House Democrats Prepare Vote on Spending Bill, Setting Up Clash With G.O.P.
Daily Political Briefing
Sept. 21, 2021Updated
Sept. 21, 2021, 1:42 p.m. ET
Sept. 21, 2021, 1:42 p.m. ET
The House is expected on Tuesday to pass legislation that would keep the government funded through early December, lift the limit on federal borrowing through the end of 2022 and provide about $35 billion in emergency money for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery, setting up a clash with Republicans who have warned they will oppose the measure.
The bill, which Democrats released on Tuesday just hours before a planned vote, is needed to avert a government shutdown when funding lapses next week and avoid a first-ever debt default when the Treasury Department reaches the limit of its borrowing authority within weeks. But it has become ensnared in partisan politics, with Republicans refusing to allow a debt ceiling increase at a time when Democrats control Congress and the White House.
In pairing the debt limit raise with the spending package, Democrats hoped to pressure Republicans into dropping their opposition. But few, if any, Republicans are expected to support it.
And the prospects for passage in the 50-50 Senate appeared dim amid widespread opposition by Republicans, who have said they will neither vote for the legislation nor allow it to advance in the chamber, where 60 votes are needed to move forward.
The legislation would extend government funding through Dec. 3, buying more time for lawmakers to negotiate the dozen annual spending bills, which are otherwise on track to lapse when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. The package would also provide $6.3 billion to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States and $28.6 billion to help communities rebuild from hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
“It is critical that Congress swiftly pass this legislation to support critical education, health, housing and public safety programs and provide emergency help for disaster survivors and Afghan evacuees,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.
But the decision by Democratic leaders to attach it to legislation lifting the federal debt limit through Dec. 16, 2022 could ultimately jeopardize a typically routine effort to stave off a government shutdown, heightening the threat of fiscal calamity.
Led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, Republicans have warned for weeks that they had no intention of helping Democrats raise the limit on the Treasury Department’s ability to borrow. While the debt has been incurred with the approval of both parties, Mr. McConnell has repeatedly pointed to Democrats’ efforts to push multi-trillion-dollar legislation into law over Republican opposition.
Democrats, who joined with Republicans during the Trump administration to raise the debt ceiling, have argued that the G.O.P. is setting a double standard that threatens to sabotage the economy. Should the government default on its debt for the first time, it would prompt a financial crisis, shaking faith in American credit and cratering the stock market.
Republicans have said that they would support the package on its own, without the debt ceiling provision. But with leaders urging their rank-and-file members to vote against the legislation as written, Democrats cannot afford to lose many votes.
That narrow margin in part led Democratic leaders to remove a provision that would provide $1 billion to the Israeli government for its Iron Dome air defense system against short-range rockets, according to a person briefed on the decision. A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee said that provision would likely be included in the annual bill that funds defense spending, which lawmakers are still haggling over.
Progressive Democrats, some of whom have accused Israel of human rights violations against Palestinians or called for suspending American military aid to Jerusalem, had balked at that funding on Tuesday.
The Biden administration was preparing to take action on Tuesday to crack down on the growing problem of ransomware attacks, expanding its use of sanctions to cut off the digital payment systems that have allowed such criminal activity to flourish and threaten national security.
The sanctions, which the Treasury Department said it was imposing on a virtual currency exchange called Suex in a preview of its new approach, represent the administration’s most pointed response to a scourge that has disrupted America’s fuel and meat supplies this year as foreign hackers locked down corporate computer systems and demanded large sums of money to free them.
The illicit financial transactions underpinning ransomware attacks have been taking place with digital money known as cryptocurrencies, which the U.S. government is still determining how to regulate.
The Treasury Department said Suex had facilitated transactions involving illicit proceeds from at least eight ransomware incidents. More than 40 percent of the exchange’s transactions have been linked to illicit actors, the department said.
“Ransomware and cyberattacks are victimizing businesses large and small across America and are a direct threat to our economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement.
The department offered few details about Suex, declining to say where the company was based or what kinds of transactions it facilitated. It did say that while some virtual currency exchanges are exploited by criminals, Suex was facilitating illegal activities for its own gain.
For a few months, attacks seemed to abate, and a major ransomware operator, DarkSide, appeared to break up.
But late this summer, attacks began to rise again. Paul M. Abbate, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, who specializes in cybercrimes, said last week at a conference that “there is no indication that the Russian government has taken action to crack down on ransomware actors that are operating in the permissive environment that they’ve created there.”
He said there also had been little action taken against those in Russia facing indictments in the United States.
Intelligence officials report the same, and say they believe that some Russian military and intelligence services make use of the ransomware operators to hide actions that may be conducted on behalf of the state, or at least with its acquiescence.
An attack against another food supplier was playing out on Monday, even as the Treasury Department was preparing its action. New Cooperative, a grain cooperative in Iowa, said it was part of “critical infrastructure,” and noted that the ransomware group, a relatively new one called BlackMatter, had promised not to attack such groups. But in responses that appeared in screenshots on Twitter, BlackMatter said it did not consider the cooperative to be critical infrastructure. The ransomware group and its victim got into an open dispute over the definition of that category.
“We don’t see any critical areas of activity,” the ransomware group responded.
BlackMatter demanded just shy of $6 million to decrypt the firm’s files. That figure declined dramatically over time.
The Treasury Department said that in 2020, ransomware payments topped $400 million, which was four times as high as the previous year. The economic damage, it said, was far greater.
President Biden delivered his debut address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday amid strong new doubts about his ability to vault the United States back into a position of global leadership after his predecessor’s promotion of “America First” isolationism.
Speaking to a smaller than usual audience of his peers because of the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Biden called for a new era of global unity against the coronavirus, emerging technological threats and the expanding influence of autocratic nations such as China and Russia.
“No matter how challenging or how complex the problems we’re going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people,” he said, insisting that the United States and its Western allies would remain vital partners.
“Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view as never before,” Mr. Biden said.
Calling for the world to make the use of force “our tool of last resort, not our first,” he defended his decision to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a chaotic withdrawal of American troops that left allies blindsided.
“Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed by the force of arms,” he said. “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants.”
But Mr. Biden’s efforts to move America past President Donald J. Trump’s more confrontational policies come amid growing frustration among allies with his administration’s diplomatic approach.
His familiar refrain that the world must choose between democracy and autocracy looks different now that the Taliban are once again in control of Kabul, reversing many of the democratic gains of the past 20 years. Covid is resurging in much of the world. And the French just recalled their ambassador in outrage — not just over losing a $60 billion-plus submarine contract, but because it was made clear they are not in the inner circle of allies.
The event is a major test of credibility for Mr. Biden, who was among the first to address the 193-member General Assembly. Among the last to speak will be President Xi Jinping of China, via prerecorded video, bookending a day with the competing views of the two most powerful countries in the world.
Mr. Biden said the world faced a choice between the democratic values espoused by the West and the disregard for them by China and other authoritarian governments.
“The future belongs to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand authoritarianism,” he said. “The authoritarians of the world, they seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong.”
But the president vowed not to pursue a new era of sustained conflict with countries like China, saying that the United States would “compete vigorously and lead with our values and our strength to stand up for our allies and our friends.”
“We’re not seeking — say it again, we are not seeking — a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” he said.
Climate change and the pandemic are also expected to dominate the week, and Mr. Biden planned to host a Covid summit on the sidelines to push other countries to increase capacity to manufacture vaccines for poor countries.
“This year has also brought widespread death and devastation from the borderless climate crisis,” Mr. Biden said. “Extreme weather events that we’ve seen in every part of the world — and you all know it and feel it — represent what the secretary general has rightly called Code Red for humanity.”
On Covid, Mr. Biden urged leaders to move more quickly to rein in a pandemic that has killed millions.
“We need a collective act of science and political will,” he said. “We need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible, and expand access to oxygen, tests, treatments, to save lives around the world.”
President Biden’s passionate language on reducing gun violence, safeguarding access to abortion and protecting voting rights has lifted the hopes of progressives who were once wary of electing a traditionalist who champions compromise.
But now, as they look past the final push on a $3.5 trillion spending bill that the White House has made its policy priority, they are growing more concerned that Mr. Biden’s actions will not be as bold as his tone — at least when it comes to some of their key issues.
The spending plan that Democrats are trying to get through Congress would be transformative, affecting almost every American at every stage of life, from free universal prekindergarten to coverage of elder care. It includes money not only for social programs and an expansion of the social safety net, but also to address climate change.
But in order to take up some of the other issues Mr. Biden has framed as threats to the foundations of American democracy, he will have to confront arcane rules that guide the institution of the Senate that he reveres — and that so far he has made clear he does not want to pressure senators to change.
Privately, White House officials have been trying to assure activists that they will turn their attention in earnest to voting rights after their push on infrastructure is over at the end of the month. But that has done little to ease anxiety.
“I’m guardedly concerned,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said he was nervous that Mr. Biden would not follow up his lofty statements and speeches with action. “There’s a difference between passion and marriage.”
Mr. Sharpton said he wanted the White House to pressure senators to support a “carve-out” in the filibuster to allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority.
“They have not said they’re going to do that,” Mr. Sharpton said.
House Democratic leaders introduced on Tuesday a much-anticipated package of proposed new limits on executive power, launching a post-Trump push to strengthen checks on the presidency that they hope will compare to the overhauls that followed the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War.
Democratic lawmakers have been negotiating with the Biden White House to refine their broad set of proposals, which amount to a point-by-point rebuke of the ways that President Donald J. Trump flouted norms.
The legislation, called the Protecting Our Democracy Act, would make it harder for presidents to take a series of actions, including offering or bestowing pardons in situations that raise suspicion of corruption; refusing to respond to oversight subpoenas; spending or secretly freezing funds contrary to congressional appropriations; firing inspectors general or retaliating against whistle-blowers; and taking “emoluments” or payments while in office, including from commercial transactions.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said executive power had been gradually growing for years but that threats to the system of separation of powers seriously “picked up steam” during the Trump administration. She portrayed the bill as an “inoculation” against future abuses of presidential authority.
The two appeared at an event with lawmakers who chair several committees that contributed pieces, including two New York representatives, Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee and Carolyn Maloney of the oversight committee, and Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the Budget Committee.
Ms. Pelosi has not announced any timeline for when the bill might come to the floor, though Mr. Schiff has said he hopes the House will pass the package “this fall.”
It is expected to face headwinds in the Senate, where it would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to bring it to a vote. There, supporters say, the package is likely to be broken into pieces that will be attached to other bills.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is requiring that evacuees from Afghanistan who have arrived in the United Statesget vaccinated against measles and quarantine for 21 days, after some were found to have the highly contagious virus when they arrived in the country this month.
As of Monday, the C.D.C. said it knew of 16 confirmed cases of measles among Afghan evacuees and Americans who fled Afghanistan in recent weeks — up from six that the White House confirmed late last week — and four cases of mumps. Evacuees on American military bases in the United States will have to wait three weeks after getting the MMR vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella before they can leave, the C.D.C. said, to give the vaccine time to take effect. The C.D.C. is also recommending that evacuee on military bases overseas also quarantine; its quarantine authority does not extend to foreign soil.
The agency said Monday that some Afghan evacuees had “left bases before measles cases were identified,” prompting a mass vaccination campaign. The new information came in a special advisory that the agency issued to doctors around the country, warning them to be on alert for cases of measles and other infectious diseases among evacuees from Afghanistan.
The advisory said the C.D.C. was “also aware of some cases” of tuberculosis, chickenpox, malaria, leishmaniasis, hepatitis A and Covid-19 among evacuees. It warned that the evacuees were at increased risk of gastrointestinal infections as well, including shigellosis, giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.
On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order that added measles to a list of communicable diseases that could require quarantines.
The C.D.C. said it expected measles infections to spread among evacuees because only 60 percent of people living in Afghanistan have been vaccinated and the country ranks seventh in the world for measles cases, and because evacuees have been living in close quarters during the evacuation process.
Measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, which means the disease is no longer endemic, but travelers continue to bring it into the country, posing an ongoing risk to the unvaccinated.
People vaccinated against measles are usually fully protected after two or three weeks, according to the C.D.C. There were 13 confirmed cases of measles in the United States in 2020, according to the agency, and 1,282 in 2019, which was the largest outbreak in the country since 1992. The disease can be particularly dangerous to unvaccinated children, pregnant women and newborns.
Flights carrying Afghan evacuees to the United States have been paused since earlier this month, when a few passengers were found to be infected with measles.
Tens of thousands of Afghans who fled the Taliban in a chaotic evacuation this summer are awaiting resettlement in the United States. Most of them have been waiting on military bases for weeks regardless of whether they need to be vaccinated, and the stays could stretch into months as they wait to be resettled.
Most of the evacuees who have arrived in the United States flew into Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and the state has declared a measles outbreak in the northern and central regions in connection with them. According to the Virginia Department of Health’s website, community transmission of measles has not been identified, and officials believe the risk to the general public is low.
The C.D.C. urged doctors to be on the lookout for measles cases in communities near the military bases housing the evacuees, which include Marine Corps Base Quantico, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia; Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico; Fort McCoy in Wisconsin; Fort Bliss in Texas; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey; and Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
The measles virus lives in the nose and throat of people who are infected and is extremely contagious: Around nine out of 10 people who are in close contact and not protected against it will become infected, according to the C.D.C.
Correction: Sept. 21, 2021
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Afghans waiting on U.S. military bases as refugees; they are evacuees. The article also incorrectly stated that the C.D.C. was requiring Afghan evacuees on both domestic and overseas military bases to quarantine after measles vaccinations; the requirement applies only to evacuees in the United States.
Veterans who were discharged from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy may be eligible for full benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs under new guidance issued on Monday.
In a blog post on the V.A.’s website, Kayla Williams, the assistant secretary for public affairs in the V.A.’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, said that veterans who were given other than honorable discharges based on homosexual conduct, gender identity or H.I.V. status “are considered veterans” who may be eligible for all V.A. benefits. The “other than honorable” discharge blocked tens of thousands of veterans from obtaining the full range of services and care.
“L.G.B.T.Q.+ veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all veterans earn through their service, and V.A. is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services,” Ms. Williams, who is a bisexual veteran, wrote.
Those affected by the policy may now qualify for benefits including guaranteed home loans, compensation and pension, health care, housing assistance and burial benefits, barring any statutory or regulatory issue with their military record.
“Although V.A. recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q.+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created,” Ms. Williams wrote, referring to the V.A. secretary, Denis R. McDonough.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a policy enacted in 1994, under President Bill Clinton, that barred openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from serving in the military. The V.A. reported that the policy led to the discharge of an estimated 14,000 service members during the 17 years it was in effect.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The Haitian migrants had done well for themselves. Since leaving their country, many more than a decade ago, they had built lives in Chile, Brazil, Panama. They had homes and cars. They had stable jobs as bank tellers, welders, mine supervisors, gas station attendants.
But instead of the reception they’d expected, they were detained in the small border town of Del Rio, Texas, and without warning deported — to Haiti, a broken country many no longer recognized — in a head-spinning sequence that left them feeling mistreated and betrayed.
Some said they never talked to an immigration agent. Others said they’d been tricked — told they were being released or sent to Florida, and instead packed on a plane to Port-au-Prince, where they landed on Sunday, some in hand and ankle cuffs after protesting.
“They treated us terribly,” said Nicodeme Vyles, 45, who had been living in Panama since 2003, working as a welder and carpenter.
Mr. Vyles and about 300 other Haitians who landed on Sunday were the first among some 14,000 migrants who authorities in the country expect over the next three weeks.
But the Biden administration, facing the highest level of border crossings in decades, has enforced policies intended to slow the entry of migrants. The Haitian deportations are consistent with those policies, officials said this weekend.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said on Monday that while the United States has extended protection for Haitians who had arrived in the country before July 29, those who arrive now are not covered.
“We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open or that temporary protected status is available,” he said during a news conference in Del Rio, where thousands of Haitians have been camped out.
“Trying to enter the United States illegally is not worth the tragedy, the money or the effort,” he added.
Images and video of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback grabbing and chasing down Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border have prompted the Department of Homeland Security to launch an investigation into the matter, the agency said on Twitter.
On Monday, D.H.S. said in a tweet that it has reviewed footage emerging from the border and takes the allegations of abuse against migrants “very seriously.”
“The footage is extremely troubling, and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken,” D.H.S. said.
The Office of Professional Responsibility will lead the probe, and it will also deploy personnel to the border, where thousands of Haitians have poured into the town of Del Rio, Texas, in recent days, living in a temporary camp and hoping to seek asylum in the United States.
The announcement of the investigation follows the publication of scenes from along the Rio Grande depicting what appears to be Border Patrol officials mounted on horseback chasing, grabbing and intimidating migrants, using their horses to physically block them from crossing further into the United States. In one video recorded by Al Jazeera English, an agent can be heard using an expletive as he uses his horse to block and steer migrants back toward the river.
Speaking from Del Rio, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued a warning to Haitians trying to enter the United States, saying that protection has been extended for those who arrived before July 29. That protection does not extend to new arrivals.
“We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open or that temporary protected status is available,” he said during a news conference. “I want to make sure that it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States.”
HOUSTON — A man in Arkansas and another in Illinois on Monday filed what appeared to be the first legal actions under a strict new abortion law in Texas that is enforced by ordinary citizens, regardless of where they live.
The Arkansas man, Oscar Stilley, who was described in the complaint as a “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer, said in an interview that he had filed the lawsuit against a Texas doctor, who publicly wrote about performing an abortion, to test the provisions of the law. The Supreme Court declined to stop the law, which has effectively ended most abortions in the state since going into effect this month.
The law bars enforcement by state officials, a novel maneuver aimed at circumventing judicial review, and instead relies on citizens to file legal claims against abortion providers or anyone suspected of “aiding or abetting” an abortion. Successful suits can bring the plaintiffs awards of at least $10,000.
Proponents of the law and anti-abortion activists had been satisfied that the threat of legal action appeared to stop most abortions in Texas. Some feared that the openness of the law — allowing anyone to file suit — could result in a first test case that was unfavorable to their cause.
Mr. Stilley said he was not trying to halt abortions by Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who wrote in The Washington Post on Saturday that he had violated the Texas law — which prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, or roughly six weeks into pregnancy.
“I’m not pro-life,” Mr. Stilley, 58, said in an interview. “The thing that I’m trying to vindicate here is the law. We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws. What’s the law?”
The Justice Department has sued Texas over the law, known as Senate Bill 8, and argued in an emergency motion last week that the state adopted the measure “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.”
“It is settled constitutional law that ‘a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’” the department said in the lawsuit, referring to the standard set in the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade. “But Texas has done just that.”
Dr. Braid was also sued on Monday by an Illinois man, Felipe N. Gomez, who described himself in his complaint as a “pro-choice plaintiff.” Mr. Gomez could not be immediately reached for comment about his lawsuit, which was earlier reported by KSAT news in San Antonio.
Both suits were filed in state court in San Antonio and both men are representing themselves.
“Neither of these lawsuits are valid attempts to save innocent human lives,” said John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, which lobbied for the new abortion law. “Both cases are self-serving legal stunts, abusing the cause of action created in the Texas Heartbeat Act for their own purposes.”
He added that he and others at Texas Right to Life “believe Braid published his Op-Ed intending to attract imprudent lawsuits.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group that represents Dr. Braid, said he had not been formally served and declined to make him available for an interview. In a statement, the group’s senior counsel, Marc Hearron, said the Texas law “says that ‘any person’ can sue over a violation, and we are starting to see that happen, including by out-of-state claimants.”
In his opinion essay for The Post, Dr. Braid said he had decided to violate the Texas law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest, out of a firm belief in abortion rights. “I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces. I believe abortion is an essential part of health care,” he wrote. “I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
Mr. Braid wrote that on the morning of Sept. 6, he had “provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit.”