2021: A space odyssey
When then-President Donald Trump announced in 2018 that he wanted to create a Space Force, it set off a meteor shower of derisive jokes. That was a reflexive reaction from those who saw the 45th president as a fount of harebrained ideas, like buying Greenland or arguing that windmills cause cancer or musing that bleach injections might cure COVID-19.
With Trump now gone, what does President Joe Biden say about the Space Force? "They absolutely have the full support of the Biden administration," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. "We are not revisiting the decision to establish the Space Force," she said.
Not that Psaki initially realized it was time to end the mockery about the newest military branch. When she was asked about the Space Force in Tuesday's briefing, she waved it off by equating the question's importance to one she was asked previously on whether Biden would keep Trump's color-change scheme for the next generation of Air Force One. "Wow. Space Force. It’s the plane of today," Psaki said.
By Tuesday evening, Psaki tweeted a retreat: "We look forward to the continuing work of Space Force and invite the members of the team to come visit us in the briefing room anytime to share an update on their important work." That came after a wave of indignant reactions from Capitol Hill Republicans. "It’s concerning to see the Biden administration’s press secretary blatantly diminish an entire branch of our military as the punchline of a joke, which I’m sure China would find funny," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.).
Psaki continued her course correction on Wednesday. "The desire for the Department of Defense to focus greater attention and resources on the growing security challenges in space has long been a bipartisan issue informed by numerous independent commissions and studies conducted across multiple administrations, and thousands of men and women proudly serve in the Space Force," she said.
The Space Force's top uniformed officer, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, said Wednesday that he would "welcome the opportunity" to talk more about the service's mission, which he also acknowledged that much of the American public does not yet grasp because most space threats are classified. One among many is potential disruption to vital Global Positioning System communications from satellites.
Raymond told a Defense Writers Group event: "My own mother called me a couple months ago after watching a television segment about GPS [and said] … ‘Did you know the Air Force and Space Force does things with GPS?’ I’m like, ‘Mom, that’s what I do!’ It’s hard to understand." (See an explainer of what the Space Force is — and isn't.)
Allergic to nuts? Not the House GOP
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene promised House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — he says — that she'll hold herself to a "higher standard" now than before she entered Congress and offered condemnable views on "school shootings, political violence and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."
McCarthy left out Greene's racism, Islamophobia, stalking and harassing of a school-shooting survivor and promotion of specific political violence, such as her enthusiasm for executing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Greene has denied or disclaimed responsibility for most of the hateful garbage on her social media, including videos in which she makes the claims.
But McCarthy said her agreement to behave better was good enough for him to reject Democrats' demands that his caucus yank her committee assignments, such as the Education and Labor Committee. House Democrats now plan to do that themselves in a floor vote Thursday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Greene "has placed many members in fear for their welfare." But in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, as many as half gave her a standing ovation, according to several reports. Greene made no public apologies, as McCarthy suggested to her in a private meeting Tuesday (after which Greene, in a Washington Examiner interview, ripped him as being "all talk"). Instead, she tweeted boasts about fundraising off the attacks on her.
Later Wednesday night, House Republicans rejected an attempt by hard-right members to cut off its leadership's near-right arm by ousting Rep. Liz Cheney from her third-ranking position in the caucus hierarchy. Cheney voted to impeach Trump last month and told her colleagues, "I won't apologize for the vote." Wednesday's vote was 145-61 in favor of keeping Cheney in the leadership. It was a secret ballot, offering a measure of cover to members aware that Trump also wanted her purged.
DOJ ends suit alleging anti-white, -Asian bias
The Justice Department is dropping a lawsuit brought by the Trump administration against Yale University, in which the government accused the school of illegally discriminating against white and Asian American applicants in its undergraduate admissions process.
The Trump administration had tried repeatedly to discourage affirmative action policies and challenge the ability of higher education institutions to consider race in admissions. In contrast, Biden has promised to make racial equity a priority.
The DOJ sued Yale in October for race and national-origin discrimination, alleging that most Asian American and white applicants have one-eighth to one-fourth the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials. Yale categorically denied the allegations.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the suit had been withdrawn "in light of all available facts, circumstances and legal developments."
Janison: Biden's reverse plays
Biden picked up the pace this week toward reversing the symbols and substance of his defeated predecessor. None of the changes are surprising, but some could prove significant, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
The Justice Department's withdrawal of the suit against Yale cancels one of Trump's red-meat offensives against affirmative action, one of the perpetual American culture clashes.
At the Biden administration's request, the Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to indefinitely put off oral arguments in a case involving funding for the far-from-completed Mexican border wall. Biden signed orders this week to start rolling back Trump's refugee asylum policies.
Trump almost obsessively condemned the initiatives of his predecessor, Barack Obama. But Biden has more carefully acknowledged the distinction between what he can do by executive order and what requires legislation approved in Congress. "There’s a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders I’ve signed," Biden said. "I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy."
Biden: I'll give a little on COVID bill
Biden encouraged Democratic lawmakers Wednesday to "act fast" on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package but also signaled he’s open to tweaks, including stricter income limits for his proposed $1,400 direct payments to Americans.
However, meeting in separate groups with House and Senate Democrats, he said he won't negotiate down the $1,400 stimulus figure. "I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people," the president said.
While Biden said he is trying to build bipartisan support from Republicans, he also is prepared to rely on the Democratic majority in Congress to push his top agenda item into law. Republicans have offered a $618 billion package that Biden calls too small. "We have to go big, not small," Biden told Democrats. "I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine."
He has continued private talks with Republicans on potential areas of compromise, and he said, "I think we’ll get some Republicans."
Canada brands Proud Boys as terrorists
Canada, where the Proud Boys have roots, on Wednesday branded the far-right street brawlers, who won Trump's favor, as a terrorist group — a "neo-fascist organization that engages in political violence," according to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
Canadian officials said the Proud Boys' role in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, which has been followed by the arrests of several of the group's American members, was not the "driving" factor in the decision, but said the attack did produce a "trove of information" that was added to intelligence reports. The Justice Department unveiled new conspiracy charges related to the insurrection Wednesday against two prominent members of the group.
Psaki said the Biden administration is awaiting completion of a review on domestic extremism before deciding if it will take similar action.
During a September presidential debate with Biden, when asked to condemn the Proud Boys, Trump urged them to "stand back and stand by," which the group took to mean it should await his call to action. They had gained attention from battles with antifa and Black Lives Matter activists, especially in the Pacific Northwest. After joining pro-Trump rallies following the election, they fought police, Trump foes and sometimes hapless passersby.
GOP senators: Mute the fraud talk
Republican senators are warning Trump’s lawyers that their strategy will backfire if they raise the former president's baseless election-fraud claims during his impeachment trial on a charge of inciting the deadly Capitol insurrection, Politico reported. The legal team's brief on Tuesday defended Trump's right to believe and claim that he won the election.
"The point here is to avoid conviction. It’s not a great moment for trying to score political points," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) "And I don’t think litigating the election is a winning strategy."
"I’d take the cue from what worked with the first vote in the Senate: It’s unconstitutional" to try an ex-president, added Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), referring to last month's 55-45 vote to proceed with the trial. Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said: "If they start trying to prove that Georgia and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were stolen, that’s when you’re going to lose everybody."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- A Quinnipiac Poll found 68% of Americans support Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package while only 24% oppose it.
- The State Department on Wednesday announced a five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which would have expired Friday, preserving limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapon delivery mechanisms through 2026.
- Plans to draw down thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, pushed by the Trump administration, are on hold as Biden's team reviews the decision, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, said Wednesday.
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached a deal Wednesday on a power-sharing agreement for governing the upper chamber, which clears the way for Democrats to take over as committee chairs. McConnell said they agreed on rules for the Senate to be "fairly run" and "protect specific procedural customs."
- The Biden White House, which boasts of its strict ethics policy, has yet to publicly issue rules for the president’s family members, even though relatives' business dealings created problems for him before, The Washington Post reports. The issue arose anew in recent weeks when Biden's brother Frank Biden, who works for a Florida law firm, touted his connection with the president.
- Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who went to prison for arranging a $130,000 payoff to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her tryst with Trump, hosted the porn star for a recent taping for his podcast, Vanity Fair reports. Cohen battled her in court for blabbing, but they have now mended fences.