The 14-14 party-line vote sent Becerra’s nomination to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for further action. Under new rules to deal with the 50-50 Senate split between the two parties, either can file a motion to bypass a tied committee and bring matters straight to the Senate floor with a separate procedural vote.
Becerra’s fate will depend on Senate Democrats’ ability to stick together and support him, possibly with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.
The defection of one moderate Democrat, Joe Manchin, derailed the nomination of Biden’s pick as budget director, Neera Tanden, especially given the lack of Republican support, but administration officials suggested that was an isolated case given lawmakers’ frustration over Tanden’s past tweets.
A spokesman for Manchin could not immediately be reached for comment on Becerra’s nomination.
Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the White House remained confident about Becerra’s ultimate confirmation.
“We certainly understood from the beginning that every nominee would not receive 93 votes, but we ... remain confident and confidently behind the nomination,” she told reporters.
The Finance Committee in the same session on Wednesday approved two other Biden nominees - Katherine Tai for U.S. Trade Representative and Wally Adeyemo for deputy Treasury secretary - by voice votes, indicating no significant opposition.
Two Finance Committee Republicans, Bill Cassidy and Mike Crapo, said on Wednesday they had opposed Becerra because of his lack of past healthcare experience and challenges as California attorney general to HHS authorities to grant religious conscience waivers to Obamacare mandates that coverage be provided for contraception.
“His qualifications to be HHS secretary seem to be minimal beyond suing HHS,” said Cassidy, who is a physician.
Psaki noted, however, that Cassidy also told Becerra “he’d bet he has the votes” to be confirmed.
Both Crapo and Cassidy said they would work with Becerra to lower healthcare costs if he won confirmation.
Thursday, March 4, 2021
U.S. Capitol Police have intelligence that shows “a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group” on Thursday, nearly two months after a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the iconic building to try to stop Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden's victory.
The threat appears to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that Trump will rise again to power on March 4. That was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.
Capitol Police are “aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex,” they said in a statement Wednesday.
Capitol Police already have upgraded security and increased patrols, they said. No specific information on the threat was released.
The U.S. House on Wednesday was working to wrap up for the week given the threat of violence at the Capitol. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer notified lawmakers late Wednesday of the sudden schedule change.
The decision was made given the threats on the Capitol, according to a Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the matter. The House had been scheduled to be in session Thursday, but moved up consideration of its remaining legislative item, the George Floyd Justice in Police Act, to Wednesday night.
Capitol Police received “new and concerning information and intelligence” on Tuesday afternoon indicating “additional interest in the Capitol for the dates of March 4th – 6th by a militia group,” Acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett said in a message Wednesday morning to members of Congress.
Blodgett said earlier this week that additional personnel would be posted on Capitol grounds as a precaution on Thursday because of a conspiracy theory about the significance of the date. He said at the time that there was no indication that groups would travel to D.C. or commit acts of violence.
Members of Congress and staff members were asked to carry identification, report any threats or suspicious activity, and keep emergency numbers on hand.
FBI Director Chris Wray bluntly labeled the January riot at the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorism” Tuesday and warned of a rapidly growing threat of homegrown violent extremism that law enforcement is scrambling to confront through thousands of investigations.
Wray also defended to lawmakers his own agency's handling of an intelligence report that warned of the prospect for violence on Jan. 6. And he firmly rejected false claims advanced by some Republicans that anti-Trump groups had organized the deadly riot that began when a violent mob stormed the building as Congress was gathering to certify results of the presidential election.
Wray's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his first before Congress since the insurrection, was the latest in a series of hearings centered on the law enforcement response to the Capitol insurrection. Lawmakers pressed him not only about possible intelligence and communication failures ahead of the riot but also about the threat of violence from white supremacists, militias and other extremists that the FBI says it is prioritizing with the same urgency as the menace of international terrorism organizations.
“Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray told lawmakers. “At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.”
The violence at the Capitol made clear that a law enforcement agency that remade itself after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to deal with international terrorism is now laboring to address homegrown violence by white Americans. President Joe Biden’s administration has tasked his national intelligence director to work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat. And in applying the domestic terrorism label to conduct inside the Capitol, Wray sought to make clear to senators that he was clear-eyed about the scope and urgency of the threat.
Wray said the number of domestic terrorism investigations has increased from around 1,000 when he became FBI director in 2017 to about 2,000 now. The number of white supremacist arrests has almost tripled, he said.
- House Democrats have passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which also passed the House last year but never received a vote in the Senate.
- Senators in both parties are working on legislation to rescind parts of the War Powers Act under President Biden after airstrikes against Iraqi targets in Syria last week.
- Embattled NY Dem Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will not resign in the wake of dual scandals involving COVID-19 nursing home death figures and "credible" sexual harassment accusations.
- The Senate could vote on the American Rescue Plan COVID-19 package as early as this weekend, but Democrats warn that a deal may take until next week.
- The third prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft took off, flew, landed, and then exploded at the landing site ten minutes later due to a methane leak.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a concession to moderate Senate Democrats as party leaders moved Wednesday to lock down support and finalize the sweeping legislation.
Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels, compared to the way the direct payments were structured in Biden’s initial proposal and the version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday.
The change came as the Senate prepared to take an initial procedural vote to move forward on the bill as early as Wednesday evening. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders were scrambling to keep their caucus united since they cannot lose a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate if Republicans unite against the legislation.
In addition to the stimulus checks, the sweeping economic package would also extend unemployment benefits through August, as well as set aside $350 billion for state and local aide; $130 billion for schools; $160 billion for vaccinations, testing and other health care system support; an enhanced child tax credit and other provisions including rental aid and food assistance.
At least one Senate Republican -- Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) -- appeared open to considering a vote in favor of the legislation, telling reporters, “My state needs relief.” Elsewhere, though, GOP opposition was hardening, as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced plans to force Senate officials to read the entire 600-page-plus bill aloud before debate could even begin -- a process he predicted would take around 10 hours.
“I don’t want to sound like a leftist, but I’m gonna resist,” Johnson told a talk radio host in Wisconsin.
Under the plan for stimulus checks passed by the House, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 payment. The size of the payments would then begin to scale down before zeroing out for individuals making $100,000 per year and couples making $200,000.
Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.
That means singles making between $80,000 and $100,000 and couples earning between $160,000 and $200,000 would be newly excluded from seeing any benefit under the revised structure Biden agreed to.
"It is now time to open Texas 100%," said Gov. Greg Abbott this afternoon, signaling the ease of COVID-19 restrictions.
Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100 percent and the mask mandate will be lifted, the governor stated as part of his executive order to rescind previous orders.
While Abbott acknowledged the virus isn't going away, he insisted the state is far better equipped to fight COVID-19 than a year ago thanks to vaccines.
Late last week, the Texas governor indicated an announcement is coming "pretty soon" on whether he'll relax current COVID-19 mandates, including one in effect since last July that requires masks in public.
"We're working right now on evaluating when we're gonna be able to remove all statewide orders, and we will be making announcements about that pretty soon," Abbott said during a news conference in Corpus Christi last Thursday.
Abbott's announcement took place inside a locally-owned Mexican restaurant in the Lubbock area.
"We don't want to continue to prevent people from doing what they want to do. But let's get down to a good level," Fauci said in an interview on "Face the Nation." "Let's get many, many more people vaccinated. And then you could pull back on those types of public health measures. But right now, as we're going down and plateauing, is not the time to declare victory because we're not victorious yet."
While there has been a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since early January, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned Friday that the declines could be stalling at a high number, which she said was a "very concerning shift in the trajectory." As of Friday, the seven-day average is just under 73,000 new infections, according to the CDC.
While Fauci said the fall in coronavirus cases was "really sharp and encouraging," he agreed a plateau of around 70,000 new cases per day is "concerning."
"That's exactly the thing that happened during previous surges," he said. "As it peaked and started to come down, people withdrew some of the intensity of the public health measures and it kind of stabilized at a very high level. That's very dangerous."
Fauci stressed Americans should continue to comply with public health measures such as wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and social distancing. He said the leveling off in new cases also underscores the need to vaccinate as many people "as quickly and as expeditiously as you possibly can."
"That's why adding yet again another really good vaccine into the mix is really very important," he said.
So expect to see another spike in COVID cases in March and hospitalizations and deaths in April. Hopefully Texas won't suffer too badly in the meantime, but I'm betting with zero mask and social distancing mandates, the spike will be rapid and devastating and very obvious to officials by April 1.
Fulton County, Georgia DA Fani Willis's election fraud case against Donald "find me those votes" Trump is headed to an Atlanta grand jury this week.
Fulton County prosecutors are expected to appear before a grand jury this week seeking subpoenas for documents and witnesses related to their investigation of former President Donald Trump and some of his top associates for possible election fraud, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
Legal experts are split as to whether there’s a strong case to be made, but most agree Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s election results merit greater scrutiny. Fani Willis, Fulton’s new district attorney, has said she’s prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
Some believe the recording of Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger leaning on him to “find” the votes to reverse Joe Biden’s win is grounds to move forward.
“If there were a textbook (example of) how to commit criminal election fraud, this would be it,” said Atlanta attorney David Walbert, who has represented Fulton County and the state of Georgia in several elections and redistricting cases.
Longtime criminal defense attorney Don Samuel believes the matter isn’t cut-and-dried.
“You’ve got to prove not only that he encouraged the secretary of state to commit a crime, but that he did so willfully and aware that what he was doing was illegal,” said Samuel, whose high-profile clients have included football stars Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and attorney Claud “Tex” McIver. That “is kind of an uphill battle, it seems to me, when you’re surrounded by lawyers when you’re making the call.”
Willis, an experienced prosecutor admired even by courtroom adversaries, said during a recent interview that she has no choice but to investigate.
“Nobody is above the law,” she said.
- Neera Tanden has withdrawn her nomination as head of the WH Office of Management and Budget as her Senate confirmation lacks the votes to pass, the White House has accepted the withdrawal.
- The Biden administration says they are on track for 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May, enough for all American adults.
- House Democrats have subpoenaed Donald Trump's tax returns again in the wake of last month's Supreme Court refusal to block Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance from investigating them.
- Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman says threats against Congress have nearly doubled in 2021 since the January 6th US Capitol terrorist attack.
- A Texas jury has ordered chipmaker Intel to pay $2.2 billion for patent infringement, Intel says it will appeal and accuses the plaintiff of being a patent troll.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
There will always be one place where having a Trump regime job on the resume will actually help getting you hired, and that's the right-wing noise machine at FOX News.
Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany will officially join Fox News as an on-air commentator, the network announced Tuesday.
The news, which was announced by Fox News host Harris Faulkner, comes after weeks during which the network had equivocated about McEnany's role at the network.
"It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Kayleigh McEnany to the Fox family," Faulkner said. "We will be seeing much more of her."
A spokesperson for Fox News declined to comment beyond Faulkner's statements.
McEnany, a former CNN contributor, was a spokesperson for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign and took on the role of White House press secretary last spring. She told reporters as she took the job: "I will never lie to you."
That promise quickly became the subject of criticism, as McEnany routinely defended and promoted misleading statements made by then-President Donald Trump. McEnany proved to be one of Trump's most ardent defenders during the election, with Fox News at one point cutting away from a press conference she held in early November in which she pushed false claims of voting irregularities.
McEnany is the latest person to walk through the revolving door between Fox News and the Trump White House: Sarah Sanders, another former press secretary, joined Fox News before leaving to eye a run for Arkansas governor. Larry Kudlow, Trump's former economic director, recently joined Fox Business Network where he hosts his own show. Hope Hicks, Trump's longtime communications director, also joined Fox News' parent company, Fox Corp., in 2018 to serve as its executive vice president and chief communications officer. She later returned to the Trump White House.
A bill to restrict ballot drop boxes, require more ID for absentee voting and limit weekend early voting days passed the Georgia House on Monday amid protests that the proposals would make it harder for voters to participate in democracy.
The House voted along party lines, 97-72, on the sweeping elections bill supported by Republicans who want to impose new voting requirements after losing presidential and U.S. Senate races in Georgia.
Democrats opposing the legislation said it creates obstacles for voting that will do more to reduce turnout than increase election security.
The bill now heads to the state Senate, where a committee voted Monday to end no-excuse absentee voting, which would require most voters to cast ballots in person. That legislation could receive a vote in the full Senate within days.
Georgia is at the center of a nationwide debate over election access and security, brought on by Republican Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Election officials, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have said there’s no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the election, and the results were verified by recounts and audits.
During a 2 1/2-hour debate in the Georgia House, state Rep. Kimberly Alexander said the bill would lead to voter suppression by creating hurdles to casting a ballot.
“Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly are trying to change the rules of the election here in Georgia, rules that you wrote, because you were handed defeat,” said Alexander, a Democrat from Hiram. “You know that your only chance of winning future elections is to prevent Georgians from having their votes counted and their voices heard.”
But Republican legislators said their proposals will build voters’ trust in elections after it was shaken by members of their own political party. Their policies would put new limits on absentee voting, used by a record 1.3 million Georgians in the presidential election, two-thirds of whom voted for Democrat Joe Biden.
Legislative Republicans who supported Trump’s claims have not contested the results of their own General Assembly elections.
“Our goal in this bill is to make sure that Georgia’s election results get back quickly and accurately,” said state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem. “The way we begin to restore confidence in our voting system is by passing this bill. There are many commonsense measures improving elections in this bill.”
Other backers of the bill said it would help prevent the possibility of fraud and create consistency across the state in voting access and funding.
Protesters waved signs and chanted “no voter suppression” at the Capitol on Monday, making their voices heard as legislators prepared to vote. A previous protest on Friday led to a confrontation when an officer grabbed Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon’s arm after she stood in front of an officer’s bullhorn.
“This bill is going against all the accessibility that makes voting possible by removing absentee and early voting hours,” said Regine Shabazz, an Atlanta resident protesting at Liberty Plaza outside the Capitol.
Limits on absentee voting will harm the poor and those without transportation to polling places, said Melissa McCollum of Gainesville who was in the group of protesters.
“We have proven again and again that our election was fair and not compromised, so why are they trying to reduce voting rights? I don’t get it,” McCollum said.
The plumbing in Marilu Leyva's mobile home looks as if it was mangled by a monster, and it no longer delivers water. The damage to Hussein Kamel's power-washing equipment by the freeze forced his family business to cancel jobs. The recliner where Albert Hoelscher's wife sat for days and nights in the bone-chilling cold is now empty.
Two weeks after a deadly winter storm led to a near-collapse of the Texas power grid, temperatures in many cities are back in the 60s and 70s, the ice and snow have melted, and electricity and water service have mostly been restored. But widespread damage remains: burst pipes that must be replaced; crops and livestock that died in the cold; business equipment that was destroyed; and the loss of more than 30 lives.
Millions of Texans are wondering what it will take to recover, how much it will cost and who will help them.
Large swaths of the state are still assessing the extent of the damage, and the state legislature is holding hearings to determine what went wrong and what changes are needed. President Biden visited Houston on Friday and promised that the federal government is “in for the long haul” and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide millions of dollars in aid, including help for uninsured homeowners.
Since the storm hit, local elected leaders and volunteers pulled together in cities and communities across the state to fill people’s immediate needs of food and water. But the longer-term fixes needed to make Texans whole are a window into the disparities that disasters magnify, especially in affluent cities such as Austin.
“Please don’t forget about us,” said Leyva, 40, whose beloved mobile home park is tucked between a creek and railroad tracks near million-dollar homes, trendy restaurants and a popular beer garden in a rapidly gentrifying area three miles from downtown Austin. “We still need help.”
For 15 years, Leyva has saved her wages from working as a nanny to beautify the interior of the home she shares with her teenage son. But beneath the carefully laid linoleum was a deteriorating plumbing system that snapped when water froze inside the plastic pipes. Power has returned after being out for roughly five days, but she and about 50 families in her community have not had running water since the first freeze.
Those who live in this largely immigrant community rarely ask for help from outsiders. But they have had to rely uncomfortably on the kindness of friends and strangers in the short term, because the price tag for repairs is beyond what they can afford. Losing a week of work after a year of inconsistent employment is also not helping matters.
Early on, neighbors trudged through the snow to a nearby brewery in search of drinking water. Others posted pleas on social media that were seen by local community organizers who brought food, bottled water and a cube of potable water to the mobile home park. Another local arranged for a food truck to cook meals for the community.
The trailer park residents relish being hidden away from the bustle of the capital city to live their quiet lives. But their predicament required them to yell for help and accept the generosity.
“I don’t know how much longer we can endure this,” said Julia De Los Santos, 45, who lives in the park and posted a plea on social media.
- The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments today on an Arizona case that could end up being the impetus for the 6-3 conservative Roberts Court to gut Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
- New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice is calling on NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign in the wake of a third allegation of sexual harassment and news that he is now under state investigation.
- The Biden administration is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia this week for the poisoning of Moscow opposition leader and Putin critic Alexey Navalny.
- Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been found guilty of corruption, facing a year in prison, Sarkozy plans to appeal the ruling.
- The results of the Biden administration's new carbon policy is a dramatically higher "social cost" of carbon than under the Trump regime, meaning stronger federal regulations on emissions.
Monday, March 1, 2021
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced legislation on Monday that would tax the net worth of the wealthiest people in America, a proposal aimed at persuading President Biden and other Democrats to fund sweeping new federal spending programs by taxing the richest Americans.
Ms. Warren’s wealth tax would apply a 2 percent tax to individual net worth — including the value of stocks, houses, boats and anything else a person owns, after subtracting out any debts — above $50 million. It would add an additional 1 percent surcharge for net worth above $1 billion. It is co-sponsored in the House by two Democratic representatives, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania, a moderate.
The proposal, which mirrors the plan Ms. Warren unveiled while seeking the 2020 presidential nomination, is not among the top revenue-raisers that Democratic leaders are considering to help offset Mr. Biden’s campaign proposals to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure, education, child care, clean energy deployment, health care and other domestic initiatives. Unlike Ms. Warren, Mr. Biden pointedly did not endorse a wealth tax in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.
But Ms. Warren is pushing colleagues to pursue such a plan, which has gained popularity with the public as the richest Americans reap huge gains while 10 million Americans remain out of work as a result of the pandemic.
Polls have consistently shown Ms. Warren’s proposal winning the support of more than three in five Americans, including a majority of Republican voters.
“A wealth tax is popular among voters on both sides for good reason: because they understand the system is rigged to benefit the wealthy and large corporations,” Ms. Warren said. “As Congress develops additional plans to help our economy, the wealth tax should be at the top of the list to help pay for these plans because of the huge amounts of revenue it would generate.”
After days of insisting they could paper over their intraparty divisions, Republican lawmakers were met with a grim reminder of the challenge ahead on Sunday when former President Donald J. Trump stood before a conservative conference and ominously listed the names of Republicans he is targeting for defeat.
As Democrats pursue a liberal agenda in Washington, the former president’s grievances over the 2020 election continue to animate much of his party, more than a month after he left office and nearly four months since he lost the election. Many G.O.P. leaders and activists are more focused on litigating false claims about voting fraud in last year’s campaign, assailing the technology companies that deplatformed Mr. Trump and punishing lawmakers who broke with him over his desperate bid to retain power.
In an address on Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, his first public appearance since he left the White House, Mr. Trump read a sort of hit list of every congressional Republican who voted to impeach him, all but vowing revenge.
“The RINOs that we’re surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and will destroy our country itself,” he said, a reference to the phrase “Republicans In Name Only,” adding that he would be “actively working to elect strong, tough and smart Republican leaders.”
Mr. Trump took special care to single out Representative Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. He called Ms. Cheney “a warmonger” and said her “poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I’ve ever seen.” Then he falsely claimed he had helped revive Mr. McConnell’s campaign last year in Kentucky.
Yet even as he dutifully read his scripted attacks on his successor, the former president drew louder applause for pledging to purge his Republican antagonists from the party.
“Get rid of them all,” he said.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Texas is leading this charge. As The Daily Beast reported, a Texas state lawmaker — one who attended the Capitol rally on Jan. 6 and claimed it was “the most amazing day” — recently filed the first serious secession bill the country has seen since the Civil War. The Texas Republican Party promptly endorsed the bill, which would give Texans the right to vote in a secession referendum later this year, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott refusing to denounce the legislation.
Of course, state-level secession remains illegal in the U.S.; as the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2006, “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.” But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from defending the bill, claiming that it’s simply giving Texans a “voice.” (It’s unclear if these figures think Texans should be able to vote on other illegal acts in the interest of expressing their voice.)
While much of the secessionist rhetoric remains couched in claims about things like fiscal responsibility and burdensome federal regulations, it doesn’t take much to discern the ethno-nationalism driving the push. Just like so much of Trumpian America, secession in places like Texas is rooted in a combination of nativism, xenophobia and white racial grievance. Texas secession Facebook pages are saturated with fantasies of forcing Democrats to leave the state, seizing their property and forcing them to “convert” (to what is unclear). Just like the Confederates before them, this modern secessionist ethos is rooted at least in large part in maintaining white supremacy and authoritarian governance, regardless of the costs.
On their own, the increasing marriage of secessionist chatter and GOP ideology would be cause enough for concern. But this month’s disastrous winter storm in Texas also points to how idiotic such secessionist dreams truly are. Thanks to an electric grid carved out separately from the rest of the country, Texas remained effectively stranded while storms wrought rolling blackouts, boil-water advisories and dozens of deaths thus far. Scenes reminiscent of catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina illustrated what state-level collapse looks like in modern America.
Thanks to the devastating storms, Texas secessionists have gone quiet for now. Meanwhile, regular Texans have begun looking to the federal government for help, with Washington already announcing plans for federal disaster assistance. As it should.
But imagine, for instance, if Texas somehow managed to declare independence in the near future. Rather than simply carrying on with the status quo ante, as many secessionists and increasing numbers of Republicans appear to assume, any independence push would presumably shut off the federal tap, which currently sends Texas tens of billions of dollars more than it receives from the state. A successful secession push would likewise (and presumably) send industry, spooked by political instability, scattering, gutting Texas’s vibrant economy.
Along the way, millions of patriotic Americans would promptly uproot, taking their skills elsewhere, exacerbating knock-on economic struggles. Washington would probably try to dissuade other states from joining Texas by placing punitive economic measures — blocking Social Security checks, imposing new tariffs and removing federal installations, perhaps even launching a naval blockade — on the breakaway region. Texas would be, in effect, stranded.
And this isn’t even touching on the political violence that could ensue. Given that Texas’s economic powerhouses remain the primarily Democratic cities of Houston, Austin, and Dallas — and that America’s primary political divides remain on an urban-rural axis — who knows how messy that could get. (In other words, blinkered liberals should stop trying to thoughtlessly encourage GOP secessionism.)
All of which is to say: The devastation in Texas highlights but a small sample of how awful an actual secession push would likely be. As University of Houston Professor Robert Zaretsky wrote this month, the “spirit of secessionism… carries terrible human costs.” And he’s exactly right. It’s a terrible proposal, with terrible consequences, of which Texas is getting but a taste right now.
As the top U.S. intelligence official for just over a month, Avril Haines has an overflowing inbox.
A massive computer hack blamed on Russia is still under investigation. President Biden has raised the possibility of rejoining a nuclear agreement with Iran. And right before Haines sat down Friday with a team from NPR, for her first interview in office, aides handed out a report she'd just declassified: it said Saudi Arabia's crown prince was responsible for the brutal 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Haines has taken over after a turbulent time. Former President Donald Trump was frequently at odds with his handpicked national security team when its assessments did not fit his preferred narrative. During his one-term presidency, he had five directors of national intelligence.
"I think it has been a challenging time, particularly for the office of the director of national intelligence," Haines told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, co-host of All Things Considered. "There was a lot of turnover during the last administration and I think, more generally, that intelligence analysis wasn't necessarily being appreciated in the same way that it normally had been in the past."
"It looked to me from the outside as if there were political pressures being put on the intelligence community," she added.
Asked if that was something that could be easily fixed, she said, "Clearly not. I think this is one of those things where it's so much about the culture of the institution that gets damaged in those moments. And it's one of the hardest things to course correct."
Haines did not criticize members of the Trump administration by name, and described her immediate predecessor, John Ratcliffe, as "very good to me, very civil" during the transition in January.
Haines wore a navy blue mask throughout the interview at the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, part of a compound that's hidden away ever-so-slightly from the highways and shopping malls of suburban Washington.
She's had a longstanding working relationship with Biden. Haines became a lawyer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, when Biden was a Delaware senator and committee chairman. She followed Biden to the White House, working on the National Security Council when he was vice president. She also served in the No. 2 position at the CIA from 2013-15.
Now she's going to the White House on weekday mornings to oversee the president's daily intelligence briefing. She says she'll be joined by William Burns, the nominee to head the CIA, when he's confirmed by the Senate, which appears likely within days.
"You have now a president who very much wants to hear what you have to say, regardless of whether or not it's consistent with his particular policy views or any of those things," said Haines.
- Two Florida suspects have been arrested in southern Georgia after a manhunt left one deputy in critical condition after the suspects fled a traffic stop near Orlando.
- The Biden Administration will appeal a Texas federal judge's ruling blocking a CDC moratorium on evictions due to COVID-19 health reasons.
- Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine has CDC approval and the vaccine is "close" to shipping to several states nationally in March.
- Australia's government is under siege as a rape allegation against one cabinet minister comes after the victim took her own life last June, and calls are growing for PM Scott Morrison to step in.
- Cyber-security experts are warning that the Russian-backed hacker group Sandworm, which triggered blackouts in Ukraine five years ago, has had access to the US power grid for years.