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Biden Administration and Washington News: Live Updates

Activists demonstrating for and against abortion rights in front of the Mississippi state capitol in Jackson, Miss. in 2019.
Activists demonstrating for and against abortion rights in front of the Mississippi state capitol in Jackson, Miss. in 2019.Credit…Andrea Morales for The New York Times

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear a case from Mississippi challenging Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The case will give the court’s new 6-to-3 conservative majority its first opportunity to weigh in on state laws restricting abortion.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19- 1392, concerns a law enacted by the Republican-dominated Mississippi legislature that banned abortions if “the probable gestational age of the unborn human” was determined to be more than 15 weeks. The statute included narrow exceptions for medical emergencies or “a severe fetal abnormality.”

Lower courts said the law was plainly unconstitutional under Roe, which forbids states from banning abortions before fetal viability — the point at which fetuses can sustain life outside the womb, or around 23 or 24 weeks.

Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic sued, saying the law ran afoul of Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that affirmed Roe’s core holding.

Judge Carlton W. Reeves of Federal District Court in Jackson, Miss., blocked the law in 2018, saying the legal issue was straightforward and questioning the state lawmakers’ motives.

“The state chose to pass a law it knew was unconstitutional to endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Judge Reeves wrote. “This court follows the commands of the Supreme Court and the dictates of the United States Constitution, rather than the disingenuous calculations of the Mississippi Legislature.”

“With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court, it may be that the state believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation,” wrote Judge Reeves. “Time will tell. If overturning Roe is the state’s desired result, the state will have to seek that relief from a higher court. For now, the United States Supreme Court has spoken.”

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, affirmed Judge Reeves’s ruling. “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and reaffirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability,” Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote for majority.

Judge James C. Ho, issued a reluctant concurring opinion expressing misgivings about the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence.

“Nothing in the text or original understanding of the Constitution establishes a right to an abortion,” he wrote. “Rather, what distinguishes abortion from other matters of health care policy in America — and uniquely removes abortion policy from the democratic process established by our Founders — is Supreme Court precedent.”

Lynn Fitch, Mississippi’s attorney general, urged the justices to hear the state’s appeal in order to reconsider their abortion jurisprudence. “‘Viability’ is not an appropriate standard for assessing the constitutionality of a law regulating abortion,” she wrote.

Lawyers for the clinic said the case was straightforward. The law, they wrote, “imposes, by definition, an undue burden.”

“It places a complete and insurmountable obstacle in the path of every person seeking a pre-viability abortion after 15 weeks who does not fall within its limited exceptions,” they wrote. “It is unconstitutional by any measure.”

The court will hear arguments in the case during its next term, which starts in October. A decision is not expected until the spring or summer of 2022.

National Guard members outside the Capitol in March. Democrats are planning a vote on a bill that would provide $1.9 billion to bolster the Capitol’s defenses.
National Guard members outside the Capitol in March. Democrats are planning a vote on a bill that would provide $1.9 billion to bolster the Capitol’s defenses.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Congressional Republicans are heading for another round of bruising fights this week over former President Donald J. Trump and his continued election lies, as Democratic leaders plan votes on bills to establish an independent commission that would investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and to harden Congress’s defenses against future violence.

Democratic leaders insist both actions are necessary to understand and respond to the full scope of the attack and the baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election that fueled it. They struck a deal with a key Republican committee leader last week on the commission’s structure and a narrow mandate to look at the riot and its causes.

But the votes on that bill and a $1.9 billion security spending package will also serve to drive fresh wedges through a Republican Party already battling itself over whether to call out Mr. Trump’s transgressions or continue to embrace his false statements.

Moderate Republicans appear ready to break with Mr. Trump to support the creation of the commission, if not endorse Democrats’ blueprint for keeping Congress safe. But Republican leadership, desperate to refocus the party on bashing President Biden before the 2022 midterm elections, has yet to take a position, after earlier demands that any such panel look at left-wing violence unrelated to the assault.

“It’s important to get to the truth and find out just how widespread this thing was and make sure it never happens again,” Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Mr. Upton called recent attempts by his far-right colleagues to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6 “absolutely bogus” and said his party, including its House leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, should trust the commission process.

“It’s going to be fair,” he said. “It should get a good number of votes and yes, I do hope Kevin McCarthy supports it.”

Mr. McCarthy has repeatedly shown that he is more interested in putting the entire episode behind him and cultivating the support of Mr. Trump, which he believes he needs to recapture control of the House next year. A decision to back the commission by Mr. McCarthy or other Republicans would almost certainly enrage the former president.

Mr. Trump, after all, remains fixated on vindicating his election claims and justifying his loss with false statements. “The Presidential Election of 2020,” he said in a statement on Saturday, “will go down as THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY!”

The debate is almost certain to churn up many of the arguments hurled last week over House Republicans’ decision to oust their No. 3, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, from party leadership because she refused to stop criticizing Mr. Trump and members of her party for their roles in the attack.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Ms. Cheney said Mr. McCarthy and her replacement as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, were complicit in Mr. Trump’s lies and risked driving American democracy into a death spiral. She argued that a commission was vital to fleshing out the full extent of Mr. Trump’s campaign to undermine the election results, including anything Mr. McCarthy or other Republicans knew about it.

“I cannot imagine a more important issue than whether or not the Republican Party is going to be a party that embraces and defends the rule of law and the Constitution,” Ms. Cheney said.

Ms. Stefanik pushed back in her own appearance on Fox News, saying that Ms. Cheney was “looking backward” and that party leadership was eager to work with Mr. Trump to address “election integrity” issues with the 2020 vote.

“He’s critical to the party,” Ms. Stefanik said. “He is the leader of the Republican Party. Voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and they continue to look to him for his vision.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi displayed the American Rescue Plan Act during an enrollment ceremony at the Capitol in March.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi displayed the American Rescue Plan Act during an enrollment ceremony at the Capitol in March.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Biden administration will begin paying hundreds of dollars per month to millions of American families in July as it rolls out the refundable child tax credit that was created as part of the economic relief legislation that Congress passed in March.

The provision in the stimulus bill was viewed by Democrats as central to their efforts to reduce poverty and income inequality in the United States. The program is expected to provide additional funds to 39 million households and the Biden administration projects that it will lift 5 million children out of poverty this year.

The Treasury Department said on Monday that the temporary payments of up to $300 per month will begin on July 15 to families that are eligible. Families with children under 6 years old can receive the $300 monthly payment, while those with children over 6 receive $250 per month.

The size of the payments are phased out based on income levels.

The money represents advance payments on expanded refunds taxpayers are eligible to receive through the American Rescue Plan that was passed in March. Families are getting half of the money as advanced monthly payments this year and will get the rest when they file their tax returns next year. The law boosted the maximum size of the tax credit to $3,600 this year.

President Biden wants to extend the benefit as part of his recently proposed American Families Plan.

“While the American Rescue Plan provides for this vital tax relief to hard working families for this year, Congress must pass the American Families Plan to ensure that working families will be able to count on this relief for years to come,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “For working families with children, this tax cut sends a clear message: help is here.”

As with the economic stimulus payments, the child tax credit money will be distributed by the Internal Revenue Service through direct deposit, checks or debit cards.

Joel Greenberg, the former confidant of Representative Matt Gaetz, has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Joel Greenberg, the former confidant of Representative Matt Gaetz, has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.Credit…Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

Joel Greenberg, the former confidant of Representative Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty on Monday in federal court in Orlando to a range of charges, including sex trafficking a minor, as part of a plea deal that will require him to help in other Justice Department investigations.

“Are you pleading guilty to these charges because you are guilty?” said United States Magistrate Court Judge Leslie Hoffman.

“Yes,” said Mr. Greenberg, who wore a dark blue jumpsuit and white surgical mask and was handcuffed.

Mr. Greenberg admitted in a plea agreement filed on Friday to a range of crimes. The hearing on Monday formalized that agreement, and Mr. Greenberg answered questions from a judge before admitting his guilt.

Mr. Gaetz is under investigation into whether he violated sex trafficking laws by paying the same 17-year-old for sex. On Monday, Mr. Gaetz’s name was not mentioned in court, nor was it referenced in the court documents filed Friday.

Mr. Greenberg is facing over 12 years in prison but it was unclear when he will be sentenced. As part of his plea agreement, he needs to provide substantial help to the Justice Department’s prosecutions of others in exchange for help convincing a judge to give him a more lenient sentence. Defense lawyers typically want to delay the sentencing for as long as possible in order to give their clients the most time to help the government.

Mr. Greenberg, a Republican, was a newcomer to politics when he won a local election in 2016 to become the tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., north of Orlando.

Shortly after taking office, according to court documents, he began committing a range of fraud and other crimes, including using taxpayer money to pay women for sex and buy sports memorabilia.

He was first indicted last June. At the end of last year, Mr. Greenberg began cooperating with the government as he realized that prosecutors had substantial evidence against him and that he could spend decades in prison if he went to trial and lost.

Mr. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, had told reporters after a court hearing last month that “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.” But he declined to elaborate.

In response to questions outside the courtroom on Monday about whether Mr. Greenberg will cooperate against Mr. Gaetz, Mr. Scheller provided a slightly more measured response.

“He is bound by it the plea agreement — he will honor it,” Mr. Scheller said.

Kamala Harris, the first vice president of Asian descent, will talk about her heritage and call attention to a recent spate of violence against Asian-Americans.
Kamala Harris, the first vice president of Asian descent, will talk about her heritage and call attention to a recent spate of violence against Asian-Americans.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver the keynote address on Wednesday at a virtual event intended to encourage a group of eight Democratic senators of color to work closer together on behalf of minority communities.

The event, hosted by the AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee focused on mobilizing Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters, comes amid a rise in reports of violence against Asian-Americans during the pandemic. Ms. Harris, whose mother was Indian, is the first vice president of Asian descent, and she is expected to address her heritage during her speech.

Event organizers also expect Ms. Harris to focus on the political power Asian-American voters wield — they turned out in record numbers during the last presidential election — as well as on the potential of minority lawmakers working together.

“I imagine she’ll touch on the fact that in order to stay unified, we need to build an allyship with other people of color and other underrepresented groups,” Varun Nikore, the president of the AAPI Victory Fund, said in an interview. “We need the broader spirit of partnering with other communities in this country, because most of our issues are the same.”

All eight Democratic senators of color are expected to attend on Wednesday. The group includes senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Alex Padilla of California, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

The group has worked together to issue joint statements condemning the recent spate of violence against Asian-Americans. Its members have discussed formally creating a caucus that would focus on issues faced by Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, but those plans have not yet been solidified.

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former secretary of state, is also expected to attend the event.

Ms. Harris, for her part, has in recent weeks been more vocal about the need to call attention to the violence and condemn acts of hate.

“This speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,” Ms. Harris said in March, reacting to a spree of shootings at massage parlors in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. “I do want to say to our Asian-American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer is 82 and has been on the Supreme Court for nearly 27 years.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer is 82 and has been on the Supreme Court for nearly 27 years. Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Many of the liberals who say Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a terrible miscalculation when she decided not to retire are now urging Justice Stephen G. Breyer to step down and let President Biden nominate his replacement.

The justice is 82 and has been on the court for nearly 27 years. In almost any other line of work he would be well past retirement age. Justice Ginsburg’s death in September allowed President Donald J. Trump to name her successor and shifted the Supreme Court to the right.

“Breyer’s best chance at protecting his legacy and impact on the law is to resign now, clearing the way for a younger justice who shares his judicial outlook,” Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in The Washington Post this month.

But scholars who have studied justices’ decisions to leave the court said they had their doubts about the wisdom or effectiveness of such prodding.

“A justice, like any other federal judge, would rather confess to grand larceny than to confess a political motivation,” said Christine Kexel Chabot, who teaches at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law and is the author of a 2019 study called “Do Justices Time Their Retirements Politically?

Justice Breyer has been particularly adamant that politics plays no role in judges’ work, and he recently suggested that it should also not figure into their decisions about when to retire.

“My experience of more than 30 years as a judge has shown me that, once men and women take the judicial oath, they take the oath to heart,” he said last month in a lecture at Harvard Law School. “They are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

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