Here’s what’s happening in politics Jan. 27, 2021. Check back often for updates.
Acting Washington, D.C., Police Chief Robert Contee detailed the severity of the injuries police suffered responding to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and disclosed another officer died in the aftermath, according to a copy of his prepared remarks to a House panel Tuesday.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said the officer, Jeffrey Smith, was a 12-year veteran of the police department. The agency declined further comment.
Contee told lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee 65 D.C. police officers sustained injuries that day, and many others sustained injuries like scratches, bruises, eyes burning from bear mace, that were not captured in official injury reports. Still others were suffering from the trauma of responding to the riot, he said.
“Law enforcement training neither anticipates nor prepares for hours of hand-to-hand combat,” he told lawmakers by video conference.
Top law enforcement officials at the Capitol acknowledged failings in their agencies during the same briefing, apologizing to lawmakers for not taking enough precautions or acting on intelligence about the riot.
In response, the Capitol Police Union slammed their leadership’s admission they were unprepared for the riot, saying it “angered and shocked” the rank-and-file officers.
Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement that the Capitol Police and MPD combined suffered 140 injuries that day
“I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained head injuries,” he said. “One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake to name some of the injuries.”
One officer, Brian Sicknick, died during the riot, and another, Howard Liebengood, died in the days after.
— Nicholas Wu
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that, based on his initial conversations with foreign ministers around the world, America’s allies seem eager to have the U.S. back in the diplomatic arena.
“What I’ve picked up from those conversations already is a very, very strong desire for the United States to be back in the room, back at the table, working with them on the many, many common challenges we face,” Blinken told reporters in his first news conference as the 17st secretary of State. “That was almost palpable in the conversations I’ve had today.”
Asked how he could assure allies that the Biden administration’s policies would not be overturned in four years, Blinken said he planned to work closely with members of Congress to get buy-in from the get-go.
“It is hard to have a sustainable foreign policy absent the informed consent of the American people,” he said. “One of the things you’re going to see from our administration is working as closely as we possibly can with Congress on these issues from the takeoff, not just on the landing.”
Blinken also used his first news conference to take a dig at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It remains striking to me how concerned and maybe even scared the Russian gov’t seems to be of one man, Mr. Navalany,” Blinken said, referring to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning to Russia from Germany, where doctors helped him recover from a poisoning attack. He says the attempted assassination was carried out by the Kremlin, which Putin’s allies deny.
Blinken did not say what the Biden administration would do if Navalny is harmed again. But he said the US is very concerned about his safety and added that Navanly’s voice should “be heard, not muzzled.”
— Deirdre Shesgreen
Democrats in the Senate introduced legislation to make the District of Columbia a state. This follows a long campaign, spanning years, to grant statehood to the capital.
However, though Democrats narrowly control the Senate on top of the House of Representatives and White House, the legislation has a slim chance of passing unless Democrats eliminate the legislative filibuster in the Senate.
Most Senate Republicans oppose statehood for D.C., as it would likely lead to a partisan shift in the Senate by adding two senators who would likely be Democrats.
The legislation introduced in the Senate has 38 cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who introduced the bill, said in a statement: “This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue because the lack of fair representation for D.C. residents is clearly inconsistent with the values on which this country was founded.”
In the previous Congress, the House passed a bill in June that would make D.C. the 51st state. That bill, aptly named “H.R. 51,” passed on a mostly party-line vote of 232-180. It died in the Senate.
Because it is a new Congress, legislation would have to pass the House again. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents D.C., already reintroduced the statehood bill at the opening of the 117th Congress.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who introduced the legislation, said in a statement: “This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue because the lack of fair representation for D.C. residents is clearly inconsistent with the values on which this country was founded.”
The bill would provide the city’s nearly 700,000 residents, a population larger than states such as Vermont and Wyoming, with representation of two senators and one House member. The new state’s territory would include all of the district’s current territory, except for monuments and federal buildings such as the White House and Capitol building.
President Joe Biden said during the presidential campaign that he supports D.C. statehood, as does Vice President Kamala Harris, who casts the tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate.
— Savannah Behrmann
Former President Donald Trump is expected to meet privately Thursday with a prominent congressional lawmaker: House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy criticized Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol – “the president bears responsibility,” he said a week after the insurrection – but he also voted against impeachment. He also taken a softer tone toward Trump in more recent days.
“I don’t believe he provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally” right before the Jan. 6 attack, McCarthy told reporters on Thursday.
An aide to Trump, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss his schedule, said the former president does plan to meet with McCarthy on Thursday in South Florida.
The meeting takes place as Trump and attorneys prepare his defense at a Senate impeachment trial next month; opening arguments are scheduled for Feb. 9.
McCarthy’s office did not comment on the conference with Trump.
— David Jackson
The White House doesn’t intend to give any public attention to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who made headlines for incendiary remarks and conspiracy theories as a candidate and has continued to be controversial since entering Congress this month.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked Wednesday about CNN’s report that Greene’s past social media posts indicated support for executing Democratic politicians.
Does the White House have an opinion on whether Greene should face discipline?
“We don’t,” Psaki said. “And I’m not going to speak further about her in this briefing room.”
A former White House occupant, however, did weigh in.
“This woman should be on a watch list. Not in Congress,” tweeted Hillary Clinton, who was one of the Democrats targeted in Greene’s Facebook comments.
In a tweet, Greene dismissed CNN’s report as “yet another hit piece on me.”
— Maureen Groppe and Courtney Subramanian
The Department of Homeland Security Wednesday warned of a continuing threat posed by domestic extremists, cautioning that a “heightened threat environment” across the country would likely persist through the spring.
The bulletin, issued by acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske, said there was no current evidence of a specific plot, yet authorities “remain concerned that individuals frustrated with the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition … could continue to mobilize a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors to incite or commit violence.”
Three weeks after the Capitol attack, Pekoske’s national advisory stated that extremists harboring a volatile mix of grievances “may be emboldened” by the Jan. 6 attack to target elected officials and government property.
The bulletin recalled the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which the attacker told police that he had targeted Mexicans as emblematic of “racial and ethnic tension, including opposition to immigration,” that has driven violent attacks by domestic extremists.
“Threats of violence against critical infrastructure, including the electric, telecommunications and healthcare sectors, increased in 2020 with violent extremists citing misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 for their actions,” the bulletin stated.
— Kevin Johnson
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is set to preside over former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, returned to the Senate Wednesday after a brief hospital visit.
Leahy presided as the Senate reconvened Wednesday morning. He was taken to the hospital Tuesday evening “out of an abundance of caution” after “not feeling well,” his spokesperson David Carle said.
He was discharged later Tuesday evening after getting test results back and receiving a “thorough examination,” Carle said.
Leahy, the most senior Democrat in the Senate who serves as the president pro tempore, is set to preside over Trump’s trial when it begins the week of Feb. 8. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts typically presides over impeachment trials for any president, but the Constitution calls for the chief justice to preside only over trials of sitting presidents. Roberts presided over Trump’s first impeachment trial over dealings with Ukraine.
Leahy told reporters at the Capitol he went to the hospital for muscle spasms, but he didn’t specify where they were spasming. “They didn’t stop,” Leahy said. His doctor said rather than take a chance with “so much going on,” they examined him and then sent him home with his wife, a registered nurse.
“They sent me home with a nurse,” Leahy said.
He told reporters he was healthy enough to preside over the impeachment trial of the former president. He hasn’t yet decided whether to seek reelection in 2022, a decision he expects to make by December.
– Christal Hayes and Bart Jansen
President Joe Biden on Wednesday is set to issue another raft of executive actions tied to combatting climate change, prioritizing science and evidence-based policy across federal agencies and pausing oil drilling on public lands. It’s the latest move to unwind the environmental policies of Trump, who challenged the basis of climate change and had former energy industry lobbyists running key environmental agencies.
Biden has pledged to be the most aggressive president on climate change, which he has called “an existential threat.” His goal is to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035 on the way to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The U.S. emits the second largest amount of carbon dioxide in the world after China.
The actions he’ll sign Wednesday afternoon will also elevate climate change as a national security concern, commit to the goal of conserving at least 30% of all federal land and water by 2030, which stands at 12% today, and build on his economic policy agenda to direct federal agencies to “procure carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles to create good-paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.”
Part of that order will be ensuring the federal purchases are line with Biden’s “Buy American” initiative aimed at boosting the federal government’s purchases of U.S.-manufactured goods.
Republicans who say Biden’s climate policies are cost-prohibitive, will hurt American businesses and eliminate oil and gas jobs.
The movefollows Biden’s decisions last week to suspend for 60 days new drilling permits on federal lands and waters, halt construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The latest orders won’t stop energy firms from acting on existing oil and gas leases in the western U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico, some of which were issued in the final weeks of the Trump administration.
The action will also created a National Climate Task Force, which will feature leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments and formally announce a climate summit of world leaders on Earth Day, April 22.
The League of Conservation Voters applauded the plan, describing it as a “whole of government approach that puts bold climate action, clean energy, and environmental justice at the heart of their domestic and foreign policy agenda.”
“Congress must complement these executive actions with bold legislation that puts our economy on a path to recovery by making transformative investments in healthy, equitable, safe communities powered by clean energy,” the organization said in a statement.
—Courtney Subramanian and Ledyard King
White House COVID Response Team to host first news conference
The White House announced the first of what will be regular coronavirus response briefings starting Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Andy Slavitt, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, and Jeff Zients will participate. Missing will be recently retired Dr. Deborah Birx, former coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, who became nationally known for her role in press conferences in the Trump administration.
During a recent interview on CBS “Face the Nation” Birx said she “always considered” resigning from the White House coronavirus task force, and that someone had been delivering a “parallel set of data” to Trump.
The coronavirus task force press briefings had been a daily occurrence at the beginning of the pandemic, but then became increasingly sparse as Trump dismissed them just a few weeks in.
Biden announced Tuesday the U.S. has reached an agreement to purchase an additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses, a boost that means the U.S. will have enough supply to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer or beginning of fall.
In ceremonial swearing in, Harris congratulates Blinken as secretary of State
Vice President Kamala Harris conducted a ceremonial swearing in for Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the White House on Wednesday.
Blinken won bipartisan support for his confirmation on Tuesday, when the Senate approved his nomination 78-22, a vote that included support from several top Republicans.
“The world is watching us intently right now,” Blinken told a group of employees at the State Department on Wednesday morning, as he arrived for his first full day as America’s chief diplomat.
“They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see … if we will put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time,” he said, citing the pandemic, climate change, and threats to democracy, among other simmering issues.
Blinken was officially sworn in Tuesday afternoon at the State Department.
Tuesday night, Blinken spoke with several foreign ministers, including those from Mexico, Canada, and South Korea.
— Deirdre Shesgreen
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