Table of Contents
- 1 Harris Makes First Trip to U.S. -Mexico Border as Vice President
- 2 Biden Signs Bill in Memory of Pulse Nightclub Shooting
- 3 Justice Department Sues Georgia Over Voting Law
President Biden pledged on Friday to Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, that the United States would support a safe future for Afghanistan, a country increasingly threatened by a violent insurgency as American and international troops withdraw.
The Biden administration has assured Afghanistan’s leaders that it will continue to provide security, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance, even as the Taliban advances on Afghan government forces.
“Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending,” Mr. Biden said.
He also pressed Mr. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, to unify the country’s power brokers to stave off the Taliban.
“They’re doing important work trying to bring about unity among Afghan leaders across the board,” Mr. Biden said. “Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want.”
He added that the “senseless violence has to stop.”
Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops by Sept. 11 is one of the most consequential of his presidency so far. And despite the worsening security situation, gloomy intelligence reports and the likelihood of terrible images of human suffering, his message remains clear, officials say: The U.S. military is leaving.
“It won’t be a happy conversation,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington. “While Kabul has accepted the fact that U.S. forces are leaving, it’s tough to swallow given that the withdrawal is playing out against an unprecedented Taliban offensive.”
At the White House, Mr. Biden sought to reassure Mr. Ghani with $266 million in humanitarian assistance and $3.3 billion in security aid. The administration will also send oxygen supplies and three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Afghanistan, where fighting has hampered efforts to combat the coronavirus.
A small embassy security force will also stay behind.
“He was very clear that if we did not pull our troops, withdraw our troops from Afghanistan — something that he has long talked about having an interest and desire to do — the Taliban would have been shooting at U.S. troops again,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday.
The financial commitment buys Mr. Ghani’s administration “a little bit of space and authority with everybody now who is jockeying and saying, ‘Can the central government protect me or do I need to completely break?’” said Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.
In the Oval Office, Mr. Ghani expressed gratitude.
“We’re entering into a new chapter of our relationships where the partnership of the United States will not be military, but comprehensive regarding our mutual interest,” he said, adding that Afghan security forces had retaken six districts on Friday.
A day earlier, Mr. Biden said his administration would begin relocating tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who are at risk of retaliation for working with American forces, and who have faced bureaucratic delays in obtaining special visas to provide them sanctuary in the United States. Ms. Psaki confirmed on Friday that people in the pipeline for visas would be eligible even if they had fled Afghanistan.
Military planners and intelligence analysts have come to agree that the Taliban’s growing strength and the planned withdrawal mean the Afghan government will probably fall in six months to two years.
Asked about that intelligence, Mr. Ghani smiled and said, “There have been many such predictions, and they have all proven — turned out false.”
But he also said Afghanistan was entering an “1861 moment,” a reference to when President Abraham Lincoln entered a besieged Washington and ultimately saved the United States.
A bipartisan infrastructure deal appeared imperiled on Friday as Republicans vented over President Biden’s comment that he would not sign the agreement for $579 billion in new infrastructure spending without a second, far more ambitious package on hand.
Mr. Biden and top Democrats have long been adamant that they will accept a narrower public works bill only with a commitment to move forward on another bill, using the fast-track budget reconciliation process, that includes home-based health care, extensive climate provisions, paid leave and other liberal priorities paid for by tax increases on wealthy corporations and individuals.
On Thursday, as Mr. Biden was celebrating the deal with 10 centrist senators over the $1.2 trillion overall infrastructure package, he declared to reporters, “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.”
“It’s in tandem,” he added.
And while Republicans have acknowledged the inevitability of Democrats passing additional legislation on their own, the implication that Mr. Biden would not sign the bipartisan accord until Congress passed a reconciliation bill rankled Republicans.
“I don’t think that’s going to pass, and I think they killed any opportunity,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, said at his weekly news conference. “I think it was disingenuous in every shape or form.”
The senators who helped negotiate the compromise convened a private call Friday afternoon to express frustration with Mr. Biden’s comments and concern that they had upended what had been seen as good-faith negotiations. The call, first reported by The Washington Post, was described by two people familiar with it on the condition of anonymity.
“No deal by extortion!” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on Twitter after having endorsed an initial framework this month. “It was never suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden was holding hostage the bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless a liberal reconciliation package was also passed.”
Mr. Biden spoke with Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and a leader in the negotiations, on Friday to reiterate his support for both the bipartisan plan and a second package. He told Ms. Sinema the bills were priorities “he wants to see advance through the legislative process as quickly as possible, pass as quickly as possible and be presented to him for signing as quickly as possible,” according to a readout provided by the White House.
“People are very committed to what we’ve done,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire and one of the negotiators. “I didn’t understand the president to take that position, so I’m going to continue to operate and try and build support for the infrastructure package.”
Legislative text for the bipartisan deal still needs to be written as Democrats also work on the second, potentially multitrillion-dollar package, a priority for liberal lawmakers. But that second package, expected to be passed using the reconciliation process, may not be ready for votes until the fall, given the strict budgetary hurdles it must clear.
“There’s no question there’s work ahead, and he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and work like hell to get it done,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing on Friday.
Lawmakers say the bipartisan deal, which would allocate $579 billion in new federal funds for roads, bridges, broadband and other public works projects, would be the largest single infrastructure investment in modern American history.
Ms. Psaki said it was up to Republicans to decide if they would vote against the bill “simply because they don’t like the mechanics of the process.”
“That’s a pretty absurd argument for them to make,” she added. “Good luck on the political front on that argument.”
For weeks, Republicans criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for not visiting the border as part of her work to address the root causes of migration. On Friday, the vice president made the trip, and said a meeting with young girls in a border facility had reminded her that the issue should not be reduced to partisan politics.
“They were asking me questions: ‘How do you become the first woman vice president?’” Ms. Harris said. “It also reminds me of the fact that this issue cannot be reduced to a political issue. We’re talking about children, we’re talking about families, we are talking about suffering.”
From the first few minutes of her trip, Ms. Harris was politically a world away from a rare moment of placidity in Washington. As President Biden celebrated a tentative bipartisan deal on an infrastructure package and commemorated Pride Month, Ms. Harris fielded thorny questions from reporters.
“It was always the plan to come here,” she said. “And I think we’re going to have a good and productive day.”
She and Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, faced a hailstorm of questions about the Biden administration’s handling of an influx of migrants. She has been criticized for visiting El Paso instead of the lower Rio Grande Valley, considered the epicenter of the surge in migration.
“It is here in El Paso that the previous administration’s child separation policy was implemented,” Ms. Harris said.
She was also criticized for not visiting a tent complex at nearby Fort Bliss, where migrant children are being held. The Biden administration announced that Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, would travel there next week.
And Ms. Harris and Mr. Mayorkas were asked when the administration would end Title 42, a Trump-era rule that allows the U.S. government to expel migrants, including asylum seekers, for public health reasons. The administration is working on plans to do so, but on Friday, Mr. Mayorkas said the decision would ultimately be made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ms. Harris was praised by Democrats who said her trip showed commitment to solving a problem that has bedeviled presidential administrations for decades.
“Her attendance today in El Paso is an indication of her caring and commitment to meaningful immigration reform,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who stood next to her on the tarmac in El Paso. “And I want to join her in saying that Congress needs to do its part.”
But others said Ms. Harris should have used the trip to see facilities that have been strained by an influx of adult migrants and unaccompanied children, as well as to spend more time with local officials, landowners and Border Patrol agents confronting the issue.
“She’ll check off the box of going down to the border,” Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who wrote a letter to Ms. Harris last week urging her to visit, said in an interview. “The folks down there don’t need a pat on the back. They need resources and equipment.”
Ms. Harris visited Customs and Border Protection’s El Paso Processing Center, where she received a briefing and asked about the technology used to scan vehicles at the border and process people who cross illegally.
“I would imagine it also increases the accuracy,” Ms. Harris said as she talked to one official. “Can I take a look at the files?”
Though her office denied that politics played a part in her visit, the stop is politically significant. El Paso is a major port of entry and has complicated ties to former President Donald J. Trump, who will soon travel to the border with Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.
The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border has hit a record high under the Biden administration, and officials have struggled to quickly move them out of cramped facilities and into the care of family members.
Honoring Pride Month at the White House on Friday, President Biden signed a law to designate the site of Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded dozens in 2016, as the National Pulse Memorial.
“May we never have to sign — no president ever have to sign — a monument like this,” Mr. Biden said, surrounded by survivors of the shooting, family members of victims and members of Florida’s congressional delegation, among others.
The legislation, which will transform the former site of the popular club into a permanent memorial with a reflecting pool, was adopted by Congress earlier this month.
In remarks at a ceremony after the signing, Mr. Biden also denounced state legislatures across the country that are working to limit the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning individuals.
“These are some of the ugliest, most un-American bills I’ve seen, and I’ve been here a long time,” he said. “This is no more than bullying disguised as legislation.”
Since taking office, Mr. Biden has sought to restore civil rights protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people that were eliminated by his predecessor, Donald J. Trump. On his first day as president, Mr. Biden signed an executive order that combats discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs said that it planned to start offering gender confirmation surgery to transgender veterans, a major shift in the care available for former service members.
The Biden administration has also noted that 14 percent of the president’s appointees identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, was the first openly gay cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate, and spoke on Friday at the White House. Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, was the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.
At a ceremony on Friday, Mr. Biden also said he was appointing Jessica Stern as a special envoy at the State Department who will work to advance human rights of “LGBTQI+ persons.” The position was created during the Obama administration but left vacant for the past four years under Mr. Trump. Ms. Stern currently serves as the director of OutRight Action International, an advocacy group.
The State Department will fly the “Progress” flag — which combines the rainbow Pride flag with colors representing transgender rights, people of color and people with H.I.V. — outside its headquarters this weekend.
“We must protect the gains we’ve made and fend off the cruel and unconscionable attacks we’re seeing now,” Mr. Biden said, “to ensure that everyone enjoys the full promise of equality and dignity and protection.”
The Justice Department sued Georgia over a sweeping voting law passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced on Friday, in a major step by the Biden administration to confront state-level ballot restrictions enacted since the 2020 election.
“The rights of all eligible citizens to vote are the central pillars of our democracy,” Mr. Garland said in a news conference at the Justice Department. “They are the rights from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
The complaint says the Georgia law effectively discriminates against Black voters and seeks to show that state lawmakers intended to do so. It argues that several of the law’s provisions “were passed with a discriminatory purpose,” Kristen Clarke, the head of the department’s civil rights division, said at the news conference.
The lawsuit is among the highest-profile enforcement actions under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 since the Supreme Court gutted a key provision eight years ago that had allowed the Justice Department to stop states from passing laws viewed as facilitating voter discrimination.
It comes days after congressional Republicans blocked the most ambitious federal voting rights legislation in a generation, and shows that the Justice Department under the Biden administration intends to use its remaining tools to aggressively fight state actions that it sees as potentially disenfranchising minority voters. Mr. Garland vowed earlier this month that the department would deploy all of its available law enforcement options to combat voter discrimination.
The Georgia law created a raft of new restrictions to voting access and drastically altered the balance of power over election administration. It followed an election in which Georgia, once a reliably red state, turned blue for the first time in decades in the presidential race, followed quickly by two Senate seats flipping from Republican to Democratic.
Georgia was the epicenter of former President Donald J. Trump’s monthslong effort to overturn the election results. He seized on numerous false conspiracy theories about the Georgia election and continued to claim that it had been rife with fraud despite three separate recounts and audits — including one conducted by hand — reaffirming the results.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia decried the Justice Department lawsuit as misguided and filled with falsehoods, blaming Mr. Biden and the voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and vowing to fight it in court.
“Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and their allies tried to force an unconstitutional elections power grab through Congress — and failed,” Mr. Kemp said in a statement on Friday. “Now, they are weaponizing the U.S. Department of Justice to carry out their far-left agenda that undermines election integrity and empowers federal government overreach in our democracy.”
The government still has no explanation for nearly any of the scores of unidentified aerial phenomena reported over almost two decades and investigated by a Pentagon task force, according to a report released on Friday, a result that is likely to fuel theories of otherworldly visitations.
A total of 143 reports gathered since 2004 remain unexplained, the document released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said. Of those, 21 reports of unknown phenomena, involving 18 episodes, possibly demonstrate technological capabilities that are unknown to the United States: objects moving without observable propulsion or with rapid acceleration that is believed to be beyond the capabilities of Russia, China or other terrestrial nations.
There is no evidence that any of the episodes involve secret American weapons programs, unknown technology from Russia or China, or extraterrestrial visitations. But the report did not rule out those explanations.
Instead, government officials outlined a plan to develop a better program to observe and collect data on future unexplained phenomena.
The failure to reach a conclusion on the unexplained episodes raised questions about how seriously the government has taken them and whether it has assembled adequate scientific expertise to examine them.
Government officials on Friday were reluctant to acknowledge the potential that the phenomena could be extraterrestrial craft, a signal of how unlikely they view that explanation.
After weeks of requests, Michael Fanone, a Washington, D.C., police officer injured during the Jan. 6 riot, said he has secured a meeting with Representative Kevin McCarthy, the leader of House Republicans, to discuss the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Officer Fanone, who was beaten and Tasered by the mob, said he would meet with Mr. McCarthy on Friday afternoon. Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police and Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after battling the mob, were also expected to attend.
Officer Fanone began his effort to meet with Mr. McCarthy after hearing several members of Mr. McCarthy’s caucus deny and downplay the violence of the Jan. 6 siege. One House Republican, Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, described the scene during the assault — in which nearly 140 were injured and several people died in connection with the riot — as appearing like a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol. Their strategy, Officer Fanone said, was to try to make the public forget about the attack before the 2022 midterm elections.
“When you’re that obsessed with gaining power that you’re wiling to trample over a bunch of police officers, that’s sickening,” Officer Fanone said in an interview.
Officer Fanone was beaten unconscious and pulled into the crowd during the attack. He had a heart attack and a brain injury.
Emotions boiled over this week when Mr. McCarthy told reporters that he would “gladly” meet with Officer Fanone, but “unfortunately” the officer hadn’t “followed up” with him — statements the officer said were untrue.
“I reached out to McCarthy because there were multiple people in his party making absurd claims about Jan. 6,” Officer Fanone said.
The back-and-forth between Mr. McCarthy and the officer who fought the mob to protect him and other lawmakers has underscored a nascent divide between law enforcement and the Republican Party, which for years has pledged “Back the Blue” but now finds itself torn between supporting the police and remaining loyal to former President Donald J. Trump, whose supporters attacked officers on Jan. 6.
Twenty-one House Republicans voted against a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medals to the officers who defended the Capitol.
Ms. Pelosi’s office has sought to capitalize on the divide, sending out emails promoting Officer Fanone’s statements with titles such as: “Ask McCarthy: Why Won’t He Shake Officer Fanone’s Hand?” and “McCarthy Breaks Promise to Meet With Officer Injured on January 6th.”
The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Alaska Native corporations, for-profit businesses that serve tribal villages in Alaska, are entitled to part of the billions of dollars of coronavirus relief allocated by Congress in March 2020 to “tribal governments.”
Alaska Native corporations were established in 1971 to manage almost 45 million acres as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Tribal governments in the lower 48 states had sued to challenge the government’s decision to allocate about $500 million to them under the 2020 law, the CARES Act, arguing that the corporations do not meet the definition of “Indian tribes.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority in the 6-to-3 decision, rejected that argument. The corporations, she wrote, “are Indian tribes, regardless of whether they are also federally recognized tribes.”
“The court today affirms what the federal government has maintained for almost half a century: A.N.C.’s are Indian tribes” under the definitions in a 1975 law.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined all of Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. most of it.
In dissent, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote that corporations did not satisfy the statutory definition because they “are not ‘recognized’ as tribes eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan joined Justice Gorsuch’s dissent in the case, Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, No. 20-543.
In another decision released Friday:
The House on Friday voted to restore federal regulations on methane, a powerful planet-warming pollutant that is emitted from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells.
The Senate voted in April to roll back the last-minute regulation that former President Donald J. Trump’s administration enacted to essentially free oil and gas companies from the need to detect and repair methane leaks at new facilities, rules the Obama administration had enacted in 2016.
Friday’s 229-191-vote means the bill now goes to the White House. President Biden has promised aggressive steps to fight climate change and is expected to sign it.
“If we’re going to be serious about combating this climate crisis, we have to take steps now to cut the amount of methane in our atmosphere,” Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado who sponsored the legislation, said on the House floor.
In addition to immediately reverting to the Obama-era rule, the law, once signed, means that the Environmental Protection Agency will begin work on new regulations that will require companies to purchase and deploy technology to detect and fix leaks at existing wells. That is expected to be a costly undertaking, particularly for smaller oil and gas companies.
While carbon dioxide emission is considered the most damaging driver of global warming, methane, the main component of natural gas, is a close second. It lingers in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide but can warm the planet more than 80 times as much over a 20-year period if it escapes into the atmosphere before being burned.
Republicans argued the measure would impose unnecessary and burdensome costs on oil and gas producers and also raise energy bills for consumers. And, many noted, the oil and gas industry is divided on the issue of methane regulations.
Large companies like Shell, BP and the Exxon Mobil Corp. all opposed Mr. Trump’s rollback in 2020, noting they were working to reduce emissions. Many said they worried that if methane is not controlled it could undermine public and political support for natural gas. Small producers strongly supported the rollback, and they are particularly worried about the expected new rules.
“This will hurt America,” Representative Debbie Lesko, Republican of Arizona, said.
In reverting back to the Obama-era rules on methane, the House and Senate deployed a procedural tool known as the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to annul regulations finalized by a previous administration.
The young couple posing in front of the faux Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas fit right in, two people in a sea of idealistic Democrats who had arrived in the city in February 2020 for a Democratic primary debate.
Large donations to the Democratic National Committee — $10,000 each — had bought Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca tickets to the debate. During a cocktail reception beforehand, they worked the room of party officials, rainbow donkey pins affixed to their lapels.
In fact, much about them was a lie. Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca were part of an undercover operation by conservatives to infiltrate progressive groups, political campaigns and the offices of Democratic as well as moderate Republican elected officials during the 2020 election cycle, according to interviews and documents.
Using large campaign donations and cover stories, the operatives aimed to gather dirt that could sabotage the reputations of people and organizations considered threats to a hard-right agenda advanced by President Donald J. Trump.
At the center of the scheme was an unusual cast: a former British spy connected to the security contractor Erik Prince, a wealthy heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune and undercover operatives like Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca who used Wyoming as a base to insinuate themselves into the political fabric of this state and at least two others, Colorado and Arizona.
In more than two dozen interviews and a review of federal election records, The New York Times reconstructed many of the operatives’ interactions in Wyoming and other states — mapping out their associations and likely targets — and spoke to people with whom they discussed details of their spying operation. Publicly available documents in Wyoming also tied Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca to an address in Cody used by the former spy, Richard Seddon.
What the effort accomplished — and how much information Mr. Seddon’s operatives gathered — is unclear. Sometimes, their tactics were bumbling and amateurish. But the operation’s use of spycraft to manipulate the politics of several states over years greatly exceeds the tactics of more traditional political dirty tricks operations.
It is also a sign of how ultraconservative Republicans see a deep need to install allies in various positions at the state level to gain an advantage on the electoral map. Secretaries of state, for example, play a crucial role in certifying election results every two years, and some became targets of Mr. Trump and his allies in their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is in the later stages of planning how to phase out a Trump-era public health rule that has allowed border agents to rapidly turn away most migrants who have arrived at the southern border during the pandemic, according to two administration officials.
It is possible that, in the coming weeks, border officials could start allowing migrant families back into the country, with an eye toward lifting the rule for single adults this summer.
The plan, while still not final, is sure to complicate an already thorny issue for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who is visiting the border on Friday, as Republicans accuse the administration of being slow to address what they describe as an unrelenting surge of migrants trying to enter the country. Lifting the rule will only exacerbate that.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, border agents have turned away migrants nearly 850,000 times under the public health rule, known as Title 42. Migrant families have been turned away more than 80,000 times since the rule was put in place in March 2020, according to government data.
The White House has deflected questions about how much longer the rule will remain in place.
Mr. Biden, who has promised a more humane approach to immigration enforcement, decided not to continue the Trump administration’s policy of expelling children who arrived alone at the border. Single adults and many families, however, have continued to be turned away because of the public health rule, whose stated purpose is to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at points of entry or Border Patrol stations.
Still, some migrant families have been allowed into the United States because Mexico or their home countries refuse to take them back.
Plans to lift the rule have been under discussion for weeks, but there appears to be a fresh sense of urgency; officials familiar with the evolving plan shared details with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. Axios earlier reported some of the details.
For migrant families, the officials said, one idea under consideration is to put those seeking asylum into one of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s alternatives to detention. That includes having them wear ankle bracelets as their request makes its way through the immigration system, a process that can take years because of a chronic backlog of cases. The administration has already been doing this for other migrant families this year.
The administration is considering placing families who do not make asylum claims in the queue for expedited removal, a process that allows immigration officers to deport people without a hearing, a lawyer or a right of appeal in some cases.