President Biden is expected on Wednesday to announce new efforts to tackle gun violence, providing money to fund police departments and propelling the White House into the politically contentious debate over how to address a rise in violent crime in many U.S. cities.
The president will also direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revoke the licenses of gun dealers “the first time that they violate federal law” by failing to run background checks.
Mr. Biden’s speech at the White House, scheduled for 3:30 p.m., comes amid a national reckoning over racism and policing. City leaders are grappling with dueling calls to both improve oversight of their police departments and address soaring homicide rates that administration officials fear will continue through the summer.The president, who ascended to the presidency in part by vowing to prioritize the concerns of Black voters, now must address Republicans who accuse him of being soft on crime, as well as the progressive wing of his own party that is pushing reform.
Mr. Biden does not feel that reforming the police and tackling crime are conflicting goals, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Tuesday. “We believe that a central driver of violence is gun violence,” she said, adding that the president “also believes that we need to ensure that state and local governments keep cops on the beat.”
On Wednesday, the administration announced that state and local governments could use their designated $350 billion of coronavirus relief funds to hire police officers to pre-pandemic levels, pay overtime for community policing work, support community-based anti-violence groups and invest in technology to “effectively respond to the rise in gun violence resulting from the pandemic,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department.
Biden administration officials said the president’s remarks would build on previous executive actions, including orders meant to curb the spread of “ghost guns” easily assembled from kits, expanding federal grants for police departments and directing $5 billion in his infrastructure proposal to groups that intervene with those most likely to commit violence.
The Biden administration announced earlier this week that the Justice Department would start five “strike forces” to combat gun trafficking in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and the San Francisco area.
Criminologists have reported that homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, though overall crime figures have been down during the pandemic.
Some criminal justice advocates are concerned about the possibility that raising alarm over crime could undermine momentum to overhaul law enforcement.
“We must not overreact and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past where crime has been politicized and the solutions have been focused on trying to arrest our way out of the problem,” said Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division. “If there is a lot of jargon in that speech that feeds the tough-on-crime narrative, then yes, we have a problem.”
A bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul has stalled in Congress, despite Mr. Biden urging lawmakers to reach a deal by May 25, the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Democrats continue to debate reducing funding for police departments, while Republicans have seized on the “defund the police” slogan to attack them as weak on public safety.
“If they think they’re just going to pass a few gun laws and everything is going to be fine, they’re absolutely not in touch with the reality of what’s going on across our country,” Representative John Katko, Republican of New York and the ranking member of the House Homeland Security committee, told Fox News on Tuesday.
For some, Mr. Biden’s comments on Wednesday will be a reminder of his political baggage. As a senator, Mr. Biden championed a 1994 crime bill that many experts say fueled mass incarceration, prompting questions during his presidential campaign over his commitment to overhauling the criminal justice system.
Mr. Biden has resisted calls by some members of the Democratic Party to defund police departments, calling instead for using Justice Department grants to encourage them to change and eliminating sentencing disparities.
When Representative John Curtis quietly approached fellow Republicans to invite them to discuss climate change at a clandestine meeting in his home state of Utah, he hoped a half dozen might attend.
The guest list blew past expectations as lawmakers heard about the gathering and asked to be included. For two days in February, 24 Republicans gathered in a ballroom of the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City where they brainstormed ways to get their party to engage on a planetary problem it has ignored for decades.
“Some came with the promise of being anonymous,” Mr. Curtis said in an interview. “It’s terrible that Republicans can’t even go talk about it without being embarrassed.”
For four years under President Donald J. Trump, even uttering the phrase “climate change” was verboten for many Republicans. His administration scrubbed the words from federal websites, tried to censor testimony to Congress and mocked the science linking rising fossil fuel emissions to a warming planet.
Now, many in the Republican Party are coming to terms with what polls have been saying for years: independents, suburban voters and especially young Republicans are worried about climate change and want the government to take action.
“There is a recognition within the G.O.P. that if the party is going to be competitive in national elections, in purple states and purple districts, there needs to be some type of credible position on climate change,” said George David Banks, a former Trump adviser and now a senior fellow at the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist Washington think tank. Republicans realize it is now “a political liability” to dismiss or avoid discussing climate change, he said.
In Utah, where the furtive February meeting occurred, a group of state Republican lawmakers this month called for polluters to pay a price for emitting carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas.
The same week in Miami, a group of young Republicans held what was billed as the first rally for “conservative” climate action. They carried signs that read “This Is What an Environmentalist Looks Like.”
On Capitol Hill, Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, plans to start a Republican task force on climate change, his staff confirmed.
And on Wednesday Mr. Curtis plans to announce the formation of the Conservative Climate Caucus, aimed at educating his party about global warming and developing policies to counter what the caucus terms “radical progressive climate proposals.” So far 38 Republican House members have joined, his staff said.
President Biden’s ambitions for a large-scale investment in the nation’s aging public works system along with other parts of his economic agenda hinge on what has always been the most difficult problem for lawmakers: agreeing on how to pay for the spending.
That question has sent a group of centrist senators scrounging to find ways to cover nearly $600 billion in new spending that they want to include as part of a potential compromise plan to invest in roads, broadband internet, electric utilities and other infrastructure projects.
The White House and Republicans have ruled out entire categories of potential ways to raise revenues. The impasse has become the subject of increasingly urgent talks between a large group of Senate Democrats, Republicans, White House officials and, at times, the president himself. Centrist Democrats in the Senate — along with Mr. Biden — have said repeatedly that they want to strike a deal with Republicans.
Among the ideas that senators have discussed in recent days are repurposing unspent coronavirus relief funds, increasing enforcement by the I.R.S. and establishing user fees for drivers, including indexing the gas tax to inflation.
Mr. Biden dispatched aides to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for discussions that his press secretary, Jen Psaki, said yielded progress. Top White House officials are set to meet on Wednesday evening with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. Those discussions will center on infrastructure negotiations as well as a separate effort to move a large chunk of the president’s $4 trillion economic agenda through the Senate without any Republican votes using a procedural mechanism known as reconciliation.
Among those expected to attend the meeting are Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to Mr. Biden; Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Susan E. Rice, who leads the White House Domestic Policy Council, according to an official familiar with the plans.
In the days after lawmakers introduced legislation that could break the dominance of tech companies, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, called Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress to deliver a warning.
The antitrust bills were rushed, he said. They would crimp innovation. And they would hurt consumers by disrupting the services that power Apple’s lucrative iPhone, Mr. Cook cautioned at various points, according to five people with knowledge of the conversations.
The calls by Mr. Cook are part of a forceful and wide-ranging pushback by the tech industry since the proposals were announced this month. Executives, lobbyists, and more than a dozen think tanks and advocacy groups paid by tech companies have swarmed Capitol offices, called and emailed lawmakers and their staff members, and written letters arguing there will be dire consequences for the industry and the country if the ideas become law.
The bills, the most sweeping set of antitrust legislation in generations, take aim at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by trying to undo their dominance in online commerce, advertising, media and entertainment. There are six bills in total, and if passed, they would empower regulators, make it harder for the tech giants to acquire start-ups and prevent the companies from using their strength in one area to form a grip in another.
The companies, which have long faced accusations of holding too much power, are now scrambling to find their footing with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House. The administration has picked aggressive critics of Big Tech as top antitrust regulators, including Lina Khan, the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission whose work as a legal scholar laid the foundation for the current antitrust push.
In Congress, progressive Democrats focused on the market power of the companies have united with some Republicans accusing social media companies of political bias and censorship. Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, the ranking Republican of the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, co-sponsored some of the bills being considered and has brought along other Republican members to support the legislation.
But the antitrust issue — even with some agreement between parties — has created new fault lines.
Within the Republican Party, there are deep divides on the antitrust bills. Tucker Carlson, the influential Fox News host, has praised the bills and has pushed for the breakup of Big Tech companies. But Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, and Mark Meadows, who was chief of staff to President Donald J. Trump, wrote in an opinion piece on Fox News’s website that the bills would give the Democratic administration more control over the tech companies.
“Democrats are weaponizing legitimate Republican anger about Big Tech’s abuses to encourage Republicans to support these bills,” they wrote. “But Republicans should read the fine print.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday formally endorsed changes to the way the military handles sexual assault cases, becoming the first secretary to do so, and told lawmakers he would recommend the revisions to President Biden.
The changes, which were recommended by a Pentagon commission that Mr. Austin convened, do not go as far as those sought by some lawmakers.
“As you know, my first directive as secretary of defense issued on my first full day in the office, was to service leadership about sexual assault,” Mr. Austin said in remarks before the House Armed Services Committee.
“In the coming days, I will present to President Biden my specific recommendations about the commission’s finding, but I know enough at this point to say that I fully support removing the prosecution of sexual assaults and related crimes from the military chain of command,” he said Saying he would work with Congress to make the changes, as required by law, Mr. Austin added, “We must treat this as the leadership issue it is.”
Right before Mr. Austin spoke, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a news conference that she would put a bill on the floor that would go farther than what Mr. Austin was endorsing. That bill, sponsored by Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, would remove all serious crimes from commanders’ hands. A similar bill has been pushed for nearly a decade by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, but she has faced pushback from the chairman and highest ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We will bring this bill to the floor, it will pass in the House. I hope that it will succeed in the Senate as, as well,” said Ms. Pelosi, who was flanked by Ms. Speier, Ms. Gillibrand and members from both parties who support the measure.
Mr. Austin’s appointed commission recommended the inclusion of a special victims’ crimes unit inside an independent prosecution system, which would also cover domestic violence, but not other serious crimes as Ms. Gillibrand and Ms. Speier’s measures would.
This week, several military service chiefs expressed resistance to the legislation, teeing up a potential legislative battle that Mr. Biden will likely end up having to weigh in on.
Tom Perez, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, on Wednesday began a campaign for governor of Maryland on a platform largely tied to his experience working in President Barack Obama’s administration.
“I’m the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, I could have never dreamed the president of the United States would give me the chance to make a difference,” Mr. Perez said in a video announcing his candidacy. “But there’s a lot left to do, and that’s why I’m running for governor.”
Mr. Perez, 59, served in the Justice Department and as labor secretary before Mr. Obama backed him to run the D.N.C. in 2017. He has teased a run for governor since his term as party chairman ended in January. The video is heavy on footage of the former president praising Mr. Perez, calling him “one of the best secretaries of labor in our history.”
He joins a crowded field of candidates to replace Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who is barred by term limits from seeking a third term in office, that includes eight Democrats and two Republicans.
Though Mr. Perez has deep connections to national Democratic officials and donors, others in the race have far more recent experience in Maryland politics, including Peter Franchot, the state comptroller, and Rushern Baker, the former Prince George’s County executive, who placed second in Maryland’s 2018 Democratic primary for governor. Mr. Perez was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2002 and served as Maryland’s labor secretary from 2007 to 2009.
Mr. Perez, in the video announcing his campaign, stood before his home in suburban Washington and promoted his connections to the state. Yet at the end of the video he is shown wearing a Washington Nationals jersey — a rival of Maryland’s baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.
Congressional investigators are expanding their inquiry of Emergent BioSolutions, the operator of a troubled Maryland vaccine-making plant, to encompass the firm’s relationship with the two companies that hired it to produce their shots.
In letters dated Tuesday, two House panels asked the companies, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, to document their efforts to supervise production of their vaccines at Emergent’s factory and to produce all records related to their decisions to hire Emergent as a subcontractor.
The plant, in southeastern Baltimore, has been forced to throw out the equivalent of 75 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine because of suspected contamination. Deliveries of more than 100 million other doses of both vaccines have been delayed for weeks while regulators check them. The plant has been closed since mid-April while Emergent tries to meet the regulators’ demands to bring its manufacturing up to standard.
The congressional panels began a joint investigation of Emergent’s operations after The New York Times documented months of problems at the Baltimore plant, including a failure to properly disinfect equipment and to protect against viral and bacterial contamination. Among other matters, Democratic lawmakers are looking into whether the company leveraged its contacts with a top Trump administration official, Dr. Robert Kadlec, to win the business of vaccine production, and whether federal officials failed to oversee the firm’s work.
The investigation is being run by the Committee on Oversight and Reform, headed by Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, headed by James E. Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina.
“We are troubled by the impact Emergent’s manufacturing errors have had on the availability of coronavirus vaccine doses, as well as the potential effect on public perceptions regarding the safety and efficacy of these vaccines,” the lawmakers said in the nearly identical letters to the two vaccine developers. “We are also concerned about the circumstances that led AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson to sign contracts with Emergent,” they wrote.
At a congressional hearing last month, Emergent’s founder and executive chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, testified that the Trump administration had been well aware of the risks of relying on the Baltimore plant. “Everyone went into this with their eyes wide open, that this is a facility that had never manufactured a licensed product before,” he said.
Confidential audits obtained by The Times show that both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca — as well as the division of the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees Emergent’s contract — all found deficiencies at the plant last summer. AstraZeneca’s audit said that the firm had not documented that it had mitigated “high risk” hazards of contamination. It also said that Emergent repeatedly loosened monitoring criteria so it appeared to meet them, but even then failed the tests.
Johnson & Johnson’s audit said that the firm’s “contamination control strategy is deficient” and that monitoring reports for bacteria or other contaminants were filed four to six months late. Emergent has said that it takes all such observations seriously and works expeditiously to address them.
The federal government agreed in May 2020 to pay Emergent $628 million, much of that to reserve production capacity at the Baltimore plant. It also signed billion-dollar contracts with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca for the doses that Emergent was supposed to produce, and Emergent signed production contracts with the vaccine developers that were expanded in multiyear agreements in July 2020.
Federal officials have now stripped Emergent of its responsibility to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, lessening the firm’s payments by at least $18 million a month. The factory is expected to eventually reopen and resume manufacturing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement.
The instruction occurred as the secret unit responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was beginning an extensive campaign of kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, to crush dissent inside the kingdom.
The training was provided by the Arkansas-based security company Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The company says the training — including “safe marksmanship” and “countering an attack” — was defensive in nature and devised to better protect Saudi leaders. One person familiar with the training said it also included work in surveillance and close-quarters battle.
There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia. But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation even as its agents carried out horrific human rights abuses.
The State Department initially granted a license for the paramilitary training of the Saudi Royal Guard to Tier 1 Group starting in 2014, during the Obama administration. The training continued during at least the first year of former President Donald J. Trump’s term.
A State Department spokesman declined to confirm whether it awarded licenses to Tier 1 Group for the Saudi training.
“This administration insists on responsible use of U.S. origin defense equipment and training by our allies and partners, and considers appropriate responses if violations occur,” said the spokesman, Ned Price. “Saudi Arabia faces significant threats to its territory, and we are committed to working together to help Riyadh strengthen its defenses.”
For many Democrats and voting rights groups, the failure to advance the party’s major elections bill on Tuesday felt like the arrival of the inevitable, the final thud of a tree crashing in the woods after wavering for months. And everyone heard it.
Unable to halt the relentless push by Republican state legislatures to pass a host of voting restrictions, many Democrats had rested their hopes on a long-shot bid to enact a federal voting law that would undo much of the G.O.P. legislation and expand access to voting for millions around the country.
But on Tuesday, as it became increasingly clear that passing federal voting legislation would be a steep challenge, Democrats, civil rights groups and voting rights organizations reaffirmed their resolve to fight in Congress for voting protections.
“The pathway is Congress must do their job,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. “When the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965, people thought it was a long shot. It’s our jobs as civil rights organizations to make possible what other people think is impossible. We continue to push forward.”
Though the bill, known as the For the People Act, struggled to garner universal support among Democratic senators, it had been perhaps the ultimate overarching objective for Democrats who have been beaten badly in state legislatures for much of the past two decades, allowing Republicans to draw gerrymandered state legislative districts to hold onto power and move nearly unimpeded in their recent quest to pass new voting laws.
Some voting rights groups expressed frustration with initial Democratic efforts, arguing that even though the issue was nominally the party’s top legislative goal — as evidenced by its H.R. 1 and S. 1 marking in Congress — it has not been treated with the requisite urgency. Yet they also hoped that the failed vote on Tuesday would vividly demonstrate the gravity of the situation.
“I have yet to see Democrats act like this is the No. 1 priority on their agenda, and I suspect that we will start to see that after today,” said Nsé Ufot, the chief executive of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, a voting rights group. “Today is the starter pistol. Today marks the beginning of the escalation.”
The blockade of the Democratic legislation in Congress came on the same day that Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas called a special session of the state’s Legislature to begin July 8, as Republicans there resumed their attempt to pass an expansive bill of voting restrictions.
The demise of the For the People Act — the far-reaching voting rights bill that Republicans blocked in the Senate on Tuesday — is a crushing blow to progressives and reformers, but it opens up more plausible, if still rocky, paths to reform.
The law, known as H.R. 1 or S. 1, was full of progressive wish-list measures — from public financing of elections to national mail-in voting — that all but ensured its failure in the Senate.
But there were roads not taken. Reformers did not add provisions to tackle the most insidious and serious threat to democracy: election subversion, where partisan election officials might use their powers to overturn electoral outcomes. Those concerns have only escalated over the last several months as Republicans have advanced bills that not only imposed new limits on voting, but also afforded the G.O.P. greater control over election administration.
Instead, the bill focused on the serious but less urgent issues that animated reformers at the time it was first proposed in 2019: allegations of corruption in the Trump administration, the rise of so-called dark money in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, or the spate of voter identification laws passed in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s election victories.
One narrow, yet possible avenue emerged in the final days of the push for H.R. 1: a grand bargain, like the one recently suggested by Joe Manchin III, the moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia who provoked outrage among progressives when he said he would oppose the bill in its current form.
The Manchin compromise resembles H.R. 1 in crucial ways. It does not address election subversion any more than H.R. 1 does. And it still seeks sweeping changes to voting, ethics, campaign finance and redistricting law. But it offers Republicans a national voter identification requirement, while relenting on many of the provisions that provoke the most intense Republican opposition.
Mr. Manchin’s proposal nonetheless provoked intense Republican opposition. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri derided it as a “Stacey Abrams” bill. And Mitch McConnell, the minority leader from Kentucky, appeared to suggest that no federal election law would earn his support.