Cranking our chains
Democratic and Republican lawmakers meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House seemed to agree: This is no time to play spin the bottleneck.
Biden, citing microchip shortages currently hampering U.S. auto production as well as acute medical supply shortages during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, ordered his administration on Wednesday to launch a review of domestic supply chains with the aim of preventing future shortfalls, Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports.
Biden’s review comes as U.S. automakers struggle with shortages of microchips produced in the U.S. and abroad for American-made vehicles. The supply crunch has forced manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors, to scale back production of certain vehicles until more of the semiconductor chips become available.
Biden said his administration is reaching out to semiconductor companies and foreign allies "to help us resolve the bottlenecks we face now" and prevent them in the future. "We need to stop playing catch up," Biden said. "After the supply chain crisis hit, we need to prevent the same crisis from hitting in the first place."
His executive order directs a 100-day federal review into four key supply areas — pharmaceuticals, semiconductor chips, large-capacity batteries and rare-earth minerals used for technology and defense purposes. "The last year has shown some of the vulnerability we have with some of the supply chains, including the PPE we needed badly but had to go abroad to get," Biden said during the Wednesday meeting with a bipartisan group of House and Senate members in the Oval Office.
The microchip shortages were spurred by the pandemic, when a dip in demand for personal vehicles prompted manufacturers to scale back the production of chips used for cars. Instead, they ramped up production of semiconductor chips used for personal computers and other electronic devices that saw a surge in demand amid stay-at-home orders, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the lawmakers who met with Biden, urged more domestic production. "We all understand this is important, not only to our economy, but to our national security, because these cutting-edge, high-end semiconductors — they operate on everything from the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter [jet] to our cellphones," he said.
Plan B on OMB
Speculation is growing over who the Biden will pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget if his first choice for the Cabinet post, Neera Tanden, flames out.
Two Senate panels on Wednesday postponed their votes to advance the confirmation of Tanden, who has drawn the wrath of Republicans and one key Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, for her barbed partisan tweeting while leading a center-left think tank. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said the Budget Committee, which he heads, put off its decision because "it didn't look like she had the votes."
Tanden's last hope for a Republican yes vote appeared to be Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was planning to speak with her. But Murkowski was surprised Wednesday when a reporter showed her a 2017 Tanden tweet about Murkowski's support for a GOP tax plan. The posting snarked: "This sounds like you’re high on your own supply." Wondered Murkowski: "My own supply of what?" The senator went on to remark: "I was trying to look at competence, but apparently I'm going to have to do more looking into what she thinks about me."
A leading Republican senator on budget matters, Richard Shelby of Alabama, suggested Biden's nominee for the deputy director at OMB, Shalanda Young, would have an easier time getting confirmed for the top job. "She’s smart, she knows the process inside-out, and she’s an honest broker who has demonstrated the ability to work with both sides and get things done," Shelby said. The Congressional Black Caucus would favor Young as well.
Meanwhile, Biden's choice for interior secretary, Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, passed a critical test by winning Manchin's support.
Janison: Whose law and order?
Former President Donald Trump's "back-the-blue" and "law-and-order" incantations during campaign rallies proved especially meaningless as another of his supporters — this one a retired NYPD officer — was arraigned this week for an alleged cop-on-cop attack in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
But bigger fault lines than those that have opened over Capitol security crisscross the landscape for Biden. Like other Democrats, he ran for office expressing sympathy for unarmed Black citizens who died in police encounters, which sometimes prompted violent reaction on the streets of faraway cities.
As preparations got underway for a state homicide trial in George Floyd's death while in Minneapolis police custody, new witnesses reportedly have been called and a new grand jury impaneled in the federal civil rights probe of former Officer Derek Chauvin, who was videotaped kneeling on Floyd's neck before he died. That process now falls under the aegis of Biden's Justice Department.
Meanwhile, policymakers will be watching to see if broader day-to-day law-enforcement trends and urban crime spikes continue. Police recruitment is reportedly difficult amid a flood of retirements, and the coronavirus pandemic causes its own problems.
Watching their language
Trump once boasted, "I have the best words." The Biden White House disagrees.
With the change in administration has come a change in what is acceptable language, The New York Times reports. "Illegal alien" is out. "Noncitizen" is in. "Climate change" — taboo under Trump — is once again appearing on government websites and in documents.
Across the federal government, LGBTQ references are popping up everywhere. Visitors to the White House website are now asked whether they want to provide their pronouns when they fill out a contact form: she/her, he/him or they/them.
It is all part of a concerted effort under Biden to strip away the language and imagery that the administration regards as representing Trump's anti-immigration, anti-science and anti-gay rights policies and replacing them with words and pictures that are more inclusive and better match the current president’s sensibilities.
Postmaster general: I'm not toast
Parrying Democratic critics who want him out, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Wednesday at a House hearing that he intended to be around "a long time" and "Get used to me."
But that will be up the Postal Service Board of Governors. Biden has settled on three nominees to fill vacancies on the board — a former Postal Service executive, a leading voting rights advocate and a former postal union leader. If confirmed, the nominees would give Democrats a majority on the nine-member board of governors, with potentially enough votes to oust DeJoy, The Washington Post reported.
DeJoy, a Trump donor who the board appointed last year, came under fire over operational changes blamed for slower mail and package delivery, and under suspicion when Trump began his attacks on mail-in voting that was expanded amid the pandemic.
Angrily insisting he was not a "political appointee" and defending his stewardship, DeJoy said, "You can sit here and think that I've brought all this damage to the Postal Service, but the place was operationally faulty long before I took office."
DeJoy on Wednesday divulged few details about a 10-year reform plan that’s being crafted by postal management. But he said, "If we move forward with the plan, only about 30% of First Class Mail would be impacted with any additional delays."
Orders to go
Biden canceled another series of Trump executive orders on Wednesday.
They included an attempt to cut off federal funding to cities deemed as permitting "anarchy, violence and destruction" (New York, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, were targets), an order favoring classical architecture for new federal buildings and a pandemic-related ban on certain types of work visas.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- The Biden administration is expected on Thursday to release a declassified U.S. intelligence report finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, Reuters reported. The Trump administration sought play down intel of the prince's involvement. A call between Biden and Saudi King Salman was expected imminently.
- The Justice Department is withdrawing support for a federal lawsuit by three Connecticut high school students challenging state rules that allow transgender students to compete in athletics based on their gender identity. The Trump administration had supported the lawsuit.
- Stephen Miller, the Trump White House aide who helped shape his boss's hard-line immigration policy, is advising conservative House Republicans on fighting Biden's liberalization plans.
- Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) tells Newsday's Tom Brune he’s being urged to run for governor as controversies engulfing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo grow, but Zeldin insisted on Wednesday that he’s not even thinking about it — yet.
- The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has subpoenaed financial records in a criminal probe related to former Trump strategist Steve Bannon's crowdfunding effort for a privately built border wall, CNN reported. In one of his last acts in office, Trump pardoned Bannon from federal charges of skimming more than $1 million from donations, much of it for personal use.
- Trump is appealing his suspension from Facebook and Instagram imposed the day after the Capitol insurrection. An oversight board for the social media sites has up to 90 days to decide. Trump remains under a permanent ban from Twitter and Snapchat.
- Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Long Island billionaire and Republican megadonor Robert Mercer, is taking a more active role in seeking to build Parler as a social-media alternative for right-wingers who complained of being squelched by Twitter's rules, The Washington Post reports. Parler is hospitable to conspiracy theorists and was taken offline by internet hosting companies for its alleged role in allowing the Capitol rioters to plan and egg one another on. It's back up.