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President Biden News: Live Updates

Paul D. Irving and Michael C. Stenger, the former sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate, have come under scrutiny since the Capitol attack. Both have resigned.
Paul D. Irving and Michael C. Stenger, the former sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate, have come under scrutiny since the Capitol attack. Both have resigned.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Three former top Capitol security officials and the chief of the Washington police blamed federal law enforcement and the Defense Department on Tuesday for intelligence failures ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and for slow authorization of the National Guard as the violence escalated.

“None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred,” former Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund told senators who are investigating security failures related to the attack. He called the riot “the worst attack on law enforcement and our democracy that I have seen” and said he witnessed insurrectionists assaulting officers not only with their fists but also with pipes, sticks, bats, metal barricades and flagpoles.

“These criminals came prepared for war,” Chief Sund said.

Chief Sund, Paul D. Irving, the former House sergeant-at-arms, and Michael C. Stenger, his former Senate counterpart, each said they had not seen a report from an F.B.I. field office in Norfolk, Va., that flagged an anonymous social media thread that warned of a looming war at the Capitol despite planning meetings with the bureau and others in federal law enforcement.

They pointed to a breakdown in communication of some of the intelligence. Chief Sund testified he now knows the F.B.I. report had reached the Capitol Police the day before the attack, but he had not personally seen it.

Robert J. Contee, the chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, laid the blame for the slow deployment of the National Guard solely on the Defense Department, noting that the Army had expressed reluctance to send in the troops as the violence escalated.

“I was stunned at the response from Department of the Army,” Chief Contee said.

The joint meeting of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee was the first time the public has heard Mr. Sund and Mr. Iriving, the top two security officials at the Capitol on the day of the assault. Both resigned after the attack.




‘Hold the Line, Patriots’: Scenes From the Capitol Riot

Our cameras captured the mayhem, confusion and chaos outside the Capitol as Trump supporters entered and disrupted certification of the Electoral College results.

“… the police are … I’m just giving you guys a heads-up. They already secured the White House. I’m just giving you a heads-up. Hold the line, patriots. Hold the line. National Guard is on their way.” Crowd: “The steal is real. The steal is real …” “The steal is real.” [cheering] “They’re not operating by our [expletive] laws. This is real. And theirs is fake.” [cheering] “Put the knife away.” “Y’all are out here, they’re gone. Why are we here?” “Yeah, but you’re holding a knife.” “He just [expletive] got in my face, a man.” “That’s a good point, but you got a knife.” “A man just got in my face.” “I know. It’s wrong, it’s wrong.” “OK, well talk to him. Don’t talk to a woman that jumped in my face.” “You got a lot of people here to defend you. A lot of people.” “I will [expletive] kill anybody.” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” [coughing] “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Every one of us in the front line got hit really hard with pepper spray. A lot of it. And so that pushed us back. But they’re still working on getting inside the building and taking their stand.” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” “Listen up. Hey! Listen up! We need to go take down MSNBC, CNN, you know where all this [expletive] started and put out the fire. They started the fire.” “We’re not here to be violent. We are not here to be violent. We’re not here to be violent with you guys.” “Who has water?” “Me.” “Water, water.” “The ones who protected you. The ones who stood by your side when you were being attacked.” “Traitors! Traitors! Traitors!” “Now you’re attacking us.” “[Expletive] garbage people. Such a [expletive] shame.” “My 5-year-old son’s more of a [expletive] man than you are!” “Move! Move!”

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Our cameras captured the mayhem, confusion and chaos outside the Capitol as Trump supporters entered and disrupted certification of the Electoral College results.CreditCredit…Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

They have come under scrutiny amid reports that they did not act swiftly enough to call for the National Guard.

Mr. Irving took issue with former Chief Sund’s account that the former sergeant-at-arms rejected National Guard support because of “optics.” He also disputed Mr. Sund’s timeline of events on Jan. 6 that indicated Mr. Irving waited half an hour before approaching political leaders about calling in the guard.

“Certain media reports have stated that ‘optics’ determined my judgment about using those National Guard troops. That is categorically false,” Mr. Irving said. “‘Optics’ as portrayed in the media did not determine our security posture; safety was always paramount when evaluating security for Jan. 6.”

Still, he acknowledged the security failures. “We now know we had the wrong plan,” he said.

Some Republicans have sought to undermine the severity of the attacks by claiming that they were unplanned. In response to questions from Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Homeland Security committee, Mr. Sund, Mr. Conte and Mr. Irving all said that they believed the siege was coordinated.

“These people came with equipment, climbing gear,” Mr. Sund said, adding that two explosive devices placed near the Capitol distracted the authorities. Mr. Conte said that there is evidence the attackers used hand signals and coordinated their use of irritants, like bear spray.

In response to questioning, Mr. Sund said that Capitol Police had not been trained on how to deal with a mass infiltration and that many officers had not been equipped with riot gear. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, seemed somewhat surprised by the disclosures, calling for such training and for protective gear for officers including helmets and gas masks.

Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza testified to the violence she confronted Jan. 6. After she was called in early to duty at 1:30 p.m., she fought to keep rioters from damaging the Capitol, nearly breaking her arm and suffering burns from gas deployed in the Rotunda.

“I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day,” Captain Mendoza told senators.

After fighting the mob for four long hours, she spent the next day at the hospital with the family of Officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed after suffering injuries during the siege and later died.

“It’s sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens,” Captain Mendoza added.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran diplomat, will become the United States ambassador to the United Nations.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran diplomat, will become the United States ambassador to the United Nations.Credit…Pool photo by Greg Nash

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran diplomat, to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations, as President Biden’s administration seeks to become a more active force in the global body, which was marked by American retreat during the Trump administration.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s confirmation, by a vote of 78-20, is the latest chapter in a rise that started in her birthplace of Louisiana, where she attended segregated schools and experienced a childhood, in the early 1950s, punctuated by racial tension.

As America’s top representative to the United Nations, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, 68, has said she will set about restoring alliances and re-engaging in multilateral efforts to address global problems like the coronavirus pandemic.

“America is back,” said Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, when Mr. Biden announced her nomination in November, echoing a theme of Mr. Biden’s in talks with other world leaders. “Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield joined the foreign service in 1982. From 2008 to 2012, she served as ambassador to Liberia, before moving on to become the director general of the foreign service for about a year. From 2013 to 2017, she served as the top United States diplomat for African affairs, where she helped oversee the response to the Ebola epidemic. In 2017, she was among the diplomats pushed out of the department by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

During her tenure, she became known for what she calls “Gumbo Diplomacy,” referring to the Cajun dish she often prepared alongside her foreign counterparts to break down barriers during diplomatic conversations.

Republicans lawmakers on Capitol Hill have expressed some concern, most notably around a speech she gave in October 2019 on Africa’s relationship with both China and the United States.

In the speech, at Savannah State University, she extolled the benefits of American cooperation with China in cultivating strengthened relations with the developing countries of Africa, one of her main areas of expertise.

The speech was conspicuously lacking any criticism of China’s human-rights record or pattern of predatory-lending practices in developing countries desperate for investment. It was sponsored by the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government educational organization that American officials have accused of spreading pro-China propaganda in schools in the United States and elsewhere.

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield expressed regret for having agreed to make the speech but strongly contested the criticism of her views. “If you look at what I have done prior to that,” she said, “there is no question that I am not at all naïve about what the Chinese are doing and I have called them out on a regular basis.”

Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, if confirmed as interior secretary, would be the first Native American to serve in the cabinet.
Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, if confirmed as interior secretary, would be the first Native American to serve in the cabinet.Credit…Pool Photo by Jim Watson/EPA, via Shutterstock

It’s a busy day on Capitol Hill.

President Biden’s nominees for interior and health secretary are appearing before Senate committees, where they are expected to face tough questions from Republicans.

The confirmation hearing of Representative Deb Haaland, the nominee for interior secretary, by the Energy and Natural Resources committee, kicked off at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, and questioning by Republicans on the panel is expected to be particularly tough. Democrats have pointed to the historic nature of her nomination: She would be the first Native American serve in the cabinet, leading a department that plays a huge role providing services to 1.9 million Indigenous people and helping maintain the government’s relationship with 574 federally recognized tribes. Her detractors have zeroed in on her opposition to all oil and gas exploration on public land and to the natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general and nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, appeared before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee at 10 a.m. He would be the first Latino to serve as health secretary, and has deep experience as a lawmaker and in legal defense of the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans have painted him as an extremist, faulting him for his views on the A.C.A. and abortion rights.

Two other Senate committees are beginning investigative hearings into the security breakdowns that failed to prevent the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The joint hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee started at 10 a.m. It was the first time the public heard from top security officials at the time of the assault.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, appeared before the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, and is slated to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. His testimony comes as Democrats look to pass $1.9 trillion in new economic relief, an effort that has raised concerns in some quarters about the potential for higher inflation. Mr. Powell has typically pushed for additional government support to help the economy through the pandemic.

Vaccine makers also appeared before the House Energy Committee to discuss expanding availability of their products beginning at 10:30 a.m. Executives from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax are scheduled to appear.

The full Senate voted to confirm Mr. Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, around 11:30 a.m., and is expected to vote on the nominee for agriculture secretary, Thomas J. Vilsack, around 2:45 p.m.

The confirmation hearings for the attorney general nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland, entered their second day on Tuesday, with lawmakers hearing from with expert witnesses. During his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Judge Garland vowed to make the federal investigation into the Capitol riot his first priority if confirmed.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on digital security at 2:30 p.m., with top executives from the tech companies FireEye, SolarWinds, Microsoft and CrowdStrike appearing as witnesses. The top cybersecurity official at the White House said last week that investigators were still uncovering details of a broad Russian breach of government and corporate computers discovered late last year, which became known as the SolarWinds attack. Officials believe that a Russian intelligence operation inserted code into network management software made by SolarWinds, a Texas company, and other layers of the supply chain to infiltrate government agencies.

Former Senator David Perdue of Georgia lost to Jon Ossoff in a runoff election in January. He has decided against a bid for a Senate seat in 2022, he said on Tuesday.
Former Senator David Perdue of Georgia lost to Jon Ossoff in a runoff election in January. He has decided against a bid for a Senate seat in 2022, he said on Tuesday.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Former Senator David Perdue of Georgia has decided he will not run against an incumbent Democrat, Senator Raphael Warnock, in 2022, just a week after Mr. Perdue announced he had filed paperwork to kick-start a possible new campaign.

Mr. Perdue, a Republican and former businessman who lost in a January runoff election to the state’s other newly elected senator, Jon Ossoff, said in a statement that he had reached the decision after “much prayer and reflection” with his wife, Bonnie.

Mr. Warnock defeated Kelly Loeffler, who was also a Republican incumbent, in January, winning a term that expires in January 2023. The two defeats deadlocked Senate control, 50-50, but effectively handed the majority to the Democrats, because of the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as the body’s president. Mr. Ossoff’s term does not expire until 2027.

“This is a personal decision, not a political one,” Mr. Perdue wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

He added that he was “confident” anyone the Republicans nominated to run would defeat Mr. Warnock, and said, “I will do anything I can to make that happen.”

It is not clear why Mr. Perdue made his about-face. His post announcing his decision not to run butted awkwardly against his last one, posted on Feb. 16, that read, “Bonnie and I are considering running in 2022.”

A message to his spokesman was not immediately returned.

Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue tethered their electoral prospects in the Jan. 5 runoffs closely to former President Donald J. Trump.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr. Perdue echoed Mr. Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the state and he called on Republican officials in Georgia to change state laws and election rules “so that, in the future, every legal voter will be treated equally and illegal votes will not be included.”

State election officials have repeatedly said that illegal voting had no impact on the outcome of either the November general election or the January runoff.

But in his statement last week, Mr. Perdue suggested he was the real winner of his race, even though his victory over Mr. Ossoff last fall fell below the state’s 50 percent threshold, triggering the runoff in January.

Xavier Becerra, a former member of Congress who is now attorney general of California,  took a deep interest in health policy while in Washington but lacks direct experience as a health professional.
Xavier Becerra, a former member of Congress who is now attorney general of California, took a deep interest in health policy while in Washington but lacks direct experience as a health professional.Credit…Sarah Silbiger/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Biden’s nominee for health secretary, Xavier Becerra, pledged Tuesday morning to work to “restore faith in public health institutions” and to “look to find common cause” with his critics, as Republicans sought to paint him as a liberal extremist who is unqualified for the job.

Appearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Mr. Becerra, the attorney general of California, was grilled by Republicans who complained that he has no background in the health profession, and who targeted his support for the Affordable Care Act and for abortion rights.

“Basically, you’ve been against pro-life, on the record,” Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, said to Mr. Becerra. He asked whether Mr. Becerra would commit to not using taxpayer money for abortions, which is currently barred by federal law.

“I will commit to following the law,” Mr. Becerra replied — leaving himself some wiggle room should the law change.

Tuesday’s appearance was the first of two Senate confirmation hearings for Mr. Becerra; he is scheduled to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Despite the tough questions, Mr. Becerra appears headed for confirmation in a Senate evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break a tie.

If confirmed, Mr. Becerra will immediately face a daunting task in leading the department at a critical moment, during a pandemic that has claimed half a million lives and has taken a particularly devastating toll on people of color. He would be the first Latino to serve as secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

While Mr. Becerra, a former member of Congress, lacks direct experience as a health professional, he took a deep interest in health policy while in Washington and helped write the Affordable Care Act. He has more recently been at the forefront of legal efforts to defend it, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the act from being dismantled by Republicans.

Republicans and their allies in the conservative and anti-abortion movements have seized on Mr. Becerra’s defense of the A.C.A. as well as his support for abortion rights. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, branded Mr. Becerra an “unqualified radical” in a post on Twitter on Monday, saying, “Any Senator supporting him will pay a price with voters.”

The Conservative Action Project, an advocacy group, issued a statement on Monday signed by dozens of conservative leaders, including several former members of Congress, complaining that Mr. Becerra had a “troubling record” with respect to “policies relating to the sanctity of life, human dignity and religious liberty.”

They cited in particular his vote against banning “late-term abortion,” and accused him of using his role as attorney general “to tip the scales in favor of Planned Parenthood,” a group that advocates abortion rights. Asked by Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, about the late-term abortion vote, Mr. Becerra noted that his wife is an obstetrician-gynecologist, and said he would “work to find common ground” on the issue. Mr. Romney was not impressed. “It sounds like we’re not going to reach common ground there,” he replied.

Democrats are emphasizing Mr. Becerra’s experience leading one of the nation’s largest justice departments through an especially trying period, and his up-from-the-bootstraps biography. A son of immigrants from Mexico, he attended Stanford University as an undergraduate and for law school. He served 12 terms in Congress, representing Los Angeles, before becoming the attorney general of his home state in 2017.

In her opening remarks, Senator Patty Murray, who is presiding over Tuesday’s hearing as chairwoman of the Senate health committee, said Mr. Becerra had “proven himself as an executive leader by seeing one of the nation’s largest justice departments through one of the most challenging periods in recent history” and spotlighted his commitment to social justice.

“He has held companies accountable for flouting Covid-19 safety rules and putting workers at risk,” Ms. Murray said. And, she added, “he has worked throughout his career to advocate on behalf of communities of color across health, immigration, education.”

The Manhattan district attorney is set to obtain eight years of federal income tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump.
The Manhattan district attorney is set to obtain eight years of federal income tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The United States Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the Manhattan district attorney to obtain eight years of federal income tax returns of former President Donald J. Trump and other records from his accountants. The decision capped a long-running legal battle over prosecutors’ access to the information.

Whether prosecutors find evidence of crimes, however, will also depend on other information not found in the actual returns.

The New York Times last year provided a preview of what awaits the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., when it obtained and analyzed decades of income tax data for Mr. Trump and his companies. The tax records provide an unprecedented and highly detailed look at the byzantine world of Mr. Trump’s finances, which for years he has simultaneously bragged about and sought to keep secret.

The Times’s examination showed that the former president reported hundreds of millions of dollars in business losses, went years without paying federal income taxes and faces an Internal Revenue Service audit of a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed a decade ago.

Among other things, the records revealed that Mr. Trump had paid just $750 in federal income taxes in his first year as president and no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years. They also showed he had written off $26 million in “consulting fees” as a business expense between 2010 and 2018, some of which appear to have been paid to his older daughter, Ivanka Trump, while she was a salaried employee of the Trump Organization.

The legitimacy of the fees, which reduced Mr. Trump’s taxable income, has since become a subject of Mr. Vance’s investigation, as well as a separate civil inquiry by Letitia James, the New York attorney general. Ms. James and Mr. Vance are Democrats, and Mr. Trump has sought to portray the multiple inquiries as politically motivated, while denying any wrongdoing.

An empty classroom at a public school in Baltimore.
An empty classroom at a public school in Baltimore.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would not allow broad cancellation of standardized tests this year, but would offer flexibility from some high-stakes federal mandates.

In a letter sent to state education chiefs on Monday, Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant education secretary, wrote that the Education Department was “not inviting blanket waivers of assessments,” which the Trump administration had issued at the outset of the pandemic. However, the department said in a statement that it was encouraging states to make wide-ranging modifications, such as extending the testing window to summer and fall, giving assessments remotely and shortening their length.

The department also said it would consider applications from states looking to waive certain federal requirements, such as an accountability provision in the federal K-12 law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, that requires a 95 percent test participation rate. The department will also allow waivers from rules that would require states to identify and overhaul their lowest-performing schools based on data from the current school year.

“The intent of these flexibilities, and the accountability waivers, is to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports,” Mr. Rosenblum wrote.

The highly anticipated decision was met with mixed reactions from key stakeholders.

The issue of standardized testing has divided the education community. Some education groups, including teachers’ unions, believed that testing students would be cumbersome and impractical in a year that has completely upended the education system. Other groups, like organizations that promote educational equity, believed that assessments would provide crucial data points for grasping the toll that the pandemic has taken on student achievement.

Mr. Rosenblum also wrote in his letter that “it is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning,” and that “state assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a powerful ally of the Biden administration, said that while the administration had done “admirable work” in managing the pandemic, “it is a frustrating turn to see the administration ask states to continue requiring assessments during this tumultuous school year.”

Ms. Weingarten said that the union supported the use of “locally developed, authentic assessments that could be used by educators and parents as a baseline for work this summer and next year.”

A national survey released by the National PTA on Monday found that 60 percent of parents were worried that their child was behind and wanted more information on their academic progress, and 52 percent of parents favored end-of-year testing this spring. A majority of parents also wanted to see modifications, and believed that the results should not be used against students or their schools.

“Statewide assessments are one of multiple measures that, when combined, help give a clearer picture of where children are academically and help equip parents to effectively advocate on behalf of their child’s learning,” the organization’s president, Leslie Boggs, said in a statement.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke to a reporter at the airport before returning from Cancún last week.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke to a reporter at the airport before returning from Cancún last week.Credit…Reuters

Less than a week after his instantly infamous escape to Mexico during the historic winter storm in Texas, Senator Ted Cruz has alighted on who he believes is the episode’s true villain: the media.

During an appearance on a podcast hosted by Josh Holmes, a former aide and close adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, Mr. Cruz criticized paparazzi for photographing his bikini-clad wife, Heidi, on the beach in Cancún, the New York Post for publishing the pictures, a reporter who wrote about his dog, Snowflake, and neighbors who leaked text messages that revealed the origin of the Cruz family trip was not what Mr. Cruz had said publicly.

“Heidi is smoking hot, so I said ‘Man, you look great,’” Mr. Cruz said. “I don’t think there are many women who would be thrilled to have reporters following them around taking pictures of them in their bikinis and sticking them in the pages of the New York Post, but that’s what goes by journalism these days.”

Mr. Cruz said his wife was angry that her text messages, first published by The New York Times, inviting their Houston neighbors to travel with them to Cancún in the midst of statewide power outages had been leaked and was investigating who betrayed her confidence. Mr. Cruz said he suspected it was one of his Democratic neighbors.

“She was over at our neighbor’s house walking through it,” he said. “We have folks on our street who put up Beto signs, which I thought was pretty rude.”

The two-term senator, who ran for president in 2016 and has not extinguished his White House ambitions, did not acknowledge it was wrong to leave his state as it was being battered by a deadly storm for a trip to the beach. (Though he acknowledged the trip was “obviously a mistake” after returning from Mexico.) Instead, he said on the podcast that his constituents and the news media should cut him a break.

“Treat each other as human beings,” Mr. Cruz said. “Have some modicum of respect. We just need to laugh a little bit and loosen up.”

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