelerated across the country, adding 245,000 jobs, the fewest since April and the fifth straight monthly slowdown.

At the same time, the unemployment rate to a still-high 6.7%, from 6.9% in October, the Labor Department said. November’s job gain was down from 610,000 in October.

Friday’s report of another slowdown in hiring was the latest evidence that the job market and the economy are faltering in the face of a virus that has been shattering daily records for confirmed infections.

Before the pandemic, last month’s gains would have been considered healthy. But the U.S. economy is still roughly 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, with a rising proportion of the unemployed describing their jobs as gone for good. Faster hiring is needed to ensure that people who were laid off during the pandemic recession can quickly get back to work.

Two enhanced federal unemployment benefits programs are set to expire at the end of December — just as viral cases are surging and colder weather is shutting down outdoor dining and many public events. Unless Congress enacts another rescue aid package, more than 9 million unemployed people will be left without any jobless aid, state or federal, beginning after Christmas.

Friday’s report coincides with renewed efforts in Congress to reach a deal on a new rescue aid package. A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a $900 billion plan that would include expanded unemployment benefits, more small business loans and aid to state and local governments. But there are no signs of any imminent agreement.

The gravest threat to the economy remains the raging virus, and most experts say any economic recovery depends on how fast an effective vaccine can be widely distributed and used. U.S. deaths from the coronavirus topped 3,100 Wednesday, a new high, with more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized with the disease, also a record, and new daily cases topping 200,000. In response, at least 12 states have imposed new restrictions on businesses in the past month, according to an Associated Press tally.

For now, there are signs that the economic recovery is stumbling. Consumer spending grew in October at the slowest pace in six months. Seated diners at restaurants are declining again, according to data from the reservations website OpenTable. And a Fed report on business conditions found that growth cooled last month in several Midwest regions and in the Fed’s Philadelphia district.

Still, the full impact of the worsening pandemic may not be evident in Friday’s jobs report, which measures hiring trends in the middle of the month. Some state restrictions weren’t imposed until later in November. As a result, some economists say the worst consequences of the pandemic won’t appear until the December jobs report is issued in early January.

Among First Acts, Biden to Call for 100 Days of Mask-Wearing

Joe Biden said Thursday that he will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president, stopping just short of the nationwide mandate he’s pushed before to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The move marks a notable shift from President Donald Trump, whose own skepticism of mask-wearing has contributed to a politicization of the issue. That’s made many people reticent to embrace a practice that public health experts say is one of the easiest ways to manage the pandemic, which has killed more than 275,000 Americans.

The president-elect has frequently emphasized mask-wearing as a “patriotic duty” and during the campaign floated the idea of instituting a nationwide mask mandate, which he later acknowledged would be beyond the ability of the president to enforce.

Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Biden said he would make the request of Americans on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

“On the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever, just 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction” in the virus, Biden said.

The president-elect reiterated his call for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass a coronavirus aid bill and expressed support for a $900 billion compromise bill that a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced this week.

“That would be a good start. It’s not enough,” he said, adding, “I’m going to need to ask for more help.”

Biden has said his transition team is working on its own coronavirus relief package, and his aides have signaled they plan for that to be their first legislative push.

The president-elect also said he asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on in his administration, “in the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents,” as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.

He said he’s asked Fauci to be a “chief medical adviser” as well as part of his COVID-19 advisory team.

Regarding a coronavirus vaccine, Biden offered begrudging credit for the work Trump’s administration has done in expediting the development of a vaccine but said that planning the distribution properly will be “critically important.”

“It’s a really difficult but doable project, but it has to be well planned, ” he said.

Part of the challenge the Biden administration will face in distributing the vaccine will be instilling public confidence in it. Biden said he’d be “happy” to get inoculated in public to assuage any concerns about its efficacy and safety. Three former presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — have said they’d also get vaccinated publicly to show that it’s safe.

“People have lost faith in the ability of the vaccine to work,” Biden said, adding that “it matters what a president and the vice president do.”

In the same interview, Biden also weighed in on reports that Trump is considering pardons of himself and his allies.

“It concerns me in terms of what kind of precedent it sets and how the rest of the world looks at us as a nation of laws and justice,” Biden said.

Biden committed that his Justice Department will “operate independently” and that whoever he chooses to lead the department will have the “independent capacity to decide who gets investigated.”

“You’re not going to see in our administration that kind of approach to pardons, nor are you going to see in our administration the approach to making policy by tweets,” he said.

In addition to considering preemptive pardons, Trump has spent much of his time post-election trying to raise questions about an election he lost by millions of votes while his lawyers pursue baseless lawsuits alleging voter fraud in multiple states.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, have largely given the president cover, with many defending the lawsuits and few publicly congratulating Biden on his win.

But Biden said Thursday that he’s received private calls of congratulations from “more than several sitting Republican senators” and that he has confidence in his ability to cut bipartisan deals with Republicans despite the rancor that’s characterized the last four years on Capitol Hill.

Trump aides have expressed skepticism that the president, who continues to falsely claim victory and spread baseless claims of fraud, would attend Biden’s inauguration. Biden said Thursday night that he believes it’s “important” that Trump attend, largely to demonstrate the nation’s commitment to peaceful transfer of power between political rivals.

“It is totally his decision,” Biden said of Trump, adding, “It is of no personal consequence to me, but I think it is to the country.”

US Intelligence Director Says China is Top Threat to America

WASHINGTON (AP) — China poses the greatest threat to America and the rest of the free world since World War II, outgoing National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe said Thursday as the Trump administration ramps up anti-Chinese rhetoric to pressure President-elect Joe Biden to be tough on Beijing.

“The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically,” Ratcliffe wrote in an op-ed published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. “Many of China’s major public initiatives and prominent companies offer only a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.”

“I call its approach of economic espionage ‘rob, replicate and replace,'” Ratcliffe said. “China robs U.S. companies of their intellectual property, replicates the technology and then replaces the U.S. firms in the global marketplace.”

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying dismissed the editorial as a further move to spread “false information, political viruses and lies” in hopes of damaging China’s reputation and China-U.S. relations.

“It offered nothing new but repeated the lies and rumors aimed at smearing China and playing up the China threat by any means,” Hua said at a daily briefing on Friday. “It’s another hodgepodge of lies being produced by the relevant departments of the U.S. government for some time.”

Trump administration officials have been stepping up their anti-China rhetoric for months, especially during the presidential campaign as President Donald Trump sought to deflect blame for the spread of the coronavirus . On the campaign trail, Trump warned that Biden would go easy on China, although the president-elect agrees that China is not abiding by international trade rules, is giving unfair subsidies to Chinese companies and stealing American innovation.

The Trump administration, which once boasted of warm relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, also has been ramping up sanctions against China over Taiwan, Tibet, trade, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. It has moved against the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and sought restrictions on Chinese social media applications like TikTok and WeChat.

Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist who has been accused of politicizing the position, has been the nation’s top intelligence official since May. In his op-ed, he did not directly address the transition to a Biden administration. Trump has not acknowledged losing the election.

Ratcliffe said he has shifted money within the $85 billion annual intelligence budget to address the threat from China. Beijing is preparing for an open-ended confrontation with the U.S., which must be addressed, he said.

“This is our once-in-a-generation challenge. Americans have always risen to the moment, from defeating the scourge of fascism to bringing down the Iron Curtain,” Ratcliffe wrote in what appeared to be call for action to future intelligence officials.

Biden has announced that he wants the Senate to confirm Avril Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA, to succeed Ratcliffe as the next national intelligence director.

“This generation will be judged by its response to China’s effort to reshape the world in its own image and replace America as the dominant superpower,” Ratcliffe wrote.

He cited several examples of Chinese aggression against the United States:

The Justice Department has charged a rising number of U.S. academics for transferring U.S. taxpayer-funded intellectual property to China.

He noted the theft of intellectual property from American businesses, citing the case of Sinoval, a China-based wind turbine maker, which was convicted and heavily fined for stealing trade secrets from AMSC, a U.S.-based manufacturer formerly known as American Superconductor Inc. Rather than pay AMSC for more than $800 million in products and services it had agreed to purchase, Sinovel hatched a scheme to steal AMSC’s proprietary wind turbine technology, causing the loss of almost 700 jobs and more than $1 billion in shareholder equity, according to the Justice Department.

Ratcliffe and other U.S. officials have said that China has stolen sensitive U.S. defense technology to fuel Xi’s aggressive military modernization plan and they allege that Beijing uses its access to Chinese tech firms, such as Huawei, to collect intelligence, disrupt communications and threaten the privacy of users worldwide.

Ratcliffe said he has personally briefed members of Congress about how China is using intermediaries to lawmakers in an attempt to influence legislation.

Biden Adjusting Agenda to Reflect Narrow Divide in Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is adjusting the scope of his agenda to meet the challenges of governing with a narrowly divided Congress and the complications of legislating during a raging pandemic.

Rather than immediately pursue ambitious legislation to combat climate change, the incoming administration may try to wrap provisions into a coronavirus aid bill. Biden’s team is also considering smaller-scale changes to the Affordable Care Act while tabling the more contentious fight over creating a public option to compete with private insurers.

Biden is already working on an array of executive actions to achieve some of his bolder priorities on climate change and immigration without having to navigate congressional gridlock.

The maneuvering reflects a disappointing political reality for Biden, who campaigned on a pledge to address the nation’s problems with measures that would rival the scope of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. But Democrats acknowledge that big legislative accomplishments are unlikely, even in the best-case scenario in which the party gains a slim majority in the Senate.

“Let’s assume my dream comes true,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin said, referring to a tight majority for his party. “I think we have to carefully construct any change in the Affordable Care Act, or any other issue, like climate change, based on the reality of the 50-50 Senate.”

“There’s so many areas, which we value so much that Republicans do not, that it will be tough to guide through the Senate under the circumstances,” the Illinois Democrat added.

Biden’s agenda hinges on the fate of two Senate runoff races in Georgia, which will be decided on Jan. 5. If Democrats win both seats, the chamber will be evenly divided, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

In that event, Biden’s agenda items stand a better chance of at least getting a vote. If Republicans maintain control, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not bring the new president’s priorities to the floor.

Biden’s initial focus on Capitol Hill will be a multibillion-dollar coronavirus aid bill, which is certain to require significant political capital after lawmakers have been deadlocked over negotiations on Capitol Hill for months.

The president-elect said Thursday on CNN that while he supports a $900 billion compromise bill introduced this week by a bipartisan group of negotiators, the bill is “a good start” but it’s “not enough” and he plans to ask for more when he’s in office. His team is already working on his own coronavirus relief package.

People close to Biden’s transition team say they’re looking at that stimulus as a potential avenue for enacting some climate reforms — like aid for green jobs or moving the nation toward a carbon-free energy system — that might be tougher to get on their own.

Durbin mentioned President Barack Obama’s first term as a precedent for what Biden will encounter when he takes office.

Then, Obama was forced to focus much of his early energy on a stimulus package to deal with the financial crisis, and he spent months wrangling with his own party on his health care overhaul. Obama also enacted financial regulatory reform, but other progressive priorities, like cap and trade legislation and immigration reform, ultimately lost steam.

And he had a significant House and Senate majority at the time.

Still, some Republicans argue that if Biden approaches negotiations in good faith, there are some common areas of agreement. Rohit Kumar, the co-leader of PwC’s Washington National Tax Services and a former top aide to McConnell, said it’s possible to find a compromise on some smaller-scale priorities, like an infrastructure bill, addressing the opioid crisis and even a police reform bill.

“There is stuff in the middle, if Biden is willing to do deals in the middle — and that means being willing to strike agreements that progressive members don’t love, and maybe have them vote no, and be at peace with that,” he said.

Indeed, speaking on CNN Thursday, Biden expressed optimism about cutting deals with Republicans. He said when it comes to national security and the “economic necessity” of keeping people employed and reinvigorating the economy, “there’s plenty of room we can work.”

Still, he acknowledged, “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be hard.”

But here, progressives, not Republicans, could be the roadblock. Waleed Shahid, spokesperson for the liberal Justice Democrats, said progressives are “worried and anxious” about Biden’s history of making what he called “toxic compromises with McConnell.”

“I think progressives will probably play a key role in trying to push Democrats to have a spine in any negotiations with Mitch McConnell,” he said. “People will hold him accountable for what he ran on.”

Shaheed said he believes progressives could play a role in pushing the Biden administration to embrace a more “aggressive approach” and pursue executive actions to address some Democratic priorities.

And indeed, Biden’s transition team has already been at work crafting a list of potential unilateral moves he could take early on.

He plans to reverse Trump’s rollback of a number of public health and environmental protections the Obama administration put in place. He’ll rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord and rescind the ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries. He could also unilaterally reestablish protections for “Dreamers” who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children.

But some of his biggest campaign pledges require congressional action and are certain to face GOP opposition.

Biden has promised to take major legislative action on immigration reform and gun control, but prior legislative efforts on both of those issues — with bipartisan support — have failed multiple times.

He’s also pledged to roll back the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy, forgive some student loan debt and make some public college free — all heavy lifts in a closely divided or Republican-controlled Senate.

“It’s easy to be skeptical and pessimistic in this Senate,” Durbin said. “I hope that they give us a chance to break through and be constructive and put an end to some of the obstruction.”

US Lawmakers Unveil Anti-Slavery Constitutional Amendment

NEW YORK (AP) — National lawmakers introduced a joint resolution Wednesday aimed at striking language from the U.S. Constitution that enshrines a form of slavery in America’s foundational documents.

The resolution, spearheaded and supported by Democratic members of the House and Senate, would amend the 13th Amendment’s ban on chattel enslavement to expressly prohibit involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. As ratified, the original amendment has permitted exploitation of labor by convicted felons for over 155 years since the abolition of slavery.

The 13th Amendment “continued the process of a white power class gravely mistreating Black Americans, creating generations of poverty, the breakup of families and this wave of mass incarceration that we still wrestle with today,” Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon told The Associated Press ahead of the resolution’s introduction.

A House version is led by outgoing Rep. William Lacy Clay, of St. Louis, who said the amendment “seeks to finish the job that President (Abraham) Lincoln started.”

It would “eliminate the dehumanizing and discriminatory forced labor of prisoners for profit that has been used to drive the over-incarceration of African Americans since the end of the Civil War,” Clay said.

In the Senate, the resolution has Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland signed on as co-sponsors. “This change to the 13th Amendment will finally, fully rid our nation of a form of legalized slavery,” Van Hollen said in an emailed statement.

Constitutional amendments are rare and require approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate, as well as ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures. Should the proposal fail to move out of committee in the remaining weeks of the current Congress, Merkley said he hoped to revive it next year.

The effort has been endorsed by more than a dozen human rights and social justice organizations, including The Sentencing Project, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Color of Change.

“It is long past time that Congress excise this language from the U.S. Constitution which should begin to put an end to the abusive practices derived from it,” said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch, which also endorsed the amendment.

The proposed amendment comes nearly one month after voters in Nebraska and Utah approved initiatives amending their state constitutions to remove language that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. In 2018, Colorado was among the first U.S. states to remove such language by ballot measure.

Although nearly half of state constitutions do not mention human bondage or prison labor as punishment, just over 20 states still include such clauses in governing documents that date back to the 19th century abolition of slavery.

In Merkley’s Oregon, voters in 2002 approved the elimination of constitutional language that prohibited Black Americans from living in the state unless they were enslaved.

He said the movement toward a federal amendment is “kind of saying to the world, let’s not forget this big piece of injustice that’s sitting squarely in the middle of our Constitution, as we wrestle with criminal justice reform.”

Many Americans will recognize modern-day prison labor as chain gangs deployed from prison facilities for agricultural and infrastructure work. The prevalence of prison labor has been largely accepted as a means for promoting rehabilitation, teaching trade skills and reducing idleness among prisoners.

But the practice has a much darker history. Following the abolition of slavery, Southern states that lost the literal backbone of their economies began criminalizing formerly enslaved Black men and women for offenses as petty as vagrancy or having unkempt children.

This allowed legal re-enslavement of African Americans, who were no longer seen as sympathetic victims of inhumane bondage, said Michele Goodwin, a constitutional law professor at the University of California, Irvine.

“These people became criminals, and it became very difficult for many abolitionists to use the same kinds of emotional messaging about the humanity of these individuals,” Goodwin said.

Today, incarcerated workers, many of them making pennies on the dollar, work in plants, manufacturing clothing, assembling furniture and even battling wildfires across the U.S., much of it to the benefit of large corporations, governments and communities where they’ve historically been unwelcome upon release.

Researchers have estimated the minimum annual value of prison labor commodities at $2 billion, derived largely through a system of convict leasing that leaves these workers without the legal protections and benefits that Americans are otherwise entitled to.

And while prison work is largely optional for the 2.2 million individuals incarcerated in the U.S., it’s a grave mistake to disassociate their labor from the original intent of the penal system, Goodwin said.

“Your freedom has been taken away — that’s the punishment that society has assigned,” she said. “The punishment is not that you do slave work, that is unpaid labor or barely paid labor.”

Psaki, Next White House Press Secretary, a Veteran Messenger

WASHINGTON (AP) — After four years of President Donald Trump serving as his own chief spokesperson and frequently peddling false information and conspiracy theories in the process, successor Joe Biden is pledging to return to a more traditional approach to communicating with Americans.

Much of that work will fall to Jen Psaki, Biden’s pick for White House press secretary. She’s a veteran communications staffer who has worked on many top Democratic campaigns and held leading roles under President Barack Obama, including deputy press secretary and White House communications director, as well as spokesperson for the State Department.

She’ll assume the role at a critical time, facing a public that’s skeptical of messages from institutions and a press corps whose relationship with the White House has been highly strained during the Trump era. Psaki, who turned 42 on Tuesday, is well-known in Washington, but she’s not a household name.


“This job becomes one of the most recognizable people representing both the administration and the government writ large,” said Robert Gibbs, a former Obama press secretary. “She’ll be recognized when she travels overseas. She’ll be recognized when she goes to the grocery store.”

Trump went through four press secretaries and often preferred to engage directly with the electorate, tweeting at all hours or holding his own press briefings — especially at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Both the president and his media team were frequently at odds with White House reporters while routinely spreading falsehoods.

One of Trump’s press secretaries, Stephanie Grisham, never held a single briefing during her tenure. His most recent choice, Kayleigh McEnany, has used her sporadic briefings to scold reporters on their choice of questions, lecture them about the content of their stories, and reinforce baseless claims by the president.

Biden has promised to restore daily press briefings, and Psaki says she views the core of her new job as seeking to rebuild trust in government, especially during the pandemic.

“It’s difficult to imagine now how different this is going to be in a couple of months,” said Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign when Psaki was press secretary for Obama’s reelection campaign.

Stevens, a fierce Trump critic, said that after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, White House communications staffers won’t be “graded upon their willingness to lie for the president.”

Former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough remembered Psaki once coming into his office and “pushing back quite strongly” on a policy point, seeking to get “answers that she knew she would be asked about.” He said the exchange simultaneously annoyed and impressed him.

“She was not a passive participant who was just taking messaging to pass along,” McDonough said.

Still, simply returning to the way things were during the Obama administration is not something all journalists are looking forward to. While its relationship with the press was not as combative as the current administration’s, the Obama White House tightly controlled access to information, was obstructionist on many Freedom of Information Act requests and offered aggressive spin on key events.

It also used the 1917 Espionage Act in unprecedented ways, prosecuting more people for leaking sensitive information to the public than all previous presidents combined.

Harold Holzer, a onetime congressional press secretary and author of the book “The Presidents and the Press,” said many White House journalists “were horrified by their treatment in the Obama administration.”

“They were being told to consult the White House website for answers to their questions, Obama never showed up … unless it was to go give a cupcake on someone’s birthday, he didn’t answer FOIA requests,” Holzer said.

Psaki has already led calls with reporters to discuss the progress of Biden’s transition to the White House, though those haven’t come daily. Biden, meanwhile, has held only two formal press conferences since Election Day. Trump went weeks after his victory in 2016 without convening a press conference, but his team did provide daily updates by phone to reporters.

Holzer noted that Biden “is friendly, but he’s guarded and he’ll be more protective.”

Presidential press corps combativeness long predates Trump and Obama.

John Adams signed a sedition law prohibiting “malicious writing” about the president and executive branch. Abraham Lincoln imprisoned editors during the Civil War, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt admonished a journalist to go to the corner and wear a dunce cap. Early in Bill Clinton’s term, the corridor between the briefing room and the press secretary’s office was closed to journalists — causing an uproar among their ranks and a reversal of the policy.

“It’s happened before. It’s just that it wasn’t on social media,” Holzer said.

A native of Stamford, Connecticut, and a graduate of William & Mary, Psaki is part of an all-female senior communications team for the Biden White House. She declined an interview request through a Biden transition team spokesperson.

McDonough recalled recruiting Psaki back to the White House from the State Department on the president’s behalf in 2015 — and her saying that she was having a family and that nothing would keep her from achieving that goal.

“I’ll never forget having that conversation with her and how insistent she was,” McDonough said.

Psaki and her husband, Gregory Mecher, have two children, ages 2 and 5.

Gibbs worked closely with Psaki in the Obama press office and said she has a good relationship with Biden and with reporters, excels at message planning and can be “calm inside a building that, even on the best day of the administration, is a bit chaotic.”

“You get calls at 2 in the morning from the Situation Room, you’re up early reading news,” Gibbs said of the post Psaki is taking on. “You have to be ready to react to what you know is going to happen and what you have no idea’s going to happen. And that really doesn’t turn off from the moment you start the job until the moment you finish it.”

Current and former colleagues say Psaki is careful to take care of those around her, even people she far outranks. A 2008 Obama communications intern recalled Psaki providing an air mattress to use for the summer after a housing mix-up.

Biden aides say that the president-elect decided on Psaki because she ran point for the Obama press office on the economy, especially stimulus spending — an issue that then-Vice President Biden, and the man he’s tapped as his administration’s first chief of staff, Ron Klain, were leading voices on. That’s important since Biden has promised to spend billions creating green jobs and making infrastructure improvements to better combat climate change and to reduce economic inequality while reviving the post-pandemic economy.

Psaki also has extensive foreign policy experience from her time at the State Department. That, combined with her White House years, makes her among the most practically experienced people to take on the role of press secretary while giving her deep knowledge of key issues, aides say.

Psaki is also remembered for some tense exchanges with journalists during State Department press briefings. Videos of some of those have now begun to resurface in Russia. State media there is often critical of U.S. political figures but in the past singled out Psaki, turning her last name into a verb, “Psaking,” meant to denote making mistakes while speaking publicly.

Still, Stevens, the Romney 2012 top strategist, said any media dust-ups will be grounded in a public and political reality that evaporated during the Trump era.

“I’m sure she’s going to have a lot of fights with reporters, and reporters are going to have frustrations. And that’s how it should be,” he said. “But they will be people living in the same universe. They’re not going to be debating about whether gravity’s a reasonable phenomenon.”

Trump Doesn’t Rule Out Firing Barr, Calls AG’s Voter Fraud Debunking ‘a Disappointment’

It might be time for Attorney General William Barr to start packing his bags.

President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that he may fire Barr over his affirmation that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

“Ask me that in a number of weeks from now,” Trump said in the Oval Office after a reporter asked if he still has confidence in the attorney general in light of his election statement.

The outgoing president, who’s refusing to admit that he lost the election to Joe Biden, claimed Barr’s Justice Department hasn’t found any evidence of widespread fraud because “he hasn’t looked.”

“He hasn’t done anything,” Trump said. “They haven’t looked very hard, which is a disappointment, to be honest with you.”

A spokeswoman for Barr did not return a request for comment.

Barr piqued Trump’s ire by telling The Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday that “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

The attorney general’s pronouncement ran directly counter to Trump’s baseless insistence that Biden’s victory was facilitated by a massive Democratic conspiracy to “rig” the election.

“They should be looking at all of this fraud,” Trump said during Thursday’s appearance in the Oval Office. “This is not civil, this is criminal stuff. This is very bad criminal stuff so I’ll just say this: It was a fixed election. It was a rigged election.”

Trump’s Barr-bashing aside, the attorney general said his department has investigated a number of complaints alleging election irregularities.

However, echoing the assessment of election security officials across the country, Barr said the complaints pertained to isolated incidents and did not suggest any existence of “systemic” fraud.

Despite a lack of evidence, Trump’s campaign has engaged in a long-shot legal battle to subvert Biden’s election, claiming millions of votes were cast illegally in battleground states won by the Democrat. Most of the lawsuits have been thrown out, with judges noting that there’s no evidence to justify the campaign’s demands for sweeping court action.

The latest legal defeat came Thursday as the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to hear a Trump campaign lawsuit that called for more than 200,000 ballots to be invalidated. Biden won the state by about 20,000 votes.

Governors in most of the states targeted by Trump have already certified their election results, making his legal challenges all but moot. Meanwhile, Biden is barreling ahead with his transition process, having finally gotten the formal ascertainment as president-elect on Nov. 23.

Nonetheless, Trump continues to refuse to concede while vowing to push ahead with election challenges, potentially even beyond the Electoral College’s final certification of Biden’s victory on Dec. 14.

“This is probably the most fraudulent election anyone’s ever seen,” Trump said Thursday.


(c)2020 New York Daily News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

DOT Issues New Rules Nixing Emotional Support Animals on Planes

WASHINGTON – In a release this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced new regulations for animals flying on planes, including guidance that no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals.

Additionally, dogs will be the only animals recognized as service animals. Prior rules did not exclude unusual animals like miniature horses, monkeys, or even peacocks documented on domestic and international flights.

The new rules are part of DOT’s revision of its Air Carrier Access Act regulation on the transportation of service animals by air to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system. 

The Department received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking. 

The final rule addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft. 

Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, applauded DOT’s final rules in a statement.

“Airlines are committed to promoting accessibility for passengers with disabilities and ensuring their safe travel. The Department of Transportation’s final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crewmembers from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs,” said A4A president and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “We commend Sec. Chao for her leadership in both aviation safety and passenger accessibility.”

The final rule: 

  • Defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
  • No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
  • Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;
  • Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
  • Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;
  • Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process; 
  • Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;
  • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals; 
  • Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
  • Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;
  • Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.

The final rule will be effective 30 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.

The final rule on Traveling by Air with Service Animals can be found here and Frequently Asked Questions about this final rule can be read here.

Outcome of Brindisi/Tenney Race in Upstate N.Y. Still Far From Certain

To those who felt their lives were just a little bit emptier after a canvassing board in Iowa certified the results in that state’s 2nd Congressional District, declaring a winner in a race in which the candidates were separated by only six votes: we introduce you to New York’s 22nd Congressional District.

Long a hard-fought swing district running from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border, it is now home to the last remaining congressional district that remains too close to call in the 2020 election.

After all the votes were counted in the race between incumbent Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and Republican Claudia Tenney, only 12 votes separated them with Tenney in the lead.

Then chaos ensued.

Late last month, state Supreme Court Justice Scott J. DelConte called a hearing to determine the fate of disputed ballots, of which there were enough to potentially sway the election one way or another.

DelConte directed each of the eight counties in the district to securely deliver hundreds of disputed absentee and affidavit ballots to his courtroom today, hoping to set in motion a smooth process for determining who ultimately wins the election.

Appearing via an online video conference, Oneida County election commissioners Rose Grimaldi and Carolanne Cardone explained that 39 absentee ballots in their jurisdiction were disputed for reasons ranging from a lack of timestamps to having the same signature on multiple ballots.

But as they spoke, DelConte noticed confusion among the candidates’ attorneys; it turned out, they couldn’t make heads or tails of how they were organized.

Hoping to be helpful, Grimaldi and Cardone explained that sticky notes were supposed to be attached to each of the disputed ballots, explaining which candidate challenged the ballot, the basis of the challenge, and whether they were ultimately included in the overall count.

The problem? At some point on their way to DelConte’s courtroom, several of the sticky notes had fallen off.

Pressing ahead, DelConte asked Cardone how to determine whether a ballot was counted and whether it was contested.

“You can’t,” she said, according to Josh Rosenblatt, of WBNG-TV in Binghamton, N.Y., and other reports published after the hearing.

Both Grimaldi and Cardone then admitted they hadn’t a clue why the sticky notes fell off some ballots and not others.

DelConte grimaced.

“Then we have a serious problem on our hands,” he said.

Within hours, the local media had dubbed the crisis “StickyGate.”

But wait shoppers, there’s more.

A few days after the hearing, which ended on an inconclusive note, the Chenango County Board of Elections announced that 55 in-person ballots that had been somehow “mislaid” and never counted, were found by election workers.

According to multiple published reports, 11 of those ballots were deemed to be invalid because the voters weren’t registered. Of the 44 ballots that remained, the majority appeared to have been cast by Republicans, giving Tenney the edge.

The latest turn of events means the race — already the second closest House contest in the nation —could still be weeks away from a decision, with the most likely outcome being court intervention followed by a lengthy recount.

Both campaigns have released statements saying they expect to win the race.

On Wednesday, lawyers for both sides filed motions to show cause, laying out the next steps they hope DelConte will take.

Tenney’s legal team wants the judge to order the eight counties in the district to certify the election results as they stand, effectively declaring her the victor.

Their main argument appears to be that because so many different errors were made by local boards of election — and there’s no clear way to fix all of them – there’s no way the court has jurisdiction to rule over them.

Brindisi’s lengthy legal filings ask DelConte to have each of the counties do a partial recanvass of the ballots. In effect, asking that the sticky note crisis and other problems with the handling of the election be resolved before anything else is decided about the race.

Like Tenney, he acknowledges mistakes were made by the boards of election, but insists every effort should be made to fix them. His lawyers also lay out a fairly comprehensive process for fixing one of them, including the sticky-note problem.

His filing also asked that the found Chenango County ballots be counted.

Counter agreements from each side are scheduled to be filed by Thursday evening.

The next in-person court appearance is set for Monday, Dec. 7.

House Democrats Hand DeLauro Appropriations Gavel

WASHINGTON – In the end, it wasn’t even close. After a year of behind-the-scenes campaigning by a trio of candidates, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut, has been chosen to lead the House Appropriations Committee in the 117th Congress.

Both Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida, and Marcy Kaptur, of Ohio, also sought the role, but in the end neither garnered the support they needed.

The final vote, in which DeLauro faced only Wasserman Schultz, saw the close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and longtime friend of outgoing Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey, win 148-79.

Kaptur, who dropped out of the race, had endorsed DeLauro right before the Democratic Caucus vote.

Once the 117th Congress convenes, DeLauro’s first job, no doubt, will be marshalling a significant coronavirus relief bill through her committee, regardless of whether a relief bill makes it through the current lame duck Congress.

DeLauro will also be pressed early to fulfill a promise to left-leaning Democrats that she’ll act to do away with the Hyde amendment, added to an appropriations bill 43 years ago, that prevents the use of federal funds for abortions, with some limited exceptions.

Those who want the provision removed argue that it unfairly burdens low-income women who are more likely to rely on federal assistance for health care.

In addition to policy changes, DeLauro will take over the appropriations panel just as the spending caps imposed by the 2011 deficit-reduction law end.

What that means is that for the first time in a decade, Appropriations and other budget-related committees will set the total discretionary spending level for the upcoming fiscal year themselves.

Once the committees agree to a number, it’ll be up to DeLauro to divide it among the 12 subcommittees that draft portions of the appropriation resolution to come up with spending plans for everything from defense and education to funding the federal government.

The million dollar question around all this is whether she’ll be able to get any by-in from Republicans in the House or Senate or whether the budget process and DeLauro’s position on issues like federal funding for abortions become high-profile campaign issues in 2022.

Shortly after DeLauro was elected the next Appropriations chair, the retiring chairwoman, Rep. Nita Lowey, of New York, said her successor “has been a legislative partner of mine for three decades.

“She has been a tireless advocate for the most vulnerable people in our nation and has always been an inspiration to me. As the chair of the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee this Congress, she has been integral to our committee’s success in delivering for the people,” Lowey said.

“More importantly, Rosa has been one of my closest friends for my entire tenure in Congress. I treasure the memories we have made together, particularly our work with Speaker Pelosi to elevate issues of special importance to women and families that earned us the sobriquet DeLoSi,” she said.

Lowey added: “As I prepare to leave Congress, I know that the Appropriations Committee and the purse strings it controls are in good hands with Rosa. I look forward to watching her fight for Democratic values and American priorities in the years to come.”

In related news, the House Democratic Caucus re-elected Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., of New Jersey, to be chairman of the House Energy Committee and Richard Neal, of Massachusetts, to be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“I am honored to be elected chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee once again by my Democratic colleagues,” Pallone said in a statement. “There is no better committee in Congress, and I am so fortunate to have their support in leading this committee in the 117th Congress.

“Our nation faces unprecedented challenges, and I stand ready to work with all of my colleagues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, provide critical assistance to struggling families, and rebuild our economy,” he said. “In the coming months, we will push an aggressive agenda to ensure the Biden Administration has all the resources it needs to crush this pandemic, make health care and prescription drugs more affordable, rebuild and modernize our nation’s infrastructure, combat climate change, and protect people’s privacy.

“We will also examine how to rebuild and restore critical functions of key agencies under the committee’s jurisdiction that were dismantled over the last four years by the outgoing Trump Administration,” Pallone added.

As for Neal, he said remaining chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is “the honor of my life.”

“I am immensely grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me with this responsibility,” he continued. “This past Congress, Ways and Means Democrats wasted no time with our majority. We passed legislation to lower prescription drug prices, increase Americans’ retirement savings, redesign the IRS, reduce the number of children requiring placement in foster homes, and provide expanded tax credits to low-wage workers and middle-class families. Our members led the way in improving and passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and conducted robust oversight of the Trump Administration at every turn.”

“Of our many achievements, I am most proud of the committee’s swift and innovative leadership through the COVID-19 health and economic crises,” Neal added. “Our significant contributions to Congress’s pandemic relief packages saved both lives and livelihoods. We’re not out of the woods yet, though. The American people need us now more than ever, and I look forward to the committee working closely with the Biden Administration not only to recover from this horrific virus and accompanying recession, but to build back even better.”

In a statement released after the votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “Our Caucus, the Congress and the nation have been blessed and strengthened by the strategic experience, bold vision and tireless service that these outstanding Members bring to the table.

 “With their gavels, our brilliant chairs will harness their diversity of backgrounds and experiences to unify our Caucus as our House Majority, in partnership with the Democratic Biden-Harris Administration, continues to work together to deliver results For The People,” she said.

The statement was accompanied by a list of all the named chairs, including the first African-American chairs ever named to lead the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees.

They are:

Agriculture: David Scott of Georgia

Appropriations: Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut

Armed Services: Adam Smith of Washington

Budget: John Yarmuth of Kentucky

Education & Labor: Bobby Scott of Virginia

Energy & Commerce: Frank Pallone of New Jersey

Financial Services: Maxine Waters of California

Foreign Affairs: Gregory Meeks of New York

Homeland Security: Bennie Thompson of Mississippi

House Administration: Zoe Lofgren of California

Judiciary: Jerrold Nadler of New York

Natural Resources: Raúl Grijalva of Arizona

Oversight & Reform: Carolyn Maloney of New York

Rules: Jim McGovern of Massachusetts

Science, Space & Technology: Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas

Small Business: Nydia Velázquez of New York

Transportation & Infrastructure: Peter DeFazio of Oregon

Veterans’ Affairs: Mark Takano of California

Ways & Means: Richard Neal of Massachusetts

Maloney Wins Race to Lead House Democrats’ Campaign Arm

WASHINGTON – Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, of New York, won a close race to lead the House Democrats’ campaign arm during the 117th Congress, narrowly defeating Rep. Tony Cárdenas, of California, 119-107 in a secret ballot.

The outcome of the vote, which was conducted remotely during a caucus call, means Maloney will lead the party’s House election effort during what’s already expected to be a particularly grueling 2022 midterm cycle.

But Maloney, who’ll be starting his fifth term in the House in January, campaigned for the position by maintaining he’s uniquely qualified for such a challenge.

“I flipped my red district in ’12, held it in ’14 & won by double digits in every election since,” he noted on Twitter on Wednesday, as he accepted the endorsement of the New Democrat Coalition.

“This year, I won by 12.5% – my largest margin yet,” Maloney continued. “I know how to protect & expand our majority because I’ve done it myself. That’s the leadership we need to win in 2022.”

Maloney’s name was placed in nomination by Rep. Linda Sánchez, of California, and seconded by Reps. Marc Veasey, of Texas, Ayanna Pressley, of Mass., and Angie Craig, of Minn. 

Immediately after his victory, Maloney released a statement in which he said he was honored “to earn the trust of my colleagues to lead the DCCC in this pivotal moment in history.

“There is so much on the line for American families right now. As we work to recover and rebuild from this pandemic, it will be essential that we have strong leaders in Congress who will fight for the health and success of every American,” he said. “In partnership with the Biden Administration, the Democratic Party will fight for the people, strengthening our communities from coast to coast.

“A strong Democratic majority in 2022 will be essential to our fight. I will work every day to improve our campaign operations, connect with voters across lines of difference, protect our incumbents, and expand our majority.”

Among other things he’s promised to do once elected chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is appoint people to step up the party’s outreach to Latinos and to recruit women to run for office.

He also suggested he’s open to ending a committee policy not to work with consultants who also work with candidates challenging sitting Democrats in primaries.

“I … can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” Maloney said.

He succeeds outgoing DCCC chairwoman, Rep. Cheri Bustos, of Illinois, who almost lost her own race for re-election to the House, while overseeing an ultimately disappointing year for other Democratic House candidates.

Instead of adding to their House majority as was widely expected, the Democrats’ margin in the chamber shrunk to single digits, and the party did not defeat a single House GOP incumbent.

Maloney will also face historic headwinds as the party of the president in power typically loses House seats in midterm elections.

And compounding all this, a Democratic push to capture control of state legislatures this year — which would have given them the upper hand in redrawing legislative districts ahead of the 2022 election — also fell short.

But Maloney told Roll Call last month, he’s not concerned with any of this.

“My job is not to whine about [the past], my job is to win,” he said.

In addition to the New Democrat Coalition, Maloney was endorsed by the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, and also garnered the endorsements of several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a group that largely favored Cárdenas heading into Thursday’s vote.

In a brief statement, Bustos congratulated Maloney and said she looked forward to “working with him to keep [Rep.] Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. in the Minority Leader’s office.

“Chair Maloney has the acumen, experience and dedication to take the reins of the most-diverse DCCC in history and safeguard a Majority that Democrats maintained by winning nearly two-dozen races in Trump-won districts,” Bustos continued. “House Democrats’ Majority – and the American people – are in very capable hands under the leadership of newly-elected DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

VP-Elect Harris Selects Flournoy, Others for Her White House Senior Staff

WILMINGTON, Del. — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris named three individuals who’ll be part of her senior staff in the White House, including veteran Democratic strategist Tina Flournoy, as her chief of staff.

Flournoy’s appointment as Harris’ top staffer adds to a team of advisers led by Black women.

Flournoy joins Ashley Etienne as Harris’ communications director and Symone Sanders as her chief spokeswoman.

Flournoy has served as chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton since 2013. Prior to that, she held top posts at the Democratic National Committee, in the presidential campaigns of former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and with the American Federation of Teachers.

In a statement, Harris said Flournoy’s “deep experience, public policy expertise, and accomplished career in public service make her uniquely qualified for this important position.

“Tina brings a strong commitment to serving the American people, and her leadership will be critical as we work to overcome the unprecedented challenges facing our nation,” she added.

Harris also announced Rohini Kosoglu as her domestic policy adviser and Nancy McEldowney as her national security adviser.

Kosoglu had served as Harris’ top adviser during the general election campaign. McEldowney is a former ambassador to Bulgaria and has 30 years of service in various diplomatic and foreign affairs jobs.

“Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country’s leadership around the world,” Harris said.

It’s worth noting that so far, Harris has not named any members of her former Senate staff or longtime political advisers to roles in her White House staff.

Federal Workers Can Press Back Pay Case Over 2019 Shut Down

WASHINGTON – Thousands of federal employees can proceed with a class act in which they claim they were forced to work without pay during the 35-day partial government shutdown that extended from late 2018 to early 2019.

“The claims brought by plaintiffs in this case are straightforward FLSA minimum wage and overtime claims under the [Fair Labor Standards Act],” Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims said in her ruling issued Tuesday.

Campbell-Smith rejected the government’s claim that it was prohibited from paying employees during the partial shutdown by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which it said, made it a crime to pay the plaintiffs during the five-week lapse in appropriations.

On Tuesday Campbell rejected this assertion, concluding that the budget-focused law doesn’t automatically waive the government’s obligations to make timely payments to employees.

Though the employees were eventually paid, they contend they experienced pain and suffering due to the delay in their getting their paychecks and should be awarded damages.

She did, however, keep the door open to a possible showing by the government that it acted in “good faith” when it failed to pay the workers on time.

“The court declines to rule at this time on the issue of whether the defendant can establish a good faith defense against liability for liquidated damages in this case,” the judge wrote.

Campbell-Smith set a deadline of Jan. 29 for the government to respond to the suit.

The longest shutdown in U.S. history stemmed from an impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress appropriate more than $5 billion for one of his most high-profile campaign promises — the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

If the employees do win the suit, they would each be entitled to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for the time they worked, or about $1,160 if they worked the full shutdown period, plus overtime.

The latest developments in the case came as lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the White House try to come up with a new spending plan, at least for the beginning of next year. Congress’s current short-term spending bill expires on Dec. 11. 

Biden Considers 2 Governors, Former Surgeon General to Lead HHS

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to announce several of his administration’s health leaders as soon as next week as he considers two governors and a former surgeon general to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, according to people familiar with the matter.

The candidates to lead HHS include Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, now a co-chair of the Biden transition’s coronavirus advisory board.

After Bloomberg News reported Wednesday that Grisham was a top candidate and CNN reported that Grisham was “the leading contender,” a person close to the transition dismissed the idea that she had any advantage in the process. Another person said Biden has not yet decided on his pick for the post.

Grisham has already been offered — and turned down — the interior secretary job, two people familiar with the matter said.

Biden’s health team will assume office with the U.S. still suffering from the pandemic, as virus cases and hospitalizations soared over the past month. His health secretary is expected to have input on filling other top health posts, such as FDA commissioner and the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the people said, so those appointments may not be announced until later.

The Health and Human Services secretary will have the tough task of rebuilding the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” which Biden has promised to expand. That would be a difficult undertaking with a Republican-led Senate.

The U.S. recorded 158,000 new coronavirus infections Monday and a record 205,000 cases three days earlier. Biden will take office as distribution of coronavirus vaccines ramps up, and he has warned that any delay in the transition to his administration could slow or complicate that endeavor.

Raimondo and Lujan Grisham were both among the candidates Biden considered for vice president and are seen as people he would seek to find a place for in his administration. Raimondo has drawn criticism from the left for her past work in private equity and her opposition to “Medicare for All.”

Murthy could have a particularly difficult path to confirmation because of his record of speaking about gun violence as a public health threat, a view that may draw strong opposition from Senate Republicans, the people familiar with the matter said.


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House Democrats Threaten to Subpoena Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Over 2020 Census

WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee will subpoena Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross unless the Commerce Department hands over internal documents detailing delays and issues with data related to the 2020 census, the committee chairwoman warned in a letter Wednesday.

In the letter, chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D- N.Y., accused the Commerce Department of blocking the committee from receiving documents from career officials at the Census Bureau, who warned the Trump administration that they will not be able to produce a complete and accurate count until late January or February. She gave Ross until Dec. 9 to produce the documents “or inform us whether the committee should instead issue a subpoena to compel their production.”

The letter marks the newest fight in a multiyear battle between Congress and the Trump administration over how to conduct the decennial census, which is required by the Constitution to determine political representation for each state in the House of Representatives. The House has already held Ross in contempt for failing to provide information about the purpose behind an attempt to ask about citizenship on the census, an effort later blocked by the Supreme Court.

After reports of the delays to the final count were published by The New York Times, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said in a late-November statement that “anomalies have been discovered” in the data, but provided no follow-up information.

The nation relies on the count for the next decade for a variety of purposes, from apportioning state legislative seats to helping towns decide where to build schools and fire stations.

The committee’s request for documents about the anomalies was not answered. Instead, census officials told committee staff members by phone that the Commerce Department’s counsel would not release the documents because of “concerns about ongoing litigation.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case over whether President Donald Trump can exclude millions of immigrants in the country illegally from the count. During the summer, and after the census had been underway for several months, Trump issued a memorandum ordering the bureau to provide him a version of the data that does not include people in the country illegally to be used for apportioning congressional seats.

In the letter, Maloney states that ongoing litigation is not a viable reason for the executive branch to keep the legislative branch from conducting oversight.

By law, the census results must be submitted to the president by Dec. 31, but internal documents received by the committee through a third party show career Census Bureau officials warning it will take until Jan. 23 to complete the census count and transmit apportionment figures to the president and until Feb. 3 to transmit a version of the data that does not include immigrants in the country illegally.

The Nov. 19 internal document describes 13 anomalies in the data that impact more than 900,000 census records, including coding errors and duplicated records, both of which officials warn could impact the accuracy of the final count if they are not fixed.

A second document, dated Nov. 27, details two additional errors, impacting 240,000 records that risks causing a “significant overcount” in certain areas of the country.


(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

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Lamar Alexander Bids Farewell After 18 Years in the Senate

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lamar Alexander’s farewell speech to the chamber in which he’s served for 18 years — and was a staffer decades earlier — was a reminder to colleagues of why the retiring Tennessee Republican was such a popular and effective public figure.

Alexander’s speech Wednesday, which attracted a crowd to the Senate floor even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, featured plenty of nods to history, including a reference to Alexis de Tocqueville and the familiar warning against the “tyranny of the majority” if the legislative filibuster is eliminated.

But Alexander continued to argue that the Senate should actually consider amendments and vote more often on big issues — an almost nonexistent practice in the modern Senate.

“If a carbon tax is a good idea, why aren’t we voting on it? Or if we want to help the DACA kids, why aren’t we voting on it? Or the federal debt’s out of control, why aren’t we voting on it? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to gum up the works in a body of 100 that operates mostly by unanimous consent,” Alexander said. “But here’s my different view of why we’re here. It’s hard to get here. It’s hard to stay here, and while we’re here we might as well try to accomplish something good for the country.”

“But it’s hard to accomplish something if you don’t vote on amendments. Lately, the Senate has been like, joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing. It’s a real waste of talent. I mean, think about this body. Over the years, we’ve had astronauts and former governors and Supreme Court law clerks, military heroes, turnaround CEOs; we even had one of us that ran the Olympics. A group of that much talent ought to accomplish a lot more,” Alexander said.

Much of the decline of the consideration of amendments has occurred while the Republican leader of the Senate has been Alexander’s close friend, Mitch McConnell of neighboring Kentucky, the current majority leader.

McConnell choked up more than usual Wednesday morning in bidding farewell to his friend, the outgoing chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. McConnell said he was “dreading life in the Senate” without Alexander in the body.

“We first met in 1969, when I was working for a freshman senator named Marlo Cook and he worked down in the executive branch. We met at the suggestion of his previous boss and mentor, Sen. Howard Baker” McConnell said. “Either he suspected our paths might cross again later or he just saw two serious young guys in need of some livelier social lives. Now this may shock you … but I’m afraid young Lamar Alexander and young Mitch McConnell did not exactly go crazy and paint the town red.”

The Republicans from Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively, have been friends for half a century, since their time as young Senate staffers.

Former governors often take poorly to the Senate, lacking the patience needed to score legislative victories in the body. That has not been true of Alexander, who has the distinction of what McConnell called the Senate’s “Triple Crown,” having been a Senate aide, a Senate-confirmed Education secretary under President George H.W. Bush and a senator in his own right. Alexander was governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987.

“The jobs are different. Both jobs cause you to want to see an urgent need, develop a strategy to deal with it and then try to persuade at least half the people you’re right. But the governor’s job is more like Moses: You say, let’s go this way,” Alexander said. “The senator’s job, if you want to get something done, is more like a parade organizer.”

Alexander said that in the Senate, the goal is to get the parade all going smoothly enough not to run off the road too many times.

“I love the traditions of the Senate: the hard marble floors, the elaborate courtesies, Barry Black’s prayers, scratching my name besides Howard Baker and Fred Thompson’s name in this desk drawer,” Alexander said, before recalling the story of how me met his wife Honey at a softball game for Senate staffers.

Alexander said he would be delivering a separate speech to honor Senate aides before formally exiting the chamber, and his speech drew a standing ovation as well as remarks in his honor from both sides of the aisle.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D- N.Y., recalled their interactions in the Senate gym (where Schumer developed many of his Senate relationships over the years) as well as their time together leading the Rules and Administration Committee and the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. The planning for that 2013 inauguration, like now, is being done without knowing for sure which party would be running the Senate by the time the inauguration would take place.

But the warmest remarks from the Democratic side of the aisle might’ve come from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with whom Alexander has partnered for more than a decade now at the helm of the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

“We were also often among the first, if not the first, subcommittee to negotiate our bill, draft it and get it marked up by the full committee,” Feinstein said. “And that includes four years of record-level funding for clean energy, the national laboratories, supercomputing and water projects.”

“The focus has always been on a fair, open process that seeks compromise, and that track record speaks to the value we place on the process,” Feinstein said.

McConnell also spoke to Alexander’s long record as a fixture in Tennessee politics, even if Alexander was famously once not recognized while stopping for breakfast on the Lamar Alexander Parkway in eastern Tennessee.

“You couldn’t walk across the entire state of Tennessee in a plaid shirt, get elected governor before the age of 40 and serve more combined years as governor and senator than anyone else in the history of the Volunteer State, without becoming entirely intertwined with the place,” McConnell said.


(c)2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly Lands in Senate, Shrinking GOP Majority

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kelly took the oath of office Wednesday, following the path of Ohio’s John Glenn and others who once orbited the Earth and later landed on Capitol Hill.

The Arizona Democrat, a former NASA astronaut and Navy pilot who flew combat missions in the Persian Gulf, was sworn in Wednesday afternoon on the chamber floor by Vice President Mike Pence. Kelly, dressed in a suit, put his hand on a Bible held by fellow Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema whose purple hair was accentuated by a long zebra print coat.

Kelly took the oath as his twin brother, astronaut Scott Kelly, children and wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, watched on. After completing the oath, his fellow senators gave him a standing ovation.

Kelly joins the chamber after Arizona’s election ballots were certified Monday. He beat out Republican Martha McSally, also a veteran, claiming the final two years of the late John McCain’s Senate term.

McSally was appointed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey to fill McCain’s seat after losing her 2018 Senate race to Sinema. (The Sinema-McSally race was to fill the open seat of retiring Republican Jeff Flake.) Kelly’s addition to the chamber shrinks the GOP’s Senate majority by one, to 52-48.

Kelly told reporters as he entered the Capitol on Wednesday that he felt “great,” and later released a statement saying that he is ready to get to work with lawmakers across the aisle.

“The legacy of this Arizona Senate seat, once held by Senator McCain, is one of independence,” he said. “I am committed to working with Republicans and Democrats and using science, data and facts to craft policies that will help us overcome our greatest challenges, including tackling this virus and getting our economy back on track.”

After he was sworn in on the Senate floor, Kelly participated in a second ceremony, where he took the oath again in the Old Senate Chamber, a venue that allows photographers to document (they’re banned from the chamber) and family and others who aren’t allowed on the Senate floor to participate.

Kelly and his family took photos after that ceremony and made small talk with Pence.

The vice president touted the Trump administration’s work on NASA during their chat, and Kelly told Pence he had just been speaking with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz about the space program.

“You’ll be an invaluable voice building on the progress we’ve made,” Pence said. “We’ve gotten the human space exploration back rolling where it needs to be.”

Kelly becomes the fourth astronaut elected to Congress. Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, was elected in 1974 and served until 1999. New Mexico Republican Harrison Schmitt was elected to the Senate in 1976. And Colorado Republican Jack Swigert was elected to the House in 1982 but died before he could take office.

Before his Senate bid, Kelly was known by many in Arizona as the husband of Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 assassination attempt at an event near Tucson.

She sustained a complex traumatic brain injury, but has gone on to become the namesake leader of a movement to promote gun safety at the state and federal levels. The House Democratic Cloakroom in the Capitol is named in honor of her and the late Rep. Leo Ryan, D- Calif.

When asked her reaction to the ceremony, Giffords was brief — “Awesome, A-plus,” she said. She also let out a joyous “woo” after Kelly’s ceremonial swearing-in, as she held the Bible where her husband had placed his hand.

Kelly’s brother, Scott, agreed that the day marks an exciting milestone, though he said he had a “pretty good feeling” that his twin would prevail during the campaign.

Scott Kelly said seeing his brother being sworn in was a “little surreal,” and definitely not something you ever expect.

“But, you know,” he said. “I’m honored to have my brother now in the U.S. Senate.”


(c)2020 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

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CDC Issues COVID-19 Warnings, New Recommendations

WASHINGTON — The next few months of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be the most difficult yet, warned Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, who said the agency would cooperate with the incoming Biden administration.

Redfield’s remarks at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday came as the CDC also announced some changes to guidelines for people after exposure to COVID-19.

His comments acknowledging that he would be leaving the CDC next year when President-elect Joe Biden takes office deviated from many other Trump administration political appointees.

“My time as CDC director is coming to an end in January. This nation was severely underprepared for this pandemic and I think we have to call it the way it is,” said Redfield, emphasizing that consistency in messaging and thoughtful interventions based on data will be key to mitigation.

“I know I’m going to do a lot of reflection when I get out in January because I do think that’s the key that we owe the next group is what did we learn, what did we learn that works, what did we learn that didn’t work?” he said.

The nation’s top public health official’s warning about an exponential rise in deaths over the next three months was unusually stark.

“December, January and February are going to be rough times. I actually think they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” said Redfield. “The mortality concerns are real, and I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans that died from this virus.”

But Redfield also noted that this number could change if the public becomes serious about following mitigation strategies.

“When you ask me the big question of how many people are going to die between now and Feb. 1, I’m going to really come back and say it’s really up to us,” he said.

Redfield also said the agency will release guidance this week to advise institutions like schools and companies to use testing for COVID-19 as routine screenings. The administration has sent tens of millions of rapid tests to states, many of which have been used to help reopen schools. But confusion over how to best interpret the accuracy of the results has frustrated many, particularly nursing home providers.

He also doubled down on the importance of in-person learning for children.

“Elementary schools are not a source of transmission,” said Redfield. “I think when the careful studies are done, you’re going to see that kids that are in virtual learning probably have a higher transmission rate than those that are in face-to-face learning.”

Redfield also said he anticipates that being vaccinated against COVID-19 will become a requirement for health care workers, and likely for long-term care facility workers or airline industry employees.

“The pandemic in the world is not going to be controlled for multiple years,” he said. “It will be a decision each industry will make but I do think there are certain industries that it will be important to protect their workforce and other industries where it might be important to protect their customers.”

He estimated that the United States will have approved three or four vaccines before February and that two of those vaccines would be approved by the first of January.

Redfield said he expects that limiting crowd size and gatherings will remain the norm until the fall of 2021. CDC officials affirmed Wednesday that the agency is maintaining its warning against travel and combining households for Christmas and other holidays.

“Cases are rising and the safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home,” CDC Travelers’ Health Bureau Chief Cindy Friedman told reporters. “Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving and even if only a small percentage of those travelers were asymptomatically infected, this can translate into hundreds of thousands of additional infections moving from one community to another.”

For anyone who might decide to travel, the agency recommends getting tested one to three days before the trip, and again three to five days after returning. Individuals should avoid nonessential contact with other people for seven days or more after their return, even if they receive a negative test.

“I just want to also point out that testing does not eliminate all risk,” Friedman said. “But when it’s combined with reducing nonessential activities, symptom screening and other precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer by reducing the spread of COVID-19.”

The CDC on Wednesday also unveiled two alternatives to the standard 14-day quarantine for individuals potentially exposed to COVID-19.

The new guidelines were first reported last week, and subsequently confirmed by administration officials. While the agency continues to say that a full 14-day quarantine is the safest course of action, new recommendations allow individuals who have not developed symptoms to leave isolation after 10 days, or seven days if they also receive a negative test.

Abandoning quarantine before 14 days carries a “small, residual risk,” COVID-19 response Chief Medical Officer John Brooks told reporters. Individuals leaving quarantine after 10 days have a 1% average risk of spreading the virus, while those leaving after seven days of receiving a negative test have a 5% risk.

Eligible tests include both rapid point-of-care tests and traditional lab tests, as long as the sample is collected within 48 hours prior to the end of isolation. The risk was the same under both testing methods, Brooks said.

Health experts like Brown University School of Public Health Dean Ashish Jha and former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb lauded the move in recent days. The goal is to encourage stronger adherence to quarantine recommendations while still blocking the majority of community spread.

“We are hearing anecdotally from our partners in public health that many people are discontinuing quarantine ahead of time, because there’s pressure to go back to work, to get people back into school,” Brooks said. “And it imposes both a mental and possibly also a physical burden on individuals. One of our hopes is that we can increase adherence to quarantine if we reduce the amount of time they have to spend.”


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