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Politics

Biden’s New Education Secretary Immediately Begins Cleaning Up The Betsy DeVos Disaster


Joe Biden’s newly confirmed Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, was sworn in on Tuesday and is planning an immediate push to undo the damage that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos did to the department.

According to The Hill, “Education advocates believe [Cardona’s] experience with public schools will be critical to rebuilding trust in the department among teachers and families and will allow the focus to return to education policy rather than the politics that dominated DeVos’s tenure.”

While Cardona is a career educator, DeVos was a Republican megadonor who “rarely advocated for public education” during her tenure leading the department.

More from The Hill:

While in office, DeVos largely unwound Obama-era policies that provided additional civil rights protections to students and protected them from for for-profit colleges. She aggressively pushed school choice and rarely advocated for public education. The final year of her tenure was marked by the shuttering of schools during the pandemic and the Trump administration’s subsequent effort to resume in-person learning.

Cardona will be charged with simultaneously reversing many of the rollbacks that took place during the Trump administration while also implementing a Biden administration agenda that has put an emphasis on closing gaps in education inequality that have been laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.

DeVos left the Trump administration in a whimper

Betsy DeVos began her tenure with the Trump administration after former VP Mike Pence had to break a 50-50 Senate tie in her confirmation vote.

Her time in the administration ended in a whimper when she tried to shield herself from any accountability for Trump’s Jan. 6 insurrection by resigning.

During the transition between the Trump and Biden administrations, DeVos even encouraged her staff to be the “resistance” against the incoming president.

Betsy DeVos was one of the worst Education Secretaries this country has ever had, and the Biden administration is quickly moving to clean up the mess she left behind.

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Breaking New

Senate Confirms Biden’s Commerce Secretary Pick, R.I. Gov Gina Raimondo



WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve as President Joe Biden’s commerce secretary and help guide the economy’s recovery during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

Raimondo, 49, was the first woman elected governor of Rhode Island and is serving her second term. She is a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Yale Law School who went on to become a venture capitalist before turning to politics.

Raimondo will be responsible for promoting the nation’s economic growth domestically and overseas. Republican opposition to her confirmation focused on concerns that she would not be forceful enough in confronting the Chinese government’s efforts to gain an economic and technological edge through espionage.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in particular said he was concerned that she declined during her confirmation hearing to commit to keeping Chinese telecom giant Huawei on the department’s Entity List. U.S. companies need to get a license to sell sophisticated technology to companies on the list.

She subsequently told senators she had no reason to believe that companies on the list should not be there. But that answer failed to satisfy Cruz. He said it would have been a simple matter for Raimondo to commit to keeping Huawei and others on the Entity List.

“She refused to do so, repeatedly,” Cruz said before the vote. “This appears to be part of a pattern of a systemic decision to embrace communist China.”

Biden has said China is in for “extreme competition” from the U.S. under his administration, but that the new relationship he wants to forge need not be one of conflict.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, has also strained the relationship between the two countries with members of both U.S. political parties working to highlight any accommodations they see the other side making toward China.

Much of Raimondo’s work will be focused on regional economic issues. Lawmakers from coastal states want help protecting valuable fishing industries. Lawmakers from rural states want greater investment in broadband. She confirmed her interest in working with them on those issues during her confirmation hearing and emphasized the need to tackle climate change. She noted as governor that she oversaw construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

“We’re looking for someone who can come in and help, with private sector experience, to really move the agenda of this administration forward. So, for me, Gov. Raimondo’s private sector experience really means a lot,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “She knows how to invest in new technologies and things that are going to help us grow jobs for the future, and she knows how to match up a workforce with those job opportunities.”

The Commerce Department comprises a dozen bureaus and agencies, including the National Weather Service, the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Raimondo would oversee the work of more than 40,000 employees.



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Politics

Rachel Maddow Unloads On GOP Senators For Inventing New Standards For Biden’s Cabinet Picks


During her program on Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow ripped into the Republican double standard being used to evaluate Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks.

Maddow blasted Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Richard Burr (R-NC), in particular, for inventing new requirements for Cabinet nominees, simply because it is now a Democratic president making the nominations.

“So Senator Cruz is against Xavier Becerra because Becerra is not a doctor,” the MSNBC host said. “Nevertheless, Senator Ted Cruz voted for the last health secretary under President Trump, who was a man named Alex Azar.”

“You will be shocked to learn, Alex Azar is also not a doctor,” Maddow said.

Sen. Burr also opposes Biden’s pick for health secretary, saying Becerra’s time working on health-related committees in Congress does not make him qualified for the Cabinet post.

Maddow busted Burr for supporting a Trump nominee with similar qualifications.

“Being on committees that work on something, that’s not enough to make you qualified to serve in the Cabinet on that issue, unless you’re nominated by a Republican president, and then it’s okay,” the MSNBC host said.

Video:

Maddow said:

So Senator Cruz is against Xavier Becerra because Becerra is not a doctor. Nevertheless, Senator Ted Cruz voted for the last health secretary under President Trump, who was a man named Alex Azar. Senator Cruz voted for Alex Azar to be health secretary even though – you will be shocked to learn – Alex Azar is also not a doctor. See, it’s unacceptable to nominate a non-doctor to be health secretary unless that nominee is from a Republican president, in which case I have to go. Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina has also expressed objection to Xavier Becerra being nominated as health secretary. Senator Burr’s objection is that Xavier Becerra served in Congress for a long time on committees that had important oversight roles on health care issues, he was involved in a lot of health care policy that way. But Senator Burr says that is not appropriate experience for somebody joining the cabinet to work on health issues. … Despite that stance now, under President Trump, Senator Richard Burr expressed great enthusiasm for a Trump cabinet nominee named Dan Coats. Dan Coats was nominated to be director of national intelligence. Why did Senator Burr like Dan Coats for that job so much?  … Well, Senator Burr explained it at the time. He said Dan Coats would be an excellent choice for director of national intelligence. He said Dan’s experience as a valued member of Senate Intelligence Committee will help to guide him as the next director of national intelligence. He said I think his time on the committee has served him to understand what that role entails. So to be clear, just serving in Congress, being on committees that work on something, that’s not enough to make you qualified to serve in the cabinet on that issue, unless you’re nominated by a Republican president and then it’s okay. But if you’re nominated by a Democratic president on the same basis, then you are deeply unqualified.

Trump-supporting lawmakers suddenly care about qualifications

After four years of bowing down to a Republican president who hired family members and right-wing cable news pundits, GOP lawmakers are pretending to care about qualifications.

But these same Republican lawmakers who supported a game show host for president have lost their right to lecture the country about credentials.

President Biden has nominated a diverse group of competent, qualified individuals to serve in his Cabinet. The Senate should quickly confirm them so the new president and his team can do the job of cleaning up Donald Trump’s mess.

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Breaking New

UK backs Biden’s call for China to release data on coronavirus origin – POLITICO



The United Kingdom on Sunday said it shared Washington’s concerns about the World Health Organization’s fact-finding mission on the origins of COVID-19 in China.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he backed the United States’ call on China to release information on the first cases of the disease detected in the country and not to interfere in the WHO’s investigation.

“When you have a zoonotic plague like coronavirus, we need to know exactly how it happened,” Johnson said in an interview with CBS.

“Indeed, if it’s zoonotic, if it really originated from human contact with the animal kingdom, that’s what is asserted. But we need to know exactly what happened. … We need to see the data. We need to see all the evidence. So I thoroughly support what President Biden has said about that.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also criticized the level of access given to the experts. “We do share concerns that they get full cooperation and they get the answers they need, and so we’ll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs,” Raab said in a BBC interview.

On Saturday, the Biden administration demanded transparency from China and the WHO. This came after a report by the Wall Street Journal that China was refusing to give the WHO investigators access to raw data on early COVID-19 cases.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has “deep concerns” about the investigation, calling on China to release data from the beginning of the outbreak. “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” Sullivan wrote in a statement.

Early in the pandemic, China ignored offers from experts to help investigate the COVID-19 outbreak and has been criticized over failing to share early evidence of human-to-human transmission and suppressing independent media coverage as the pandemic spread globally. 





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Health

Biden’s delay on naming FDA chief perturbs some experts



The silence is causing some consternation among FDA veterans, as well as public health and pharmaceutical experts, who say the agency needs a permanent head as it grapples with life-or-death decisions about coronavirus vaccines and treatments, while doing its day job of regulating products that account for 20 cents of every consumer dollar. That job includes approving cancer drugs, warning consumers about contaminated ice cream, and overseeing treatments for rare diseases in animals and humans.

A permanent leader also would help rebuild the credibility and morale of an agency whose reputation was hurt by the Trump administration’s relentless pressure and bashing, health-care experts say.

“The sooner there is a nominee who gets through the process, the better for public health and the handling of the pandemic,” said Stephen Ostroff, who twice served as acting FDA commissioner. “There are decisions that are more challenging when you are in an acting role,” especially at the beginning of an administration.

The lack of a nominee has helped fuel an increasingly bitter battle between supporters of the two people most frequently mentioned for the post: longtime FDA drug regulator Janet Woodcock and Johns Hopkins health expert Josh Sharfstein, a former top FDA official and former top Maryland health official. Biden named Woodcock acting commissioner after Stephen Hahn, the Trump administration’s last commissioner, left in January.

On Thursday, the contest heated up when 95 cancer experts, including a doctor who treated the late Beau Biden, the president’s son, told Biden in a letter that Woodcock was “uniquely qualified” to be commissioner, and praised her for overseeing the approval of dozens of major breakthroughs in treatments for cancer and other diseases.

The letter came just weeks after anti-opioid advocates voiced opposition to Woodcock, saying she and the drug center she helmed had approved too many opioids over the past two decades. Separately, several well-known public health experts have endorsed Sharfstein, saying he would bring fresh leadership to the agency.

The stakes are high: The next commissioner, besides grappling with a deadly and evolving pandemic, will determine the direction of an agency that has struggled to find the right balance between maintaining stiff requirements for drugs and devices and pressing for the quickest and most efficient approvals of medical products.

In broad terms, Woodcock, 72, is known for her deep experience in drug regulation and safety, and for prizing innovation, including in clinical trials, and regulatory flexibility. Sharfstein, 51, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has wide experience in tobacco, food and opioid issues and was a proponent of greater transparency while at the FDA during the first Obama administration.

Woodcock is often described as the more industry-friendly of the two, and someone with strong support among patient groups because of her determination to try new treatments for devastating and rare diseases. Sharfstein is favored by those who think the FDA should raise its drug-approval standards, but is opposed by some patient advocates, including in the cancer community. That’s because he has talked about reforming programs for expedited drug approvals — programs that some advocates say have benefited patients.

In an editorial Sharfstein wrote last year for the Journal of the American Medical Association, he said the FDA’s programs for expediting drug approval have created “a thicket of special programs, flexible review criteria, and generous incentives.” He called for changes to ensure that expedited drugs provide greater benefits to patients.

FDA observers say that broad caricatures of Woodcock and Sharfstein don’t fully capture the experience and breadth of interests of two people who have spent decades working on some of the nation’s knottiest health issues.

“Both have dedicated their lives and careers to public health and public service,” said Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health.

The situation was starkly different four years ago, he said, when Trump flirted with the idea of nominating a staunch libertarian as commissioner who believed the FDA should not review medical products for effectiveness — a cornerstone of the agency’s mission. “That would have blown up the FDA,” he added.

Woodcock and Sharfstein declined to comment for this article.

Past administrations have typically focused on the FDA job after deciding other higher-priority positions. Scott Gottlieb, the Trump administration’s first FDA commissioner, was nominated in March 2017 and sworn in that May. And unlike the CDC director, the head of the FDA must be confirmed by the Senate.

But the pandemic increases the urgency of installing a permanent commissioner, health experts say. Senior agency officials have expressed relief at the ascension of Woodcock, who is viewed as a stabilizing force; some prefer her to Sharfstein, who sometimes rubbed people at the agency the wrong way. “I can’t think of anybody” who would be better to run the agency right now, said Ostroff, the former acting commissioner. “She has vast experience and she is not shy.”

Perhaps because of that, the Biden administration, which has a pressing to-do list, does not appear to be in a rush to nominate a permanent chief. Several people familiar with its thinking suggest that a nomination could come sometime next month, after it deals with coronavirus relief legislation and the hoped-for confirmation of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Becerra has emerged as a target for Senate Republicans. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pro-Woodcock letter sent to Biden on Thursday was signed by 95 cancer researchers and center directors, many of whom helped guide the “cancer moonshot” Biden created in the last year of the Obama administration. Signers included Nobel laureates James Allison of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Phillip Sharp of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; immunotherapy pioneer Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania and pancreatic cancer specialist Elizabeth Jaffee of Johns Hopkins. W.K. Alfred Yung, a neuro-oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center who cared for Biden’s son after his brain cancer was diagnosed, also signed the letter.

The endorsement by cancer experts came after anti-opioid advocates expressed vehement opposition to Woodcock, who served for years as head of the agency’s drug center. The groups argued that Woodcock and her division were too permissive in approving opioid medications, and did not rein in drugmakers that falsely claimed that narcotic painkillers were less addictive. Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.) also have sharply criticized Woodcock on opioids.

Woodcock supporters say that the epidemic represented a catastrophic failure by many segments of society, and that it is not fair to blame her. Former FDA commissioner Robert Califf, who was Woodcock’s boss during his tenure at the end of the Obama administration, said the FDA was “far from perfect.” But he said doctors who vastly overprescribed the painkillers and pharmaceutical companies that pushed the pills were in large part responsible.

Some Woodcock critics also say she has presided over the lowering of FDA standards — a point her supporters strenuously reject. Those critics point to her approval of a controversial drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare genetic disease, over the vociferous opposition of a key agency reviewer and outside advisers. Although the approval was enormously popular among the parents of patients, it caused an uproar within the agency. Woodcock’s backers say she deserves credit for providing access to a drug for a devastating, terminal illness.

Sharfstein supporters point to his broad experience in public health and say that he would give more weight to issues such as tobacco and vaping and food safety. Besides being at the FDA, he also was Maryland’s health secretary and Baltimore’s health commissioner. He won praise for his overall performance but was criticized when the state’s health insurance exchange had severe problems during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act in 2013.



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Dining News

Senate Votes No on $15 Minimum Wage, Passes Biden’s Stimulus Plan


Early this morning following a marathon voting session, the Senate approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. During the “vote-a-rama,” Democrats voted in support of an amendment from Senator Joni Ernst (R, Iowa) to “prohibit the increase of the federal minimum wage during a global pandemic.” Which sounds dramatic and detrimental to the fight for fair wages, except that increasing the minimum wage to $15 during the pandemic was never part of Biden’s stimulus plan in the first place.

In session, Ernst argued that “a $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it,” failing to mention how devastating it is for millions of American workers to not make a living wage. However, in what some news outlets are calling a careful piece of maneuvering, Bernie Sanders put the amendment to a non-binding voice vote instead of a roll call vote, which would have forced Democrats — divided on the issue — on the record. But even had a roll call vote happened, Biden’s plan is to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025, making the amendment effectively for show.

“It was never my intent to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour immediately during the pandemic,” said Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee. “My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period, and that is what I believe we ought to do.” Sanders vowed to make sure a $15 minimum wage was included in a budget reconciliation bill, which would “allow Mr. Biden’s stimulus plan to circumvent the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule,” says the New York Times.

The minimum wage plan would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage by 2025, and both changes would have pressing implications for restaurants, which have been extraordinarily hard hit by the pandemic. A new report named line cook as the riskiest job one could hold in this pandemic, and according to a National Restaurant Association study, 17 percent of restaurants in America have closed permanently or long-term. Some restaurant owners have panicked over the idea of an increased minimum wage, or an elimination of tipped wages, saying their businesses wouldn’t survive.

Biden’s plan would eventually lift wages for over 33 million workers, though it’s worth noting that people have been calling for a $15 minimum wage for so long that $15 an hour is no longer a living wage. With the minimum wage will changing sometime soon, restaurant owners will have to adapt to what could ultimately, according to Business Insider, improve small businesses’ economic outlook by reducing staff turnover. And remember, if there’s panic over raising menu prices, the price points were only low originally because workers were being paid poverty wages. No burger is worth that.



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Politics

Trump Loyalists Across Homeland Security Could Vex Biden’s Immigration Policies


WASHINGTON — After a Texas judge last week temporarily blocked President Biden’s order to pause deportations for 100 days, immigration agents did not hesitate to use the brief window to break with the incoming president’s new tone.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents moved a 40-year-old Cameroonian asylum seeker to a facility in Louisiana and prepared to deport him, despite his claims of torture in his home country.

“This is not what the Biden administration stands for,” Henry Hollithron, the man’s lawyer, said in an interview. “That is definitely a holdover from the Trump era.”

President Donald J. Trump often complained about what he called a “deep state” inside the government working to thwart his agenda. But Mr. Biden and his secretary of homeland security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, are already encountering their own pockets of internal resistance, especially at the agencies charged with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, where the gung-ho culture has long favored the get-tough policies that Mr. Trump embraced.

Mr. Mayorkas, who was confirmed on Tuesday after a nearly two-week delay by Republicans unhappy about his immigration views, will find a Department of Homeland Security transformed since he was its deputy secretary in the Obama administration. Liberal immigration activists and former Trump administration officials rarely agree on much, but both parties say Mr. Mayorkas will struggle to get buy-in for Mr. Biden’s immigration agenda from the thousands of border and immigration agents in his sprawling, 240,000-person department.

“There are people in ICE that agree with Trump’s policies.,” said Tom Homan, an immigration hard-liner who served as Mr. Trump’s ICE director. “They want to do the job they took an oath to do.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy counsel the American Immigration Council, which advocates on behalf of immigrants, agreed that after “four years of a newly empowered and politicized work force,” ICE and Customs and Border Protection agents are “more likely to push back against an incoming administration than in the past.”

Mr. Biden campaigned on bringing accountability to the government’s immigration agencies, but he is already facing a daunting challenge in overhauling a department that was unmatched in how closely it aligned with Mr. Trump.

Videos celebrating Mr. Trump’s “big, beautiful” border wall are still featured on the Customs and Border Protection website. A fictionalized video by the agency that shows Mr. Trump’s depiction of migrants as feared criminals is still on the Border Patrol’s official social media channels. And the union representing ICE agents — whose top leaders were enthusiastic supporters of Mr. Trump — has signaled that it does not intend to accept all of the new administration’s reversals of his policies.

Those agents may have gotten a lift in the waning days of Mr. Trump’s administration, when Trump loyalists tried to codify the influence of those unions. The day before Mr. Biden’s inauguration, union leaders signed a labor agreement with Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, an immigration hard-liner and the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that requires ICE’s political leadership to consult with the union on policy decisions.

If the agreement stands, it could undercut Mr. Biden’s directives to the enforcement agency, including guidance that took effect on Monday requiring ICE officers to focus arrests on violent offenders.

“They are not going to be able to get people to change their deeply held convictions,” Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, said of many career officials at the Homeland Security Department. “They are going to make painfully clear to the politicals what the consequences are going to be if their advice is not followed.”

The emergence of an emboldened resistance inside the Biden administration is not limited to the homeland security agencies. Pockets of government employees loyal to Mr. Trump and his agenda remain ensconced in other parts of the bureaucracy.

Andrew Veprek, an ally of Mr. Miller’s and once the deputy assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration, has been succeeded by a veteran of President Barack Obama’s administration. But Mr. Veprek, a career Foreign Service officer, has returned to the State Department.

Michael Ellis, a Trump loyalist, was named as the top lawyer for the National Security Agency in the days before Mr. Biden took office. He has been put on administrative leave while his appointment is investigated, but he remains an employee of the agency. And at the Justice Department, there are still career lawyers who defended many of Mr. Trump’s policies, including the separation of families at the border.

Mr. Biden also faces the politically fraught choice of whether to remove two inspectors general appointed by Mr. Trump: Eric Soskin, the inspector general of the Transportation Department and Brian D. Miller, a former Trump White House lawyer tapped last year to investigate abuses in pandemic spending.

Not everyone working for Mr. Mayorkas will reject the new approach.

Some officials in the Homeland Security Department grew frustrated at the revolving door of acting leadership within the agencies under Mr. Trump’s administration. And one division of ICE that investigates longer-term cases into traffickers and terrorists even asked to separate from the immigration agency so it would not be connected to Mr. Trump’s effort to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in an interview that border agents would most likely respect the chain of command, no matter who is the leader of the agency, but winning back the trust of the American public will loom as a challenge.

Shortly after he was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Mayorkas wrote to his employees pledging his support and relaying his expectations. “We will act with integrity and humility,” Mr. Mayorkas said in an email obtained by The New York Times. “We will be open, transparent and accountable.”

Still, Mr. Miller noted, “It’s going to be most intense at D.H.S.”

Mr. Homan said morale at the agency had been “flushed down the toilet” since Mr. Biden began issuing executive orders in the past two weeks, and he predicted that some in the bureaucracy would seek to undermine the new president.

“That’s the way everybody attacked the Trump administration, by leaking things,” Mr. Homan said. “People now are taking a page out of that playbook. I think turnaround is fair play.”

It is already happening. Shortly after Mr. Biden’s Homeland Security Department issued a memo establishing new enforcement priorities and pausing deportations, an internal email sent to an ICE field office in Houston ended up on Fox News. The email suggested that some immigrants in custody should be released; it set off a firestorm on conservative news media. (Mr. Biden has not issued a directive to release immigrant detainees).

Mr. Miller predicted that homeland security officials who oppose Mr. Biden’s policies would put their concerns into writing as a way of documenting them for future legal challenges that conservative activists are certain to file.

Mr. Reichlin-Melnick, whose organization has challenged Mr. Trump’s policies in the court system, said it would be critical for Mr. Mayorkas and Mr. Biden to ensure that their directives were actually followed by the rank and file in the department.

“The next month or two are really going to be formative for the administration,” he said.

That might be too long for some immigrants. ICE deported nearly 350 undocumented immigrants to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador on Friday, the agency said in a statement.

In a letter to the Homeland Security Department, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the action “raises serious questions about the agency’s commitment to adhering to its own policy directives.” About 120 law professors and legal experts sent a letter to Mr. Mayorkas on Tuesday evening criticizing the agency for not using the directed discretion.

Mr. Hollithron said his client fled Cameroon after he was subjected to torture when he was accused of providing aid to separatists in the civil war there. Mr. Hollithron said his client was actually just marching in protests.

He traveled to Central America and journeyed north, arriving at the United States border in June 2019, where he was subjected to Mr. Trump’s “metering” rule, which limited the number of migrants a day who could ask for protections at border entry points.

He has been detained since September 2019. While an immigration judge rejected his plea for asylum last year, citing the need for more evidence to his claims, Mr. Hollithron was still fighting the case in court and filed an emergency stay last Sunday on his client’s removal.

But that order is just temporary. The future of Mr. Hollithron’s client remains uncertain.

“It’s going to take time until the administration comes down and does a top-down examination,” Mr. Hollithron said.



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Biden’s New Executive Orders Take Aim At Climate Change


President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed sweeping executive orders to force the federal government to plan for and respond to the urgent threat of a warming planet, laying out his historic vision for how the United States can once again become a global climate leader.

The moves will stop new fossil fuel leases on public lands, boost renewable energy development and conservation, as well as create new government offices and interagency groups to prioritize job creation, cleaning up pollution, and environmental justice.

Since taking office last week, Biden and his Cabinet nominees have repeatedly said that tackling the climate crisis is among their top priorities. With these new actions, Biden is detailing how he plans to make that happen by making the federal government central to the response.

“The United States and the world face a profound climate crisis,” the main executive order Biden signed said. “We have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents.”

Biden’s early climate moves stand in stark contrast to former president Donald Trump’s actions, which included immediately deleting climate change from the White House website, thwarting climate action, and using his executive power to boost oil, gas, and coal development.

Biden’s day-one climate actions were a direct response to Trump, including directing his staff to review more than 100 anti-environmental rules enacted by Trump and to start the process for the country to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. But these new actions go far beyond reversing Trump’s actions or even reinstating climate initiatives first championed by former president Barack Obama.

“Today makes clear that President Biden hears our generation’s demands loud and clear, understands the power of our movement, and is serious about using executive power to deliver on his campaign promises,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, in a statement.

As part of a broad new executive order, Biden is directing the Department of the Interior to indefinitely pause new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters “to the extent possible.” The order does not specifically ban new coal leases and leaves fossil fuel leases on tribal lands up to their discretion.

Moreover, Biden is directing a review of existing fossil fuel leases and development projects, and asked the Interior Department to find ways to boost renewable energy projects, especially offshore wind, on federally owned water and land.

The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association, balked at the new restrictions. “Restricting natural gas and oil leasing and development on federal lands and waters could threaten U.S. energy security, economic growth and good-paying American jobs,” API tweeted.

While the order would not impact the majority of the nation’s oil and gas drilling and coal mining, which takes place on private land, it could still have a major climate impact. The extraction of fossil fuels on public lands between 2005 and 2014 accounted for roughly 25% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions during that time, according to a United States Geological Survey report.

A key part of the executive orders is creating new offices and committees focused on addressing specific climate problems and goals. Besides formally creating a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by Gina McCarthy, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Biden on Wednesday established a National Climate Task Force that directs members across agencies and departments “to enable a whole-of-government approach to combating the climate crisis,” according to a White House memo.

Biden is also creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative designed to create new jobs in conservation, an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization to take on projects that cut the pollution from existing and abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to boost environmental justice monitoring and enforcement.

Few details were provided on exactly who will be spearheading the many new efforts, how much funding they will receive, or timelines for delivering on these bold goals.

In most cases, Biden’s actions follow through on his climate campaign promises, such as promising to set aside 30% of public lands and waters to conservation by 2030 and having an international climate summit in his first 100 days — one will be held on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

“The last four years have been a feeding frenzy on our public lands and waters, and this moratorium is the right way to start our overdue transition to a more sustainable economy,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Grijalva last year co-sponsored the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2020 that similarly supports the 30% conservation goal. He said now Congress will move forward with the bill.

“The stakes on climate change just simply couldn’t be any higher than they are right now,” John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, said at a press briefing Wednesday.

“The convening of this summit is essential to ensuring that 2021 is going to be the year that makes up for the lost time of the last four years,” he added, referencing the upcoming climate meeting. “The world will measure us by what we can do here at home.”

Additionally, McCarthy on Wednesday said the US is planning to release its updated climate commitment to the Paris climate agreement before the April summit.

As part of a separate memorandum on scientific integrity, Biden is reestablishing scientific advisory committees disbanded under Trump. Separately, he’s also restarting the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.





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Politics

New polling shows overwhelming support for Biden’s vision of unity, rejection of GOP obstruction


“If you pass a piece of legislation that breaks down on party lines, but it gets passed, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t unity, it just means it wasn’t bipartisan,” Biden explained this week.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was also asked to clarify what “unity” meant to Biden. “Unity is about the country feeling that they’re in it together, and I think we’ll know that when we see it,” she said, adding that Biden would be working on that at “every opportunity he has to speak to the public.”

Now we know that more than seven in 10 Americans agree with Biden’s vision—they like his pitch and want GOP lawmakers to join him in his effort to solve the nation’s problems. That includes 41% of Republicans (up from 28% in November) as well as 70% of independents and 94% of Democrats. 

The public’s penchant for GOP compromise also seems to be at a high point, with several surveys over the past decade showing less appetite for bipartisan compromise. The questions aren’t a perfect match, but an October 2017 Gallup poll found 54% of Americans wanted political leaders in Washington to compromise to get things done. That finding came after nine months of unified GOP control in Washington during which Republicans tried and failed multiple times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

And in November 2014, just weeks after voters handed Republicans control of the Senate, 63% of Americans wanted candidates who were elected to office that year to remain flexible enough to broker deals, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. What a cruel joke voters played on themselves by putting grim reaper Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate and then hoping for bipartisan compromise.

Not this time around. Voters put Democrats in charge of the White House and both chambers of Congress—albeit by very narrow margins—and now they’re hoping against hope Republicans won’t serve as the perennial destroyers of progress they always angle to be.

Perhaps part of that public sentiment is a function of the dire times we live in. As Civiqs’ right track/wrong track polling shows, Americans across the partisan spectrum tend to agree on one thing: The nation is headed in the wrong direction. Nearly three-quarters of respondents feel that way, including 68% of Democrats (though their outlook is improving), 73% of independents, and 79% of Republicans. 

But perhaps more than anything, Americans want results. And while the Monmouth polling suggests they want Republicans to be part of the solution rather than the problem, GOP involvement may ultimately not matter so much. The bigger takeaway here is likely that if Biden and congressional Democrats deliver, that will be far more important than bipartisan compromise as long as it measurably improves the lives of most Americans.





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Dining News

Biden’s latest executive action is a win for chickens and meatpacking workers


Amid Joe Biden’s flurry of executive actions in the first few days of his presidency, one in particular stands out for animal welfare and meatpacking worker advocates. Biden withdrew a Trump administration request to raise the maximum speed at which chicken plants can operate from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute.

Taking chickens from the highly concentrated farms where they live to supermarket shelves isn’t an easy process. They have to be processed at slaughterhouses, where they’re killed and dismembered for their meat. And because chickens (and pigs and cows and lambs and turkeys … ) vary in shape and size, cutting and pulling out their meat can’t be done with machines or robots. It has to be done by humans, and to achieve the high output that slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants want, it has to be done quickly.

That’s how line speeds got to the already astonishing rate of 140 birds per minute — 2.33 birds per second — in the first place. Because chicken processing typically happens on an assembly line with multiple workers, each individual worker doesn’t have to go quite that fast, but they typically get a couple of seconds per bird at most. Workers in these plants have to use sharp knives to cut apart animal carcasses for hours on end, leaving them at risk of both brutal cuts and repetitive stress injuries.

From an animal welfare perspective, faster line speeds mean, definitionally, that the number of birds being raised (usually in brutal conditions) for slaughter can increase, and the number going through (also brutal) slaughter procedures can also increase. That raises the potential for problems on the kill line. Sometimes, for instance, chickens miss the “stun bath” meant to knock them out and feel their throats getting sliced open. Or the birds can also miss the blade, and instead die by being boiled alive in scalding water. This happens to more than half a million birds every year — a small fraction of the 9.3 billion slaughtered annually, but a horrifying number in absolute terms, and one that faster line speeds are likely to increase.

Per a Washington Post investigation, high speeds have also increased Covid-19 transmission among meat plant workers, already a highly at-risk group. From 2018 onward, the Trump administration offered waivers to 54 poultry plants allowing them to increase speeds from 140 to 175 birds per minute. These 54 plants were 10 times likelier to have Covid-19 cases than non-waiver plants, per the Post analysis. But because these plants’ speed determines the number of birds big chicken companies can send to market, the chicken industry has pushed hard to increase line speeds, even during the pandemic.

What Biden’s move accomplishes

The waiver program predates the Trump administration, and Biden is not going so far as to revoke those 54 existing waivers for poultry plants — at least not yet. Instead, he has withdrawn a proposed rule that would extend the 175 birds per minute limit to all poultry plants, effectively ending the 140 birds per minute maximum everywhere.

Interestingly, the action was taken through the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget. OIRA is a fairly obscure agency but arguably the most important regulatory body in the federal government, because it has the power to review regulations from all other agencies. The Biden administration has, at least on an interim basis, installed renowned labor lawyer Sharon Block as the top political appointee at OIRA. Block has repeatedly argued that the agency needs to reorient itself toward defending the interests of workers, a goal that blocking the line speeds rule certainly helps achieve.

Animal welfare advocates praised Biden’s move, but urged that he go further. “Dozens of chicken slaughterhouses have already been granted waivers allowing them to operate at 175 birds per minute, and those waivers must be terminated, along with waivers issued for turkeys and cattle,” Delcianna Winders, a leading animal lawyer and professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, says in an email. Winders also urges the Biden administration to revoke a Trump-era effort to eliminate any line speed limitations on pig slaughter.

Advocates have other hopes for Biden, too. Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, offered a number of funding options the group wants Biden to pursue in a statement to Vox:

We’d like to see funding incentives for producers to shift from confining egg-laying hens inside cages to cage-free housing and moving mother pigs from gestation crates to crate-free conditions. Not only does this better the treatment of animals, but also potentially mitigates the risk of disease spreading through cramped confinement operations. We’d also like to see funding for research into improving and developing plant-based proteins and cultivated meat to decrease the demand for products coming from factory farmed animals.

Of course, Biden has been president for less than a week. He has nearly four more years to pursue policies to undermine cruel, anti-worker factory farming practices, and a long list of policies worth considering.

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