A group of Democratic senators is asking for more answers after the Federal Bureau of Investigation shared details on its handling of a supplemental background investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was a nominee.
Jill Tyson, assistant director of the FBI, said in a letter on June 30 that the agency had received 4,500 tips regarding Kavanaugh and that it turned over “relevant tips” to the White House Counsel, which would have been Don McGahn at the time in 2018. Tyson also said only ten individuals were interviewed, despite thousands of tips.
Tyson’s letter was made public Thursday by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Coons, who said it was a response to a letter they sent in August 2019 asking for answers about the investigation.
“This long-delayed answer confirms how badly we were spun by Director Wray and the FBI in the Kavanaugh background investigation and hearing,” Whitehouse said on Twitter Thursday, taking aim at FBI Director Chris Wray. He said it “confirms my suspicions that the ‘tip line’ was not real and that FBI tip line procedures were not followed.”
“Wray said they followed procedures, he meant the ‘procedure’ of doing whatever Trump White House Counsel told them to do. That’s misleading as hell,” he added.
A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment when reached by Insider. An email sent to the Supreme Court seeking comment on behalf of Kavanaugh did not receive a response.
According to the FBI’s letter, the FBI passed the tips to the White House because that was the entity that requested the supplemental background check on September 13, 2018. The request was prompted by sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh that surfaced around that time. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Tyson said the FBI had already conducted an initial background check that was completed in July 2018 and included interviews with 49 people.
Whitehouse and Coons were joined by Sens. Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, and Cory Booker in requesting more answers from the FBI.
“If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all,” they wrote, saying the agency’s letter confirmed “the FBI was politically constrained by the Trump White House.”
Bipartisan negotiations on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package are poised to stretch into next week as lawmakers struggle to resolve key disagreements on how to finance it.
Democrats are pushing for a multitrillion-dollar package that would provide cash benefits to parents and set up universal pre-K, along with upgrades to roads and bridges – all paid for with tax increases on rich Americans and large firms.
But Senate Republicans are starting to believe that striking a deal with President Joe Biden on an infrastructure plan could torch the rest of his economic agenda, particularly some of those tax hikes and his planned social initiatives.
“I think if we can agree on an infrastructure package that’s paid for, we should,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told Insider. “But the Democrats want to do more on what I would call non-infrastructure and I assume they’ll try and do that in reconciliation.”
He went on: “The biggest challenge they have right now is not Republicans, it’s Democrats disagreeing on the use of reconciliation for that purpose.”
At least one senior Republican shared the assessment that Democrats’ use of the party-line approach could face a rocky path ahead, as all 50 Democrats in the Senate would have to remain united on a separate plan.
“It’ll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranked Senate Republican, told reporters on Monday. “The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation – in some ways, with certain Democrats – it gets a lot harder.”
Progressives are pushing for Democrats to scrap the talks so a massive package can be approved without Republican support. In an interview with Insider last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York singled out national paid leave and affordable childcare as the pair of initiatives most at jeopardy of being dropped from the talks entirely.
Those liberals are at odds with centrist-leaning Democrats who want the discussions to continue. Some have already expressed unease with Biden’s tax hikes on the rich to finance new programs – which could potentially cut the scope of a follow-up package. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Bob Menendez favor scaling back Biden’s tax increase on capital gains, Politico reported.
“I know there needs to be reconciliation,” Warner told reporters on Thursday. “But that also doesn’t mean that I accept all of what the president has proposed.”
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Biden ally in Congress, said he favors striking a deal with Republicans if possible, but he also backs a separate party-line bill which he acknowledged has no margin of error.
“I am equally determined to move ahead with a reconciliation package that will delivers on Biden’s boldest policy proposals and I think it is possible for us to do both,” he said in a recent interview. “But it’s going to take a lot of coordination in our Democratic caucus.”
Infrastructure talks are starting to gain momentum in Congress two weeks after President Joe Biden rolled out his sprawling $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
A Republican-led group of 20 lawmakers is gearing up to make a counteroffer in a bid to strike a bipartisan deal on a smaller package. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia floated one this week in the range of $600 billion to $800 billion. But there are fresh signs of discord among Republicans on the price tag and it’s far from settled.
The sole factor binding them together is opposition to Biden’s corporate tax hike. Capito called it a “non-negotiable red line,” and other Republicans like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Susan Collins of Maine agreed they wouldn’t budge.
Instead, they are suggesting potential “user-fees,” a set of charges levied on the users of a federal service or good, such as raising the federal gas tax. User-fees have the support from the Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business group.
“My own view is that the pay-for ought to come from people who are using it. So if it’s an airport, the people who are flying,” Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters on Wednesday. “If it’s a port, the people who are shipping into the port; if it’s a rail system, the people who are using the rails; If it’s highways, it ought to be gas if it’s a gasoline-powered vehicle.”
That could shift the financial burden of an infrastructure overhaul from companies onto people, Kevin DeGood, an infrastructure expert at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, told Insider. It has triggered intense resistance among Democrats.
“If the Republican position is that we’re going only going to do this by raising the gas tax and we won’t accept an additional penny of corporate revenue, that won’t be something our caucus can get behind,” a Senate Democratic aide granted anonymity to speak candidly said.
Pressing Republicans to roll back Trump tax cuts is like urging Democrats to repeal Obamacare
The US generally funds infrastructure – encompassing roads, highways, and public transit like commuter rail – through a blend of state and federal funding. Only about a quarter of spending on transportation and water projects stems from the federal government now, per the Congressional Budget Office.
That’s down from a peak of 38% in 1977, leaving state and local governments to pick up more of the tab in recent decades. Biden’s last two predecessors urged more infrastructure spending. Former President Barack Obama sought to close corporate tax loopholes to repair roads, bridges, and tunnels in a jobs plan, but Republicans lined up against it.
Then former President Donald Trump pitched $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending during his 2016 campaign. Several efforts at a bipartisan package collapsed throughout his four years in office.
Now, a five-year highway funding bill expires in September, providing lawmakers with something close to a deadline to get their public-works priorities through Congress. Clashes are intensifying between Democrats urging tax hikes on corporations and high-earners, and Republicans pushing new fees on individuals.
Biden wants to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, a partial repeal of Trump’s 2017 tax law. Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, said Republicans were unlikely to support rolling back their biggest economic achievement of the past decade.
“Republicans worked extraordinarily hard to enact a major rewrite of the tax code,” Riedl told Insider. “They’re not going to reverse their signature policy to pay for Joe Biden’s spending. That’s like asking Democrats to repeal Obamacare to pay for a Republican tax cut.”
He outlined a potential plan that would include repurposing unspent emergency stimulus funds to state and local governments, and moving federal money around in the annual budget.
Republicans floated a gasoline tax or a vehicle mileage tax on electric vehicles to finance infrastructure in lieu of business tax hikes. The federal gas tax hasn’t been lifted since 1993, and a vehicle miles-traveled tax has never been implemented at the federal level. Only two states have it in place, The Washington Post reported.
Business groups favor spending on roads and bridges, but don’t want to pay for it
Business groups generally want infrastructure spending, though targeted in scope. The Business Roundtable supports up to $1.5 trillion “to return US physical infrastructure to a state of good repair.”
“There are clear benefits to business from additional infrastructure investing, but we also think it’s unfair to ask business to shoulder or cover all of the additional costs of this public infrastructure investment,” Brendan Bechtel, a leading figure in the Business Roundtable, told CNBC on Wednesday.
But experts say there is simply not enough to be raised through charging new fees on drivers or other types of road taxes. “User-fees are not going to be sufficient and there are sectors that don’t have them,” DeGood told Insider. “For example, the Biden administration wants to put money into electrical transmission.”
Republicans are indicating they will favor a package that’s narrowly tailored to address roads, bridges, ports and other physical infrastructure. One Republican aide argued Democrats swelled the size of their plan, dampening the odds of a deal.
“I think this is going to turn into a slush fund for priorities for important constituencies and important members,” the aide said. “You’re going to get a much better work product if you have Republican senators involved in this. It will give it more longevity.”
Still, some Democrats such as Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said it may be possible to split off elements of Biden’s plan and strike a $1 trillion bipartisan agreement, giving Democrats space to push through the rest using budget reconciliation in a party-line vote. GOP lawmakers wouldn’t be likely to endorse that, according to Riedl.
“Republicans aren’t gonna allow themselves to be chumps like that,” Riedl said.”They won’t give bipartisan cover to a process that will run them over in the end using reconciliation.”
Although a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour didn’t make it into the stimulus bill, Senate Democrats are meeting today to find a way to get it done somehow, a Democratic source told HuffPost.
According to the source, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will meet with the progressive senators who led the push for the $15 minimum wage increase, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Patty Murray of Washington, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. But the meeting will also include all seven moderate Democrats who voted against the $15 minimum wage hike: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Jon Tester of Montana.
When the Senate parliamentarian voted against including a minimum wage increase in the stimulus bill, Sanders – who co-sponsored a bill to raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025 – promised he wouldn’t give up on efforts to get the job done.
“But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back,” Sanders told reporters on March 1. “We’re going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we’re going to raise that minimum wage very shortly.”
And in a call with reporters on Friday, progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ro Khanna of California, joined labor leaders and activists to strategize how they could pass a minimum wage increase through Congress, whether by reconciliation or attaching it to a must-pass bill.
“There needs to be a clear plan, a clear strategy,” Khanna told The Washington Post in an interview. “It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this, we want to get it done.”
Manchin has previously said that a $15 minimum wage increase is too high and advocated for an $11 per hour increase instead. However, Sanders has remained adamant on achieving a $15 per hour increase to lift Americans out of poverty.
“In my mind, the great economic crisis that we face today is half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said on Twitter on March 5. “And many millions of workers are, frankly, working for starvation wages. Raising the minimum wage is what the American people want, and it’s what we have got to do.”
Eight Senate Democrats broke from the majority and voted on Friday against the $15 minimum wage hike proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The vote scrapped Sanders’ push for the provision to be added back into the stimulus package being negotiated in Congress, after Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that it should be nixed.
MacDonough ruled that the minimum wage increase violates the “Byrd Rule,” which prohibits “extraneous” policies as part of a reconciliation bill or resolution.
“It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was compliant with the Byrd rule, but raising the minimum wage is not,” Sanders said.
President Joe Biden has also expressed support for gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The bill was abandoned in the Senate after eight Democrats voted against the proposal:
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia
Manchin, a moderate Democrat who holds Byrd’s former Senate seat, had previously expressed disapproval of the minimum wage hike, standing with the Senate parliamentarian MacDonough.
“My only vote is to protect the Byrd Rule: Hell or high water,” the senator told CNN in February. “Everybody knows that. I’m fighting to defend the Byrd Rule. The President knows that.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
Sinema, another key moderate who had previously thrown cold water on the minimum wage hike, also voted against the proposal on Friday. To represent her “nay” vote, the Arizona senator dramatically voted with a “thumbs-down” to the Senate clerk, sparking backlash from progressive senators.
Despite her “thumbs-down” vote, Sinema said in a statement that she would be open to renegotiating a minimum wage increase “separate” from the relief package.
“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill,” Sinema said in a statement.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana
Tester voted against the proposal on Friday. Manchin said he and Tester hoped the spending in the stimulus package as a whole would be better “targeted” and “helping the people that need help the most.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
Shaheen’s office told Boston.com, the news site for the Boston Globe, in a statement that the senator from New Hampshire supports the minimum wage hike, but only with “safeguards” to protect small businesses and restaurants that have borne the economic brunt of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure they “don’t go under.”
“I also think we should work with some of those folks who are affected to help figure out how we can get them through an increase in the minimum wage,” Shaheen told WMUR9. “We have nursing homes in New Hampshire who are having difficulties employing people because of the wage scale.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
Another senator from New Hampshire, Hassan, rejected the minimum wage hike proposal. Like Shaheen, Hassan said she supports a separate bill to push the increase through Congress rather than bulking it with the stimulus package.
“Well so there’s isn’t going to be an increase in the minimum wage in this package,” Hassan said in an interview with WMUR9. “That being said, I think it’s really important that we all recognize that people who work 40 hours a week should be able to get by. They shouldn’t be living at or below the poverty level when they’re working hard.”
Sen. Angus King of Maine
King, an independent from Maine who typically caucuses with Democrats, also voted against Sanders’ proposal. He told The Wall Street Journal last week that, while he supports increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he expressed concern that increase labor costs could prompt businesses to make lay off employees.
During the pandemic, “a lot of restaurants are just hanging on by the thread,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware
Two senators from Delaware, Sens. Carper and Coons, were surprising dissenters to the minimum wage hike, especially hailing from Biden’s home state where local Democrats have thrown their support behind such a policy.
Carper threw cold water on the proposal on Friday, citing a need to protect struggling businesses from the increased labor costs.
“I have backed a $15 minimum wage on the federal level for years,” Carper said in a statement to Delaware Online. “At a time when our economy is still slowly recovering, though, policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country – many of which are fighting just to stay open during this unprecedented crisis.”
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware
Like the other senators who dissented, Coons said he was concerned about how the minimum wage increase would impact small businesses.
“Every Democrat and many Republicans agree that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low and has been for too long,” Coons said in a statement to Delaware Online. “It has to be raised. President Biden has called for us to raise it to $15 an hour. I will work with my colleagues on legislation to raise the minimum wage and index it annually.”
Joe Biden has been president for over a week, and congressional Democrats haven’t considered much of his agenda yet.
Democrats have control of the Senate for the first time in six years. Georgia runoff winners Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, along with Alex Padilla, California’s former secretary of state, were sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20. The ceremony finally materialized the party’s highly sought-after goal: control of the White House and Congress.
Democrats have so far struggled to take advantage of that newfound power, dawdling somewhat in pushing legislation through. The delay has mainly stemmed from the Senate, which came to standstill because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer feuded over the filibuster.
In a nutshell, McConnell wanted Schumer to promise to preserve the legislative tactic, which essentially functions as the minority’s check on the majority by allowing endless debate on a bill, often to delay or block its passage. Sixty senators are required in order to stop debate and vote on a bill. Many progressives in the Democratic Party have recently renewed calls for eliminating the filibuster.
Schumer was obstinate in the face of McConnell’s demands on the filibuster, but the Kentucky Republican ultimately backed off after two Democratic senators vowed to uphold the tool. Those two lawmakers, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, along with several other moderate Democrats, are shaping up to have significant influence over Biden’s legislative priorities.
Besides the filibuster stalemate, the Senate has been busy confirming Biden’s Cabinet picks and is also preparing for an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump.
Biden, meanwhile, has signed dozens of executive orders, ranging from tackling the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change and racial injustice. Yet the power of the presidency can only go so far without congressional support.
One area that top Democrats have pledged to quickly deliver on is another coronavirus stimulus. Dubbed the “America Rescue Plan,” Biden’s $1.9 trillion package includes $1,400 one-time direct payments, aid for state and local governments, a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans within his first 100 days in office, among other proposals. White House coronavirus advisor Andy Slavitt said this week that the Biden administration can achieve its vaccination goal without Congress, but added that the legislative body is needed to secure more funding to vaccinate all Americans.
However, Democrats are operating on slim majorities in both chambers and divided sentiment within the party, posing a challenge for Biden to implement his agenda. The president’s major hurdle lies in the Senate because of the filibuster, which if employed would require support from at least 10 Republicans for his legislation to have any shot. Democrats have tools to work around it, such as a procedure known as budget reconciliation that only requires a simple majority of 51 to pass legislation. But that can only happen if Biden is able to unite all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus, which includes two independents – Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine – to support his policy.
These are the moderate Senate Democrats who could influence much of Biden’s legislation:
Manchin has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks after he pledged to McConnell that he would not eliminate the filibuster. The West Virginian is well known for his conservative voice in the party, hailing from one of the reddest states in the country and frequently voting with the GOP. He was the lone Democrat to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Manchin’s stances could threaten some of Biden’s progressive ideas, especially when it comes to climate change. Manchin has also been skeptical of Biden’s stimulus proposal. He’s poised to be a major senator to watch in the Biden era.
Similarly, Sinema has come on the radar in light of her support to maintain the filibuster. She is one of two Democratic senators representing Arizona, a key swing state in the 2020 elections that flipped to Biden. Yet like Manchin, she has a record of voting with the GOP, making her vote crucial under the Biden administration.
Coons is one of Biden’s closest allies in the Senate and represents the president’s home state of Delaware. The senator had been considered to serve as Secretary of State, but Biden chose Anthony Blinken instead. “I need you in the Senate,” Biden told Coons in a November 16 conversation. Coons, who’s built a bipartisan reputation, is expected to wield substantial political power in Biden’s term.
Klobuchar is another moderate to keep an eye out for, as she’s been closely linked to Biden’s circle over the past several months. The former 2020 presidential candidate, who ran on her centrist, Midwestern background, quickly endorsed Biden after she dropped out of the race. Klobuchar was in the running to be Biden’s vice presidential pick, but withdrew her name and said the president-elect should select a woman of color instead. The Minnesota senator had also been floated to serve in Biden’s Cabinet. On Inauguration Day, Klobuchar played a key role in Biden’s ceremony and delivered the opening address.
Tester could become an important “yes” vote on Biden’s legislation. Like Manchin, he also comes from a red state: Montana. Yet unlike Manchin, he hasn’t voted with the GOP as much, despite Montana voting for former President Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Biden may be able to use this to his advantage and secure Tester’s support on many of his policy positions.
Though he dropped out of the race fairly early on, Bennet raised his national profile by running for president in 2020. The Colorado Democrat has garnered a reputation as a lawmaker who seeks to push ideas palatable to both parties, such as criminal justice reform, and could be a strong ally for Biden on the legislative front.
As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner is in one of the most important positions in Congress. The committee oversees the US intelligence community, which the Biden administration is working to repair after four years of relentless attacks from the Trump administration. The Virginia Democrat has a long record as a centrist, and will play a key role in discussions on threats to the US, including domestic terrorism.
Casey could be an ally for Biden on most issues, but has often stood out from others in his party due to his stance on abortion. In the past, the Pennsylvania lawmaker has described himself as a “pro-life Democrat” and in 2019 was one of just two Democratic senators – the other being Manchin – to vote for a permanent ban on federal funding for most abortions. Biden during his campaign supported ending the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding from going to most abortions, but any such effort could face opposition from Casey.
Some senior Democrats are preparing to drop their insistence on immediate support to state and local governments in order to move a COVID-19 stimulus deal along, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Both Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin and Biden confidante Sen. Chris Coons signaled on Monday that they would back the scaled-back deal of $748 billion, the AP said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to press for it to be included.
The AP also noted that several Democratic figures attended the press conference announcing the smaller package, suggesting growing support.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers who have spent the last weeks crafting a $908 billion relief proposal divided it into two sections on Monday in order to give some aspects a better chance to pass both the House and the Senate.
The proposal now consists of a $748 billion proposal containing measures that are largely agreed on across the board, including support for education, vaccine distribution, and unemployment insurance.
A second, $160 billion proposal separates off the two most contentious aspects to be addressed: liability protections for businesses in the pandemic (demanded by the GOP) and support for state and local governments (demanded by Democrats).
The group – which includes Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-VA), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) – dubbed their proposal a “Christmas miracle”.
The proposal is being presented as a stopgap measure to get some support out over Christmas, with further negotiations expected when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Meanwhile, Pelosi – who backed the bipartisan plan when it stood at $908 billion and contained provision for state and local aid – continues to press for it. She spoke to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone Monday evening about it, according to the AP.
She had earlier suggested that she would be willing to compromise on business liability protections, as long as they do not harm workers’ rights.
But that stance may be fading across the party.
In a statement emailed to media outlets, Durbin backed the $748 billion deal and said he was “disappointed” that state and local government funding couldn’t be agreed as part of it. He insisted he was not dropping the issue for good.
“This package does not include everything I think we need,” he wrote, adding: “I want to be clear: I’m not giving up on funding for states and localities.
“[…] While the fight continues over these issues, we must provide some emergency relief for the American people before we go home for the holidays.”