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US taps groups to pick asylum-seekers to allow into country

The Biden administration has quietly tasked six humanitarian groups with recommending which migrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. instead of being rapidly expelled from the country under federal pandemic-related powers that block people from seeking asylum.

The groups will determine who is most vulnerable in Mexico, and their criteria has not been made public. It comes as large numbers of people are crossing the southern border and as the government faces intensifying pressure to lift the public health powers instituted by former President Donald Trump and kept in place by President Joe Biden during the coronavirus pandemic.

Several members of the consortium spoke to The Associated Press about the criteria and provided details of the system that have not been previously reported. The government is aiming to admit to the country up to 250 asylum-seekers a day who are referred by the groups and is agreeing to that system only until July 31. By then, the consortium hopes the Biden administration will have lifted the public health rules, though the government has not committed to that.

So far, a total of nearly 800 asylum-seekers have been let in since May 3, and members of the consortium say there is already more demand than they can meet.

The groups have not been publicly identified except for the International Rescue Committee, a global relief organization. The others are London-based Save the Children; two U.S.-based organizations, HIAS and Kids in Need of Defense; and two Mexico-based organizations, Asylum Access and the Institute for Women in Migration, according to two people with direct knowledge who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended for public release.

Asylum Access, which provides services to people seeing asylum in Mexico, characterized its role as minimal.

The effort started in El Paso, Texas, and is expanding to Nogales, Arizona.

A similar but separate mechanism led by the American Civil Liberties Union began in late March and allows 35 families a day into the United States at places along the border. It has no end date.

The twin tracks are described by participating organizations as an imperfect transition from so-called Title 42 authority, named for a section of an obscure 1944 public health law that Trump used in March 2020 to effectively end asylum at the Mexican border. With COVID-19 vaccination rates rising, Biden is finding it increasingly difficult to justify the expulsions on public health grounds and faces demands to end it from the U.N. refugee agency and members of his own party and administration.

Critics of the new selection processes say too much power is vested in a small number of organizations and that the effort is shrouded in secrecy without a clear explanation of how the groups were chosen. Critics also say there are no assurances that the most vulnerable or deserving migrants will be chosen to seek asylum.

Some consortium members are concerned that going public may cause their offices in Mexico to be mobbed by asylum-seekers, overwhelming their tiny staffs and exposing them to potential threats and physical attacks from extortionists and other criminals.

The consortium was formed after the U.S. government asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Mexico for the names of organizations with deep experience and capacity in Mexico, said Sibylla Brodzinsky, a spokeswoman for the U.N. office.

“We’ve had long relationships with them and they’re trusted partners,” she said.

The groups say they are merely streamlining the process but that the vulnerable migrants’ cases can come from anywhere.

In Nogales, Arizona, the International Rescue Committee is connecting to migrants via social media and smartphones to find candidates. It plans to refer up to 600 people a month to U.S. officials, said Raymundo Tamayo, the group’s director in Mexico.

Special consideration is being given to people who have been in Mexico a long time, are in need of acute medical attention or who have disabilities, are members of the LGBTQ community or are non-Spanish speakers, though each case is being weighed on its unique circumstances, Tamayo said.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said advocacy groups are in “a very difficult position because they need to essentially rank the desperation” of people, but he insisted it was temporary. The government, he said, “cannot farm out the asylum system.”

Migration experts not involved in the process have questioned how the groups determine who is eligible.

“It has been murky,” said Jessica Bolter, an analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute who believes the administration is trying to quietly be humane without encouraging more people to come, a balancing act she doubts will succeed.

“Setting out clear and accurate information about how and who might get in might lead to fewer migrants making the trip, so there’s not this game of chance that kind of seems to be in place right now,” Bolter said.

U.S. border authorities recorded the highest number of encounters with migrants in more than 20 years in April, though many were repeat crossers who had previously been expelled from the country. The number of children crossing the border alone also is hovering at all-time highs.

Against that backdrop, some advocates are seeing the makings of the “humane” asylum system that Biden promised during his campaign. Details have been elusive, with administration officials saying they need time.

Susana Coreas, who fled El Salvador, was among those identified as vulnerable and allowed into the United States last month. Coreas spent more than a year in Ciudad Juarez waiting to apply for asylum but was barred by the public health order.

She and other transgender women refurbished an abandoned hotel to have a safe place to stay after they felt uncomfortable at a number of shelters in the rough Mexican city.

But they continued to have problems. One woman had a knife pointed at her. Another had a gun pulled on her.

“There was so much anxiety,” Coreas said. “I now feel at peace.”

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Biden suspends oil leases in Alaska’s Arctic refuge

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reversing a drilling program approved by the Trump administration and reviving a political fight over a remote region that is home to polar bears and other wildlife — and a rich reserve of oil.

The order by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland follows a temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities imposed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office. Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order suggested a new environmental review was needed to address possible legal flaws in a drilling program approved by the Trump administration under a 2017 law enacted by Congress.

After conducting a required review, Interior said it “identified defects in the underlying record of decision supporting the leases, including the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives″ required under the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law.

The remote, 19.6 million-acre refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and other wildlife, including migrating birds from six continents. Republicans and the oil industry have long been trying to open up the oil-rich refuge, which is considered sacred by the Indigenous Gwich’in, for drilling. Democrats, environmental groups and some Alaska Native tribes have been trying to block it.

Environmental groups and Democrats cheered the Interior Department order, while Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation slammed it as misguided and illegal.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an Interior agency, held a lease sale for the refuge’s coastal plain on Jan. 6, two weeks before Biden took office. Eight days later the agency signed leases for nine tracts totaling nearly 685 square miles (1,770 square kilometers). However, the issuance of the leases was not announced publicly until Jan. 19, former President Donald Trump’s last full day in office.

Biden has opposed drilling in the region, and environmental groups have been pushing for permanent protections, which Biden called for during the presidential campaign.

The administration’s action to suspend the leases comes after officials disappointed environmental groups last week by defending a Trump administration decision to approve a major oil project on Alaska’s North Slope. Critics say the action flies in the face of Biden’s pledges to address climate change.

The Justice Department said in a court filing that opponents of the Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska were seeking to stop development by “cherry-picking” the records of federal agencies to claim environmental review law violations. The filing defends the reviews underpinning last fall’s decision approving project plans.

Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, hailed suspension of the Arctic leasing program, which she said was the result of a flawed legal process under Trump.

“Suspending these leases is a step in the right direction, and we commend the Biden administration for committing to a new program analysis that prioritizes sound science and adequate tribal consultation,″ she said.

More action is needed, Miller said, calling for a permanent cancellation of the leases and repeal of the 2017 law mandating drilling in the refuge’s coastal plain.

The drilling mandate was included in a massive tax cut approved by congressional Republicans during Trump’s first year in office. Republicans said it could generate an estimated $1 billion over 10 years, a figure Democrats call preposterously overstated.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a longtime opponent of drilling in the refuge, accused the Trump administration of trying to “shortcut environmental laws.″ The effort “fell apart when exposed to the facts that federal scientists say Arctic Refuge drilling cannot be done safely and oil companies don’t want to drill there,” Cantwell said.

“Now it is up to Congress to permanently protect this irreplaceable, million-year-old ecosystem and facilitate new economic opportunities based on preserving America’s pristine public lands for outdoor recreation,” she said.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Nation Steering Committee, said in a statement that tribal leaders are heartened by the Biden administration’s “commitment to protecting sacred lands and the Gwich’in way of life.”

She thanked Biden and Haaland “for hearing our voices and standing up for our human rights and identity.″

In a joint statement, Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, along with Rep. Don Young and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, criticized the Interior Department action. All four are Republicans.

Dunleavy said the leases sold in January “are valid and cannot be taken away by the federal government.″

Sullivan, who praised Biden last week for backing the Willow oil project, said suspending the Arctic leases “goes against the law, facts, the science and the will of the Native communities on the North Slope. It is nothing more than a naked political move by the Biden administration to pay off its extreme environmental allies.″

Murkowski called the order expected “but outrageous nonetheless.”

Murkowski, who provided a key vote for Haaland’s confirmation in March, said the secretarial order “is in direct conflict with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,″ which “specifically states that the purpose of the (designated) area of ANWR is oil and gas development.″

“This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at great risk,″ Murkowski said.

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Biden decries ‘horrific’ Tulsa massacre in emotional speech

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An emotional President Joe Biden marked the 100th anniversary of the massacre that destroyed a thriving Black community in Tulsa, declaring Tuesday that he had “come to fill the silence” about one of the nation’s darkest — and long suppressed — moments of racial violence.

“Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try,” Biden said. “Only with truth can come healing.”

Biden’s commemoration of the deaths of hundreds of Black people killed by a white mob a century ago came amid the current national reckoning on racial justice.

Just because history is silent, it does not mean that it did not take place,” Biden said. He said “hell was unleashed, literal hell was unleashed.” And now, he said, the nation must come to grips with the subsequent sin of denial.

“We can’t just choose what we want to know, and not what we should know,” said Biden. “I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence wounds deepen.”

After Biden left, some audience members spontaneously sang a famous civil rights march song, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”

The events Tuesday stood in stark contrast to then-President Donald Trump’s trip to Tulsa last June, which was greeted by protests. Or the former president’s decision, one year ago, to clear Lafayette Square near the White House of demonstrators who gathered to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

In 1921 — on May 31 and June 1 — a white mob, including some people hastily deputized by authorities, looted and burned Tulsa’s Greenwood district, which was referred to as Black Wall Street.

As many as 300 Black Tulsans were killed, and thousands of survivors were forced for a time into internment camps overseen by the National Guard. Burned bricks and a fragment of a church basement are about all that survive today of the more than 30-block historically Black district.

On Tuesday, the president, joined by top Black advisers, met privately with three surviving members of the Greenwood community who lived through the violence, the White House said. Viola “Mother” Fletcher, Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis and Lessie “Mother Randle” Benningfield Randle are all between the ages of 101 and 107.

Biden said their experience had been “a story seen in the mirror dimly.”

“But no longer,” the president told the survivors. “Now your story will be known in full view.”

Outside, Latasha Sanders, 33, of Tulsa, brought her five children and a nephew in hopes of spotting Biden.

“It’s been 100 years, and this is the first we’ve heard from any U.S. president,” she said. “I brought my kids here today just so they could be a part of history and not just hear about it, and so they can teach generations to come.”

John Ondiek, another Tulsan in the crowd following Biden’s speech on cellphones, said he was encouraged that “There aren’t just Black people here. That tells me there’s an awakening going on in this country.”

Several hundred people milled around Greenwood Avenue in front of the historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church awaiting Biden’s arrival at the nearby Greenwood Cultural Center. Some vendors were selling memorabilia, including Black Lives Matter hats, shirts and flags under a bridge of the interstate that cuts through the district.

The names and pictures of Black men killed by police, including Eric Harris and Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa, hung on a chain-link fence next to the church.

Biden briefly toured an exhibit at the center, at times stepping closer to peer at framed historic photographs, before he was escorted into a private meeting with the three survivors.

America’s continuing struggle over race will continue to test Biden, whose presidency would have been impossible without overwhelming support from Black voters, both in the Democratic primaries and the general election.

He announced Tuesday that he was appointing Vice President Kamala Harris to lead efforts on voting rights as the GOP carries out efforts to pass laws restricting access to the ballot. Republicans portray such legislation as aimed at preventing fraudulent voting, but many critics believe it is designed to limit the voting of minorities.

Biden has pledged to help combat racism in policing and other areas following nationwide protests after Floyd’s death a year ago that reignited a national conversation about race.

Biden called on Congress to act swiftly to address policing reform. But he has also long projected himself as an ally of police, who are struggling with criticism about long-used tactics and training methods and difficulties in recruitment.

The Tulsa massacre has only recently entered the national discourse — and the presidential visit put an even brighter spotlight on the event.

Biden, who was joined by Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge and senior advisers Susan Rice and Cedric Richmond, also announced new measures he said could help narrow the wealth gap between races and reinvest in underserved communities by expanding access to homeownership and small-business ownership.

The White House said the administration will take steps to address disparities that result in Black-owned homes being appraised at tens of thousands of dollars less than comparable homes owned by white residents as well as issue new federal rules to fight housing discrimination. The administration is also setting a goal of increasing the share of federal contracts awarded to small disadvantaged businesses by 50% by 2026, funneling an estimated additional $100 billion to such businesses over the five-year period, according to the White House.

Historians say the massacre in Tulsa began after a local newspaper drummed up a furor over a Black man accused of stepping on a white girl’s foot. When Black Tulsans showed up with guns to prevent the man’s lynching, white residents responded with overwhelming force.

Reparations for Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved and for other racial discrimination have been debated in the U.S. since slavery ended in 1865. Now they are being discussed by colleges and universities with ties to slavery and by local governments looking to make cash payments to Black residents.

Biden, who was vice president to the nation’s first Black president and who chose a Black woman as his own vice president, backs a study of reparations, both in Tulsa and more broadly, but has not committed to supporting payments.

Trump visited Tulsa last year under vastly different circumstances.

After suspending his campaign rallies because of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump, a Republican, chose Tulsa as the place to mark his return. But his decision to schedule the rally on June 19, the holiday known as Juneteenth that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, was met with such fierce criticism that he postponed the event by a day. The rally was still marked by protests outside and empty seats inside an arena downtown.

___

Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report.

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Biden, GOP senator to meet as infrastructure deadline looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Deadline looming, President Joe Biden is set to meet Wednesday with the top Senate Republican negotiator on infrastructure as the administration signals time is running out to strike a bipartisan deal on the White House’s big investment proposal and top legislative priority.

The president is looking forward to hosting West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the White House said, ahead of the afternoon session. The two will continue bipartisan negotiations. The administration’s deadline for a deal is now June. 7.

Privately, however, the president has sized up the GOP’s latest $928 billion offer as unworkable, in large part because it taps unused COVID-19 funds to pay for it. Publicly the administration is making it clear it views next week as a make-or-break moment for the president’s push toward a deal with Republicans.

“He’s appreciative and heartened by the good faith effort that we’ve seen from Republican senators but as the president said last week we do need to finish these negotiations soon,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday traveling with the president on Air Force One to Tulsa, Okla., where he is scheduled to deliver remarks to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Together, the president and the Republicans both have political incentives to negotiate a bipartisan accord over his sweeping investment package, even if no deal is within sight. For Biden, reaching across the aisle and cutting deals in Congress is central to his brand of politics. Republicans can also score political gains by trying to work with a popular president.

Yet an initial Memorial Day deadline came and went without results and in the latest round of talks, Biden and a core group of GOP senators appear to have pulled farther apart. Democrats, who hold slim majorities in the House and Senate, are watching warily as the White House and Republicans try to narrow the gap between the president’s initial ideas for a massive investment in not just roads and bridges but the so-called “human” infrastructure of hospitals and child and senior care facilities, and a GOP approach that is more focused approach on traditional infrastructure projects.

The White House has pared back the president’s initial $2.3 trillion bid, now tallied at $1.7 trillion, with Biden proposing to fund the investment by raising the corporate tax rate, from 21% to 28%.

Biden’s own thinking is that the Republican proposal, while improved from an earlier $568 billion opening bid, is unworkable because the Republicans want to tap unspent COVID-19 funds to pay for the spending, according to a White House official granted anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.

The president, in meetings with his team, has zeroed in on the questions the GOP proposal raises — namely, which coronavirus relief funds to possibly shelve. Biden’s view is that tapping the COVID funds would unduly burden the middle class, including small business owners, who are receiving the virus aid during the pandemic crisis.

For Republicans, the corporate tax hikes are a red line they will not cross, and instead want to pay for the infrastructure investment with virus aid money as well as typical gas taxes and other fees on consumers.

“I think we can get to real compromise, absolutely, because we’re both still in the game,” Capito said over the weekend. “I think the president told me himself that let’s get this done.”

Congress is away for a weeklong Memorial Day break, but faces a deadline when lawmakers return next week.

Without a bipartisan agreement, Biden will be faced with trying to muscle support from Democrats alone. That approach also poses political challenges in the narrowly divided House and Senate where the administration has few votes to spare if the president tries to push the package to passage under budget rules that allow for a majority vote.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that by the time Congress resumes, June 7, “we need a clear direction.”

The White House said the president is also eyeing action in the House that week when the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to begin debating a big highway reauthorization bill that is being closely watched as a potential building block toward the broader package.

Jean-Pierre noted the panel’s June 9 hearing as “a relevant date in terms of the overall time frame.”

That week, she said, “will be incredibly critical.”

A similar bipartisan highway bill is underway in the Senate and those bills, along with others being negotiated over water resources and other public works could make up the foundations for a broader package.

___

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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Biden to miss police reform bill deadline, meet with George Floyd’s family on death anniversary

President Biden is expected to host the family of George Floyd at the White House on Tuesday – though Congress is poised to miss Biden’s deadline of getting the federal police reform bill with Floyd’s namesake passed by the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis officer.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, originally introduced last June, passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in March by a 220-212 vote. Though championed by civil rights groups, the wide-sweeping bill has so far stalled in the 50-50 split Senate, as Democrats and Republicans have continued negotiations on various points of contention, including no-knock warrants and chokeholds.

Biden, during his first address to a joint session of Congress on April 29, took the recent conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd’s death as a green light to call on Congress to pass police reform in Floyd’s name by May 25.

“My fellow Americans, we have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system, and to enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already,” Biden said during his address.

“I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in the very productive discussions with Democrats in the Senate,” he added. “We need to work together to find a consensus. But let’s get it done next month, by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki recognized Friday that it would be unlikely that Congress pass the federal police reform by Tuesday deadline but stressed that “the negotiators, by all accounts, are continuing to make progress.”

“They’re continuing to have good discussions, and that is a positive sign,” she said. “We are not going to slow our — slow our efforts to get this done, but we can also be transparent about the fact that it’s going to take a little bit more time — that sometimes that happens and that’s okay.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who’s leading the GOP negotiations on the legislation, has said another issue under discussion is Section 1033, which involves government equipment from the military for local police. The bill also seeks to set limits on qualified immunity shielding police from civil lawsuits, creates a framework to prevent racial profiling and establishes a national registry on allegations of police misconduct.

Last July, Democrats in the Senate rejected a similar GOP-backed police reform bill introduced by Scott, arguing the proposed legislation did not go far enough to address racial inequality.

The George Floyd Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, is asking people to contact their federal representatives Monday as part of a “day of action” to urge them to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by the first anniversary of his death.

The foundation is hosting several events in Minneapolis this week, including two panels with the families and other activists Monday followed by a community festival and candlelight vigil Tuesday.

Executive director Jacari Harris said the group has received donations from the Minneapolis Foundation, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation and athletic shoe and apparel retailer Finish Line, among others. Despite large grants from corporations and other organizations, Harris said the average donation to the nonprofit was $47. Harris said the group has also funded an initiative in Fayetteville, N.C., where Floyd was born, to help reduce homelessness, a scholarship program for law school students and an internship program at Texas A&M University, where Floyd went to school.

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House GOP rebuffs Cheney’s demands to call out Trump’s election lies

(CNN) – Rep. Liz Cheney told House Republicans in private on Wednesday that it’s time to reject former President Donald Trump’s big lie that he won the election because failing to do so will “make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy.”
But GOP lawmakers don’t want to hear it.
From the most conservative members to ones in swing districts, a wide range of Republicans either back Trump outright, endorse aspects of his claims or hope the issue will simply go away so they won’t have to weigh in — eager to avoid becoming mincemeat for Trump, who is demanding total loyalty despite his evidence-free argument that the election was rigged.

Many argue more investigation is needed over mail-in voting even though Trump’s own Justice Department determined there was no evidence of widespread fraud, all 50 states certified their elections and the former President and his allies lost in dozens of court cases including before the US Supreme Court. And most blame Cheney — not Trump — for injecting the issue back into the national spotlight.

“No one knows about what happened in the election,” New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, who won one of the tightest races in the country, told CNN after the vote to oust Cheney on Wednesday. “We don’t know if it was stolen or not, (Cheney) doesn’t know, I don’t know, the President doesn’t know. But what I know is we need to fix it.”
And some say that Trump truly won — roundly dismissing his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican running for secretary of state of Georgia with Trump’s support, said that the former President would have a won his state “if there was a fair election.”

Asked if he believed Trump actually won reelection in 2020, Hice said in an interview: “I believe if it was a fair election, yes. I believe absolutely.”
Indeed, Cheney’s view represents a minority of the House GOP Conference — an uncomfortable reality for House GOP leaders who recognize that relitigating the validity of the 2020 elections is not a winning message heading into the 2022 midterms when control of Congress is at stake. And that was a big reason why Republican leaders were eager to eject Cheney from her No. 3 spot, hoping that pushing her into the rank-and-file would minimize what they viewed are unneeded distractions within their own leadership ranks.
“The vote today was nothing about Liz Cheney’s vote for impeachment or anything else along that line,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNN Wednesday. “You have jobs inside leadership and responsibilities, and I think people were just looking at it from the perspective of if you’re the conference chair, you’re the messenger.”
And earlier in the day McCarthy claimed that his members are not questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, even as the GOP leader himself did so after the November election and later joined efforts in Congress and the Supreme Court to throw out Biden’s electoral votes.
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” McCarthy said outside the White House when asked about Cheney’s likely replacement, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. “I think that is all over with sitting here with the President today.”
Yet Stefanik herself voted to overturn Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania and signed onto a Texas lawsuit aiming to overturn the electoral results across a number of battleground states that the Democrat won. And in recent days, Stefanik has reaffirmed her support for an effort by Republicans in Arizona to cast doubt and review Biden’s win, while also doubling down on Wednesday when asked about her dubious claim of 140,000 unauthorized votes being cast in Georgia.

“I stand by my statement that there are serious issues related to election irregularities in the state of Georgia, as well as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin,” Stefanik told reporters.
But when pressed if she still believes that those votes were illegitimate, she would only say: “I think there are questions that are important for the American people to hear answers to.”
Some Republicans did push back against Trump’s claims, but they amount to a rarity among the House GOP.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that’s convincing,” said Rep. Ken Buck, a conservative Colorado Republican who backed Cheney staying in the post, when asked about the fraud claims.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who has been sharply critical of his leadership team and has been vocal in his support of Cheney, said “not much” when asked how much confidence he has in McCarthy right now.
“Not if that election was today,” Kinzinger told CNN when asked if he would support McCarthy for speaker in the next Congress. “I can never say what’ll happen in the future but today I wouldn’t.”
Yet McCarthy and Stefanik have wide support within the conference, many of whom are in line with the notion that there was something amiss last November with the influx in mail-in voting that saw a sharp uptick during the coronavirus pandemic.
Now Stefanik is on track to lead a conference that is clearly in line with those views.
“I think there were a lot of anomalies in the election,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican. “And I think there was clear evidence of some states that violated their own state election laws and their Constitution — thereby the federal Constitution.”
Republicans won’t call Biden’s win ‘legitimate’
Yet efforts to challenge state election rules fell flat in the courts, though that fact has yet to convince a wide swath of House Republicans.
“I’ve said all along that we should look into the concerns millions of Americans have, including millions of Democrats have, about the election; I’ve never said it was stolen or anything like that. I just said why not investigate?” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan when asked about Cheney’s comments.
But many sidestepped when asked if Biden’s victory amounted to a legitimate one.
“Yeah he’s the President, I’ve said that all along,” Jordan said when asked if Biden’s win was legitimate. Asked again if he thought Biden won legitimately, Jordan added: “Like, our system, the way it works, he’s the President. We know he’s the President. Look at what the last four months have been like.”
Asked a third time if Biden were legitimately elected, Jordan added: “I do think we should look at the election results but, yeah, he’s the President of the United States, I’ve said that all along.”

Rep. Buddy Carter, a Georgia Republican who is considering a Senate bid, said this when asked if he’s accepted the notion that Biden won legitimately: “I have accepted that he won. I think that there were irregularities.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said that while he “never had any doubt” Biden would win after the polls closed and that Trump and others should move on from the election dispute, he didn’t say outright that Biden won legitimately won asked multiple times.
“I believe that we should have stuck to the Constitution, no state without their legislature should have made changes in how they were sending out ballots,” Issa said. Asked again if he thought Biden’s win was legitimate, Issa added: “He won the Electoral College vote. And where there are irregularities and multiple states? Yes. Did he make those irregularities? No.”
Issa would not say if Trump was responsible for the riot at the Capitol aimed at stopping certification of Biden’s win.
“I’m not here to talk about the past,” Issa said.
House Republicans, though, are clearly irritated that Cheney has injected these questions back into the fray.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a freshman from New York, rebuffed Cheney’s demands that Republicans should push back on Trump’s election lies.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Malliotakis said. “You cannot be chair when you disagree with the opinions of the vast majority of the conference. … I want to talk about what’s in the best interest of moving this country forward. … That’s what I want to talk about. You guys want to keep talking about Donald Trump.”

The freshman began to walk away when asked if she believes the election was indeed stolen from Trump, as the former President continually claims. “Are we still talking about this?” Malliotakis said.
But some Republicans do plan to keep a focus on the elections were conducted.
Tenney, the New York Republican, said she and 28 other Republicans have formed “an election integrity caucus” and she asked Cheney to join them.

“I’ve tried to engage her on what’s happening in my election integrity (caucus), she doesn’t want to talk about it,” Tenney said.
Tenney said she sent Cheney a “nice message” over text but got pushback from her colleague over the election matter. “I got sort of a bloody step back.”

CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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Biden’s first meeting with GOP leaders features high stakes, low expectations

The president will sit down with Republican lawmakers as one question looms ever larger over his legislative agenda: Just how long will the conversation continue?

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden prepares to welcome top congressional Republicans to the Oval Office for the first time on Wednesday, he appears to be struggling to reconcile a pair of core campaign pledges: to work across party lines — and to advance what he’s called the most progressive governing blueprint since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.

While mindful of the challenge in keeping Democrats united behind his plan, Biden sees an even bigger roadblock to any potential bipartisan breakthrough in a Republican Party still largely adrift in the post-Trump era.

From the crowded Democratic primary through the heated general election campaign, the president cast his desire to seek common ground with Republicans as more than just his preference, but a governing imperative. “If we can’t unite the country, we’re in trouble,” he argued last fall at a Michigan campaign stop. “America and our system runs on consensus.”

But rather than the “altar call” Biden predicted Republicans would face if then-President Donald Trump were defeated, GOP congressional leaders find their rank-and-file still largely taking cues from the former president, and are trying to keep the peace by focusing on opposing Biden’s agenda.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will arrive at the White House having just presided over a vote to purge Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from his leadership team for her outspoken criticism of Trump. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said just last week that “100 percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”

The White House insists that this week’s meetings — Wednesday’s with the bicameral leadership of Congress, and Thursday’s with the lead Senate Republican negotiators — demonstrate Biden’s commitment to seek compromise across the aisle, and represent just a fraction of the behind-the-scenes talks it expects to continue for weeks.

Biden is also minding divisions within the Democratic Party over his proposals, leading him to meet this week with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose support is essential no matter what path the White House pursues.

The White House reiterated this week that it hopes for progress in negotiations by Memorial Day and that Biden is aiming to sign one or more bills into law this summer.

“He’s got a long history of working with Republicans even when there are outside voices that are expressing skepticism,” Louisa Terrell, the White House’s director of legislative affairs, said in an interview.

When he was asked during the campaign whether bipartisanship was possible, Biden often pointed to his high-profile instances of collaboration with McConnell when he was vice president, such as breaking an impasse during the 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations and earning McConnell’s support later for cancer funding. Biden said again last week that he is confident that he and his longtime Senate colleague can work together despite the rhetoric.

But the relationship has not been tested yet, as it might have been immediately had Democrats not won the two Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January. Top Biden officials began the presidential transition preparing for a Senate overseen by McConnell. Instead, they pressed ahead without him on the initial Covid-19 relief bill.

Since then, Biden and McConnell are known to have spoken only twice, once about Myanmar and once the day before Biden rolled out his infrastructure package. McConnell does not see Biden needing him yet, and the expectation is that if he eventually does, their relationship will become germane.

Right now, it is not. Republicans, including McConnell, see Biden’s attempts to work with them as “a backup plan,” not his first choice, said a person close to McConnell.

“Until it’s clear that they don’t have the votes on their side for some of these priorities, they’re not going to need to really collaborate with us,” the person said. “Going with a more moderate approach is not their first priority.”

McConnell could get on board with an infrastructure bill that is very narrow in scope — focused on traditional roads and bridges — and that is paid for with provisions like user fees and a gas tax, not tax increases on corporations or on Americans making more than $400,000.

McConnell is closely watching how Democrats react to Biden’s proposed tax increases and whether a number of them will balk. He has also keyed in on the shifting White House messaging about Biden’s infrastructure plan — from initially billing it as a long-term, once-in-a-generation investment to more recently casting it as necessary given the unexpectedly sluggish April jobs report.

If Democrats ultimately decide to try to advance his package through reconciliation, a congressional process that would allow it to pass on a simple majority vote, talks with Republicans — led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — would probably shut down, and he would struggle to find a single GOP vote, the McConnell ally said.

The Biden-McConnell relationship during the Obama administration was born out of necessity, “and that’s the same path it’s on this time,” the ally said, adding: “They’re not collaborating at this point. … There’s not really a lot there right now, because they don’t need to talk to Mitch McConnell.”

White House officials counter that the administration has been actively seeking GOP input since Biden took office, including holding scores of direct conversations between senior officials and Hill counterparts or lawmakers themselves.

Terrell said upward of 130 members of Congress have gone to the White House for meetings with Biden or other officials in the first 100 days of the administration — a number that would have been even higher had strict Covid-19 protocols not been in place.

“What the president brings to this job is there’s no one who knows how to do these kinds of conversations and negotiations better than President Biden,” she said. “The president knows how this works, and it’s one-on-one relationships. We really go back to the fundamentals, that there are calls being made and discussions being had that are one on one.”

The White House insists that Biden’s only “red line” in negotiations over infrastructure is inaction, a point that speaks to the administration’s confidence that it will have the political upper hand if Republicans in Congress remain united in opposition.

Celinda Lake, who was a top pollster for Biden’s campaign, said public and private polling data both indicate that voters “are really in the mode of let’s get it done, let’s not just talk.” A CBS News poll released late last month found that 58 percent of respondents felt that Biden was trying to work with Republicans, while just 39 percent felt that Republicans were making the effort to work with him.

Lake said one of the best-received lines from Biden’s address to Congress was his call for lawmakers to pass the things they agree on — which she said stands as a warning against statements like McConnell’s vow to block his agenda.

“People in hindsight see that as the modus operandi during the Obama years,” she said, adding that it contributed to a cynicism in government that helped empower Trump.

“Trump was a bold change, just the wrong kind of change,” she said.

While Trump still has outsize influence over the congressional GOP, the White House says it is looking to avoid playing into the internal dynamics.

“The focus of this meeting is not the future of the Republican Party, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “They are neither seeking, nor is he offering, his perspective on that.”

Amd as often as Biden expressed his interest in working with Republicans on the campaign trail, he at times coupled it with a warning that his hand would not always remain outstretched.

“Sometimes you can’t do that,” he said at the first Democratic primary debate nearly two years ago, speaking about potential cooperation with GOP colleagues. “Sometimes you just have to go out and beat them.

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Politics

The vote to oust Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position took only 16 minutes. Here’s what happened.

(CNN) – The vote to oust Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position took only 16 minutes.
Before the House Republican Conference met Wednesday morning to oust the Wyoming congresswoman from her position as the third-ranking Republican member in Congress, sources told CNN they expected it to be quick.
But it happened so quickly that some members arrived just in time for the vote. It stood in contrast to the more than four-hour meeting and vote that took place on February 4 that kept Cheney in leadership at the time, following her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The meeting began with Cheney giving remarks to her colleagues, where she once again called out Trump for his “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and other Republicans who aided his efforts to overturn his loss, charging that she would lead “the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles.”

“We cannot let the former President drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy,” Cheney said in her remarks before being ousted. “Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country.”

Sources told CNN that when she criticized Trump, she was booed by some of her colleagues.
She concluded her remarks with a prayer, which earned her a standing ovation, according to Rep. Ken Buck, a conservative Colorado Republican.
Then, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina made the motion to recall Cheney, thus formally beginning the process of removing her as conference chair.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke briefly and a voice vote was called. Because it was a voice vote, there is no tally of those who supported or opposed Cheney.

A source in the room told CNN that McCarthy made the same points he wrote in his letter released on Monday before the vote.
Another source told CNN that five lawmakers stood to request a recorded vote to remove Cheney from the leadership — but that did not happen and the gavel came down.
Cheney told colleagues it was up to McCarthy, a California Republican, whether he wanted a voice vote or not “and Kevin asked for voice,” the source said.

After her ouster, Cheney walked out of the meeting and addressed reporters, saying she plans to lead the fight to move the Republican Party closer to the fundamental principles of conservatism.
“I am absolutely committed, as I said last night, as I said just now to my colleagues, that we must go forward based on truth,” she said. “We cannot both embrace the ‘big lie’ and embrace the Constitution. And going forward, the nation needs it, the nation needs a strong Republican Party, the nation needs a party that that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism, and I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that’s how this party goes forward, and I plan to lead the fight to do that.”

CNN’s Manu Raju and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.

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Politics

Over 100 Republicans threaten to form 3rd party unless GOP breaks from Trump

More than 100 Republicans will sign a letter Thursday threatening to create a third party if the GOP doesn’t “break” with former President Trump, Reuters first reported.

Why it matters: Per Axios’ Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Trump’s grip on the GOP has gotten stronger since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The Republican Party’s “allegiance to Trump” as he continues to make false claims about his 2020 election loss has “dismayed” the group, according to Reuters.

  • Per the New York Times, the letter’s preamble will state, “When in our democratic republic, forces of conspiracy, division, and despotism arise, it is the patriotic duty of citizens to act collectively in defense of liberty and justice.”
  • The letter is due to be released one day after House Republicans are expected to vote on ousting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her position as conference chair.

Details: The letter’s signatories include former “governors, members of Congress, ambassadors, cabinet secretaries, state legislators and Republican Party chairmen,” per the Times, citing co-organizer Miles Taylor.

What they’re saying: “This is us saying that … the situation has gotten so dire with the Republican Party that it is now time to seriously consider whether an alternative might be the only option, said Taylor, the Trump-era Department of Homeland Security official who wrote an anonymous NYT op-ed on the administration.

  • Taylor also tweeted: “My philosophy on GOP extremists: if you won’t join ’em, beat ’em. Come fight with us.”

The other side: Representatives for the Republican Party and Trump did not immediately respond to Axios’ request for comment. But Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, told Reuters: “These losers left the Republican Party when they voted for Joe Biden.”

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Politics

Secret Service agents driving Trump around hospital during Covid stay needed full protective gear

Two Secret Service agents who rode with then-President Donald Trump as he drove around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center while he was hospitalized with Covid-19 last year needed to wear full medical protective gear, the agency’s director said Thursday.

Director of the U.S. Secret Service James Murray told a budget hearing with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that the former president’s desire to be seen outside the hospital in October where he could wave to supporters “was extensively discussed” with doctors beforehand.

He said the Secret Service talked with the White House medical team and medical staff at Water Reed beforehand and the two agents in the vehicle with Trump wore the same kind of personal protective equipment gear that front-line health care workers used. “The two individuals in the vehicle were fully outfitted in PPE,” he said.

White House officials said at the time that the president was bored and wanted to show strength, but the move was widely criticized. A doctor affiliated with the hospital, George Washington University Professor James Phillips, tweeted: “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive by’ now has to be quarantined for 14 days.”

Murray also told the House hearing that he would like to have a replica of the White House at the agency’s training center outside Washington. Using the current training facility “is like having a basketball team practice outdoors in a field, instead indoors on a basketball court.”

He said the new, taller fence around the White House fence has now been installed on the north side of the grounds and should be finished a year from now.

“The new fence is a game changer for us,” Murray said, adding that the agency might need to consider setting up a checkpoint farther out to screen people before they can get up to the fence.

Originally Published on NBC News
May 6, 2021 at 10:47 PM +06
By Pete Williams
Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.