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Biden, Harris remember coronavirus victims with vigil at Lincoln Memorial

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/19/2021 Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz, John Wagner
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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris remembered the 400,000 people in the United States who have died of the coronavirus with a dusk vigil at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday. “To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today,” Biden said in brief remarks on the eve of his inauguration.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointedly accused President Trump of having “provoked” the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. On the final full day of his White House tenure, Trump released a video and could issue scores of pardons.

Senate confirmation hearings were held for five of Biden’s Cabinet nominees throughout the day on a heavily fortified Capitol Hill, where preparations continue for Biden’s swearing-in at noon Wednesday.

Here’s what to know:

  • Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Pennsylvania’s top health official, Rachel Levine, to be his assistant secretary of health. She would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
  • Confirmation hearings were held Tuesday for Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas as homeland security secretary, Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Janet L. Yellen as treasury secretary and Lloyd J. Austin III as defense secretary.
  • In a farewell address released Tuesday afternoon, Trump touted his record as president and declared that “the movement we started is only just beginning.” He referred to the inauguration of a “new administration” but made no mention of Biden by name.
  • U.S. authorities have leveled the first conspiracy charge against an apparent leader of an extremist group in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, arresting an alleged Oath Keeper who is accused of plotting to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation of Biden’s victory.
  • Here’s what you need to know about Biden’s presidential inauguration.

8:24 PM: Uncertainty reigns in Senate as Schumer pushes fast agenda and McConnell calls out Trump

McConnell made his most definitive break yet with Trump on Tuesday while the leader of the incoming Democratic majority laid out an ambitious agenda for the opening weeks of the Biden administration, signaling a dizzying changing of the guard in Washington.

McConnell for the first time directly blamed Trump for the lethal Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. “The mob was fed lies,” he said in his final floor speech closing out six years as majority leader. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined a rapid-fire agenda for the coming weeks that includes confirming Biden’s Cabinet nominees, approving trillions in additional pandemic aid and barring Trump from holding office — despite an uncertain road map in the 50-50 Senate, which is struggling even to adopt its basic rules.

Read the full story.

By: Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane

7:45 PM: Sen. Cruz says video of rioters claiming he would approve of their actions is ‘bizarre and horrifying’

a man sitting in a chair talking on the phone: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) takes the subway at the U.S. Capitol on January 19, 2021. © Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) takes the subway at the U.S. Capitol on January 19, 2021.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Tuesday denounced a video in which members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 claimed he would approve of their actions.

“I thought it was bizarre and horrifying, and those who committed a terrorist attack on the Capitol should be fully prosecuted,” Cruz told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. “They should go to jail for a long time. And it was despicable.”

In a video filmed by the New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson, members of the pro-Trump mob are seen rifling through documents on senators’ desks after storming the Senate chamber earlier this month.

“I think Cruz would want us to do this,” one of the rioters says to another.

Asked whether he feels any responsibility at all for the violence that took place that day, Cruz paused a few moments before answering.

“Debating a question of constitutional law on the floor of the Senate is the antithesis of trying to resolve conflicts through violent terrorist attack,” he said. “The way we should resolve disputes in our democratic process is through debate on the floor of the Senate, and the action of these terrorists was completely and utterly unacceptable.”

By: Felicia Sonmez

6:48 PM: DNI nominee says, if confirmed, she will release unclassified report on Khashoggi killing

Avril Haines posing for the camera: Avril Haines, President-elect Biden's nominee for director of national intelligence, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, 2021. © Joe Raedle/Bloomberg Avril Haines, President-elect Biden's nominee for director of national intelligence, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, 2021.

Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence said Tuesday that if confirmed, she will release an unclassified report on the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

For months, senior lawmakers have been pressing the intelligence community to make public what its officials have been willing to say only in classified settings: that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s 2018 killing.

Trump, who has established a close working relationship with the leadership of Saudi Arabia, has been reluctant to publicly blame the crown prince — the country’s de facto leader — for the killing, which sparked global outrage.

During Tuesday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Haines whether she would release the unclassified report.

“The Congress, as you know, passed a law requiring the DNI to submit to the Congress an unclassified report on who was responsible for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Wyden, who has been among the most vocal lawmakers pressing for the release of the material. “If you are confirmed, will you submit to the Congress the unclassified report required by the law?”

“Yes, senator,” Haines responded. “Absolutely, we’ll follow the law.”

In December 2019, Congress passed a law requiring the director of national intelligence within 30 days to provide an unclassified report identifying those who carried out, participated in or were otherwise responsible for the death of Khashoggi, who was probably suffocated and then dismembered, according to intelligence assessments of a recording of the incident. A separate provision allowed for a classified annex.

In early 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) sent its response to Congress, according to U.S. officials.

“The response said simply that ODNI would not provide any unclassified information,” Wyden said at the time. “A total and complete coverup.”

By: Felicia Sonmez and Ellen Nakashima

6:23 PM: Top Fox News managers depart amid Murdoch concerns over controversial Arizona election-night projection

The Fox News executive who oversaw its election-night “decision desk” is retiring at the end of the month, a move due in part to what Rupert Murdoch and other top network leaders viewed as a mishandling of the network’s early and controversial Arizona projection for Biden.

Bill Sammon, Fox News Channel’s senior vice president and managing editor in Washington, told staffers Monday morning about his planned retirement. His role will be absorbed by existing editorial staff. A spokesperson declined to comment on the reason for his retirement.

Sammon, who is 62, previously worked as a White House correspondent for the Washington Times before joining Fox in 2009.

His announcement came as Fox laid off nearly 20 staffers Tuesday, including Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt, who also worked on the decision desk with Sammon. Fox declined to comment specifically on Stirewalt, citing employee confidentiality. His departure shocked many inside the building who bemoaned the loss of a respected Washington voice at a time when the conservative-leaning network is navigating its future post-Trump.

In response to The Washington Post’s queries about the layoffs, a network spokesperson issued a statement saying that Fox News’s digital arm had “realigned its business and reporting structure to meet the demands of this new era” in the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle. “We are confident these changes will ensure the platform continues to deliver breakthrough reporting and insightful analysis surrounding major issues, both stateside and abroad.”

Read the full story here.

By: Sarah Ellison

6:13 PM: Blinken would appoint diversity officer to improve representation at State Department

Blinken said Tuesday that he intended to appoint a chief diversity officer to help oversee — and ensure — that the State Department has “a workforce that looks like the country it represents.”

Blinken said “a significant measure of whether I have succeeded or failed” as secretary of state would be whether the department had adopted new approaches to recruit and keep a more diverse workforce that draws diplomats from a wider range of American society than it traditionally has.

Blinken said that a diversity officer would be tasked with making sure the department met certain benchmarks to implement new recruitment and retention processes, and that its leaders — including himself — would be accountable to both the department staff and Congress to make sure they see through new commitments to improving diversity. He also suggested that paid internships could be part of the program to bring in new diplomatic talent from underrepresented communities.

By: Karoun Demirjian

6:02 PM: ‘To heal, we must remember’: At Lincoln Memorial event, Biden and Harris commemorate U.S. lives lost to coronavirus

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Biden and Harris held their first inauguration-related event in Washington on Tuesday night, a solemn ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the 400,000 lives lost to the coronavirus in the United States.

The president- and vice president-elect were accompanied by their spouses, incoming second gentleman Doug Emhoff and incoming first lady Jill Biden.

“To heal, we must remember,” the president-elect said. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today. Between sundown and dusk, let us shine the lights in the darkness along this sacred pool of reflection and remember all that we’ve lost.”

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who in November became the first Black American to be elevated to cardinal, delivered the invocation. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams sang “Hallelujah,” and Lori Marie Key, a covid-19 ward nurse from Michigan, sang “Amazing Grace.” Key gained national attention last year when a video of her singing the hymn during a hospital shift change went viral.

Harris said she hopes Americans emerge from the ordeal of the pandemic “with a new wisdom — to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another.”

“We gather tonight, a nation in mourning, to pay tribute to the lives we have lost: a grandmother or grandfather who was our whole world; a parent, partner, sibling or friend who we still cannot accept is no longer here,” Harris said. “And for many months, we have grieved by ourselves. Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”

By: Felicia Sonmez and Donna Cassata

5:46 PM: Celebrities avoided Trump and D.C. for years. Here are the stars returning for Biden’s inauguration.

As a reality-TV-star president leaves the White House, celebrities are headed back to Washington.

Hollywood A-listers, who made no secret of their disdain for President Trump, have been largely absent from the city and its cultural scene over the past four years. Now, they are returning in droves: Superstars Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks will perform at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, while a host of others — Tom Hanks, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen, Kerry Washington, Eva Longoria, Lin-Manuel Miranda among them — will appear as part of a prime-time inaugural special, “Celebrating America,” to air that night.

But even after this week’s events, the stage is set for a return to pre-Trump norms, with artists from all areas far more likely to resume events and White House visits or advocate for various causes. While a few stars did make the attempt (Kim Kardashian West, notably, lobbied for prison reform), most stayed away — and it was a two-way street. Trump skipped events such as the White House correspondents’ dinner and the Kennedy Center Honors. (Before Trump had a chance to decline his invitation to the latter, multiple honorees said they would skip any events with the president.)

Read the full story here.

By: Emily Yahr

5:39 PM: Blinken promises to appoint LGBTQI ambassador, allow embassies to fly pride flag

Blinken promised that he would “absolutely” and “immediately” appoint a LGBTQI envoy at the State Department and seek to raise that position to the level of ambassador, to make it clear that the United States will be “playing the role that we should be playing” promoting gay rights around the world.

“This is a matter, I think, of some real urgency,” Blinken said, citing rising global violence against LGBTQI individuals, especially transgender women of color.

He also added, under questioning from Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), that U.S. embassies would be permitted to fly the pride flag and promised to reaffirm that international principles of nondiscrimination should apply to gender identity and sexual orientation.

The pledges amount to a repudiation of the policies espoused by outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who prohibited U.S. embassies from flying the pride flag, left the envoy position vacant and backed a commission report that categorized same-sex marriage, alongside abortion, among “divisive social and political controversies.”

By: Karoun Demirjian

5:35 PM: Austin says extremism has ‘no place in the military,’ vows to act to stamp it out

Defense secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III said he would act to stamp out extremism in the military, as the Pentagon struggles to address a growing internal threat among service members and veterans.

“We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It has no place in the military of the United States of America.”

Austin, who if confirmed would become the country’s first Black defense secretary, said he experienced the issue firsthand when he was a younger officer with the 82nd Airborne Division and was among those who discovered extremists in the division. He said the signs of the problem had been present in that instance, but that “we didn’t know what to look for.”

Austin spoke as current Pentagon leaders promise to take on what officials acknowledge is a serious problem with support for white nationalism, self-proclaimed militias and anti-government movements in the military community. The issue has come under renewed scrutiny after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, in which a pro-Trump mob, including a number of current and former members of the military, stormed the building as lawmakers gathered to confirm Biden’s electoral win.

On Tuesday, officials said that a dozen members of the massive National Guard force assembled to help secure Biden’s inauguration had been removed from duty, at least several of whom were believed to have sympathies for anti-government groups.

By: Missy Ryan

5:16 PM: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene spread conspiracy that Parkland school shooting was ‘false flag’

In 2018, after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), then a right-wing online commentator, spread the conspiracy theory that the massacre was a “false flag” event intended to take away people’s guns.

The comments, unearthed by Media Matters, are the latest in a long history of Greene repeating untrue claims by far-right extremists on social media.

After the Parkland shooting, which killed 17 people, Greene shared a story on Facebook about former Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson — who was fired over his response to the shooting — receiving a retirement pension. In the comments, someone wrote, “It’s called a pay off to keep his mouth shut since it was a false flag planned shooting.” Greene replied: “Exactly.”

Media Matters also uncovered separate comments from 2018 in which Greene made the false statement that Democrats, specifically House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), rooted for school shootings to justify stricter gun laws.

“This war on our Second Amendment is going to continue and must be fought. I am told that Nancy Pelosi tells Hillary Clinton several times a month that ‘we need another school shooting’ in order to persuade the public to want strict gun control,” Greene said.

Greene, elected in November, has also trafficked in the QAnon extremist ideology, as well as other falsehoods popular among the far right.

In response to the Media Matters report, Greene issued a lengthy statement criticizing gun-free schools, arguing that children should be protected by “good guys with guns.” She did not address the fact that she agreed with someone who said the Parkland shooting was a false flag or her accusation regarding Pelosi. She did refer to Peterson’s pension and said he “allowed 17 people to die” for not going into the school to stop the shooter.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), whose district includes Parkland, said in a statement that it’s “infuriating that someone like that was elected to Congress,” referring to Greene.

“Our community was devastated by the tragedy and doing anything other than expressing support for the families and survivors is insensitive, offensive, and shockingly inappropriate for a Member of Congress. It is especially dangerous when lies like these come from people in positions of power and influence,” he said.

By: Colby Itkowitz

5:02 PM: Blinken makes no promises to do international deals by treaty

More than one Republican told Blinken on Tuesday that they would like to see the Biden administration treat international compacts like the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord as treaties, which require two-thirds support in the Senate.

Blinken promised only that the Biden administration would engage senators in “genuine consultation, not notification,” when negotiating international agreements and suggested that maybe treaties are not all that they are cracked up to be.

“There are sometimes good reasons, in fact, reasons that advance our national security, for why a treaty is not advisable,” he said under questioning from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Blinken added that the Biden administration would consider treaties on a “case-by-case basis.”

In almost all cases, however, the Senate is probably too politically divided to get two-thirds of its members to agree on much of anything, especially when it comes to matters of climate change and restraining Iran.

But the first treaty the Biden administration will have to address will not require the Senate’s advice and consent. Barrasso also asked Blinken whether the Biden administration would extend New START, an arms-control treaty with Russia. Blinken said, “Yes, we’ll seek to extend it,” but he did not say for how long.

The treaty expires in early February but allows for the presidents of Russia and the United States to extend its terms for up to five years by mutual agreement. In recent years, the Trump administration and the Kremlin had been discussing a one-year extension.

By: Karoun Demirjian

4:43 PM: Blinken says new administration will review policy toward Cuba as Biden vows to reinstitute diplomatic normalization with Havana

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) quickly focused on his own foreign policy interests, asking Blinken whether the Biden administration intended to change the Trump policy toward Cuba and Venezuela.

“I do sincerely hope that just because these were Trump policies … that we don’t just throw the whole thing out and just go back to the Obama policy” on Cuba, Rubio said.

Biden has said repeatedly that he plans to reinstitute diplomatic normalization with Havana, which Trump has put a halt to. But Blinken was noncommittal. “The new administration plans to review the issue carefully,” he said.

“In terms of the objectives you cite, that makes very good sense to me,” Blinken said after Rubio detailed Trump restrictions on money going to Cuban military businesses. But the nominee said he couldn’t make “a full judgment as to whether we are achieving those objectives. … I’d welcome the chance to talk to you about that objective and, obviously, Cuba more broadly.”

Without committing himself to any retention of specific Trump policies, Blinken agreed with Rubio that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was a bad, repressive actor, unwilling to engage in full and free elections, dividing the opposition and always acting in bad faith.

“I’d welcome an opportunity, if confirmed, to come and talk to you about that,” Blinken said.

By: Karen DeYoung

4:41 PM: Sen. Cotton says he regrets backing waiver for Mattis, will oppose one for Austin

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Tuesday he would oppose the waiver necessary for Austin to become defense secretary.

U.S. law prohibits general officers from becoming defense secretary within seven years of having left active-duty service. Austin retired as commander of U.S. Central Command in 2016, requiring Congress to pass a law granting an exception.

Cotton said he voted to grant retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, President Trump’s nominee, an exception in 2017 and lived to regret the decision.

“Under no foreseeable circumstances can I imagine supporting such a waiver again,” Cotton said during Austin’s confirmation hearing. Cotton said that if Austin is granted a waiver, there will be a perception that these waivers are routine.

“If we approve two waivers in just four years, our actions will speak louder than our words,” Cotton said.

By: Paul Sonne

4:32 PM: Blinken predicts no quick resolution to crisis between Israelis and Palestinians

Blinken made no promises that the Biden administration could bring about a quick breakthrough resolution to the protracted crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, adding that its first priority would be to make sure that nobody makes the standoff worse.

He endorsed the two-state solution as “the best way and maybe the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state and to give the Palestinians the state to which they are entitled.”

But he added that “realistically, it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”

Blinken said Biden’s “commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct” and avoided directly criticizing Israel for its recent campaign to expand settlement construction in lands Palestinians claim for a future state. He added that the incoming administration’s chief objectives would be to ensure that “neither party takes steps that make the already difficult proposition more challenging,” encourage the parties to “avoid unilateral action,” and “slowly build some confidence on both sides” that a durable peace deal is possible.

By: Karoun Demirjian

4:30 PM: Sen. Lindsey Graham pledges to vote to confirm Blinken

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he would vote to confirm Blinken as Biden’s secretary of state during his confirmation hearing Tuesday, calling him “an outstanding choice.”

Graham’s announcement is significant — both because he voted against Blinken’s confirmation as deputy secretary of state in 2014, and because Graham was a vocal supporter of Trump over the past few years.

Blinken’s confirmation isn’t likely to happen until next week at the earliest, and he all but certainly will be supported by a majority of senators, with Democrats controlling the 50-50 chamber and Kamala D. Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after her inauguration as vice president. But Blinken was nonetheless careful to address the concerns and offer praise for individual Republican senators, even as he voiced careful criticism of the Trump administration.

He praised Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), seen as a potential swing vote, for being “prescient” in 2012 when he warned of the significance of threats posed by Russia. He credited Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch (R-Idaho) for raising important considerations regarding Iranian threats that ought to be considered alongside restraining its nuclear ambitions when a new deal is contemplated. And he agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) assessment about the challenges posed by regimes in China and Venezuela — telling the senator at one point that he would like to consult him for his expertise, should he be confirmed to Biden’s Cabinet.

By: Karoun Demirjian

4:23 PM: Blinken says Biden will look at undoing terrorism designation for Yemen’s Houthi’s ‘immediately’

Secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken promised at his Senate confirmation hearing that the Biden administration would “immediately” review the Trump administration’s recent designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, citing “deep concern” that the listing would undermine efforts to address the humanitarian disaster there.

Blinken said he was “clear-eyed about the Houthis,” acknowledging that the groups “overthrew the government in Yemen” and had “committed atrocities and human rights abuses.”

But 80 percent of Yemen’s war-ravaged population lives in Houthi-controlled areas, he said, and the terrorist designation had made it “even more difficult than it is to provide humanitarian assistance to those who need it.”

“Whether we like it or not we have to find ways to get assistance to them if we’re going to do anything about addressing the situation,” he added.

Blinken said that the designation did little to encourage Houthis back to the negotiating table. The Iran-backed group has been locked in a bitter fight with the Saudi-backed government for years. The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has been cited by several human rights groups as having worsened what is commonly referred to as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

By: Karoun Demirjian

3:56 PM: Howling winds could top 35 mph during inauguration

a person standing in front of a flag: A flag display is set up on the Mall on Monday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post) A flag display is set up on the Mall on Monday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

As Biden and Harris are sworn in, a biting wind will whip across the Mall. The winds, which could gust to 30 to 40 mph, will come in the wake of a strong cold front sweeping through the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday night.

The combination of these gusts and temperatures only around 40 degrees will produce subfreezing wind chills.

Wind gusts could be strong enough to loft loose objects into the air. About 200,000 flags have been placed on the Mall in honor of the people unable to attend the ceremony amid the pandemic and security threats. It’s not clear how secure they are and whether they could be blown down or lifted into the air. Generally, though, the winds should remain just below levels typically considered hazardous and capable of damage and power outages.

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By: Jason Samenow

3:49 PM: In farewell address, Trump declares that ‘the movement we started is only just beginning’

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In a farewell address recorded at the White House on Monday and released Tuesday afternoon, Trump touted his record as president and declared that “the movement we started is only just beginning.”

“This week, we inaugurate a new administration and pray for its success in keeping America safe and prosperous,” Trump said. “We did what we came here to do — and so much more.”

In the speech, Trump made a few mentions of the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of nearly 400,000 people in the United States.

Trump did not mention his successor, Biden, by name. And he did not retract his repeated, false claims that the presidential race was “stolen,” despite there being no evidence of any widespread voter fraud in the November election.

“Above all, we have reasserted the sacred idea that in America, the government answers to the people,” Trump said. “We restored the idea that in America, no one is forgotten — because everyone matters and everyone has a voice. I took on the tough battles, the hardest fights, the most difficult choices — because that’s what you elected me to do.”

In Trump’s four years in office, America has become more divided than at any other point in recent history — spurred, in part, by the president’s inflammatory rhetoric toward his political opponents and toward immigrants, people of color, women and other groups.

Nonetheless, in his farewell address, Trump attempted to cast his presidency as one marked by a bipartisan spirit.

“Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation,” Trump said.

He also declared, “We built the greatest economy in the history of the world,” in what amounts to his 493rd time repeating the falsehood, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.

“All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans,” Trump said. “It can never be tolerated. Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.”

Trump last week became the first president in U.S. history to have been impeached twice. The Senate is expected to begin its trial of Trump next week, with Democrats pressing not only for conviction but also for Trump to be barred from running for office again.

By: Felicia Sonmez

3:46 PM: Austin acknowledges concerns about his recent military service, vows to work closely with civilian officials

Austin, Biden’s nominee to become defense secretary, told senators in his confirmation hearing Tuesday that he recognized congressional concerns about naming another recently retired general to the top Pentagon job but vowed to work closely with civilian officials.

“I know that being a member of the president’s Cabinet — a political appointee — requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career in uniform,” said Austin, whose confirmation would require a congressional waiver because he has not been out of the military the required seven years. “I intend to surround myself with and empower experienced, capable civilians who will enable healthy civil-military relations, grounded in meaningful oversight.”

Ahead of Biden’s swearing-in Wednesday, lawmakers are considering the nomination of Austin, who, if confirmed, would become the nation’s first African American defense secretary, along with a separate waiver proposal. He is not expected to be confirmed until Friday at the earliest.

After President Trump’s election in 2016, lawmakers voted to approve a similar waiver for Jim Mattis, another former commander who had been retired for less than seven years, as defense secretary, only the second time such an exception had been granted. But some Democrats voiced discomfort with the move, fretting that it would undermine America’s tradition of civilian control of the military.

If confirmed, Austin, who once led U.S. Central Command and commanded U.S. troops in Iraq, would take charge of the Defense Department at a time when the military has accelerated efforts to end counter-insurgent wars and focus on China’s military rise. In his remarks, Austin identified China as the military’s “pacing challenge” and described the coronavirus pandemic as the most urgent issue facing the nation.

He will face a host of other obstacles, including repairing defense alliances strained by hostility from Trump and improving morale among a civilian workforce buffeted by leadership upheaval.

By: Missy Ryan

3:44 PM: Blinken: Standing up to China is ‘fully within our control’

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, agreed at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China poses the most significant challenge “of any nation state to the United States,” but he said the means of confronting it “are fully within our control.”

In response to opening questions from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman of the committee, Blinken said confrontation and competition with China need to be approached from “a position of strength, not a position of weakness.”

Indirectly criticizing the Trump administration, he said that strength would come from closer coordination with allies, as well as engaging and “leading in international institutions … when we stand up for our values.”

Confronted by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a strong Trump supporter, Blinken opted for diplomacy and refused to take the bait.

Questioning whether Blinken’s experience equaled good judgment, Johnson invited him to list the policy issues during the Obama administration when his judgment had been faulty and those instances when Trump had been right.

“I want to give you the opportunity” to outline “whether you’ve had any second thoughts on Libya, for example,” he said, referring to Blinken’s participation in President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force that led to Moammar Gaddafi’s removal from power and assassination in Libya, and the growth of Islamist terrorist groups.

“I believe that no party has a monopoly on good ideas,” Blinken replied, noting that there were “a number of things that President Trump did … that I would applaud.” Among them, he said, were two times the current administration helped lead former adversaries to normalize relations — the Abraham accords in the Middle East and an economic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo.

While defending the impetus for intervention in Libya, as Gaddafi said “he was going to slaughter like rats those opposing him,” including all the inhabitants of Benghazi, Blinken said “we underestimated” the extent to which Gaddafi’s removal created a void that the country’s institutions were not prepared to fill, opening the door to extremist actors.

“I also believe President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach on China,” Blinken said. But, he added, “I disagree with many of the ways he went about it.”

By: Karen DeYoung

3:32 PM: Sen. Hawley blocks quick vote on Biden’s homeland security secretary

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blocked the Senate from giving Biden’s choice for homeland security secretary a quick confirmation, forcing him to go through the full committee vetting process, because of Hawley’s objections to Biden’s immigration policies.

There was a desire to have Alejandro N. Mayorkas in place quickly because of the importance of the post.

Hawley — who led the effort to challenge the electoral college results earlier this month before a mob attacked the Capitol — said he held up Mayorkas’s nomination because he opposed Biden’s proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.

“Mr. Mayorkas has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border given President-elect Biden’s promise to roll back major enforcement and security measures,” Hawley said in a statement.

By: Colby Itkowitz

3:14 PM: Blinken promises early consultations on new Iran nuclear deal, warns of nearing ‘crisis point’

Tony Blinken wearing a suit and tie: Antony J. Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday. © Pool/Reuters Antony J. Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday.

Secretary of state nominee Blinken promised to consult Congress and U.S. allies early and often as the Biden administration attempts to craft a new deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, pledging to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the incoming president “is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.”

He promised that the administration would “engage on the takeoff, not just the landing” of a nuclear deal, and that those engagements would include regular consultations with Israel and Gulf allies as well.

But he warned that the administration was “a long way from” being able to guarantee the terms of a deal, since it was too soon to tell what terms a re-energized Iran would be willing to accept.

Since the United States pulled out of the earlier agreement, Blinken noted, Iran has increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and fired up its centrifuges to produce higher-grade uranium, reducing its breakout time for a nuclear weapon from over a year to only three or four months, based on public reports.

“That potentially brings us right back to the crisis point we were reaching before the deal was negotiated,” Blinken said, in response to questions posed by Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.

In his opening statement, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), the committee chairman, encouraged Blinken to pursue a policy of containing Iran, and not discount Iran’s missile program and destabilizing activities as the question of a nuclear deal was reopened. Blinken nodded to those comments as he promised to “capture these other issues” in any resumed negotiations toward a deal, to secure a “longer and stronger agreement.”

Separately, Blinken praised the Trump administration for its role brokering the Abraham Accords in the Middle East, and noted that no one was mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian commander killed early last year in a drone strike in Baghdad. But Blinken said that the strike had left the United States and its allies “less safe, not more safe,” for neglecting to take into account the consequences of such a targeted killing.

By: Karoun Demirjian

3:13 PM: Biden transition team details executive order plans to Congress

The Biden transition team is planning on a rush of executive orders on several subjects in the first days of his presidency, according to a list shared with officials on Capitol Hill.

The president-elect’s team has already said Biden will sign administrative actions Wednesday — including reentering the Paris climate accord, repealing the ban on travel from some majority-Muslim nations, and extending nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.

But the list of Biden’s pending executive orders, confirmed by two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not a public message, gives a broad overview of what the incoming administration plans to do on its own — without Congress — on addressing their immediate priorities for the following dozen days.

The president-elect plans to issue administrative actions relating to the coronavirus Thursday, and economic relief Friday. A “Buy American” action will come Monday, and an order addressing racial equity issues will follow Tuesday.

Biden will announce actions on climate change Jan. 27, health care Jan. 28, immigration Jan. 29, and international affairs and national security Feb. 1.

The general contours of the executive orders were previewed in incoming White House chief of staff Ronald A. Klain’s memo issued over the weekend. The transition team declined to comment beyond that memo, in which Klain said, “between January 25 and February 1, the president-elect will sign additional executive actions, memoranda and Cabinet directives.”

One person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans that were not yet public, emphasized that the plans circulating on the Hill were drafts and could change.

“The president-elect will fulfill his promises to strengthen Buy American provisions so the future of America is made in America. He will take significant early actions to advance equity and support communities of color and other underserved communities. He will take action to begin fulfilling campaign promises related to reforming our criminal justice system,” Klain said in the memo.

He continued: “The president-elect will sign additional executive actions to address the climate crisis with the urgency the science demands and ensure that science guides the administration’s decision making. President-elect Biden will take first steps to expand access to health care — including for low-income women and women of color. He will fulfill his promises to restore dignity to our immigration system and our border policies, and start the difficult but critical work of reuniting families separated at the border. And, President-elect Biden will demonstrate that America is back and take action to restore America’s place in the world.”

By: Seung Min Kim

3:11 PM: Barr declines to criticize Trump, says debate over election results led to assault on Capitol

a man wearing a suit and tie: Then-U.S. attorney general William P. Barr listens during a Dec. 21 news conference at the Justice Department. © Michael Reynolds/Bloomberg Then-U.S. attorney general William P. Barr listens during a Dec. 21 news conference at the Justice Department.

In his first television interview after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, former attorney general William P. Barr said the debate over the results of the November election prompted the violent assault, although he was careful not to criticize Trump.

In the interview with Britain’s ITV News, which aired Tuesday, editor Rohit Kachroo asked Barr whether “the debate about the integrity of the election was the final straw” that led to the violence.

“I think that that was the thing that precipitated the riots on the Hill,” Barr responded. “Now, I think it’s always important to remember that most people are exercising their First Amendment rights. But there was a substantial group, obviously, that went far beyond that and broke into the Capitol and tried to interfere with the proceedings. And that’s unacceptable.”

Barr condemned the violence as “despicable” but added that he was “not surprised, in a way, to see the kind of violence” that took place on the day a joint session of Congress convened to tally the electoral votes.

He also noted that he was not a member of the Trump administration when the riot took place. Barr stepped down as attorney general in late December.

“I was not attorney general. I had already left office when that occurred,” Barr said of the riots. “But I felt that they should move very quickly to disperse that, regardless of which side of the political spectrum is involved. We just cannot tolerate violence interfering with the processes of government.”

Asked whether Trump is personally responsible for inciting the violence, Barr declined to say, telling Kachroo, “I’ll leave it to the people who are looking into the genesis of this to say whether incitement was involved.”

Even as he condemned the violence, Barr delivered mixed messages about what he believes were the motivations of those who perpetrated it.

During one part of the interview, Barr suggested that the media and the suppression of free speech may have been partly to blame. He did not elaborate further.

“I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘inevitable,’ but I think that when you start suppressing free speech, when people lose confidence in the media and also when they lose faith in the integrity of elections, you’re going to have some people resort to violence,” he said.

At another point, he suggested that many of the rioters had “psychological problems” and drew a comparison between the process by which they were radicalized and the radicalization of Islamic State militants.

“There is obviously some commonality, because many of the people that get involved in this are people that have problems — you know, psychological problems, or, you know, problems with their socialization, shall we say. Alienation,” Barr said. “So to that extent, sort of the raw material of extremism may be similar.”

By: Felicia Sonmez

3:05 PM: House to vote Thursday on legal exception needed to appoint Biden’s defense secretary pick

The House will vote on Thursday afternoon on a waiver necessary for Lloyd Austin, a former Army general, to become Biden’s defense secretary.

By law, Austin’s retirement from the military four years ago is too recent for the civilian post, so he requires Congress to pass a legal exception.

Austin likely to obtain waiver despite bipartisan concerns

The House Armed Services Committee canceled a public hearing with Austin scheduled for later this week. He is testifying in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, 15 former Pentagon chiefs sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to grant Austin’s waiver.

By: Colby Itkowitz

2:53 PM: Risch, Menendez outline to-do lists for Blinken

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch (R-Idaho) and ranking Democrat Robert J. Menendez (N.J.) — who will soon trade roles — opened Blinken’s hearing Tuesday by outlining the matters he ought to prioritize if confirmed as secretary of state.

While their lists of global hot spots demanding attention often dovetailed, they also diverged — particularly with regards to diplomatic matters that have divided the Republican and Democratic parties.

Both Menendez and Risch told Blinken that he would have to pay special attention to the threats posed by rising authoritarian regimes such as China and Turkey. But they differed in their assessment of how the incoming administration will be able to assert its voice after four years of Trump’s policy on the international stage.

Risch told Blinken that the Biden administration should try to “take advantage of the significant leverage” he said the Trump administration had created in the Middle East, by departing the Iran nuclear deal and completing the Abraham Accords between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel. He added that the Biden administration should submit any new deal to the Senate as a treaty for lawmakers’ approval.

Menendez, however, mourned that the Trump administration had left the United States “in a worse position” to compete on the global stage, particularly when it comes to countries such as China.

He added that the United States lacks credibility to promote its values and interests abroad, given recent strife at home — including the recent storming of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters contesting Biden’s election win.

The world had “watched the United States falter,” Menendez said, noting that the Biden administration would have to “redouble our efforts” to improve things at home as well as promote American values abroad.

By: Karoun Demirjian

2:36 PM: Emotional Biden departs Delaware, thanking the state for believing in him

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From a military base named after his deceased son, Beau, an emotional Joe Biden bid farewell to Delaware on Tuesday, thanking his home state for putting him on his path to becoming president of the United States.

Delaware “gave me a chance when I was just a kid, to elect me, and believed in me and sent me to the United States Senate,” he said. “Where Jill and I found one another and where she made me strong, as Ernest Hemingway wrote, in all the broken places. And the state loves our children and our grandchildren and loved our Beau.”

The president-elect recalled waiting at the Wilmington train station 12 years ago “for a Black man to pick me up on our way to Washington.” Today, Biden said, he would return to Washington “to meet a Black woman of South Asian descent.”

Biden choked back tears as he paraphrased James Joyce: “When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.” (In Joyce’s case it was Dublin.)

In closing, Biden repeated what he has said many times about winning the presidency: It should’ve been Beau.

I only have one regret: He’s not here,” Biden said. “Because we should be introducing him as president. But we have great opportunities. Delaware’s taught us anything is possible.”

By: Colby Itkowitz

2:22 PM: Pence will not attend Trump’s send-off at Joint Base Andrews, officials say

Mike Pence wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a flag: President Trump and Vice President Pence make remarks Nov. 4 at the White House. © Carlos Barria/Reuters President Trump and Vice President Pence make remarks Nov. 4 at the White House.

Vice President Pence is not expected to attend Trump’s send-off at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning, according to White House officials.

Pence is attending Biden’s inauguration later in the day, and aides said it would be logistically challenging for the vice president to do both.

The Air Force base is about 13 miles, or a 10-minute helicopter ride, from the White House.

The White House later confirmed Pence’s plans in its public schedule for the vice president, released Tuesday afternoon.

Pence also sent a farewell tweet Tuesday that included four photos of the vice president with members of his family — and notably, no photos or mention of Trump.

By: Josh Dawsey and Felicia Sonmez

1:46 PM: U.S. files conspiracy charge against alleged Oath Keeper leader over Capitol attack

U.S. authorities have leveled the first conspiracy charge against an apparent leader of an extremist group in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, arresting an alleged Oath Keeper who is accused of plotting to disrupt the counting of electoral votes confirming Biden’s victory and proposing further assaults on state capitols.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Clarke County, Va., was taken into custody before 7 a.m. on four federal counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States in the attack on the Capitol. The conspiracy charge is reserved for offenses interfering with or obstructing the lawful operation of government.

A charging affidavit says he helped organize a group of eight to 10 individuals, including self-styled Ohio militia members apprehended Sunday, who wore helmets and military-style gear and were seen moving purposefully toward the top of the Capitol steps and leading the move against police lines.

Read the full story

By: Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman and Devlin Barrett

1:01 PM: Georgia certifies Ossoff, Warnock victories, paving way for Democratic control of Senate

Georgia election officials on Tuesday certified the victories of two Democrats who won in the state’s hard-fought U.S. Senate runoff elections earlier this month, paving the way for them to take office as early as Wednesday.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock narrowly defeated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the Jan. 5. runoffs, a stunning and unexpected boon for President-elect Joe Biden.

Shortly before certification Tuesday, election officials in Fulton County grappled with discrepancies between the unofficial vote totals reported and the final tallies. In the end, those discrepancies gave Perdue and Loeffler a few hundred additional votes — not enough to alter the outcome.

Ossoff and Warnock are expected to be sworn in Wednesday by newly inaugurated Vice President Kamala D. Harris in one of her first acts in presiding over the Senate, according to an individual with direct knowledge of the plan.

Read the full story here.

By: Amy Gardner and Erica Werner

12:57 PM: Schumer vows to move forward with trial, saying Trump should be barred from seeking office again

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Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will soon be the Senate majority leader, vowed Tuesday to press forward with an impeachment of Trump after he leaves office with the aim of barring him from seeking the presidency again.

During remarks on the Senate floor, Schumer said that Trump had invited his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 and directed them to go to the U.S. Capitol and that “his demagoguery whipped them into a frenzy.”

“We need to set a precedent that the severest offense ever committed by a president will be met by the severest remedy provided by the Constitution: impeachment and conviction by this chamber as well as disbarment from future office,” Schumer said.

The House has yet to transmit its impeachment article, and Schumer did not speak to the timing of the trial. But he made clear that one will proceed.

“President Trump is a threat to our constitutional order, whether he is in or out of office,” the minority leader said. “Even now, he has not accepted responsibility for what he has done. … Once he leaves office, do we really expect him to change his tune and accept the truth? Of course not.”

Schumer also urged his colleagues to quickly confirm Biden’s nominees and move on a comprehensive coronavirus relief package.

He said he looks forward to the “peaceful passing of the torch” Wednesday.

“Tomorrow the country will turn the page on the most chaotic and divisive presidency that can ever be remembered,” Schumer said.

By: John Wagner

12:51 PM: Biden to tap Wilkinson to lead Justice Department until Garland’s confirmation

The incoming Biden administration will tap Monty Wilkinson, a Justice Department human resources official, to lead the department on an acting basis before Merrick Garland’s confirmation, as officials zero in on other temporary leaders, people familiar with the matter said.

The pick reflects the administration’s desire to install an apolitical stopgap while its slate of Justice Department nominees are confirmed. The Biden administration also plans to install John Carlin, the former head of the Justice Department’s national security division, as the principal associate deputy attorney general — a key top management post advising the No. 2 official, the people said.

And it plans to install Matt Klapper, who most recently served as the chief of staff for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as Garland’s chief of staff, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

Wilkinson’s selection was first reported by the New York Times.

By: Matt Zapotosky

12:44 PM: My Pillow CEO says Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, Wayfair have dropped his products

My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell — an avid Trump backer who has repeatedly pressed debunked claims the 2020 election was rigged — said Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and other retailers are dropping his products.

The moves, which Lindell referenced during a weekend interview, come as corporate America is rethinking its political affiliations following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters attempting to block Congress from confirming Biden’s victory in the presidential contest. Dozens of Republican lawmakers who subsequently voted against certification have lost the support of many of their largest corporate backers.

“I just got off the phone with Bed Bath & Beyond. They’re dropping My Pillow. Just got off the phone not five minutes ago. Kohl’s, all these different places,” Lindell told Right Side Broadcasting Network, a conservative YouTube channel. “These guys, they’re scared, like a Bed Bath & Beyond, they’re scared. They were good partners. In fact, I told them, ‘You guys come back anytime you want.’ ”

Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and Kohl’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither did My Pillow. Lindell, a major Republican donor, has been promoting baseless election fraud claims on right-wing media for months and now faces litigation from Dominion Voting Systems, whose lawyers accused him of mounting a “smear campaign” against the election technology company.

Last week, parts of Lindell’s notes were photographed by The Washington Post ahead of his White House meeting with Trump that captured such phrases as “election issues” and “martial law if necessary.”

Read the full story

By: Taylor Telford

12:29 PM: McConnell blames Trump for having ‘provoked’ the mob that stormed the Capitol

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday pointedly blamed Trump for having “provoked” the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell noted that the Senate was meeting for the first time since that day, when Congress ultimately finished counting the electoral votes that cemented Biden’s victory.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on, we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), among the lawmakers who led the challenge of electoral votes in states Biden won, was presiding as McConnell spoke.

Speaking at a rally Jan. 6, Trump, who has refused to acknowledge his election loss, had implored a crowd to head to the Capitol shortly before security there was breached and the chambers were taken over.

During his remarks Tuesday, McConnell said Biden enters office without “a mandate for sweeping ideological change,” calling him “a presidential candidate who said he’d represent everyone.”

McConnell, soon to be the chamber’s minority leader, said Republicans will pursue bipartisan agreements where they can.

By: John Wagner

12:18 PM: Mayorkas says cybersecurity will be ‘one of my highest priorities’

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said at Mayorkas’s hearing that the United States is “woefully unprepared, from a cybersecurity standpoint,” and that he hoped Mayorkas would bring a “whole different level of expertise” to confront “those who would attack us in this new and most powerful way.”

The Department of Homeland Security says on its website that “sophisticated cyber actors and nation-states” are exploiting weaknesses in the nation’s systems “to steal information and money” and disrupt essential services.

Mayorkas said cybersecurity was a priority when he was the No. 2 to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson during the Obama administration.

“The threat has only evolved and only grown since then,” Mayorkas said. “I can assure you that the cybersecurity of our nation will be one of my highest priorities because I concur with you that the threat is real and the threat is every day, and we have to do a much better job than we are doing now.”

By: Maria Sacchetti

12:11 PM: Menendez: Blinken confirmation vote unlikely until next week

Blinken, among the several national security nominees shoehorned into the Tuesday hearings, is unlikely to be confirmed as secretary of state until next week, amid partisan legislative battles and competing Senate priorities, including Trump’s impeachment trial.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the panel would probably vote on Blinken’s nomination Monday, with the timing of a floor vote up to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer is expected to take over as leader of a 50-to-50 Senate as soon as Wednesday afternoon, with a tie-breaking vote from Kamala D. Harris following her swearing-in as vice president.

Asked whether the floor vote would come before the impeachment trial, scheduled to begin Monday, Menendez told reporters, “I don’t know the answer.”

Biden has asked that the Senate divide its time between confirming his nominations and Trump’s trial.

Blinken is one of several nominees facing final confirmation delays for various reasons. Mayorkas, the homeland security nominee, faces questions on his role as the department’s deputy secretary under the Obama administration. Before confirming Austin as defense secretary, the Senate must agree to waive restrictions on recently retired military officers taking over as the department’s top civilian.

Senate Republicans have insisted Blinken answer written questions the committee has 24 hours to submit after the close of Tuesday’s hearing. He and the State Department then have 48 hours to respond, pushing a committee vote to the beginning of next week. Although he is likely to face grilling over his role in some of the more controversial policies of the Obama administration, in which he served as then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser and as deputy secretary of state, Blinken faces no substantive objections.

By: Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian

11:54 AM: Border enforcement ‘not a monolithic challenge,' Mayorkas tells senators

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Asked whether he thought the U.S.-Mexico border needed more barriers, Mayorkas told senators border enforcement is “not a monolithic challenge,” quoting the late Sen. John McCain, who he called “an American hero.”

“The border is varied,” he said, and enforcement should be determined by “geography, the venue and conduct of individuals around it.”

At his confirmation hearing for secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, Mayorkas was pressed repeatedly by GOP senators whether he believed asylum seekers who cross the border should have their cases considered on the basis of economic opportunity. The law does not cover applicants seeking protections on those grounds, Mayorkas said.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” Mayorkas said. “We are also a nation of laws. I intend to apply the law.”

Mayorkas said he did not support “defunding ICE," (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which has become a target of liberal Democrats. But Mayorkas deferred questions about whether he supported the emergency enforcement measures the Trump administration has implemented at the border that allow U.S. agents to “expel” most illegal crossers to Mexico.

"Our highest priority is to protect the health and well-being of the American public,” said Mayorkas, who said he needed to study the emergency measures.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) asked about the large caravan of Honduran migrants who have been attempting to travel north in recent days, telling some reporters they believe Biden will allow them to enter. “If people qualify under the law to remain in the United States, we will apply the law,” Mayorkas said. “If they do not qualify, then they won’t.”

By: Nick Miroff

11:49 AM: Most world leaders have pardon power. Few use it like Trump has.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Trump at a campaign rally in Des Moines, on Oct. 14, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters) © Carlos Barria/Reuters President Trump at a campaign rally in Des Moines, on Oct. 14, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Like many presidents before him, Trump is set to mark his final hours in office with a string of pardons.

That alone does not set him apart from other world leaders. Executive pardons are a common power across the globe. But Trump’s approach to the pardon stands out on the world stage.

Past U.S. presidents have issued politically charged pardons, but Trump’s moves have been criticized by experts and historians as unprecedented in scale on his focus on allies, family, friends and supporters.

“No former president has ever pardoned such an array of figures who are his own cronies and have been involved in crimes related to the president,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University.

Read the full story

By: Ruby Mellen

11:29 AM: Mayorkas defends his record as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) questioned Mayorkas about a 2015 Inspector General report that found that when Mayorkas was head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, he intervened in a visa program for wealthy investors at the behest of high-profile Democrats.

The report found Mayorkas did not break any laws but created the appearance of “special access.” The report — viewed as one of the main hindrances to Mayorkas’s confirmation — found that three projects were headed for the trash before he stepped in.

The projects were a Las Vegas casino pushed by then-Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.); a Los Angeles film project involving former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D); and an electric car manufacturing company then headed by Hillary Clinton’s brother Anthony Rodham and Terry McAuliffe, later elected governor of Virginia.

Mayorkas said that he fixed problems in a troubled government agency that was supposed to create American jobs, and that the cases mentioned in the report were among “hundreds” he looked into at the request of lawmakers from both parties.

“I don’t take these jobs, senator, I don’t drive to be a government servant and serve the American public to cut ribbons around the country and have fun,” Mayorkas said. “I work really hard. And I worked really, really, hard throughout my nearly 20 years of government service to bring honor to the office that I have been privileged to occupy.”

By: Maria Sacchetti

11:22 AM: Haines says she opposes waterboarding, other torture of terrorism suspects

Haines came out strongly against torture, and, in particular, waterboarding — the most controversial interrogation tactic used against foreign terrorism suspects detained during the George W. Bush administration.

“I believe that waterboarding is, in fact, torture — constitutes torture under the law,” said Haines, a lawyer and deputy CIA director during the Obama administration. “And all those techniques that use cruel and inhuman treatment are unlawful.”

She added that they should not be used “whether or not they’re effective.”

Liberal activists have voiced opposition to Haines, alleging that she has “covered up” the intelligence community’s record on torture.

By: Ellen Nakashima

11:02 AM: Haines gives measured answer on whether China is a U.S. adversary

Incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) pressed Haines to say whether China, under Communist Party rule, was an adversary of the United States. Haines gave a measured answer.

“China is adversarial and an adversary on some issues,” she said, “and on other issues, we try to cooperate with them.” Climate change, for instance.

But, Haines said, “that does not mitigate the fact that in espionage and other ways, they are an adversary” and the intelligence community has to work to counter “their aggressive and unfair actions in these spaces.”

Haines, Biden’s choice for director of national intelligence, faced questions from senators at her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

By: Ellen Nakashima

10:46 AM: Senate Democrats announce legislation on ethics, voting and campaign finance reforms

a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) © Katherine Frey/The Washington Post Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Senate Democrats, who will soon control the chamber, announced Tuesday that the first legislation they plan to push will be a sweeping package of ethics, voting and campaign finance reforms dubbed the “For the People Act.”

“From a violent insurrection at the Capitol to the countless attempts to silence the vote of millions of Americans, attacks on our democracy have come in many forms,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “Senate Democrats are committed to advancing real solutions and fighting to uphold the core tenets of our Constitution. … This legislation will bring about long-needed democracy reforms that will ensure that government is finally able to respond to the pressing needs of the American people.”

The legislation includes multiple steps aimed at making it easier to vote, including requiring states to have at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections and requiring that voting sites are near public transportation.

Among the numerous campaign finance provisions are steps to increase disclosure of donations and to report attempts by foreign entities to influence elections.

The legislation also includes several new ethics requirements from members of Congress and the executive branch, including a requirement that presidents divest financial interests that pose a conflict of interest.

The Supreme Court would also be required to develop a code of ethics for its judges.

By: John Wagner

10:43 AM: Lawmakers who objected to election results have been cut off from 20 of their 30 biggest corporate PAC donors

The 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election this month have lost the support of many of their largest corporate backers — but not all of them.

The Washington Post contacted the 30 companies that gave the most money to election-objecting lawmakers’ campaigns through political action committees. Two-thirds, or 20 of the firms, said they have pledged to suspend some or all payments from their PACs.

Meanwhile, nine companies said only that they would review their political giving or did not commit to taking any action as a result of this month’s events. One other top donor did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The split between company responses shows how U.S. executives are still grappling with the recent political bloodshed and its ripple effects across the corporate landscape. The attempted insurrection at the Capitol led to calls for companies and wealthy donors to disavow support for lawmakers who continue to propagate dangerous myths about the election and has prompted a broader rethinking of the role of PAC giving among the nation’s top companies.

Read the full story here

By: Douglas MacMillan and Jena McGregor

10:37 AM: At confirmation hearing for Haines, Sen. Rubio focuses on threat from rising China; Sen. Warner takes aim at Trump’s attacks on intelligence agencies

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged Haines to address a rising China, particularly its efforts to steal intellectual property from U.S. companies and universities.

“The [intelligence community] needs to assist these other entities in recognizing and mitigating the Chinese threat where appropriate and under all applicable laws,” Rubio said. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who will become the chairman of the committee, took aim in his opening remarks at Trump’s attacks on the intelligence agencies, which he has long portrayed as a den of conspirators trying to undermine his presidency by fabricating claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Our intelligence professionals have been unfairly maligned; their expertise, knowledge, and analysis has often been ignored and ridiculed by a president uninterested in facts contradicting his political interests,” Warner said. “Ms. Haines, it will be your task to ensure that the [intelligence community] recovers from this dark chapter,” Warner said in his prepared remarks. Haines committed to “safeguard the integrity” of the intelligence community and to ensure that its work was free from political influence.

“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” Haines said in her prepared remarks. Haines was introduced by former director of national intelligence Daniel Coats, a retired Republican senator, in a sign of bipartisan support for her nomination. Coats frequently clashed with Trump over his attacks on the intelligence community and on several occasions took positions publicly that contradicted the president’s claims.

Haines said the intelligence agencies will have to combat threats from traditional state actors, notably China, as well as cyber attacks, terrorism and organized crime. “We should provide the necessary intelligence to support long-term bipartisan efforts to out-compete China — gaining and sharing insight into China’s intentions and capabilities, while also supporting more immediate efforts to counter Beijing’s unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations, whenever we can,” she said.

By: Shane Harris

10:35 AM: Sen. Portman revisits past criticism of Mayorkas at start of Homeland nominee’s confirmation hearing

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In 2013, Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined other Republicans in voting against Mayorkas’s nomination for deputy homeland security secretary.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Portman detailed criticism of Mayorkas’s management style and a 2015 inspector general report that found that Mayorkas had improperly intervened in a visa program at the behest of well-connected Democrats when he ran the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Portman said he reached out to former inspector general John Roth, and he said the report holds up today.

“I believe that it is important that you are given the opportunity to address the findings of the report, and you will have that opportunity today,” Portman said at the Capitol Hill hearing and via videoconference. Mayorkas, 61, wore a blue mask and listened impassively to the criticism.

Portman has said he supported Trump’s reelection, but he condemned the Capitol siege and has called for a strong, Senate-confirmed leader of the Department of Homeland Security, the third-largest federal agency.

By: Maria Sacchetti

10:23 AM: America doesn’t need inaugural balls. But there’s something lost when they disappear.

Bill McSweeny was invited to his first inaugural ball in 1961. The Massachusetts native, then 31, knew all the Kennedys and was invited to JFK’s ball at the Mayflower Hotel.

“They opened the ballroom and the president and first lady came in,” he remembers. “They sat down and everyone danced by them or stopped to talk.” There were only about 300 people in the room, including the extended Kennedy family, and everyone knew each other. “It had a lot of joy because there was not a lot of pretense. It was all friends.”

There will be no official inaugural balls this year. No first dance with the president and first lady. No giddy, half-drunk supporters cheering them on. No stories to tell grandchildren. Instead, Tom Hanks will host a prime-time special that night with music performances by Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi and Demi Lovato.

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By: Roxanne Roberts

10:10 AM: Yellen to urge lawmakers to ‘act big’ on economic stimulus relief at Senate confirmation hearing

Janet Yellen standing in front of a screen: In this Aug. 14, 2019, file photo former Fed Chair Janet Yellen speaks with FOX Business Network guest anchor Jon Hilsenrath in the Fox Washington bureau in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden announced Yellen as his nominee for Treasury Secretary. © Andrew Harnik/AP In this Aug. 14, 2019, file photo former Fed Chair Janet Yellen speaks with FOX Business Network guest anchor Jon Hilsenrath in the Fox Washington bureau in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden announced Yellen as his nominee for Treasury Secretary.

Yellen, Biden’s nominee for treasury secretary, will urge lawmakers to “act big” on economic relief for the coronavirus pandemic as she appears before a Senate committee Tuesday morning for her confirmation hearing.

“I think there is a consensus now: Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now — and long-term scarring of the economy later,” Yellen says in written testimony submitted to the Senate Finance Committee ahead of the 10 a.m. hearing, and obtained by The Washington Post.

Yellen, 74, spent years as a professor before entering politics as head of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers in the late 1990s. She chaired the Federal Reserve from 2014-2018, playing a key role in the economic recovery from the Great Recession, with a studied approach that helped push down the unemployment rate over time.

Trump broke with tradition when he opted not to reappoint her to the top Fed job. She was the first woman to chair the Fed, and will become the first female treasury secretary if confirmed by the Senate. She would replace Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Her immediate challenge will be helping to shepherd Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief package through a narrowly divided Congress.

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By: Erica Werner and Jeff Stein

10:08 AM: Civil rights leader William Barber to deliver homily at inaugural prayer service

Miles Jaye looking at the camera: The Rev. William J. Barber II, during a news conference at Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C., on May 15, 2017. (D.L. Anderson for The Washington Post). The Rev. William J. Barber II, during a news conference at Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C., on May 15, 2017. (D.L. Anderson for The Washington Post).

The Rev. William J. Barber II, a fiery North Carolina preacher and anti-poverty crusader, will deliver the homily at the official inaugural prayer service at Washington National Cathedral, the inaugural committee announced Tuesday.

Barber, one of the best-known figures of religious political activism on the left, is one of several Black members of the clergy selected to bless and speak at inaugural week events for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris.

[Who is the Rev. William J. Barber?]

Yet his role is especially prominent because the Thursday service at the cathedral has by far the most religious content during inaugural week. The service is traditionally more than an hour long and rich with faith leaders from many backgrounds.

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By: Michelle Boorstein

9:38 AM: Analysis: Pelosi laptop theft highlights ‘real counterintelligence concerns’ of Capitol riot, lawmaker says

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There are growing concerns that U.S. adversaries may be seeking ways to benefit from the assault at the U.S. Capitol — and that some of the rioters may have been looking to work with them.

The FBI is investigating claims that Riley June Williams stole a laptop or hard drive from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and intended to sell the device to Russia’s intelligence services by way of a friend who lives in the country.

“The idea that a group of so-called ‘patriots’ would sell a government computer to the Russians should tell you everything you need to know about the people who assaulted the Capitol,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “There are real counterintelligence concerns associated with a breach like the one that occurred on January 6th.”

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By: Tonya Riley

9:14 AM: Trump commission’s ‘1776 Report’ outrages historians

a group of people standing in front of a building: President Donald Trump speaks to the White House conference on American History at the National Archives museum, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) © Alex Brandon/AP President Donald Trump speaks to the White House conference on American History at the National Archives museum, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Historians responded with dismay and anger after the White House’s “1776 Commission” released a report Monday it claimed would help Americans better understand the nation’s history by “restoring patriotic education.”

“It’s a hack job. It’s not a work of history,” American Historical Association president Jim Grossman told The Washington Post. “It’s a work of contentious politics designed to stoke culture wars.”

The commission was created in September with a confusing news conference featuring Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The 45-page report is largely an attack on decades of historical scholarship, particularly when it comes to the nation’s 400-year-old legacy of slavery, and most of those listed as authors lack any credentials as historians. While claiming to present a nonpartisan history, it compares progressivism to fascism and claims the civil rights movement devolved into “preferential” identity politics “not unlike those advanced by [slavery defender John C.] Calhoun and his followers.”

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By: Gillian Brockell

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