Miscalculating Sinema and Manchin could end up costing Biden


“DANGEROUS CREATURE,” the Arizona Democrat’s sweater blared in all-capital letters.

Tanden’s nomination was already on life support after Manchin said he would not support her, citing old tweets she wrote that disparaged members of both parties. And like Sinema, the West Virginia Democrat also says he opposes the increase in the minimum wage.

The outsized role the centrists will play in Biden’s efforts in Congress have earned them both the attention — and, in some instances, the private ire — of White House officials, who are loathe to appear beholden to a small group of lawmakers but have almost no room for error on close votes.

As the White House maintained its public support for Tanden on Wednesday, one official suggested the increasingly quixotic effort to secure her confirmation was meant, in part, to counter the perception that Manchin had sole ability to derail Biden’s agenda.

The rules of the Senate have always allowed any individual senator to slow down a nomination, but the dynamics of a 50-50 split in the chamber have given Sinema and Manchin even more power in determining the fate of a nomination or a piece of legislation.

“That’s usually the case that one senator can stop things. It’s more dramatic now because we in the Democratic majority need to do things. We need to give the President his team,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, said on Wednesday as Tanden’s nomination hovered in limbo. “We’re doing kind of a full scale effort including the White House and members to find support.”

Since taking office, Biden has held a series of phone conversations with Manchin, according to aides, and the White House is in regular communication with Sinema’s office to assess where she stands on various areas of intense administration interest.

Asked about the influence two moderate Democrats could wield over Biden’s personnel and policy agenda, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “has the benefit of experience of recognizing the power of any one individual senator or one individual member, and he certainly respects that.”

Different styles

Sinema has long been a stark defender of her views, but she’s made a habit of expressing them privately to Democratic leadership and not in the Capital hallways with reporters or in national television interviews. Sinema, who was elected to Congress in 2018, doesn’t typically advertise how she’ll vote on a nominee or bill until she goes to the floor and does it.

The Arizona senator has been one of the fiercest enforcers of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on distancing indoors during the coronavirus pandemic, riding in elevators without any other people and sternly reminding reporters to keep their distance from her and each other. For months, she wore neon wigs instead of going to hair salons to retouch her blonde color.

In both her political style and biography, she is a different type of senator than Manchin, who Biden worked with during his years as President Barack Obama’s vice president. Manchin has publicly embraced his role as a potential spoiler for his own party, broadcasting his disputes and relishing his kingmaker reputation while drawing irritation from the President’s allies.

Some White House officials said they felt they had a better handle on Manchin than on Sinema, who had not served during a Democratic administration until now. One close adviser told CNN that Manchin is keenly aware of what Biden’s red lines are. In many ways, Manchin isn’t doing anything different than he’s done for years in Washington, often annoying fellow Democrats in the process, though now his independent streak has assumed outsized potential for scuttling tight votes.

He broke Democratic ranks multiple times in the Trump administration, voting for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and US Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell. The former West Virginia governor famously appeared in a 2010 campaign ad using a rifle to shoot holes in a Democratic climate bill.

Sinema is newer to the role and, because she is guarded in her public appearances, has proved something of an enigma for officials trying to ascertain her motives or demands.

“She comes at things from policy,” one White House adviser said regarding Sinema’s unwillingness to say how she’ll vote on Tanden’s nomination. “She’s not as judgmental about personal things.”

What they have in common, according to Democratic aides, is an innate knowledge of what it takes to win tough races in their states — purple Arizona for Sinema and red-leaning West Virginia for Manchin. Their politics are often a reflection of the people they represent rather than the Democratic party base that urges them to the left.

That has proved frustrating to some members of Biden’s team who were counting on Democratic unity in the President’s first 100 days, hoping party cooperation would swiftly move his Cabinet nominees and enact landmark coronavirus legislation. What the administration has found instead are moderate Democrats willing to buck their party when their state politics demand it.

Asked after an executive order signing on Tuesday if he was concerned with delays in confirming his Cabinet nominees, Biden said he was.

“I don’t so much blame it to the Senate,” he said, “I blame it on the failure to have a transition that was rational.”

Sinema and Manchin, both defenders of the Senate as an institution, have helped their party’s leadership navigate through difficult stalemates with Republicans in recent weeks. Their shared opposition to eliminating the filibuster helped to finally get Republicans and Democrats to agree to an organizing resolution that allowed Democrats to take control of committees after they’d won the Senate.

But they have also staked out positions early in the Biden administration that have caused agitation and frustration for their Democratic colleagues and the White House.

Warning signs

The biggest warning sign from Manchin came early in the administration, when he chided Vice President Kamala Harris for conducting a local West Virginia interview that seemed overly designed to pressure Manchin into supporting the Covid relief package. Shortly after he took his complaints public, the White House called him in an attempt to repair the damage.

In her round of interviews, Harris also spoke with outlets in Arizona, an unsubtle attempt to press Sinema as well to vote for the $1.9 trillion package, which polls show a majority of Americans support.

Sinema did not complain publicly like Manchin. But later she became the first Democrat to officially oppose the $15 minimum wage as part of the coronavirus relief bill. Sinema has said it is superfluous to the underlying package and that relief should stay aimed at vaccinating Americans, protecting small businesses and getting kids back to school. She has also joined other moderates in calling for more targeted aid and a limit on high-earners from receiving stimulus checks.

Amid their concerns, Biden has expressed doubts that a minimum wage increase will be included in the final bill. And he has expressed an openness to more targeted checks.

Manchin’s announcement of opposition to Tanden was similarly the first indication that her chances of confirmation were narrowing. He gave Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a heads up before issuing his statement, but it still sent the White House into damage control mode when he released it on Friday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Sinema’s undeclared position was at least partly to blame for a delay in a committee vote on Tanden. Sinema, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, refused to say how she would vote. One source told CNN the committee was specifically concerned with Sinema’s status and did not want to risk taking the vote on Tanden without knowing the outcome.

Publicly the White House is sticking by Tanden, insisting they are looking to identify at least one Republican vote to secure her confirmation. Privately, some officials have conceded her nomination could easily fail, noting presidents don’t usually get all of their nominees confirmed.

Multiple aides told CNN that Biden’s team was leaning so confidently into the idea of their party falling in line on nominations that minimal outreach was conducted to convince moderate Republicans to vote for Tanden at all. Even after Manchin came out against Tanden, moderate Republicans heard little or nothing from the White House, according to aides.

On Monday, the one Republican who could determine Tanden’s fate — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — said she hadn’t spoken to the White House about the nomination, though by Wednesday she said officials had reached out.

By then, her GOP colleagues Sen. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney had officially already announced their opposition to Tanden’s nomination.



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Key GOP senator critical of Tanden's past tweets in latest setback for Biden's pick for budget director



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Acting US Capitol Police chief says intelligence failed to predict scope of January 6 attack



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AZ lawmakers weigh bill that would allow legislature to review election results 'if needed'



The effort by GOP legislators in battleground states to drastically change voting laws comes after last year’s elections saw record numbers of early and mail-in voters, many of them Democrats, after rules were relaxed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The high numbers triggered baseless claims of fraud by then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans that culminated with the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
Under a new proposed amendment to the Arizona constitution, introduced by a Republican state senator, the legislature would meet in a special session the Monday after Election Day to “review or investigate, if needed” the results of the election, a provision some Republicans have said is needed after the November election.

GOP Sen. David Gowan, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation “is not meant to override the vote of the people,” but provides a process for auditing the election.”

Democrats and voting rights advocates have pushed back on the legislation, saying that it could disenfranchise voters by potentially placing election results into the hands of state lawmakers.

“This initiative is so offensive, such an affront to our democracy,” said Randy Perez, democracy director at LUCHA Arizona, a grassroots social and economic justice organization.

Arizona became one of a handful of states that had its election results scrutinized following the November election, when President Joe Biden became the second Democrat in more than seven decades to win the state. The Trump campaign had filed a lawsuit in the state seeking a review of all ballots cast on Election Day, alleging some voters were confused on Election Day and feared that their ballots were not counted. The campaign later dropped the suit.

Also under the proposed amendment, the legislature would have the authority to pick the state’s presidential electors.

Arizona has 11 Electoral College votes, and the slate of electors comes from the same political party as the presidential candidate who wins the majority of the vote. Current state law requires that presidential electors vote for the winner of the popular vote, and any elector who refuses to follow the law is replaced, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Choosing the slate of electors is of critical importance in presidential elections when even the slightest of margins can result in victory. In November’s election, Biden’s win in Arizona was pivotal in getting him to the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Gowan said his proposal would bring “back the authority of the Electoral College to the legislature.”

Republican lawmakers introduced a similar bill in the Arizona House.

Democrats and advocates denounced the Senate bill as perpetuating baseless allegations of voter fraud and potentially risking disenfranchising millions of voters, saying it could potentially give the legislature the power to override the election results.

“Why even have a presidential election, why have voters vote on it if, essentially the legislature is going to be able to override whatever the voters vote for,” state Sen. Sean Bowie, a Democrat, said at a Tuesday meeting.

The bill is one of more than a dozen election bills Republicans in the state have introduced following Biden’s win in November, many of which focus on the mail-in voting process that spiked in 2020 with roughly 80% of Arizonans voting by mail.

In the Grand Canyon State, according to an updated analysis by the liberal leaning Brennan Center for Justice, lawmakers have introduced, filed or are advancing least 19 proposed bills aimed at restricting voting access.
One bill would require mail-in ballots be notarized. Another lets voters request a ballot by mail, but voters would have to return their ballots in-person. One measure would remove voters who miss four consecutive elections from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List — which allows a voter to automatically receive a ballot by mail for every election — effectively eliminating the “permanent” feature.

Overall, according to Brennan, at least 250 restrictive voting bills are being weighed by state legislatures, an effort led by Republicans — more than six times the number of bills for the same time last year.

Voting rights experts and advocates see a link between Republicans’ state-level proposals and Trump’s conspiracy theories surrounding his 2020 election loss.

“This policy is driven by lies and it disenfranchises voters. It’s time to silence the people. Because the people were heard in November and some people don’t like what they heard,” Alex Gulotta from All Voting is Local Arizona said in an interview with CNN.

“It really is the tyranny of ignorance. A subset of people who are so concerned with maintaining their power they are willing to do anything, and part of it is to continue this falsehood about our elections,” he added.

Even GOP members of the state legislature have doubts about the necessity of some of the bills, including Republican Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers.

“In order to reestablish some feeling of credibility of elections themselves, people have introduced lots of bills. Some of them, I think are valid. We need to clean voter rolls, make sure people are here to vote, that’s pretty standard stuff. But other things are not as acceptable to me,” said Bowers, who added that he disagrees with a proposal that voters get their absentee ballots notarized.

“No I’m not going to do that,” he said.

“I wasn’t happy with the outcome, but I don’t have to be happy with the outcome to know that honorable people did an honorable job,” Bowers said while touting the security and integrity of the state’s election system.

If the constitutional amendment is ultimately passed, it would go to a statewide vote at the next general election in November 2022.



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Close ally of Marjorie Taylor Greene among those in Capitol mob



In fact, Anthony Aguero, a conservative livestreamer, activist and associate of Greene, said on video following the January 6 assault on the Capitol that he had been among those who entered and attacked those who falsely claimed it was done by “Antifa.”

“We were all there. It was not Antifa and it was not BLM. It was Trump supporters that did that yesterday. I’m the first to admit it, being one myself,” said Aguero in a video posted on January 7.

“I walked amongst all those people,” he added, later defending entering the Capitol.

Greene and Aguero have worked closely together over the years on causes such as immigration and the border wall and have attended pro-Trump rallies together. In many since-deleted videos saved by CNN’s KFile, Greene repeatedly calls Aguero “amazing” and a “friend.” On social media, Aguero has called Greene “one of my closest friends.”

“A message was sent,” Aguero said in the video streamed live on January 6 while walking away from the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue following the riot. “These politicians are not going to continue to get away with the abuse as they’ve been doing. We will continue to press on these individuals.”

“The National Guard has just been called in,” he continued. “A woman was shot in the face earlier. There was blood all over the floor. I recorded it for y’all. I could not go live during the whole event because the signal was either jammed purposely or there was just too many, too many people out there. Guys, I was able to make it inside the chambers and I have footage that I’m going to provide for you guys as we made our way in there.”

Congress held its first hearing on the Capitol riots on Tuesday, in which law enforcement officials testified the attacks were likely coordinated.
In a video posted by Aguero on January 6 on Instagram, he can be heard cheering on, from a distance, those trying to enter the Capitol, chanting “heave ho” as a mob of rioters push against Capitol Police. In a comment, Aguero wrote “MAGA” under the video.
In another video, posted from the steps of the Capitol, he can be heard chanting “our house.” He later described those who broke in as “patriots,” and commented “#PatriotsSaveAmerica2021! Not Antifa/BLM!!!” immediately following the ransacking of the Capitol by rioters.
Aguero posted one video on January 10 of someone entering the Capitol, though it is unclear if Aguero himself took the footage.

When reached for comment, Aguero told CNN that the “videos uploaded compiled [sic] are not mine. They’re screen recorded from other posts that I saw.” Aguero did not respond to further questions asking to specify which videos were screen recorded. He appears on camera in two videos and can be heard speaking in others.

Before publication, it appears Aguero deleted the video from January 6 in which he appears on camera and says he “was able to make it inside the chambers.” He did not respond to CNN’s questions on this.

Aguero confirmed to CNN he was at the Capitol on January 6 and said he was an “independent journalist” there reporting the events. He also reiterated his support for Greene.

“I fully support Marjorie Taylor Greene. We need more great people like her. God bless her and her family,” said Aguero.

Greene did not respond to requests for comment.

The FBI said last month that it had received nearly 200,000 digital tips from the public related to the Capitol riot, mainly from people who documented it. The FBI declined to comment on whether it was investigating Aguero.

“We have no comment, keeping with our standard practice of neither confirming nor denying the existence of an investigation,” said the FBI’s national press office in an email.

In the video he posted on January 7, Aguero claimed he had been among those who entered the Capitol and attacked those who falsely claimed it was done by “Antifa.”

“People that were saying, ‘We need to stand up for our rights,’ ” he added. “We need to stand up for our country. So patriots stand up for their country and they come out here to physically try to take back their house. The House of the people.”

“Now you have people on the right acting like they’re holier than thou, holier than holy,” he continued. ” ‘Oh, I’m appalled. I don’t condone this.’ What the hell do you expect conservatives to do? Do you want us to continue to sit there? Complacent, continue to take the higher route and keep getting f**ked in the a**. I’m sorry for using that language, but I’m sick and tired of the hypocrisy.”

Later in the video, Aguero praised Greene for her actions contesting the election.

“I stand with people like Marjorie Taylor Greene proudly,” he added. “That woman has more courage than most of the men that were in that building. No, not most. That woman has more courage than every single man that was in that Capitol yesterday.”

Strong ties to Greene

Aguero and Greene have worked closely together over the years, particularly before her run for Congress.
The pair spoke at a small pro-border wall rally in Washington in February 2019, visited lawmakers’ offices together, made a trip along the border together and sat together in the special backstage section of a Trump rally in February 2019.

Aguero frequently spoke of working with and supporting Greene throughout 2019.

The El Paso-based videographer, who sometimes goes by the moniker “Conservative Anthony” online, frequently documents the activities of right-wing activists and militias, including the Guardian Patriots, the border militia group formerly known as the United Constitutional Patriots, and the Proud Boys.

Aguero also has a history of criminal violence, according to online court records. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor family violence assault causing serious bodily injury. In 2015, he was convicted of felony vehicular assault while intoxicated and sentenced to two years in Texas state prison.

When Greene was temporarily banned from her personal Facebook page in May 2019, she used Aguero’s page to livestream. He has spent much of January and February expressing support for Greene on social media.
She was recently photographed with Aguero in Washington at the “March for Trump” rally, also known as the Million MAGA March, on November 14, 2020, where Greene spoke. Following Greene’s speech, Aguero can be seen accompanying her off the stage in a video of the rally. A November tweet of the pair at the rally was liked by Greene.
Aguero was also with Greene in February 2019 when she delivered a petition to impeach House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for treason and suggested the speaker could be executed or imprisoned.
Aguero frequently posted on social media ahead of the January 6 rally that preceded the Capitol riot. In archived posts from the conservative social media website Parler, Aguero shared posts from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio.



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Biden to nominate 3 to USPS Board of Governors



The nominees include Ron Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general who resigned under the previous administration; Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of American Postal Workers Union; and Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute.

The nominations come amid public outcry over delayed mail and increased pressure on Biden from Democratic lawmakers and postal service unions to take action to improve the USPS.

On Tuesday, the American Postal Workers Union called on Biden to swiftly fill the board’s four vacancies. Some Democratic lawmakers have gone further, calling on Biden to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

If confirmed, his nominees will answer calls to diversify the board and alleviate concerns of the unions, who have complained that the current Trump-appointed board had no one with previous postal service experience serving on it.

“I encourage you to ensure your appointees are reflective of the 600,000 dedicated workers they will lead,” Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley wrote in a letter Biden last week. “We need a Board of Governors that includes women, people of color, and individuals who have direct experience working for the USPS and serving our communities.”

The nominations come after a heated day on Capitol Hill, where DeJoy appeared in front of the House Oversight Committee to discuss improving the USPS. DeJoy sparred with Democratic lawmakers over woefully slow mail delivery rates, the 2020 election and his forthcoming 10-year plan to overhaul the Postal Service.

Last week, scores of Democratic lawmakers sent two separate letters to DeJoy and Biden, filled with grievances about the postmaster general and urging the President to take action amid months of complaints over mail delivery delays.
“It is your duty, first and foremost, to protect service and ensure timely mail delivery for every person in this nation,” 34 Democratic senators wrote in a letter to DeJoy, acknowledging that USPS “fulfilled its duties during the 2020 general election and executed extraordinary measures to prioritize timely delivery of election mail” but that concerns remain about delivery delays.
That letter was sent after a group of 80 House Democrats sent a separate letter to Biden in which they urged him to fill vacancies on the board of governors so new members can “seriously consider” DeJoy’s future.

The President does not have the power to remove the postmaster general. Only the Postal Service Board of Governors — which is comprised of members nominated by the President and confirmed in the Senate — has the power to do so, and DeJoy continues to have the support of the Trump-appointed board.

On Wednesday, DeJoy made it clear he has no intention of leaving willingly. When asked how much longer he intended to stay, DeJoy responded: “A long time, get used to me.”



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Pentagon chief urges service members to get vaccinated after it was revealed one-third are opting out



(CNN) —  

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged military service members to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in a video statement released Wednesday after it was revealed last week that approximately one-third have opted out of receiving doses.

“If you believe, as I did, that (being vaccinated is) the right thing for you … I hope that you’ll consider accepting it when it’s offered to you,” Austin said.

In the statement, Austin encouraged anyone who worries about the safety of the vaccine to visit the CDC and Defense Department websites for more information.

“You’ll see that they are safe and they are effective. And you’ll see that millions of your fellow citizens have already taken them with little to no side effects,” Austin said.

The military cannot require troops to get the Covid-19 vaccine because it only has an emergency use authorization from the FDA at this point. Approximately one-third of service members eligible to receive the vaccine have opted not to do so.

Austin is currently on his first trip as defense secretary, focusing largely on Covid-19. He will visit a Defense Department-supported vaccination site in Los Angeles that began administering vaccines last week, as well as the vaccination sites on board the USS Essex and at Naval Air Station North Island. Austin will talk to service members to hear their opinions and views on the vaccine, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“The Secretary wants everyone to make the best, most informed decision they can about the vaccines. Just like he did. He also recognizes that there are many reasons why an individual may not get vaccinated. Sometimes, it isn’t a matter of choice but of necessity,” Kirby said. The military collects demographic data on service members who receive the vaccine, Kirby said, but there is no such data on service members who opt not to receive it.

Austin has made the fight against the coronavirus pandemic the top priority for the Pentagon, supporting the federal government’s vaccination plan and urging members of the military to receive vaccines.

The Army announced on Wednesday that it will send 780 personnel to support five state-run vaccination sites in Florida and Pennsylvania at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Four smaller “type 2” teams with 139 personnel each will work in Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville. One larger “type 1” team of 222 personnel will work in the Philadelphia Convention Center. The teams will arrive on Friday and will consist of military medical personnel and support staff.

Additional vaccination sites in Texas and New York announced last week were also expected to begin operating Wednesday.

CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.



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DC mayor's sister dies from Covid-19



“My family and I are mourning the loss of my sister, Mercia Bowser, who passed away this morning due to complications related to Covid-19,” Bowser said in the statement. “Mercia was loved immensely and will be missed greatly, as she joins the legion of angels who have gone home too soon due to the pandemic.”

The mayor said Mercia Bowser — her only sister and eldest sibling — “was a loving daughter, sister, aunt, and friend” who “worked tirelessly for children, the elderly, and those with behavioral disorders until her retirement and beyond.”

Bowser said her family was grateful to the medical staff at Washington Hospital Center who treated her sister for pneumonia related to her bout with coronavirus until her death Wednesday morning.

Mercia Bowser is among the 1,001 Covid-19 deaths the nation’s capital had recorded as of Wednesday afternoon, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The district currently has just shy of 40,000 coronavirus cases.
Her death also comes the same week that the US hit 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, a sobering landmark in a pandemic that continues to ravage the country as officials race to vaccinate Americans to slow the spread of the virus.
The mayor has already mourned the death of at least one other person close to her who contracted the virus, as she announced last March that George Valentine, who was serving as the deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, passed away after testing positive.

“It’s devastating for everybody, of course. We’re very sorry,” she said at the time.

Bowser has helped steer the city through the pandemic since its onset, declaring a state of emergency last March and later ordering the closure of some businesses to mitigate the spread of the virus. She also moved late last year to impose new dining restrictions in the city as cases rose around the holiday season.



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