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Democrats Introduce Court-Packing Bill – Washington Free Beacon

Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of Congress introduced legislation to expand the Supreme Court from nine to 13 justices on Thursday.

Advocates say the measure is needed to rebalance the Court and shift power from conservative justices who pose a threat to voting rights. House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) are the lead sponsors.

The legislation is likely a reflection of progressive disappointment with President Joe Biden’s commission to study judicial reforms, which was chartered last week. Though Biden appointed leftwing court-packing advocates to the panel, he also included a number of judicial conservatives and Democratic legal elites. It’s uncertain whether the commission will propose sweeping changes.

The bill’s prospects are dim for the time being. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Thursday that she does not support the bill and will not bring it to the floor. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D, Ill.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he’s not ready to sign on to a court-packing bill and wants to see what Biden’s Court commission suggests.

Durbin said, however, that he shares progressive frustrations at the way Republicans handled judicial confirmations. “I want to make sure that my response to that is reasonable, fits into the cause of justice,” Durbin told CNN.

In addition to unenthused Democratic leadership, the proposal is a potential target for the Senate filibuster. Advocates would have to shake loose at least 10 Republican votes to bring the bill to a vote.

Congressional Republicans were united in denouncing the bill. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, launched a national campaign condemning the proposal, backed by a $1 million ad buy.

Apart from “rebalancing,” Nadler said the bill is a necessary administrative measure, given the federal judiciary’s growing caseload.

“Nine justices may have made sense in the nineteenth century when there were only nine circuits, and many of our most important federal laws—covering everything from civil rights, to antitrust, the internet, financial regulation, health care, immigration, and white collar crime—simply did not exist, and did not require adjudication by the Supreme Court,” Nadler said. “But the logic behind having only nine justices is much weaker today, when there are 13 circuits.”

There’s little evidence that the Supreme Court is struggling to stay on top of its work. In the 1980s, the High Court heard about 150 cases per term. The figure has fallen steadily since. This term, the justices are on track to hear just 58 cases, the lowest number since the Civil War. The reasons behind that decline are debated, but the historically light docket doesn’t bear out concerns about judicial strain.

Nor is there a relationship between the number of circuits and the quantity of the Court’s work, as Nadler’s statement suggests. The circuits do not produce Court-caliber cases at an equal rate. This term, matters from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals account for about one-fifth of the Court’s docket. But the justices are reviewing just one case from the Boston-based First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Those circuit-by-circuit differences hold term over term.

Justice Stephen Breyer panned proposals to expand the Court in a Harvard Law School speech earlier this month.

“I hope and expect that the Court will retain its authority,” Breyer said. “But that authority, like the rule of law, depends on trust, a trust that the Court is guided by legal principle, not politics. Structural alteration motivated by the perception of political influence can only feed that perception, further eroding that trust.”

Progressive judicial activists have recently called on Breyer, 82, to announce his retirement at the end of the Court’s term in June.

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High School English Teacher Downplays Holocaust

Students at NC high school told that slavery in America was ‘just as horrible over a longer duration’


Alex Nester • April 15, 2021 4:59 am

A North Carolina teacher’s lesson on slavery included a discussion question that downplayed the Holocaust and likened 19th-century Americans to Nazis.

Ardrey Kell High School English teacher Lisa Patrizio asked her 11th-grade students to describe a fictional character’s thoughts after reading about World War II. The correct answer to the multiple-choice question, a screenshot of which was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, implied that Americans give undue weight to the horrors of the Holocaust.

“While the monstrosities of the Holocaust may have been more intense over a shorter period of time, those who lived through slavery endured conditions just as horrible over a much longer duration,” the answer read. “Yet while Americans are largely comfortable acknowledging the events of the Holocaust as the worst impulses of mankind, there is often more hesitancy to take responsibility for the degradations of enslaved people that took place on American soil.”

The quiz question asked what the character had learned after reading that “the Germans had been trying to do in only a few years what the Americans had worked at for nearly two hundred.”

Brooke Weiss, the mother of a student at the Charlotte public school, said her daughter was shocked by the question but did not speak out about it for fear of retribution. Weiss, who is Jewish, told the Free Beacon that she didn’t understand the school’s need to compare the two horrific events.

“Slavery and genocide are different things, but they’re both atrocities,” Weiss said. “There’s no value in putting those words in the same sentence, other than pitting those two groups against each other.”

Weiss expressed her concerns and shared a screenshot of the question on a Jewish mothers’ Facebook page in February. Her post was met with criticism from Sivonne Stone, then a Charlotte public school teacher, who wrote that Weiss was “literally cray cray.”

“You give Jewish people a bad name,” wrote Stone, who has since resigned from her teaching position. She also privately messaged Weiss to say, “F—k off.”

Weiss sees Patrizio’s lesson as part of a broader trend toward teaching “reframed” Marxism in the classroom. “Instead of proletariat and bourgeoisie, it’s white versus black,” Weiss told the Free Beacon. “I’m not happy with it at all.”

Ardrey Kell High School English department head Sarah Payseur and Patrizio did not respond to the Free Beacon’s request for comment in time for publication. Principal Jamie Brooks said in a statement that the school handled the matter with Weiss’s family.

A growing number of public and private schools across the United States have begun to push radical, antiracist curriculum in K-12 classrooms. California has considered adopting woke standards that demonize Christianity, and dozens of leftwing education groups have pushed for antiracist math instruction, which considers finding the right answer and showing your work to be relics of white supremacy.

North Carolina’s State Board of Education adopted radical history curriculum standards in February, which teach high schoolers to “explain how slavery, xenophobia, disenfranchisement, and intolerance have affected individual and group perspectives of themselves as Americans.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg district has adopted “Social Emotional Learning” standards for 11th-grade students, like Weiss’s daughter. The curriculum includes a lesson on creating safe spaces.

Since October, Ardrey Kell High School has sent monthly “Social Justice Newsletters” to families. The inaugural letter reported that the school taught students about relations between minorities and the police and asked children to reflect on their experiences of privilege and oppression.

In February, Ardrey Kell students learned about black nationalism and black power movements—including the extremist, anti-Semitic Nation of Islam. Weiss, whose husband is a retired police officer, said the school gave a presentation on policing featuring an ex-cop who “railed” against other policemen.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that while there are certainly parallels between slavery and the Holocaust, it’s critical for students to learn about the Holocaust and slavery without establishing a hierarchy of suffering.

“So the whole issue is not to compare. We don’t need a pecking order of victimhood and suffering,” Cooper told the Free Beacon. “We need to learn objectively what happened.”

Cooper said that while he doesn’t question the teacher’s motivation in asking the question, others—like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan—have used similar comparisons to “stir animosity” between Jews and black Americans.

Instead of sorting through which human-rights abuses are worse, people from different backgrounds should seek to learn and empathize with one another’s history, Cooper said.

“Where you start first and foremost is you start with the facts. You have to try to humanize history,” Cooper said. “Beyond that, especially for Americans, we need to be empathetic to our neighbors, and to do that you need to do research, you need to read, and you need to knock at your neighbor’s door.”

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Kristen Clarke, Bigot and Liar

Having sworn to answer all questions truthfully, in an appearance Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division offered a series of answers that strained credulity and veered into outright falsehood.

The most bald-faced of the lies Kristen Clarke offered in her own defense relates to her activism while a Harvard University undergraduate in the 1990s.

Pressed about a 1994 letter published in the Harvard Crimson making the case that blacks are intellectually and physically superior to whites, Clarke waved it off as a “satirical” attempt to refute The Bell Curve, which came out the same year.

Everybody knew she was joking, she said, when she wrote that “black infants sit, stand, crawl and walk sooner than whites,” and, in a demonstration of scholarly rigor, pointed to the work of the writer Carol Barnes to assert that “human mental processes are controlled by melanin—that same chemical which gives Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.”

The letter concluded: “It is completely naive to say that Blacks have achieved economic equality with whites. It seems that whites have grown tired of hearing about racism.” Was that a joke, too?

In Wednesday’s hearing, Clarke assured lawmakers that “contemporaneous reporting by the campus paper made very clear” she harbored no racist views.

False. The editors of the Crimson called on her to retract her claims. In an editorial titled, “Clarke Should Retract Statements,” they wrote: “We searched in vain for a hint of irony in Clarke’s letter.” She had, they concluded, “resorted to bigotry, pure and simple.”

Five days after the editorial was published, a student columnist wrote: “By disseminating racist theories of her own—however ambiguously—Clarke has done nothing to refute what she abhors and has done much to poison the atmosphere further.”

Even her defenders weren’t in on the joke. They explained that, having spoken with Clarke, it became clear she meant to question why the “racist opinions of white Harvard ‘scholars’ are publicly debated while racist opinions of Black ‘scholars’ are categorically rejected.” And indeed Clarke invited the racist black “scholar” Tony Martin to Harvard’s campus to discuss his book The Jewish Onslaught—another move the Crimson condemned.

Engaging in radical politics while studying at college is not an unforgivable sin. But brazenly perjuring oneself before the U.S. Senate is cause enough for her nomination to go down.

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Bipartisan Momentum Grows in Congress To Act on Uyghur Genocide

A bipartisan House resolution introduced Wednesday by foreign affairs leadership condemns China for its ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims and calls for the United Nations to take action to stop China’s “crimes against humanity.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) issued a joint resolution denouncing China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity being committed against Uyghurs.” The resolution states the United Nations should investigate these atrocities and invoke sanctions to hold Beijing accountable.

“The PRC Government, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party, has detained and sought to indoctrinate more than one million Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups,” the resolution says. “[The U.S. and U.N. should] take all possible actions to bring this genocide and these crimes against humanity to an end and hold the perpetrators of these atrocities accountable under international law.”

The resolution highlights a growing bipartisan consensus to condemn China for its treatment of Uyghurs, who have been subjected to forced sterilization, forced labor, and various other forms of abuse.

The Biden administration has yet to act against China’s human rights violations. Activists and former diplomatic officials urged the Biden administration in March to respond to similar human rights atrocities in Tibet. The State Department said it would appoint an envoy to Tibet but hasn’t specified a timeline. The White House also ruled out a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics on human rights grounds, even as congressional Republicans and activists demanded one.

McCaul said Americans have a “moral obligation” to stand up for the rights of oppressed Uyghurs.

“The Chinese Communist Party has been waging genocide for years against their own citizens and have even called the Uyghurs ‘malignant tumors,’” McCaul said. “We have a moral obligation to confront genocide anywhere in the world, and I am grateful the chairman has joined me in this vital effort.”

The resolution follows a similar bipartisan effort in the Senate in January, when Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) reintroduced the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would set an effective import ban on goods from Xinjiang, where China imprisons over a million Uyghurs.

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Who Killed Billy Evans? – Washington Free Beacon

Nation of Islam goes unmentioned on day of officer’s funeral

Thaleigha Rampersad • April 14, 2021 7:30 pm

While reporting on the funeral for slain Capitol police officer Billy Evans on Tuesday, the media skirted around the fact that his killer was an avid Nation of Islam supporter.

Social media posts revealed Noah Green, who killed Evans while ramming his car through a barrier at the Capitol earlier this month, supported the anti-Semitic black nationalist group and shared speeches from its leader, Louis Farrakhan, who has described Jews as “satanic.” After the deadly assault, the Nation of Islam said Green, who died during the attack, was a “brother with such great potential.”


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Biden DOJ Pick Struggles to Defend Record on Black Panther Prosecutions

During confirmation hearing, Republicans pushed Kristen Clarke on her history of opposing civil rights cases against black defendants

Kristen Clarke / Getty Images

Kevin Daley • April 14, 2021 6:30 pm

Justice Department nominee Kristen Clarke struggled to explain her criticisms of a civil rights case lodged against members of the New Black Panther Party during her confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Clarke tried to duck questions about her opposition to prosecuting two Panthers for civil rights violations in the 2008 election while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican lawmakers say the Black Panther case is a troubling indicator of her approach to enforcing civil rights laws.

Clarke’s history of opposing civil rights prosecutions of black defendants has made her nomination contentious. If confirmed, she will lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division and serve as top prosecutor for a range of nondiscrimination statutes.

Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) asked Clarke directly if the Justice Department was wrong to pursue a case against the Panthers. Clarke dodged, saying the department has the prerogative to bring any cases it deems appropriate. Lee doubled down, asking if she wanted prosecutors to abandon the case.

“I may have espoused that opinion publicly, but so did many people,” Clarke replied. “I think there were many people who deemed that a weak case.”

The case in question involved two Black Panthers who harassed voters outside a Philadelphia polling place. The Bush Justice Department brought a Voting Rights Act case against the pair, but prosecutors abandoned the case shortly after former president Barack Obama took office.

Video of the Panthers showed the pair shouting epithets at white voters. Witnesses testified that the Panthers threatened two African-American volunteers, Larry and Angela Counts, who were serving as paid poll workers for the GOP. The Panthers called the Counts “race traitors” and said there would be “hell to pay” when they left the polling place, according to witnesses. One of the Panthers carried a billy club.

The department’s initial complaint asked a federal court to punish the New Black Panther Party in full for the actions of its two members at the Philadelphia polling place. Some civil rights litigators said that was an overreach, and suggested many of the statements the Panthers made were constitutionally protected, even if they were offensive.

A federal oversight board investigated the department’s decision to abandon the Panther case, including reports that Clarke, in her capacity as participation director for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, urged friendly elements in the Justice Department to drop it. In the course of that investigation, Clarke acknowledged having two contacts with department allies about the matter but claimed those conversations were not substantive.

Justice Department lawyer Christopher Coates identified a third contact. He told the oversight board that Clarke approached one of his subordinates, Laura Coates, and asked her when the department would drop the case.

“This reported incident led me to believe in 2009 that the Legal Defense Fund political participation director, Ms. Clarke, was lobbying for the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party case before it was dismissed,” Coates told the panel.

Lee pressed Clarke about that alleged contact. Clarke said only that she had no recollection of talking to Laura Coates about the Black Panther prosecution.

“I did not engage in any advocacy around that case,” Clarke told Lee.

Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) blasted Clarke’s critics in pointed terms at the end of the hearing.

“I have seen the most outrageous lies being touted about you, that have tried to obscure your incredible record of service,” Booker said. “People are trying to say you’re wrong for this job when, dear God, you are what we need in the civil rights division.”

Both parties signaled in recent months that a contentious hearing was in the offing. Lee pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland about Clarke during his nomination hearing in February. Garland, who is Jewish, got testy when Lee asked him about an event she organized as an undergraduate at Harvard University featuring the avowed anti-semite Tony Martin.

“I’m a pretty good judge of what an anti-Semite is and I do not believe that she is an anti-Semite and I do not believe that she is discriminatory in any sense,” Garland replied.

Senate Democrats responded in kind and accused Republicans of holding minority nominees to a higher standard. Their outside group allies were more explicit.

“They know by using buzzwords that they’re able to try to conjure up these tropes about women of color leaders,” Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center told the Washington Post. “These are code words that are used not only to distract but to conjure up an image in your mind.”

Clarke previously criticized the Justice Department for prosecuting a black Democratic Party boss in rural Mississippi for violations of the Voting Rights Act. A federal trial judge found that the official, Ike Brown, ran county-wide primaries in a way that favored black voters and disfavored white ones.

The Washington Free Beacon also reported that Clarke helped kill an oil pipeline project championed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who may hold the decisive vote on her confirmation.

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District Court Upholds Ohio Law Banning Down Syndrome Abortions

Ruling could spark Supreme Court standoff

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 19: Pro-life activists try to block the sign of a pro-choice activist during the 2018 March for Life January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. Activists gathered in the nation’s capital for the annual event to protest the anniversary of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in 1973. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Graham Piro • April 14, 2021 4:20 pm

A district court upheld an Ohio law banning abortions of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome Tuesday, marking a victory for the pro-life movement at the state level.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ohio’s Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act in a 9-7 ruling, overturning a three-judge panel that ruled against the law. The court found the law did not create an “undue burden” on the right to an abortion because it limited doctors from performing abortions only when a mother discloses she’s requesting the procedure because her child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“[The law] furthers three valid and legitimate interests by protecting: (1) the Down syndrome community from the stigma associated with the practice of Down-syndrome-selective abortions, (2) pregnant women and their families from coercion by doctors who advocate abortion of Down-syndrome-afflicted fetuses, and (3) the integrity and ethics of the medical profession by preventing doctors from becoming witting participants in Down-syndrome-selective abortions,” the court wrote in its opinion. “[The law] allows doctors to perform such abortions when they do not know that Down syndrome is the reason, without undermining [the law’s] specific purposes or objectives.”

The court’s decision comes in the middle of a number of state laws seeking to restrict access to abortion. Arkansas’s attorney general asked the Supreme Court to intervene to reverse the striking down of a similar Arkansas law banning Down-syndrome-selective abortions. Meanwhile, blue state attorneys general are taking action to prevent laws restricting access to abortion from going into effect. New York attorney general Letitia James (D.) led a group of 20 state attorneys general in challenging a Tennessee law requiring women to get two in-person appointments before obtaining an abortion.

Chuck Donovan, president of the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, said state laws restricting abortions for reasons of Down-syndrome diagnoses are pushing the conservative-leaning Supreme Court toward revisiting Roe v. Wade. He said the Court has signaled even if Roe is not overturned, justices are open to chipping away at current law.

“In certain countries, children with Down syndrome are being devastatingly eliminated from the population,” Donovan said. “Justice Clarence Thomas has confirmed this is an issue of first impression and it remains an ‘open question’ whether states may implement protections such as these. We are encouraged by this ruling and hope the Supreme Court will now weigh in on this important human rights issue.”

The Sixth Circuit’s decision marks a reversal from the Seventh Circuit appeals court’s decision in 2018 to overturn an Indiana law that prohibited abortions based on the gender, race, or disability of a fetus. The overturning of the three judge panel’s ruling also makes further review of Ohio’s law more likely.

As the Biden administration expands federal support for access to abortion, Republican-controlled states are appealing to the judiciary. The likelihood of further review of the Ohio law, combined with Arkansas’s direct appeal to the Supreme Court and blue state attorneys general challenging laws restricting abortion, forecasts a judicial showdown over abortion could be imminent.

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A Democratic Lawmaker Sold Her Small Business. Now She Favors a $15 Minimum Wage.

Elaine Luria said workers at her former business were paid less than $15

Rep. Elaine Luria
Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) / Getty Images

Matthew Foldi • April 14, 2021 2:55 pm

When Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) ran for office in 2018, she presented herself as a small business owner who understood the economic risk of a uniform minimum wage hike: It would “cause risk to my business and other businesses,” she said then.

In her first year in office, however, Luria sold her small business—and abandoned her opposition to a one-size-fits-all $15 minimum wage.

Luria sold the Mermaid Factory, a design-your-own-craft shop, on July 1, 2019, according to her financial disclosures. Just 17 days later, Luria voted for legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour across the country, a move she just a year earlier said would “cause risk” to businesses.

The vote was a stark reversal from Luria’s position as a candidate, when she leaned on her experience as a small business owner to argue that, while the minimum wage of $7.25 was unacceptable, any increase would have to be gradual and take into consideration that “different areas of the country have different costs of living.”

“I think that as a business owner as well, an immediate jump in the minimum wage could cause risk to my business and to other businesses, so I think that a gradual raise in the minimum wage, indexed to inflation, is essential,” Luria said during a 2018 candidate forum. “We need to look at that based off of different areas of the country have different costs of living.”

Luria’s reversal came as increasing the minimum wage emerged as a Democratic priority in the House. Self-styled moderates have been pushed to jettison objections to the federal wage hike—the very positions that helped them get elected in previously Republican-held districts—to stay in line with party leadership.

For Luria, it’s both a reversal of policy and her own business practices. According to her own admission, Luria paid workers less than $15 an hour. During the same candidate forum, Luria bragged about paying her staff nearly twice the current minimum wage of $7.25, which, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis, is less than $15.

“The $7.25 minimum wage that we have today is criminal,” Luria said. “I’ve never paid any of my employees that amount. Most of them make almost twice that, if not more.”

Neither Luria nor the Mermaid Factory responded to a request for comment.

In 2019, Luria became a cosponsor of the Democrats’ Raise the Wage Act, which explicitly ignores the localized conditions that Luria pledged to consider. Earlier this year, she once again voted in support of the federal $15 minimum wage, which was included in the COVID relief bill passed by the House.

Luria often pivoted back to her experience as a small business owner during her first campaign, pledging to be a voice for business interests in her district. “Washington just isn’t listening to Coastal Virginia’s small business owners,” she said in October 2018. “If you send me to Congress, I’ll change that.”

Local business owners say Luria is breaking that promise. Glenn Davis, the owner of OnCall Telecom International in Virginia Beach, said Luria “turned her back” on Virginia’s business community.

“Elaine Luria said that she understood the challenges of small businesses and understood the need for a balanced approach,” said Davis, who is also a Republican state delegate, “but once being elected, very quickly turned her back on those small businesses.”

Republicans have made clear they will dedicate resources to unseat Luria, who narrowly won reelection in 2020 against Scott Taylor, whom she also beat in 2018.

Republican state senator Jen Kiggans, a former Navy pilot who launched her campaign against Luria this week, indicated that she will target Lauria’s reversal during her campaign.

“She knew how damaging a federal wage hike would be to Virginia business owners, but instead of protecting them from this job-killing legislation, she protected herself,” Kiggans said. “We need a representative in Congress who understands the consequences of their votes and the lasting impact they will have on small businesses, our economy, and our future.”

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Dem House Committee Chairman Blasts Biden For ‘Dragging Feet’ on Defense Budget

Rep. Adam Smith: ‘The White House itself is not doing the job they should be doing’

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 09: Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith speaks during the US House Armed Services Committee hearing on ‘Department of Defense Authorities and Roles Related to Civilian Law Enforcement’, July 9, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Jack Beyrer • April 14, 2021 1:30 pm

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee slammed the Biden administration for its delay in providing Congress a defense budget plan.

Rep. Adam Smith (D., Wash.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the Biden administration is “dragging their feet” in delivering the defense budget to Congress at a Reagan Foundation event on Tuesday. Smith also said the White House has ignored his own calls for the administration to move forward on the budget.

“I am deeply concerned about the Biden administration dragging their feet on getting us the damn budget,” Smith said. “The White House itself is not doing the job they should be doing…. I can’t get the White House to take my calls on this one.”

Biden administration officials have signaled that the budget could reach Congress by early May. A controversial domestic agenda, which includes environmental spending, infrastructure legislation, and coronavirus relief, may complicate the timeline for a ready defense budget.

The Biden administration announced last week its budget request would call for $715 billion in defense spending, a 0.4 percent drop, accounting for inflation, from the 2021 budget. Congressional Republicans blasted the prospect of a shrinking or limited budget as a “gift” to adversaries such as China and Russia, as fewer defense dollars may prevent the Pentagon from tackling its goals of readying the armed forces and developing crucial technologies.

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US Sanctions Pushed Iran to Brink of Bankruptcy

Regime lost billions amid maximum pressure campaign, IMF report reveals

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani / Getty Images

Adam Kredo • April 14, 2021 5:00 am

Iran burned through nearly all of its cash reserves in the final years of the Trump administration as harsh economic sanctions crippled the country’s economy and brought the hardline regime to the brink of financial collapse, according to findings published by the International Monetary Fund.

The Islamic Republic had $122.5 billion on hand in 2018 and just $4 billion by 2020, when the former administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran was at its height, according to the IMF’s 2021 Middle East and Central Asia report, which tracks the region’s economies. Iran burned through $118.5 billion in two years, nearly depleting its cash reserves. The country’s coffers are forecast to grow by several billions in the coming years as the Biden administration moves to unwind sanctions as part of an effort to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal.

The IMF’s findings are the clearest evidence to date that the years-long U.S. sanctions campaign was successful in emptying the regime’s pocketbook at a time when Iran was spending great sums on its foreign terrorism enterprise and nuclear enrichment program. Sanctions gutted Iran’s oil trade, a key source of revenue for the regime, and forced it to tap heavily into reserve funds. While liberal critics of this approach claim that sanctions only hurt the Iranian people, the IMF’s findings show the hardline regime was under more economic stress than previously known. It is also likely that Iran would not have been able to weather another four years of the Trump administration’s sanctions. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo said 96 percent of Iran’s foreign exchange reserves were “wiped out” as a “direct result of our maximum pressure campaign.”

Any sanctions relief granted by the Biden administration in its new diplomatic talks with Iran will provide the regime with a much-needed lifeline for survival. The country’s dire economic situation has generated several waves of democratic protests that threaten to depose the ruling clerical mullahs. Iran’s interest in restarting discussions with the United States early in the Biden administration’s first term signals the regime is desperate for sanctions relief and recognizes that its grip on power is under threat.

The IMF projects that Iran’s reserves will grow to $12.2 billion in 2021 and $21 billion by 2022. That number could be higher if the Biden administration unwinds sanctions and clears the way for international businesses to reinvest in the Iranian economy. The Obama administration adopted a similar approach in 2015, when it first negotiated the deal and removed many of the toughest sanctions in place.

Still, economic forecasts for Iran look dire.

U.S. sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade are likely to continue, according to the IMF report. This has forced Iran to peddle its oil at a heavy discount and under the radar. Iran is still producing several million barrels of oil a day, though much of that is being surreptitiously sent to war-torn Syria, where Iranian forces continue to back embattled strongman Bashar al-Assad. These shipments, however, have come under increasing strain. Israeli forces have begun to target Iranian ships ferrying oil to Syria, including at least a dozen ships since late 2019.

Inflation also continues to soar in Iran, according to the IMF report, another sign that sanctions are biting into the country’s economy.

“For the last several years proponents of a renewed deal with Iran have been arguing that max pressure wasn’t working. These numbers tell a different story,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank and former terrorist finance analyst at the Treasury Department. “If these numbers still represent the current reality, the United States has far more leverage over the regime than previously believed. The administration should use that leverage at the negotiating table.”

Abdolnaser Hemmati, the chair of Iran’s Central Bank, which also has been subjected to U.S. sanctions, called the IMF’s findings “egregious” on Tuesday. Hemmati said the IMF did not consult with Iran on its report and claimed it contained “incomplete information,” though he did not provide proof to support this claim.

Meanwhile, Iran announced on Tuesday that it has begun enriching uranium to the 60-percent level, the highest ever performed by the country and a level that is dangerously close to weapons-grade fuel. The announcement comes after a cyber-attack on the country’s Natanz nuclear facility, which is believed to have been carried out by Israel.

Iran leaders also said this week that nuclear enrichment work will not cease until the United States lifts all of its sanctions as a precondition. This includes all sanctions that were applied by the Trump administration, according to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.

Iranian officials are additionally calling on South Korea to release around $7 billion tied up in the country as a result of sanctions. Iran seized a South Korean tanker and its crew earlier this year and used them as ransom to force a payment of $1 billion, which the Biden administration reportedly signed-off on.