But Pelosi and leadership team are now in their second day of aggressive whipping on the moratorium extension, struggling to win over a group of entrenched holdouts that includes moderates who say the extension shouldn’t go beyond Sept. 30. And several Democrats across the caucus argue there’s little point in forcing a vote when the Senate is unlikely to be able to win 10 Republican votes for the measure.
The renewed plea Friday morning follows a furious Thursday night demand from House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who implored Democrats to try to pass the bill on the floor during a tense conversation with Pelosi and her leadership team. Later Thursday evening, Pelosi sent an emotional letter to her colleagues, invoking the Gospel of Matthew to stress the “responsibility to provide shelter to those in need.”
“In the last 24 hours, a challenge to the conscience of the Congress has descended upon us, as millions of Covid-affected renter households are facing eviction,” Pelosi wrote.
That task grew trickier on Friday morning, when Pelosi’s already-tight margin shrunk by one vote as Republicans added the winner of a Tuesday Texas special election — Rep. Jake Ellzey — to their conference.
The eviction moratorium problem has landed in Democrats’ laps at a time when tensions were already running high in the House, with lawmakers confronting each other in hallways and getting into shouting matches in hearings amid frustrations over a renewed mask mandate and investigations into Jan. 6.
Asked Thursday night if Democrats were short of votes to extend the moratorium, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) quipped: “You are just a keen analyst.”
Asked about whether Democrats would consider a shorter extension, such as one lasting through September, Hoyer said: “There’s going to be a lot of talk and we’ll see. We’re talking about it.”
“You can’t usually close a complicated deal with 10 people in the room,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), one of the five Democratic senators in the bipartisan group of negotiators. “So we gave Ricchetti all [the] proxy and the Republicans gave Portman their proxy … with all of us frankly playing assist roles these last few days.”
The arrangement proved fruitful — at least in the eyes of Senate negotiators and the White House. On Wednesday, senators announced a more complete framework, and the reason the negotiations made it to that juncture, many senators told POLITICO, was because of Ricchetti.
More than any other Oval Office aide, the senior White House adviser and Biden confidant istied to the infrastructure negotiations in the Senate. Words used by lawmakers and aides to describe his approach behind closed doors border on flattery. A “critical piece of the puzzle” with “enormous credibility,” were just some of the descriptors. Both Warner and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Ricchetti ran point as the lead White House negotiator, shored up by countless hours of lawmaker engagement from National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Legislative Affairs Director Louisa Terrell.
“He didn’t talk down to anybody,” said Tester. “His perspective and representing the president was critically important in getting this deal done.”
But what Tester viewed as a virtue — from the beginning, the senator said, Ricchetti wanted to get to “yes” — others viewed as a liability. Among progressives, the concern was that the former lobbyist’s “low-key” and “soft-spoken” style resulted in too many concessions simply for the sake of keeping talks moving between the parties. And for a number of Democrats in both chambers, the negotiating process Ricchetti has been a part of has often proved frustrating.
“I was not happy [with] how this was done,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said, adding that different negotiating groups kept “popping up and saying we’re gonna save the world. And obviously, no one did.”
At one point Portman threatened to leave funding for public transit out of the deal, according to a GOP source with knowledge of the conversations with Ricchetti. Ultimately, the deal included $39 billion for public transit — a notably smaller sum than the nearly $49 billion in the original framework agreement announced in June.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who has criticized the White House and Senate in recent weeks for ignoring the transportation bill passed in the House, said Ricchetti is aware of his concerns about the bipartisan deal, he just isn’t sure the White House counselor cares about them.
“[Ricchetti’s] listening, and we’ve provided paper, and we had a list of suggested and least minimal changes they could make in the bill,” said DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I have no idea if any of that was adopted.”
Richetti’s elevated role in the infrastructure negotiations demonstrated both the degree of trust Biden has placed in him and the degree to which the White House found it necessary to play a central role in congressional affairs. Though the small bipartisan group of senators of both parties were heavily involved in hashing out big disagreements, the president’s team — and Biden himself — were present throughout and jumped in at key moments.
For DeFazio, this was a nuisance. The congressman said that “the subject matter experts” in both the Senate and House should be writing the deal “as opposed to the three people who wrote the bill who know nothing about transportation.”
But for others, there would be no deal without him. Ricchetti’s breakthrough meeting with Portman wasn’t the first time he steered the flagging talks through rough waters. Last month, when Biden said he wouldn’t sign the cross-aisle compromise on traditional infrastructure if the Democrat-only spending package didn’t reach his desk at the same time, Republicans were furious.
To stop them from abandoning ship, Ricchetti went into fixer mode.
Republicans told Ricchetti “that if the President did not walk back what he had spontaneously said that it would bring our negotiations to a halt,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “And so Steve said that he would go to work on it. And he did.”
Ricchetti, who joined Biden’s vice presidential staff in 2012, is no stranger to the Hill. Over his many years as a lobbyist, his firms contracted with a long list of influential clients, including hospitals, drugmakers and telecom companies. He also spent time as a legislative aide for former President Bill Clinton. Hislong Washington career has led to some accusations that he’s a corporate Democrat and no friend to progressives — an accusation his defenders reject. But Ricchetti is someone more establishment lawmakers feel comfortable around and they turn to him when they need a White House ear.
During negotiations, senators said Ricchetti’s “omnipresence” over the talks helped move them along. But Ricchetti has also been careful to not get ahead of his boss, they said, taking time to run things by Biden and others at the White House before committing.
“I have known Steve a long time and have always found him to be someone you can work with,” said Portman. “He is an honest broker but also an effective advocate for his boss.”
Though Ricchetti helped shepherd the deal to this point, much work for him and the rest of the White House remains. Bill text has yet to be released and as the Senate begins debate on the deal, keeping Democrats and the 10 Republicans needed on board will be another big test. Whether amendments will be allowed could be another complicating factor. And if a bill ultimately reaches the House, it’s unclear if there are currently enough Democratic votes to pass it.
Democrats have a slim majority in the House, where Ricchetti is close to leadership. And progressives, who have tended to work more directly with chief of staff Ron Klain, have said they won’t vote for an infrastructure bill if a reconciliation package including priorities like eldercare, childcare and a clean electricity standard is not voted on simultaneously or first. Many within the House Democratic caucus have felt sidelined by the Senate process.
White House aides have long insisted that Ricchetti’s chief function in the negotiations is to secure a big infrastructure pact for the president. But in remarks to lawmakers, Ricchetti himself has made no secret of the fact that he also wants the once-in-a-century investment to be done with the help of Republicans, noting its political benefits.
After months building trust among Senate negotiators and working to make Biden’s bipartisan wish come true, the longtime Biden consigliere has a lot riding on the success of the deal.
“There were a number of times when I think Steve was putting his reputation on the line,” said Warner. “He knew for the president’s agenda how high stakes this was.”
Luxembourg’s data protection authority (CNPD) fined Amazon €746 million for not complying with EU’s privacy rules, according to the company’s latest filings.
According to the filing, the decision was taken on July 16, and the regulator ruled that “Amazon’s processing of personal data did not comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation.”
“We believe the CNPD’s decision to be without merit and intend to defend ourselves vigorously in this matter,” the company said in the filing.
Asked about the ruling, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We strongly disagree with the CNPD’s ruling, and we intend to appeal. The decision relating to how we show customers relevant advertising relies on subjective and untested interpretations of European privacy law, and the proposed fine is entirely out of proportion with even that interpretation.”
The data protection authority is also asking for “practice revisions,” which are not detailed in the document.
Every week political cartoonists throughout the country and across the political spectrum apply their ink-stained skills to capture the foibles, memes, hypocrisies and other head-slapping events in the world of politics. The fruits of these labors are hundreds of cartoons that entertain and enrage readers of all political stripes. Here’s an offering of the best of this week’s crop, picked fresh off the Toonosphere. Edited by Matt Wuerker.
The two tranches represent only a portion of the Afghans in the special immigrant visa pipeline, which totals roughly 20,000, not counting family members.
The State Department stood up the task force on July 19 to lead the administration’s effort to relocate thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to help the U.S. war effort over the past 20 years and are now seeking to resettle in the United States through the special immigrant visa program. In parallel, the Pentagon formed a crisis action group to support the State Department-led effort, Garry Reid, DoD’s lead for the effort, told POLITICO.
The Biden administration has taken heat for its slow response to the crisis. But Jacobson praised the work of the task force, saying it has been “a force multiplier” for the SIV application process.
”It’s speedier, it’s more focused and it’s more collaborative,” she said. “I’ve watched it happen several times here: an issue comes up and all the right people are standing there to resolve it rather than have it done over time.”
The 200 Afghans who arrived Friday are part of a first tranche of roughly 700 applicants in the final stages of the process to relocate to the United States over the next few weeks. They have already completed “the majority” of their application process, including “rigorous” security background checks, Travers said. The total number in the first tranche, including family members, is expected to be 2,500 people, he said.
In Kabul, the applicants were tested for Covid, completed fitness-to-fly exams, and were offered vaccines, Jacobson said. A number of applicants who tested positive for Covid were not able to board the flight, and must quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines before they can get on another flight, Jacobson said.
After they are admitted into the United States on a temporary basis, at Fort Lee they will undergo the necessary medical tests, including bloodwork, and receive vaccines for measles and polio, which are prevalent in Afghanistan, said Kelli Ann Burriesci, acting DHS undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans. Then they will be resettled in cities across the country through the refugee admission program.
Burriesci praised the work of the task force in recent weeks, as the Taliban rapidly gained ground in Afghanistan. DHS is responsible for helping the applicants complete the immigration process once they have arrived in the United States.
“There is an urgency I think that a lot of us feel to save these true teammates of the U.S. government,” she said. “These people left everything behind. They’re coming here with a suitcase. And they need our support.”
In the meantime, the task force is working to relocate a second batch of 4,000 applicants and their family members — who, like the first group, fear retaliation from the Taliban for aiding the American war effort but aren’t as far along in their application process.
While Jacobson would not say to which countries these Afghans would be going, POLITICO reported that the administration is in final talks with Qatar and Kuwait to relocate the individuals to U.S. military bases in those nations.
Instead of going through Fort Lee, these Afghans will complete their final vetting in another country before coming to the United States as immigrants, she said. Consular officers will be on site in that country to issue their visas, in accordance with the usual process.
The State Department asked DoD to be prepared to start receiving individuals from the second group as early as Thursday, Reid said, but he is not currently aware of any specific flight plans.
At least two locations will likely be needed to accommodate all 20,000 people, Reid said. It’s likely the department will need to erect temporary structures to meet the demand, he said. DoD is planning for the applicants to remain in the locations for roughly 9 to 12 months to complete their processing.
“This is very important to the secretary, it’s very important to all of our defense department personnel, certainly our military personnel that have personal experiences with these folks that have partnered with us on the ground,” Reid said. “Let’s do everything we can to make this a success.”
Her remarks stood in sharp contrast to the pressure campaign that Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressives have been organizing for months to persuade Biden to swiftly wipe out the debt for tens of millions of loan borrowers.
Schumer has been leading the calls to cancel as much as $50,000 of federal student loan debt, which he has repeatedly said Biden can accomplish with “the flick of a pen.”
On Tuesday, Schumer — who wore a face covering emblazoned with “#CancelStudentDebt” around the Capitol — said he believed they were making progress in persuading the Biden administration to act. He said that White House concerns about the legality of forgiving student loan debt had largely gone away. “We don’t hear much of that anymore,” Schumer said.
But Pelosi, in her most sweeping comments on the student debt issue, said on Wednesday that executive action is not available to the Biden administration.
“The president can’t do it — so that’s not even a discussion,” she said. “Not everybody realizes that, but the president can only postpone, delay but not forgive” student loans. It would take an act of Congress, not an executive order, to cancel student loan debt, she said.
Pelosi said that it was up for discussion how lawmakers should structure any student debt cancellation program, describing the policy debate as a question of whether to provide relief to “more people with even less debt or fewer people with more debt.”
But she also raised concerns about the fairness of student loan debt cancellation. She cited the example of a family without a child in college having to pay taxes “to forgive somebody else’s obligations.”
Canceling student loan debt, Pelosi said, “has to be viewed in a fair way where we have something that gives opportunity — that’s the big word, opportunity — to all of America’s families.”
Progressives who back widespread debt cancellation shot back at Pelosi’s remarks. “Suppose your child did not want to go fight countless and endless shadow wars across the globe, at this time, but you’re paying taxes to fund all of that,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said on Twitter. “You may not be happy about it!”
Biden has already declared publicly that he’s unwilling to cancel $50,000 per borrower but has said he’s more comfortable with $10,000 per borrower, an amount of loan forgiveness that he promised on the campaign trail.
The White House has said it is reviewing whether it has the legal powers to cancel student loan debt through executive action.
Trump administration officials at the Education Department in January issued a legal opinion that concludes the agency lacks the power to cancel large swaths of student loan debt without legislation.
The Biden administration is not bound to follow that legal opinion, but it has not publicly rescinded or changed the memo, which remains posted on the Education Department’s website.
The scramble came hours after the White House announced plans to allow the ban to expire as scheduled on Saturday because of concerns that another extension would be struck down in court, amid the threat of legal challenges by landlords who warn that it costs them billions of dollars each month.
The move forced Hill Democrats to spring into action, spurred on by housing advocates who warn that millions of renters struggling to pay bills during the pandemic now face the prospect of losing their homes. The situation has been exacerbated by state and local bottlenecks that have slowed distribution of $46.5 billion in rental assistance authorized by Congress.
The Biden administration cited a Supreme Court decision last month that indicated a majority of justices believed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority when it imposed the ban in September. The White House urged Congress to pass legislation to extend the moratorium.
“Given the recent spread of the Delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
In response, House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Thursday afternoon circulated legislation that would maintain the ban through Dec. 31. She was one of several Democrats who had been urging Biden to extend the ban in recent days to avert a wave of evictions.
Earlier this week, Waters said in an interview that she was pushing the Biden administration to renew the moratorium despite concerns about shaky legal footing.
“I know that’s a problem, but I’m so worried about the evictions and all these children and families that might end up on the street,” she said. “So despite the obstacles that may get in the way, I think they should try [to extend it].”
It appeared Thursday that Democrats may lack support to pass an extension as long as the one proposed by Waters, as landlords warn about mounting losses from tenants unable to pay rent.
Even if House Democrats were able to pass a bill, it’s unclear if an extension would have enough support for the Senate to follow suit. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Senate Democrats were also “exploring options” to renew the moratorium.
In the interim, the White House called on on state and local governments to “urgently accelerate their efforts” to disburse rental funds, of which only 6.5 percent had been distributed to landlords and tenants by the end of June. Biden also directed three government agencies that back mortgages — the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs — to extend their own eviction bans through September.
The Biden administration found its hands to be tied by a Supreme Court decision last month in a case where landlords sued to overturn the ban. The high court let the moratorium remain in place, with conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining liberals to allow it to continue. But Kavanaugh cautioned that he agreed with a lower court’s finding that the CDC had overstepped its authority. He wrote that “clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31” in his concurring opinion.
Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.
While all 50 Democratic senators support beginning the process of passing the $3.5 trillion bill, the final price tag on the bill is not yet clear. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said Wednesday that while she will vote to move forward, she does not support legislation that costs $3.5 trillion, angering progressives in her party.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), another moderate Democrat, said last week that while he was committed toadvancing the bill, he reserved the right to do “whatever the hell I want” on final passage.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are already waging a messaging war against the social spending bill. While 17 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined all 50 Democrats invoting to consider the bipartisan legislation, Republicans are dubbing the second multitrillion-dollar package as a “reckless tax and spending” spree.
In his opening remarks Thursday, McConnell said that he was “happy” to forge ahead on the bipartisan physical infrastructure package. But he added that “the kind of focused compromise that our colleagues have been hashing out could not contrast more sharply” with the Democratic bill.
Democrats will use the so-called budget reconciliation process to pass the social spending package without GOP support. The legislation is expected to include top policy priorities for the party, ranging from climate change to child care to health care.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged that she will not move forward on the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes the second package.
“We have to make a strong statement of support for those officers who defended the building and all that it stands for on that terrible day,” said Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the Senate floor.
And Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Senate Republican appropriator, applauded the bill as proof they could “work together in a bipartisan way.”
The compromise comes just days after U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers gave emotional testimony to a House panel about the violence they endured during the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Facing increased costs after the insurrection, both the USCP and National Guard faced a potential cash crunch heading into August.
Republicans had originally panned Democrats’ offer as too expensive and questioned whether the provisions supporting Afghan nationals needed to be included in the legislation. Several Republican senators had placed holds on the bill as they voiced their concerns.
The House took up the bill soon after Senate passage under a fast-track process.It earned overwhelming support from the House despite opposition from an unlikely group that included progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and conservatives like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas).
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said she voted against the legislation because she wanted an investigation before it advanced. She said she believed “we have to stop giving more resources in response to any time there is some level of incompetence or underpreparedness.”
Others who opposed the legislation groused about the speed at which the bill came up for a vote.
“We need time to read and digest these these bills before” they’re voted on, said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who said he was also concerned about an increase in Capitol Police funding.
Roy, an antagonist to both parties, was similarly irked by the speed of the vote, calling the legislation a “procedural sham” and saying it was “unacceptable” for lawmakers to be forced to vote on legislation so soon after the Senate passed it.
Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Covid wars are starting again.
Local officials across Florida are bucking Gov. Ron DeSantis and his anti-mandate coronavirus strategy as infections soar in the state and nation. They’re imposing vaccine and mask requirements for government workers and even declaring states of emergency. In a sign of how worrisome the new Covid-19 surge is, Disney World is ordering all guests over 2-years-old to wear masks indoors at its Florida theme park, regardless of vaccination status.
The new pandemic regulations were announced Wednesday, a day after Florida reported over 16,000 new cases — the highest one-day total since mid-January when the vaccine was not widely available. The local mandates also came as DeSantis reiterated that the state will resist any pandemic-related regulations, even as it remains one of the worst hotspots in America.
“It is very important that we say unequivocally ‘no’ to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no to mandates,” DeSantis said Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, where he was the keynote speaker at a conference hosted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.
The current fight mirrors the clash between DeSantis and local officials that consumed Florida during the pandemic last year, but with a new deadly twist: People continue to resist vaccinations even as the highly infectious Delta Covid variant sweeps through America.
DeSantis raised his national profile last year by declaring Florida was open for business, resisting lockdowns and mask mandates. He used the last legislative session to push for measures that strengthened his hands-off coronavirus approach, convincing the GOP-led Legislature to approve a statewide ban on vaccine passports. He’s also warned lawmakers that he would call them back to Tallahassee for a special legislative session to block the Biden administration if it institutes a nationwide mask mandate for students.
But the current infection crisis threatens to derail DeSantis’ successes ahead of his 2022 reelection campaign and possible bid for president in 2024. Already, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the two biggest-name Democrats running to challenge DeSantis in 2022, have used Florida’s recent surge to hammer the governor. Crist criticized DeSantis this week for sending a fundraising email focused on claims he would “hold Fauci accountable” while Fried said she will begin hosting regular briefings to update the public on Covid and vaccination rates in the state.
And with no state-level policy response to the recent infection spike, local government officials are rushing to fill the void.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, husband to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Rep. Val Demings, has declared a state of emergency and is requiring the county’s 4,200 nonunion workers to get vaccinated by the end of September. Leon County announced it’s also imposing a vaccine requirement for county workers. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava mandated masks at all county facilities. And in Broward County, school board officials are keeping in place mask mandates for students in the next school year despite DeSantis’ vocal opposition.
“I want to show our residents and visitors Orange County is being proactive,” Jerry Demings said during a press conference this week. “We remain focused on lowering our numbers of hospitalizations.”
The cascade of new local Covid-19 regulations comes months after lawmakers approved a DeSantis-championed law that now allows the governor or GOP-dominated legislature to invalidate local orders, including those tied to the pandemic, if they decide the order “unnecessarily restricts a constitutional right, fundamental liberty, or statutory right.”
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokesperson, downplayed the response from local governments, saying Orange County’s mayor “is making a recommendation and asking for voluntary compliance, which is not the same thing as a mandate.” She added that recommendations “don’t run afoul of state law.”
She said that private companies like Disney are allowed to institute their own mask policies but reiterated that there could be a special legislative session “to ensure that all Florida school districts are mask optional.”
The schools issue has the potential to be the most contentious. Last week, 6,999 children under the age of 12 contracted Covid-19 in Florida, which was nearly 10 percent of the 73,199 new cases across the state last week, according to the Florida Department of Health, which no longer does daily reporting.
Last week, the positive rate for those under 12 — a segment of the population that can’t get vaccinated yet — was at 15.4 percent, higher than the 15.1 percent average for all ages. A Jacksonville TV station on Wednesday reported that the city’s Baptist Health is treating 13 children who contracted Covid-19, five of whom are in intensive care.
“We are all elected to protect students and employees,” Broward board member Sarah Leonardi said. “It’s my feeling that just because the governor doesn’t want to act in the best interest of his constituents, that does not absolve us from our responsibility.”
But DeSantis has steadfastly maintained that schools should not require students to wear masks, saying at a press conference last week that “we’re not doing that in Florida. OK? We need our kids to breathe.”
In a sign of how nationalized the fight has become, the Republican Governors Association, which has given $3 million to DeSantis’ political committee ahead of his 2022 re-election, has been trying to give DeSantis political cover. On Wednesday, it hit Fried and Crist over what the group says is message inconsistency over Covid-19 regulations.
“It’s going to be a long year watching Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist twist themselves into pretzels as they balance winning over their far-left base with what’s best for the people of Florida,” said Joanna Rodriguez, the group’s communications director.