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Biden prepares sweeping order on climate-related risks

The order, titled “Climate-Related Financial Risk,” directs White House economic and climate advisers to work with the Office of Management and Budget on a government-wide strategy to measure, mitigate and disclose climate risks facing federal agencies. Banking, housing and agriculture regulators are among those that will be asked to incorporate climate risk into their supervision of major industries and the lending of federal funds.

The four-page document is labeled a pre-decisional draft. White House and Treasury spokespersons had no comment.

“The global shift — taking place around the world — away from carbon-intensive energy sources and industrial processes presents transition risks to many sectors of the economy,” the order states. “At the same time, this global shift presents generational opportunities to enhance U.S. competitiveness and economic growth.”

Some of the provisions are familiar, echoing statements already voiced by Biden and some of his appointees, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The SEC already has begun work on potential regulations that would require companies to disclose their contributions and exposure to global warming. The Federal Reserve has also started to roll out efforts to police banks for climate risks.

Independent regulators, such as the SEC and the Fed, don’t take direct orders from the White House and would make their own decisions on any new rules.

But the executive order is a starting gun for agencies to begin delivering on the president’s sweeping climate agenda.

— The order directs Yellen, as head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, to assess risks to the financial system and the U.S. itself and deliver a report within 180 days. The council, established after the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, includes the heads of all the federal financial regulators. Banks, asset managers, insurers and others in the financial services industry stand to be affected by any FSOC action.

—The Federal Insurance Office is singled out in the draft order with instructions to assess climate-related issues in its oversight of insurers. It’s asked to work with state regulators to examine the potential for “major disruptions” of private insurance coverage in regions of the country particularly vulnerable to climate change. Insurance is primarily regulated at the state level and insurers enjoy close relationships with state officials.

— The Labor Department, which regulates retirement funds, will be asked to revise or rescind rules limiting the ability of pension fund managers to vote on shareholder proposals at annual meetings. The Trump-era rules were considered a way to limit shareholder efforts related to environmental, social and governance factors such as climate risk and employee diversity.

— The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the retirement accounts of 6.2 million participants, will be asked to evaluate the risk of continued investment in fossil fuel securities.

— Major federal suppliers could be required to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate risk and set science-based targets for reducing them. The SEC already is considering whether to require such disclosures from publicly traded companies. The contracting provision could affect nonpublic companies not subject to SEC oversight.

— Future federal purchasing decisions could take into account the social cost — future health and weather impacts, for example — of greenhouse gas emissions. The social cost of carbon currently is set at about $51 a metric ton, but the administration is expected to raise that figure early next year.

— The departments of Housing and Agriculture will be asked to consider integrating climate-related financial risk into their underwriting standards and loan conditions. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. homeowners have government-backed mortgages, which could be more difficult to get if underwriting is tightened. The National Flood Insurance Program currently is being overhauled to more accurately address climate risks facing homeowners.

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Pelosi dismisses progressive ‘court packing’ legislation

“It’s not out of the question,” Pelosi said of the broader push.

The legislation would almost certainly lack the votes in the House — with Pelosi able to lose just two Democrats on any single bill — let alone the even more narrowly divided Senate.

Expanding the Supreme Court became a rallying cry for progressive lawmakers and groups following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg just weeks before the November election.

Senate Republicans ultimately filled the seat days before Biden’s victory, marking the third GOP nominee named to the bench in four years under then-President Donald Trump.

Biden said as a candidate that he is “not a fan” of what’s known as “court packing,” and made good this week on a campaign promise to tap a commission on the issue. That group, which includes 36 legal scholars, is tasked with producing a comprehensive report, though it is not required to produce specific recommendations.

Republicans, along with several moderate Democrats, are vocally opposed to court expansion.

And the legislation has already spurred some attacks from Republicans, who during the 2020 elections warned that Democrats would expand the court if they won back the White House and Senate last fall.

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Appeals court rejects academic’s libel suit over claims of affair with Flynn

The appeals court said most of the articles Lokhova claimed were libelous were too old to be included in the suit she filed two years ago. Under Virginia’s one-year statute of limitations for defamation claims, the only publications that were fairly subject to the suit were a Washington Post story and some tweets sent by MSNBC National Security Contributor Malcolm Nance.

The Post reported that at a 2014 dinner, Halper and a colleague “were disconcerted by the attention the then-DIA chief showed to a Russian-born graduate student…according to people familiar with the episode.”

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Stephanie Thacker said that language could not fairly be read as an attack on Lokhova.

“We conclude that it cannot be reasonably read to defame [Lokhova,] either directly or through implication or innuendo,” wrote Thacker, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “Even if we infer the unnamed graduate student is [Lokhova,] it says nothing of her behavior toward General Flynn – it only addresses his behavior toward her.”

Flynn and Lokhova have denied any affair.

Lokhova asserted that Halper was a source for the news stories. A former Republican political operative in the U.S., in recent decades Halper has been a University of Cambridge professor active in foreign policy circles. Halper hasn’t spoken publicly about his role in the Trump-Russia investigation, but numerous press reports say the FBI dispatched him to covertly contact Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and assess reports that he had information about Russian-backed hacking of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In the new ruling, the appeals court also ruled that Lokhova’s claims against MSNBC over Nance’s tweets fell short because there was no indication Nance was acting for the network when he sent the messages Lokhova sued over.

Judge James Wynn, another Obama appointee, joined Thacker’s ruling in full. Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. dissented on one point: he said one of Lokhova’s claims based on a hyperlink in a New York Times article should have been considered on the merits.

The district court and the majority on the appeals panel said simply adding a link wasn’t enough to constitute republishing a story and giving Lokhova another chance to sue over it. But Quattlebaum, an appointee of President Donald Trump, said the link to the earlier story did amount to a republication.

In his dissent, Quattlebaum even used the term “clickbait” to refer to the Times’ relatively common practice.

”Here, Lokhova has plausibly alleged that rather than using the hyperlink as a citation, The New York Times used it as a means of redistributing previous material with the goal of expanding its readership,” the judge wrote. Denying plaintiffs the ability to sue over hyperlinks, Quattlebaum wrote, “would effectively permit publishers to hyperlink their way to consequence-free promotion.”

Halper’s lawyers asked the appeals court to impose sanctions on Lokhova’s lawyer Steven Biss, a Charlottesville, Va.-based attorney who has drawn notoriety for filing a series of libel suits on behalf of Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Calif.), now the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Halper’s lawyers said Biss’ handling of the Lokhova case violated bar rules. Thacker was sharply critical of Biss, saying: “His history of unprofessional conduct is long.” She declined to order sanctions though, saying the issue remained up to the district court.

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The race to 6G – POLITICO

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Europe and the U.S. are still rushing to deploy 5G coverage in major cities — but that’s not stopping them from trying to get ahead of trading rivals like China for the next big leap in telecommunications.

The race to develop so-called sixth generation technology, or 6G, is already under way even as the most optimistic of timelines put it at least a decade away. Tech powerhouses like China, as well as Korea, Japan and others are also in the mix to get there first.

As Western countries grapple with a halting 5G rollout and the emergence of Chinese companies like Huawei as dominant forces, they don’t want to be caught napping twice.

“5G was the wake up call, the holy crap moment. China is setting the standards for the future,” U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO.

While Europe houses Swedish Ericsson and Finnish Nokia — leading 5G equipment makers in their own right — Warner said the West won’t win the next battle without teaming up, especially since the U.S. itself does not have equivalent telecom manufacturers: “It’s not like Sweden or Finland has the economic might to compete. No Western company alone can compete with the Chinese model. We shouldn’t push company winners, but we need to pick technologies and make joint investments.”

Already, governments are working with their industries to get a head start, according to half a dozen interviews with industry executives.

While 5G promises to facilitate a world of near-constant interaction between humans and machines — think driverless cars, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things — 6G would help build a digital world that mirrors real life, allowing computer models to control and predict even more daily events. Industry officials imagine things like internet-connected gloves to control virtual or distant objects and computer-brain interfaces. Another visceral application could be hologram calls, like those in Star Wars (despite its events having taken place “a long time ago”).

“In 5G, it was about connecting humans and machines, and machines with machines. … What we now see in 6G is about connecting humans and machines with digital worlds,” said Peter Vetter, telecoms giant Nokia’s point person on 6G, who predicted that physical spaces will be crammed with sensors fueling artificial intelligence models that predict and analyze behavior.

The world’s largest economies — the same ones that fought for control over 5G’s intellectual property and economic benefits — are betting on 6G to win the next round. But with the technology still in its development phase, the path to victory is less assured.

“The war for 6G is not just having wireless or antenna or base station — it’s much bigger, much more complex and much more strategic,” said John Roese, the global chief technology officer for Dell Technologies.

Jostling for the future

The technology is still some ways away, but policymakers and industry are fighting over it now.

In the U.S., former President Donald Trump in 2019 said he wanted 6G “as soon as possible.” In the EU, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has pushed the notion for over a year. The European Commission included 6G in its 2030 digital targets strategy, alongside technologies like quantum computing and semiconductors.

6G is also likely to add to the rivalry between the West and China in the coming years, experts said. 

Magnus Frodigh, head of Ericsson’s research department, said the current geopolitical landscape “is a completely different world” compared to when 5G was being developed. “It’s much hotter, it really is up to [the level of] national security, national positioning, geopolitical competition,” he said.

In the U.S. and Europe, calls to make the next-generation networks better-secured and protected will likely be at odds with China’s view to ease government access to networks and the data they move.

“You can already see how the different blocs have different views on the need of security and privacy,” said Frodigh, adding this could influence applications and even the architecture of 6G networks in the future.

What unites many of these Western interests is “values, ultimately,” said Wassim Chourbaji, senior vice president for government affairs at chip designer Qualcomm in Europe, such as the Western emphasis on environmental standards in 6G. “What you will see is governments trying to make sure that technology developments do meet their political and social values.”

6G World Cup

National and international initiatives are already starting up.

Several Western companies including AT&T, Nokia and Qualcomm launched the Next G Alliance last October through a U.S.-based standards group called the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions. At the end of March, the coalition announced a working group devoted to producing a 6G roadmap.

In Europe, companies kicked off the Hexa-X project in January, which includes industry and researchers to design and develop 6G. The project is led by Nokia and supported by Ericsson, and has 25 organizations from nine EU countries involved.

In China, state officials last month selected 6G as a top priority in its most recent “five-year plan.” Industry leaders like Huawei, ZTE and the country’s telecoms operators have launched their own research projects too.

Korean national champion Samsung is taking the country’s lead on 6G research, while in Japan the government has earmarked 50 billion yen ($450 million) in research funding to come up with 6G showcases at the 2025 Osaka World Expo event.

Still, not at all countries are coming from a standing start.

European policymakers are betting on the Old Continent’s strength on research — often touting its pioneering role in setting GSM standards decades ago. 

“The part where Europe is usually pretty okay is the actual research. The aspect where there’s a lag is how we mobilize the development side well enough,” said Maikel Wilms, a partner at Boston Consulting Group, which recently published a report on 5G rollout in Europe

But Europe also lacks the players to control the development of the technology, Wilms added: “None of the European players today … are meaty enough, sizeable enough to pull this off and really have a substantive enough contribution to the definition of the standard.” While influential, neither Ericsson nor Nokia don’t have the clout or deep pockets like the Amazons and Apples.

Despite having the biggest and richest tech companies in the world, the U.S. is not the world leader in telecommunications hardware. The country’s betting on the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Google, which are also looking for a piece of the 5G pie by offering cloud infrastructure to run networks and applications. Apple in particular is looking to push ahead with investments into future networks, and in February announced it was hiring wireless engineers in San Diego, California, to focus on 6G.

But the U.S. does not have homegrown telecom hardware providers like Nokia, Ericsson or Huawei — what Dell’s Roese calls “at-scale players” necessary for some of the core 6G industry activity. While Big Tech has the resources, it still needs to catch up and beat the telecoms vendors at their own game.

“If you want to win at 6G, the prerequisite is you better have some 6G companies,” Roese said, adding: “All these other technologies, even if we innovate on them, all they’ll be is accessories for a Chinese solution or a European solution at best.”

Collaborating, then, would be Europe and the U.S.’s best bet. Policymakers in the West will need to ramp up partnerships with the private sector far more aggressively and focus on “the same North Star,” Roese said. Some of that support could come from U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package, which Biden explicitly framed as a way to compete with China. 

The looming standards war

Researchers estimate the work on 6G standards — which will determine how 6G devices should be designed — would begin around the middle of the decade. 

Europeans and Americans have traditionally been at the helm of such endeavors — they designed modern-day internet infrastructure — but recent efforts by China to increase its control over internet standards, including its pitch for a new kind of internet infrastructure known as “New IP,” has Western policymakers spooked.

A competition in standards could shake up ordinarily staid international forums like the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the industry’s standards group 3GPP.

At these forums, officials and executives are likely to propose competing political and commercial visions for the technology, which they want to be reflected in globally-used standards. They will have to settle issues like what airwaves to unlock for new 6G technology and how to protect intellectual property to ensure firms get a return on the billions they will inevitably spend in getting the tech to market.

Given the geopolitical climate in 2021, it’s still unclear if diplomats will be successful in hammering out unified 6G standards that work across the globe in a few years’ time.

Huawei’s chief representative at the EU Abraham Liu was optimistic.

“The lessons we have learned in the recent past is the importance of global cooperation. Only if the U.S., Europe, China and others work together we are able to achieve one single, unified standard for 6G,” Liu said, adding “we hope this kind of cooperation will not be interrupted by the political conflict.”

Mark Scott contributed reporting.

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Biden administration sanctions Russia over election interference, Crimea

Among the announcements by the Treasury Department on Thursday, its Office of Foreign Assets Control “took sweeping action against 16 entities and 16 individuals” who sought to influence the outcome of the election last November under orders from Russian government leaders.

“Treasury will target Russian leaders, officials, intelligence services, and their proxies that attempt to interfere in the U.S. electoral process or subvert U.S. democracy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. “This is the start of a new U.S. campaign against Russian malign behavior.”

With regard to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, OFAC “designated five individuals and three entities” for sanctions. OFAC Director Andrea Gacki said in a statement that the designations would “impose additional costs on Russia for its forceful integration with Crimea and highlight the abuses that have taken place under Russia’s attempted annexation.”

Finally, under the authority of a new executive order signed by Biden on Thursday, the Treasury Department announced a series of punitive measures including “the implementation of new prohibitions on certain dealings in Russian sovereign debt, as well as targeted sanctions on technology companies that support the Russian Intelligence Services’ efforts to carry out malicious cyber activities against the United States.”

In a letter notifying Congress of his executive order, Biden wrote that his directive would declare “a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States posed by specified harmful foreign activities” of the Russian government.

Biden specifically cited Russia’s efforts to “undermine the conduct of” democratic elections and institutions in the U.S. and its allies, its “malicious cyber-enabled activities,” and its use of “transnational corruption to influence foreign governments.”

Other malign behavior mentioned by Biden included the targeting of dissidents and journalists outside Russia, the undermining of security in areas where the U.S. has national security interest, and the violation of international law.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the administration’s actions were intended to hold the Russian Government to account” for its SolarWinds espionage campaign, reported bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and attempted interference in the 2020 election.

Blinken announced the State Department is expelling 10 officials from the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington, including personnel who are representatives of Russian intelligence services, according to the White House.

“These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions,” Blinken said. “We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners. Where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for cooperation with Russia, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with U.S. interests.”

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Blinken in Afghanistan to sell Biden troop withdrawal

Blinken sought to reassure the Afghan leadership that the withdrawal did not mean an end to the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

“I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing to commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” Blinken told Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring.”

“We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani told Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops.

Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the move and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance would also be leaving.

Biden, Blinken, Austin and Stoltenberg have all sought to put a brave face on the pullout, maintaining that the U.S.- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network that launched the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.

However, that argument has faced pushback from some U.S, lawmakers and human rights advocates who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.

Later, in a meeting with Abdullah, Blinken repeated his message, saying that “we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together.”

“We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration,” Abdullah said.

Despite billions of U.S. dollars in aid, Afghanistan 20 years on has a poverty rate of 52 per cent according to World Bank figures. That means more than half of Afghanistan’s 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.

For many Afghans the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth and loyal militias who are well armed. Many Afghans fear worsening chaos even more once America leaves.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul.

Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, the U.S. was to have completed its military withdrawal by May 1. Although Biden is blowing through that deadline, angering the Taliban leadership, his plan calls for the pull-out to begin on May 1. The NATO withdrawal will commence the same day.

“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said in his announcement in Washington on Tuesday, but he added that the U.S. will “not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.”

“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”

Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, vowed that the U.S. would remain committed to Afghanistan’s people and development.

“Bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan or our support for the country,” Blinken said. “Our support, our engagement and our determination remain.”

Austin also said that the U.S. military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, will keep counterterrorism “capabilities” in the region to keep pressure on extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. Asked for details, he declined to elaborate on where those U.S. forces would be positioned or in what numbers.

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Pennsylvania GOP launches ‘super MAGA Trump’ primary

“The way I divide it is you’ve got super-MAGA Trump, Trump-adjacent and not-so-much Trump,” Christopher Nicholas, a longtime Pennsylvania-based Republican consultant, said of the likely GOP Senate field. “All of the former appointees would obviously be in the super-MAGA-Trump part. A Jeff Bartos, I think, would be in the Trump-adjacent part. A [former Rep.] Ryan Costello-type figure, or himself if he gets in, would be in the more not-so-Trumpy part.”

Bartos, a real estate developer and the most high-profile contender to officially declare his candidacy, has been cast by his allies as a middle-of-the-road Republican who could win over suburbanites in the Philadelphia collar counties where he lives.

Yet at the same time, Bartos donated and helped raise money for GOP poll watchers at the Philadelphia Convention Center in 2020 when the ballots were being counted. And he traveled to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort and residence, for a recent GOP donors retreat. Bartos was also careful to give a nod to the former president in his campaign launch video.

“Donald Trump represented someone listening to millions of Pennsylvanians who felt like no one was fighting for them,” Bartos said in the ad, which featured him driving around the state. “And we cannot go back to the days when elected officials in Washington thought of Pennsylvania as just two cities and a whole lot of farmland in between.”

Along with Bartos, Sean Parnell, a former congressional candidate who spoke at the 2020 Republican National Convention and is close to Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., has been talking with state party leaders about running. Mike Kelly and Guy Reschenthaler, two House members from Pennsylvania who have been Trump loyalists, are possible contenders. Also considering: Kenneth Braithwaite, who served as Trump’s Navy secretary; Carla Sands, Trump’s ambassador to Denmark; and John Giordano, a member of Trump’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.

Former Rep. Ryan Costello, a vocal critic of Trump, has expressed interest in campaigning as well. And 2020 congressional candidate Kathy Barnette and attorney Sean Gale have thrown their hats in the ring. A news release announcing Gale’s run said that “the only path to victory” is with a candidate who is pro-Trump.

“President Trump is still very popular among Republicans,” said former GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, a top Trump ally in the state. “There’s no denying that the Republican Party in Pennsylvania is still a party of Trump.”

Earlier this year, Steve Bannon, a former White House chief strategist to Trump, told POLITICO that “any candidate who wants to win in Pennsylvania in 2022 must be full Trump MAGA.”

Potential and declared Senate candidates are making the case to local party leaders that they are the best-equipped to win the endorsement of Trump himself.

With so many boasting ties to the former president and his administration, many are hopeful they will win his imprimatur. For instance, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted in February, “My friend @SeanParnellUSA is a strong America First conservative and has my support for any office he decides to run for in 2022!!!”

“When you talk to these people, everybody thinks that they’ll have the former president’s support,” said Sam DeMarco, chair of the Republican Party in western Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County. “These people all believe, because there’s a connection there, they could possibly get his endorsement.”

A similar Trump-centric dynamic is playing out in the 2020 gubernatorial race. Barletta is looking at possibly running for governor and said he will make a decision in the next few weeks. A recent poll by Susquehanna Polling & Research, a firm whose clients have included conservative groups, found Barletta with an early lead in the primary.

William McSwain, a former U.S. attorney under Trump, has taken steps toward running for governor. State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who visited Trump at the White House after the 2020 election and helped lead a hearing on unsubstantiated election fraud, is another likely contender.

And at least one potential gubernatorial candidate has paid a visit to Trump at Mar-a-Lago, said an aide to the politician: Rep. Dan Meuser.

Pennsylvania’s 2018 midterms revolved around Trump as well. After Barletta became one of the first elected officials to back Trump in 2016, Trump returned the favor and endorsed the northeastern Pennsylvania politician early in the Senate primary, which he went on to win. Scott Wagner, a then-state senator who boasted in 2016 that he was going to buy 20,000 Trump signs, captured the gubernatorial nomination that year.

Both candidates were defeated in the general election by double digits, prompting some voices in the Republican Party to make the case for a bigger-tent approach. But that hasn’t yet come to fruition. Instead, many GOP activists have demanded more loyalty tests to Trump: Earlier this year, several county parties in Pennsylvania censured Republican Sen. Pat Toomey for voting to impeach Trump after the insurrection at the Capitol.

However, amid calls among some Republicans to avoid divisiveness ahead of 2021 local elections and the midterms next year, the state GOP declined to censure Toomey and voted to rebuke him instead.

Some party officials argue that with President Joe Biden in the White House, Republicans are rapidly putting aside their differences and will be united for the 2022 primary, regardless of which candidate captures the nomination and how closely they tie themselves to Trump.

“The media wants that to be the crux of the campaign. I think the campaign is going to be much more than that,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist in Pennsylvania. “The primary campaign is going to be about individual candidates and their individual views for the country’s future and their individual abilities.”

Still, when he listed a number of issues that will likely dominate the race — China, immigration, Biden’s spending — it is clear how much Trump is still influencing the party. And there is no doubt that GOP contenders will be scrutinized by party activists and operatives on how closely they align themselves with the former president.

Nicholas, talking about Bartos’ nod to Trump in his introductory video, said, “What I took from it is someone who said the minimum he needed to say about 45, so as to not have people think, ‘Why didn’t you mention 45?’”

Bartos spokesperson Conor McGuinness quickly struck back and said that he included a mention of Trump in the spot “because no one has ever fought harder for the forgotten men and women of Pennsylvania than President Trump.”

“The only person who would manufacture that as an issue,” he added, “is a swampy DC consultant.”

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Covid-19 changed education in America — permanently

It’s tempting to think of the annual, or biennial, ritual of wrangling over a state budget as political theater, to think that advocates will always claim the sky is falling, that money comes and goes and it doesn’t make much difference. The pandemic has proved otherwise.

The 2008 financial crisis began a long slide in funding for public education that didn’t fully reverse when the economy recovered; as of 2016, 24 states were still spending less on education per-student than before the Great Recession, and schools had 77,000 fewer teachers and other staff while enrolling 1.5 million more children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Public higher education was receiving $3.4 billion a year less in 2019 than in 2008, while shifting costs heavily towards tuition. The result is that Covid hit an education system significantly weakened compared to a decade earlier.

One result, as the Government Accountability Office found last year, was that in nearly 4 in 10 of America’s school districts, at least half of the school buildings needed updated or new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Needless to say, that has not helped get kids back into classrooms in the face of an airborne virus. (It wasn’t helping before Covid either; research has tied air quality to improved academic performance.)

Most educators agree that tapping the full potential of Americans to live healthy lives and contribute to a better economy will take a full-throttled reinvestment in education. Biden’s budget blueprint proposes boosting education funding for next year by nearly $30 billion.

Just as with efforts to close the digital divide, creative ideas are emerging to help students overcome financial hurdles and boost opportunity over the long term. Three former education secretaries, Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan and John B. King Jr., have all endorsed the idea of a national tutoring corps, which would not only help kids but provide tutors with community service experience and stipends. Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy, a nonprofit that provides online learning materials, has a new project called to connect students to vetted, volunteer tutors. A bipartisan, prospective ballot initiative in Colorado seeks to give every low-income family up to $1,500 to pay for tutoring or other enrichment opportunities.

Another idea that got a boost from the pandemic was emergency grants — short-term, small-dollar awards to college students to help them weather a financial hit instead of dropping out. They were suddenly tested at a massive scale when colleges were required to spend half of their funding from the CARES Act on emergency grants. Signs suggest that they have helped college students overcome short-term crises.

Last fall, staff at Amarillo College, a community college in Texas known for its work with students in poverty, called over 2,000 students whom they were helping with CARES Act funding. Some were experiencing homelessness, some were months behind on rent and utilities. Cara Crowley, vice president of strategic initiatives, made a couple hundred of those calls herself. Despite everything they were dealing with, 76 percent of those CARES Act recipients made it through to the spring semester — about the same as the general campus population.

“I would have bet surefire money they wouldn’t have stayed in school when you talked to them,” she said. “Because their need was so overwhelming.”

The fact that a sizable portion of college students face obstacles like eviction and hunger is a reminder that the education system can’t be expected to solve every problem in society. Schools would have an easier time if students’ families didn’t struggle with low incomes, unstable housing or a lack of health care, all problems that can greatly affect learning.

Of course, plenty of educators, parents and advocates have known this for decades; the same can be said for many of these pandemic lessons.

But the epic crisis triggered by Covid has forced the country to begin to do something about gaps in our education system that have been hiding in plain sight, and that acceleration of effort could mean a better educated America down the road.

“I don’t think the pandemic has really unearthed all sorts of new ‘aha’s’ about what kids need,” said Melissa Connelly, CEO of OneGoal, a nonprofit that helps low-income students get into and succeed in college. “I think it’s just forced our hand to actually try doing something different.”

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Senate’s bipartisan swing at China faces GOP curveballs

Young’s assessment reflects the ripple effects of the Senate’s broader dynamics, with Republicans chafed as Democrats seek to push through President Joe Biden’s top agenda items without support from the GOP. The parties’ interests overlap considerably on China, as both sides acknowledge the need to out-compete Beijing on the technological front and curb its theft of U.S. intellectual property. But that accord could wither in the heat of a 50-50 Senate.

Another concern is the inevitable political battle over who gets credit for action on an issue that both parties would benefit from touting. The resulting legislative paralysis raises the question of whether the Senate can avoid a filibuster on any major bill these days — even something with such broad support and a strong chance of breezing through the House.

“There’s a lot of consensus on the China issue,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “If we can’t agree on a bill regarding China, we should probably close this place.”

Publicly, GOP senators have said they are satisfied with the level of cooperation with Democrats, noting that a bipartisan effort will send a stronger signal to Beijing as the U.S. seeks to blunt its global influence with legislation that allocates new funding for technology sectors. Privately, though, frustrations are brewing — and Republicans are already balking at Schumer’s plans.

A Republican aide working on the plan derided the “rushed process that will see good ideas left on the cutting-room floor, and which will undermine what could and should be broader bipartisan support.”

Democrats dismissed the GOP’s criticism as an attempt to wiggle out of the talks for political reasons, even as momentum builds toward a final product that can feasibly win 60 votes in the Senate. A Democratic aide noted that Schumer is steering the bill through regular order — deflating a common GOP complaint — including markups in multiple committees and the promise of a “robust” amendment process on the Senate floor.

Schumer has long fashioned himself as a China hawk, and he often found common ground with former President Donald Trump, whose populist mantra led him to impose several strict penalties on Beijing that the New York Democrat supported. Getting a bipartisan China measure to Biden’s desk would give Schumer a major victory, though also hand the GOP elements to promote in next year’s midterm campaign.

“I can’t think of anything that’s in the bill that would cause a partisan division. Obviously, there could always be efforts made to make it partisan,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

The China legislation has suffered a number of setbacks in the last 24 hours, even as Schumer and Young met in person to continue crafting their proposal, dubbed the Endless Frontier Act.

Idaho Sen. James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, invoked a procedural move to delay the panel’s scheduled consideration of a bipartisan bill — which Risch himself co-authored — that was designed as a key ingredient in the final product that Schumer puts on the Senate floor. The meeting was supposed to be held earlier Wednesday, but Risch’s move pushes it back by a week.

A spokesperson for Risch said the senator delayed the measure in order to give committee members more time to “read and understand the hundreds of pages of legislation, as well as draft amendments and incorporate additional ideas at the markup.”

In a brief interview, Risch suggested that whatever bill ultimately reaches the Senate floor could look more Democratic than its bipartisan billing suggests.

“When they meld it together with another half-dozen parts, I don’t know what happens there. I think that’s a wild card,” Risch said. “Our own piece, I think, if all else fails, we’ll probably be able to run our piece separately. But I don’t imagine they’d let us do that.”

But Democrats said Republicans are pre-judging the outcome and attempting to throw sand in the gears of a legislative locomotive that Schumer’s already promised to drive to passage by the end of the month.

“I think it could get 60 votes on the floor,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “It has different provisions that Republicans on the committee have been advocating for. So I would hope it can stand on its own two legs.”

Risch’s bill, which he introduced alongside Menendez, is largely non-controversial and includes several smaller pieces of China-focused legislation that both parties have been pushing for, including three of Rubio’s bills.

“This place is pretty partisan right now,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a vocal China hawk. “If people wanted to get something done, we could get something done overnight. I don’t think it’s that hard to figure this stuff out.”

Schumer tasked his committee chairs with crafting components of the China bill earlier this year, though their work has gone largely unnoticed as the Senate has focused much of its attention on Biden’s Covid relief plan and his infrastructure proposal. The Menendez-Risch plan will be just one part of the broader China effort.

“The true test will come when we do the markup and the floor action,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “But I’m satisfied that we’re engaged in a real bipartisan process.”

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Democrats to introduce legislation to expand Supreme Court

President Joe Biden, however, has said he is “not a fan” of the idea, also known as “court packing.” Instead, the White House announced last week the creation of a bipartisan commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court and produce a report. The high court currently has a 6-3 conservative majority.

While advocates have been pushing for the addition of seats to the Supreme Court, the bill won’t see much movement in the evenly split Senate, with all Republicans and several moderate Democrats opposed to court expansion. The legislation is all but guaranteed to prompt attacks from Republicans, who during the 2020 elections warned that Democrats would expand the courts if they took control of Washington.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who outside groups are urging to retire before the 2022 midterms, recently cautioned against court packing for fear that doing so would only undermine public confidence in the institution.

The issue, nevertheless, served as a litmus test during the 2020 Democratic primary for progressives. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Pete Buttigieg suggested they were open to the idea. But others, including Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), did not back it. The number of seats on the high court has fluctuated in American history, from as few as five to as many as 10.