Democratic congressional leaders on Monday released a budget blueprint that could pave the way for passing President Biden’s stimulus plan with only Democratic votes. The move came shortly before the president was scheduled to meet with a group of Republican senators pitching their own smaller relief package.
The release of the blueprint, known as a budget resolution, is the first in a series of steps to lay the groundwork for passing Mr. Biden’s plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to bypass a filibuster and pass solely with Democratic votes.
“We are hopeful that Republicans will work in a bipartisan manner to support assistance for their communities, but the American people cannot afford any more delays and the Congress must act to prevent more needless suffering,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said in a joint statement.
Earlier in the day, White House officials offered a pointed, if polite, warning to 10 Senate Republicans planning to pitch a scaled-back coronavirus relief package to Mr. Biden on Monday evening: Think bigger.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, played down expectations of the meeting, a critical first test of Mr. Biden’s dueling commitments to bipartisanship and speeding pandemic aid, saying no deal would be done without further negotiations — a statement aimed at reassuring Democrats leery of a fast, weak deal.
“What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer,” Ms. Psaki told reporters on Monday afternoon, repeating the president’s determination to push through a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
“The risk is not that it is too big, this package,” Ms. Psaki added. “The risk is that it is too small. That remains his view.”
A coalition of center-right Republican senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, on Monday outlined a more limited $618 billion stimulus plan, which they are billing as a way for Mr. Biden to pass a pandemic aid bill with bipartisan support and make good on his inauguration pledge to unite the country.
With 10 Republicans on board, joining the Senate’s 50 Democrats, a bipartisan bill could overcome the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster rule. But Democrats have shown little enthusiasm for a measure that amounts to less than one third of what the president says is needed.
Still, after receiving a letter from the senators on Sunday requesting a meeting, Mr. Biden called Ms. Collins and invited her and the other signers to the White House. He also spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.
The Republican proposal is likely to be met with resistance from congressional Democrats. It would include $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion toward helping schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals. The package would also extend enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 a week — currently slated to lapse in March — until June 30.
“We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your administration,” wrote the Republican group, which includes Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.
The measure omits a federal minimum wage increase that Mr. Biden included in his plan. It would also whittle down his proposal to send $1,400 checks to many Americans, and limit it to lower-income earners.
The proposal calls for checks of up to $1,000 for individuals making $50,000 a year or less and families with a combined income of up to $100,000, with individuals earning less than $40,000 — and families earning less than $80,000 — receiving the full amount.
Previous rounds of direct payments were targeted to Americans earning less than $99,000 annually, with those earning less than $75,000 receiving the full amount.
Congress approved more than $4 trillion through a series of bills last year to address the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. Most recently, in December, lawmakers passed a $900 billion stimulus plan that included $600 direct checks to many Americans.
Mr. Biden received an important boost on Monday ahead of his meeting with the senators: Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia, a close ally of former President Trump, said he supported a bigger relief package than the one that the center-right Republicans are proposing.
A House Republican staff lawyer who led President Donald J. Trump’s early defense against his first impeachment in 2019 recommended one of the lawyers who Mr. Trump hired over the weekend to represent him in his second trial, a person familiar with the decision said. The two lawyers know each other well; they are cousins.
Stephen R. Castor, the congressional investigator who battled Democrats over Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, urged the former president to consider hiring Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former district attorney in Pennsylvania, according to the person, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. A second person confirmed the two men are related, a fact first reported by Politico.
Stephen Castor made the recommendation in recent weeks, one of the people said. Mr. Trump announced on Sunday that he had hired Bruce Castor along with David Schoen, a Georgia-based lawyer who had represented Mr. Trump’s longtime adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr. A day earlier, the former president had parted ways with five members of his impeachment defense team.
His new lawyers will need to work quickly. The first filing in the case — Mr. Trump’s formal answer to the House’s “incitement of insurrection” charge for his role in stirring up a mob that attacked the Capitol last month — is due on Tuesday. The trial itself is set to start next week.
It is unclear how close the Castor cousins are. Stephen Castor is a veteran of some of Capitol Hill’s most fiercely partisan oversight disputes in the last decade. He worked on investigations into the Obama administration’s handling of an attack of the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and a gun trafficking program known as Operation Fast and Furious.
In 2019, working under Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, he took on an unusually public role blunting Democrats’ impeachment investigation into Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to smear then-possible Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr. The unassuming Mr. Castor questioned witnesses behind closed doors and during open hearings broadcast live across the country.
Bruce Castor is best known for declining to prosecute Bill Cosby for sexual assault when he was the Montgomery County, Pa., district attorney. He also served a brief stint as the state’s acting attorney general.
An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that Stephen Castor was portrayed on Saturday Night Live. In fact, he was not.
The recent surge in GameStop’s stock — propelled by individual investors who banded together on Reddit — has put new pressure on the Biden administration’s pick for the top job at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler.
Mr. Gensler would inherit the agency as it faces calls to more tightly regulate online trading programs such as Robinhood that critics say enable unsophisticated investors to make risky financial bets, Deborah B. Solomon reports in The New York Times. But defenders of such platforms say they help flatten out inequities in the financial markets that have long favored deep-pocketed firms over average people. The S.E.C. said it was “closely monitoring” the situation in a statement.
“What’s going on with GameStop has almost nothing to do with GameStop as a company,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “When you see the markets essentially turned into a video game or turned into a casino, that actually has some pretty serious repercussions for the way we use the markets to fund our economy.”
The question for Mr. Gensler, and the agency, will be what, if anything, they should do about concerns from people like Ms. Roper.
The S.E.C.’s role has traditionally been to ensure that companies disclose enough information for people to make informed investment decisions. But it does so by enforcing laws that were written before the advent of trading platforms such as Robinhood. Mr. Gensler’s first moves, those who know him say, will be investigating the GameStop surge to figure out who benefited, as there is speculation that it may have been fueled by some big funds after all.
A federal court on Monday overturned the Trump administration’s signature environmental policy, a regulation that critics said was aimed at crippling the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enact new clean air and water protections.
The order by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana overturned the E.P.A.’s policy, which called for the agency to dismiss or downgrade any studies that did not expose its raw data, sending it back to the agency for revisions, if the new administrator wishes to pursue it.
Dozens of leading medical and scientific groups argued the rule actually would have blocked the E.P.A. from using important studies showing the health consequences of exposure to air pollution and other toxins because those studies often rely on confidential medical data that cannot be released.
The Biden administration had vowed to overturn the policy and said in a statement Monday they were “pleased” with the court’s ruling. The E.P.A. did not say whether it would aim to revise the regulation, though the issue is likely to come up Wednesday when Mr. Biden’s choice to lead the agency, Michael Regan, appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a confirmation hearing.
Public health advocates said they thought it was unlikely the Biden administration will seek to replace the Trump policy with one of its own.
“For all practical purposes it’s dead,” Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, said of the Trump-era rule. He called the judge’s decision “a strong rebuke of an ill-conceived and illegal approach designed to undermine the use of science that is really the cornerstone of the agency’s work.”
The decision is a serious blow to the Trump administration’s legacy. In addition to rolling back more than 100 air, water and climate change regulations, the E.P.A. under Mr. Trump also sought to make it more difficult for any future administration to craft aggressive rules.
Mandy Gunasekara, who served as chief of staff to Andrew Wheeler, Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. administrator, said in a statement that the judge’s decision was “unfortunate” and maintained the goal of the policy was to promote transparency.
A whistle-blower complaint filed on Monday said a top Trump homeland security official sought to constrain the Biden administration’s immigration policies by agreeing to hand policy controls to the pro-Trump union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The complaint accuses Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II of “gross mismanagement, gross waste of government funds and abuse of authority” over the labor agreements he signed with the immigration agents union the day before President Biden’s inauguration.
According to the complaint, on Jan. 19, Mr. Cuccinelli — an immigration hard-liner whose legal legitimacy to serve in senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security was contested — essentially sought to tie Mr. Biden’s hands.
“This abuse of authority is shocking,” wrote David Z. Seide, a lawyer representing the whistle-blower, whom he described as “a current federal employee who wishes to remain anonymous” and who “possesses information concerning significant acts of misconduct” by Mr. Cuccinelli.
A senior homeland security official confirmed that since Mr. Biden’s inauguration, officials have been meeting to discuss the implications of the ICE labor agreements.
One clause in the contract requires homeland security leaders to obtain “prior affirmative consent” in writing from the union on changes to policies and functions affecting agents, appears to allow the ICE union to argue that it can reject changes such as Mr. Biden’s recent order to focus on violent criminals and not prioritize other undocumented immigrants.
Mr. Cuccinelli said in an email that the agreement is “entirely legal and appropriate, or we wouldn’t have executed it.”
He declined to respond to a question inquiring how the agreement would affect Mr. Biden’s directives to ICE.
Chris Crane, the union president who signed the agreements with him, did not return a request for comment. The ICE union, which represents more than 7,500 agents and employees, endorsed Mr. Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Among other things, Mr. Seide’s complaint portrayed the agreements as “effectively giving the union unprecedented veto authority in many areas,” including enhancing its power “to slow and impede agency activities by requiring its express written approval prior to implementing changes in the conditions of employment” for agents.
The complaint filed on Monday is the second major accusation against Mr. Cuccinelli by a whistle-blower in recent months. In September, Brian Murphy, the former intelligence chief for the Homeland Security Department, claimed Mr. Cuccinelli ordered him to modify intelligence assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe” and include information on violent “left-wing” groups. Mr. Cuccinelli denied the accusations.
Among President Biden’s most specific foreign policy promises was a pledge to convene a global democracy summit during his first year in office. The gathering would be intended to take a public stand against the authoritarian and populist tides that rose during the presidency of Donald J. Trump and, as Mr. Biden and his advisers see it, threaten to swamp Western political values.
In the weeks since Mr. Biden’s election, however, America’s own democracy has been staggering. In January, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted the hallowed peaceful transfer of power. Next week, the Senate will begin its second presidential impeachment trial of Mr. Trump in a year. Republicans in Congress are poised to impose legislative gridlock by obstructing Mr. Biden’s every move.
The sense of a dysfunctional, if not entirely broken, democratic system has foreign rivals crowing — and suggesting that the United States has no business lecturing other nations.
“America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it,” Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, wrote on Facebook after the Capitol riot. “And, even more so, to impose it on others.”
Administration officials say that neither opportunistic commentary from foreign rivals nor recent expressions of good-faith skepticism from foreign policy analysts at home has tempered the plan Mr. Biden promised as a candidate: convening a “summit for democracy” where like-minded leaders could discuss ways to strengthen their own systems and protect them from threats like corruption, election security breaches, disinformation and authoritarian models.
A person familiar with the summit planning, which has been underway since before the election, said Mr. Biden was undeterred by the recent political strife in the United States and was likely to act as the host at an event with fellow heads of state, although details like the timing and location have not been determined. Others familiar with the process said they expected an event near the end of the year. A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.
In Washington, however, a debate over the idea — and whether to postpone the plan — has broken out among former United States government officials and academics. It narrowly concerns plans for the summit but involves larger anxieties about the country’s role as a global leader in the post-Trump era.
“The United States has lost credibility; there’s no question about that,” said James Goldgeier, a professor of international relations at American University and a former National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration. “If you have total gridlock on Capitol Hill and you don’t have the ability to get things done to improve people’s lives, you’re not going to command a lot of moral authority.”
Mr. Biden had planned to travel to the State Department on Monday to deliver a foreign policy speech. But that was postponed because of the winter weather complications across the region, according to a White House official.
Katie Rogers contributed reporting.
New administrations are generally cautious about changing their predecessors’ legal positions. But this time may be different when it comes to repudiating former President Donald J. Trump’s agenda in major cases, including the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
In a position that prizes its reputation for credibility, consistency and independence, solicitors general of both parties have said they are wary of veering from positions staked out by their predecessors.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was President Barack Obama’s first solicitor general before joining the court, has said, for instance, that “a change in position is a really big deal that people should hesitate a long time over.”
But a new law review article by Michael R. Dreeben, a longtime deputy solicitor general, presents a dissenting view, concluding that the Biden administration need not fear announcing bold reversals of stances taken by the Trump administration.
“The court will understand that new administrations have new views, particularly coming on the heels of the Trump administration, which in many ways pressed a radical vision of its jurisprudential agenda on the court that a successor administration is entitled to push back on,” Mr. Dreeben, who worked in the office for more than 30 years, said in an interview.
With the departure of former President Donald J. Trump, the G.O.P. has become a leaderless party, with past standard-bearers changing their voter registrations, luminaries like Senator Rob Portman of Ohio retiring, and far-right extremists like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia building a brand on a web of dangerous conspiracy theories.
With no dominant leader other than the deplatformed one-term president, a radical right movement that became emboldened under Mr. Trump has been maneuvering for more power. More moderate Republicans feel increasingly under attack, but so far have made little progress in galvanizing voters, donors or new recruits for office.
Instead, in Arizona, the state Republican Party has brazenly punished dissent, formally censuring three of its own: Gov. Doug Ducey, former Senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain. The party cited their criticisms of Mr. Trump and their defenses of the state’s election process.
In Wyoming, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, headlined a rally on Thursday to denounce Representative Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach Mr. Trump. Joining Mr. Gaetz by phone was Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, who has been working to unseat Ms. Cheney and replace her with someone he believes better represents the views of her constituents — in other words, fealty to his father.
And in Michigan, Meshawn Maddock, a Trump supporter who pushed false claims about voter fraud and organized bus loads of Republicans from the state to attend the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, is running unopposed to become the new co-chairman of the state party.
There are still Republican officials who are responsible for the party’s political interests, but they are preaching unity to factions that have no desire to unite.
In an interview on Friday, Ronna McDaniel — the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump’s — sounded exasperated at the public brawling.
“If you have a family dispute, don’t go on ‘Jerry Springer,’” Ms. McDaniel said. “Do it behind closed doors. It’s my role to call them and explain that if we don’t keep our party united and focused on 2022, we will lose. If we are attacking fellow Republicans and cancel culture within our own party, it is not helpful to winning majorities.”