Policing policy plan hit obstacle
President Joe Biden elevated police reform to a top campaign issue last spring as the nation was roiled by protests over the killing on George Floyd. But on Sunday, the same day a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb shot a Black man during a traffic stop, the White House confirmed it was putting on ice the creation of a national police oversight commission that Biden promised.
Susan Rice, director of the president's Domestic Policy Council, told Politico that after listening to "partners in the civil rights community," the administration concluded a commission now "would not be the most effective way to deliver on our top priority in this area." Instead, Rice said the administration would concentrate on winning congressional passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. A version passed in the House, but negotiation is needed in the Senate to bring Republicans aboard — with an overhaul of legal protections for police officers among the items in dispute.
That left Biden to offer empathy Monday over the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The city's police Chief Tim Gannon said the officer who shot Wright meant to use a Taser but grabbed and fired a handgun. The mayor called for the officer to be fired as a criminal investigation gets underway.
"I haven’t called Daunte Wright’s family, but my prayers are with the family. It’s really a tragic thing that happened," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office.
"The fact is that, you know, we do know, that the anger, pain and trauma that exists in the Black community in that environment is real, it’s serious, and it’s consequential. But it will not justify violence and/or looting," Biden said. "And we should listen to Daunte's mom, who is calling for peace and calm," he said. See video of Biden's remarks.
"While we await a full investigation, we know what we need to do to move forward: Rebuild trust and ensure accountability so no one is above the law," Biden said later on Twitter.
Asked if he'd deploy federal resources to help keep the peace if necessary, Biden noted that he'd already done so because of the Minneapolis trial of former police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murder in the death of Floyd. "There are already federal resources," Biden said. "There will not be a lack of help and support from the federal government if the local authorities believe it’s needed."
White House: The road to be taken
The Biden administration, looking to make the case for its $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, released data on Monday for all 50 states that it says illustrates the need for a sweeping package to address crumbling roads and aging bridges. It declared more than 7,292 miles of highway and 1,702 bridges in "poor condition" in New York, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
"For decades, infrastructure in New York has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. The need for action is clear," The White House said in a two-page report on the state’s infrastructure needs. A state-by-state report card graded New York conditions a C-minus, while most states averaged a C. The White House did not explain the criteria used to calculate the grades.
The report also does not detail how much money from Biden’s proposal would be allocated for New York and how much of the state’s needs would be met by the plan.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a briefing with regional reporters on Monday, said the administration envisions that if Congress approves Biden’s plan, funding will be doled out via a mix of competitive grants for which localities will apply, in addition to traditional formula grants based on requirements laid out by the federal government.
The report was released before Biden met with a group of bipartisan lawmakers at the White House as he looks to generate support for a plan that Republicans have said is too costly and that some Democrats have argued is not expansive enough. Afterward, the White House called the meeting "a good exchange of ideas," while Republican senators who attended signaled they can't accept Biden's plan to boost the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
Janison: Biden not going soft on China
If you listened to Trumpworld during last year's campaign and now still, you'd think Biden couldn't wait to sell out the United States to China. That's not how Biden's policy is shaping up, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Biden has kept in place the tariffs on about $350 billion worth of Chinese-made goods. He cites the rivalry with China in trying to sell his massive infrastructure package. "Do you think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure or in research and development?" he said last week. "I promise you they are not waiting."
Difficult military issues between the two nations are emerging into fuller view these days. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly warned it would be a serious mistake for China to take any aggressive action against Taiwan. Blinken agreed even before his confirmation in January with former President Donald Trump's "tougher approach with China."
From the start, Blinken also agreed with the last administration's designation of human rights violations in Xinjiang, a purportedly autonomous region, as "genocide" against Uyghurs.
There's no sign either that the Biden administration wants to let China off the hook for its secrecy and stumbles that accelerated the worldwide spread of the coronavirus. "One result of that failure is that the virus got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise," Blinken said Sunday on NBC’s "Meet the Press," adding: "We need to get to the bottom of this."
GOP senator finds Biden blandness suspicious
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, echoing ungrounded right-wing media insinuations over whether Biden is "really in charge," seized on a curious piece of evidence: The president's tweets are boring — "unimaginably conventional."
Compared with his predecessor, if not the 43 presidents before them, that's certainly true.
Cornyn tweeted a copy-and-paste, without quotation marks, of an excerpt from a Politico story: "The president is not doing cable news interviews. Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. The public comments are largely scripted. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters."
Cornyn's follow-up tweet: "Invites the question: is he really in charge?"
White House press secretary Jen Psaki accepted that there is a contrast between Biden and Trump, if not Cornyn's conclusion. "I can confirm that the president of the United States does not spend his time tweeting conspiracy theories; he spends his time working on behalf of the American people," she said.
One of the Republican senators in Biden's infrastructure meeting Monday, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said "the president was very engaged."
Major gets a personal trainer
The Bidens' younger German shepherd, Major, will be sent to a private trainer in the Washington area to try to break his habit of nipping White House personnel. Two incidents in March required first aid.
Major "will undergo some additional training to help him adjust to life in the White House," first lady Jill Biden's press secretary Michael LaRosa told CNN. "The off-site, private training will take place in the Washington, D.C., area, and it is expected to last a few weeks."
Major, who is about 3 years old, is the first shelter dog to live in the White House. Champ, the Bidens' mellower older dog, has been with the Biden family for more than 10 years.
In recent weeks, Major, who once roamed outside without a leash, has been kept on a short restraint, The New York Times reported. The Bidens also intend to bring a cat to the White House, but LaRosa did not provide a timeline for the feline’s arrival.
Plugging security gaps
The White House announced on Monday or will soon make public a slew of appointments and nominations to fill security posts ranging from the Mexican border to cyberspace.
Biden is preparing to nominate Tucson, Arizona, police Chief Chris Magnus to be commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, The Washington Post reported. Magnus was openly critical of Trump administration immigration policies.
Five other nominations were set within the Department of Homeland Security, including Ur Jaddou to oversee the Citizenship and Immigration Services. She was a critic of Trump's more restrictive immigration policy.
Biden has selected two former senior National Security Agency officials for key cyber roles. Chris Inglis, a former NSA deputy director, is being nominated as the first national cyber director. Jen Easterly, a former deputy for counterterrorism at the NSA, has been tapped to run the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS.
A former federal prosecutor and New Jersey attorney general, Anne Milgram, is Biden's nominee to run the Drug Enforcement Administration.
In his role as chairman of the Senate Republicans' fundraising arm, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida presented Trump with its first-ever "Champion for Freedom Award" on Friday. The next night, at a Mar-a-Lago GOP donors event, Trump slimed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a "dumb son of a bitch" and a "stone-cold loser."
How did Scott — who works on behalf of Senate Republicans led by McConnell and is trying to talk Trump out of attacking GOP incumbents the former president deems disloyal — reconcile all that?
The Florida senator tweeted on Monday: "President Trump is reported to have referred to Senator McConnell on Saturday as a ‘dumb SOB.’ As all of my colleagues in the Senate know, this is not true. He’s a very smart SOB."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Biden plans to nominate Christine Wormuth, a Pentagon policy official during the Obama administration, to be the first female Army secretary, the White House announced on Monday.
- Iran's blaming Israel and vowing revenge for a mysterious explosion that knocked out power at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, escalating a shadow war between the theocracy and Israel, the main U.S. ally in the region.
- Dr. Robert Redfield, who led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Trump administration, has a new job as strategic health and safety adviser to Big Ass Fans. The company markets a $9,450 industrial fan advertised as killing 99.9% of the coronavirus; its claims have been disputed. Big Ass also makes ceiling fans.
- Federal health officials on Tuesday called for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying they are reviewing reports of six U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in people who received the vaccine.
- White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt said Monday that at least 46% of U.S. adults have had at least their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 28% of adults fully vaccinated.
- Standing by the Biden administration's rebuff of Michigan's plea for a ramp-up in the state's COVID-19 vaccine allocation to confront its surge in cases, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should "shut things down." It would take too long for vaccinations to have an impact on the hot spot than pandemic restrictions would, Walensky said. Whitmer, a Democrat who faced angry protests over the state's previous shutdowns during the Trump administration, has been reluctant to go that route again.
- A retired NYPD cop charged with beating a police officer during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection is unhappy that he’s locked up with "inner-city" criminals, according to his lawyer.
- Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far-right, according to a Washington Post data analysis.