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The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong,” Sund says in written testimony submitted for the hearing

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Former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund will tell lawmakers Tuesday that law enforcement was prepared for the January 6 US Capitol riots based on the intelligence it had but that intelligence did not suggest a violent, coordinated attack, which overwhelmed their forces that day.

“The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong,” Sund says in written testimony submitted for the hearing.

Sund will testify alongside other law enforcement leaders Tuesday where Americans could hear for the first time why intelligence and operations failed dramatically on January 6 from the very people whose choices contributed to the crisis — information that will likely help shape the search for new leaders and possibly a new security management structure on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs and Senate Rules committees are holding an open hearing during which they will grill Sund, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, and acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee about

how such a catastrophic failure occurred, and how to prevent it in the future.
Irving will testify that intelligence assessments before the January 6 attack incorrectly concluded that there was only a “remote” to “improbable” chance of a civil disturbance that day, according to prepared testimony.
“The intelligence was not that there would be a coordinated assault on the Capitol, nor was that contemplated in any of the inter-agency discussions that I attended in the days before the attack,” Irving will say.
Contee has already spoken before lawmakers in a closed-door hearing, but the testimonies of Irving, Stenger, and Sund could be monumental. All three played critical roles in deciding how to prepare for the rally on January 6, and yet, Americans have heard hardly anything from any of them.
6 Capitol Police officers suspended, 29 others being investigated for alleged roles in riot
6 Capitol Police officers suspended, 29 others being investigated for alleged roles in riot
Sund has spoken sporadically. His loudest statement to date arrived in a letter he sent to congressional leadership detailing the decision-making process leading up to January 6 and his response once the rally turned violent.According to Sund’s letter at the time, he asked Irving and Stenger, who together with the Capitol Architect form the board that oversees the police department, to request the National Guard before the event.

The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested Monday in the United States. She is accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his audacious escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.
el-chapo.jpg
Emma Coronel Aispuro was arrested Monday. Alexandria’s Sheriff’s Office

Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. She is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico.

Her arrest is the latest twist in the bloody, multinational saga involving Guzman, the longtime head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Guzman, whose two dramatic prison escapes in Mexico fed into a legend that he and his family were all but untouchable, was extradited to the United States in 2017 and is serving life in prison.

Now his wife, with whom he has two young daughters, has been charged with helping him run his criminal empire. In a single-count criminal complaint, Coronel was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the U.S. The Justice Department also accused her of helping her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015 and participating in the planning of a second prison escape before Guzman was extradited to the U.S.

Coronel’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman declined to comment Monday night.
Mexican Drug Lord El Chapo Sentenced In New York
Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is surrounded by security as she arrives at federal court on July 17, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

As Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Guzman ran a cartel responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in recent court papers. They also said his “army of sicarios,” or “hit men,” was under orders to kidnap, torture and kill anyone who got in his way.

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His prison breaks became the stuff of legend and raised serious questions about whether Mexico’s justice system was capable of holding him accountable. In one case, he escaped through an entry under the shower in his cell to a mile-long lighted tunnel with a motorcycle on rails. The planning for the escape was extensive, prosecutors say, with his wife playing a key role.
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Court papers charge that Coronel worked with Guzman’s sons and a witness, who is now cooperating with the U.S. government, to organize the construction of the underground tunnel that Guzman used to escape from the Altiplano prison to prevent his extradition to the U.S. The plot included purchasing a piece of land near the prison, firearms and an armored truck and smuggling him a GPS watch so they could “pinpoint his exact whereabouts so as to construct the tunnel with an entry point accessible to him,” the court papers say.

Guzman was sentenced to life behind bars in 2019.
El Chapo Prosecution
In this January 19, 2017 file photo provided U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, center, from a plane in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. U.S. law enforcement via AP

Coronel, who was a beauty queen in her teens, regularly attended Guzman’s trial, even when testimony implicated her in his prison breaks. The two, separated in age by more than 30 years, have been together since at least 2007, and their twin daughters were born in 2011.

Her father, Ines Coronel Barreras, was arrested in 2013 with one of his sons and several other men in a warehouse with hundreds of pounds of marijuana across the border from Douglas, Arizona. Months earlier, the U.S. Treasury had announced financial sanctions against her father for his alleged drug trafficking.

After Guzman was rearrested following his escape, Coronel lobbied the Mexican government to improve her husband’s prison conditions. And after he was convicted in 2019, she moved to launch a clothing line in his name.

Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former chief of international operations, said Coronel “has been involved in the drug trade since she was a little girl. She knows the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel.”

Irving said he “was concerned about the ‘optics’ and didn’t feel the intelligence supported it,” Sund wrote. The sergeant for the Senate, Stenger, suggested asking the Guard to be ready in case Sund needed them.
Search for new Capitol Police chief
Thursday, acting USCP Chief Yogananda Pittman is scheduled to testify in an open hearing in front of the House Appropriations Committee. That will also mark the first time Pittman takes questions publicly. She previously appeared in a closed-door hearing in which she apologized to lawmakers.

President Biden is standing behind a pair of Cabinet picks facing uphill battles — including Neera Tanden, his nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and Xavier Becerra, his pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services — as a growing number of senators have vowed to oppose their confirmations.

Tanden’s confirmation appears to be the most in jeopardy after several swing vote senators — including at least one Democrat — have announced plans to vote against her confirmation. The former president of the liberal Center for American Progress repeatedly came under fire during her confirmation hearing, as Republicans pointed to hostile tweets she posted against various lawmakers — many of which she deleted late last year.

CONSERVATIVES CALL BIDEN PICK FOR HHS XAVIER BECERRA AN ‘EXTREMIST,’ OPPOSE NOMINATION

During that hearing, Sen. Ron Portman, R-Ohio, gave examples of “a few of the thousands of negative public statements” Tanden has made. These included her calling Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “the worst” and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a “fraud,” saying that “vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” and referring to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as “Moscow Mitch” and “Voldemort,” referring to the Harry Potter villain.

Portman said that even after Tanden deleted tweets, there were still nine pages of posts about Cruz that were still up.

“I wonder, specifically, how do you plan to mend fences and build relationships with members of Congress you have attacked through your public statements?” Portman asked.
President Biden is standing by Xavier Becerra, Neera Tanden amid uphill confirmation battles (Getty images)

President Biden is standing by Xavier Becerra, Neera Tanden amid uphill confirmation battles (Getty images)

“I recognize the concern,” Tanden replied. “I deeply regret and apologize for my language — some of my past language. I recognize that this role is a bipartisan role, and I know I have to earn the trust of senators across the board. I will work very aggressively to meet that concern.”

COLLINS OPPOSES TANDEN FOR BIDEN BUDGET DIRECTOR, IN ANOTHER BLOW TO CONFIRMATION

Tanden said she hopes to work “in a bipartisan and nonpartisan manner,” while acknowledging that “it’s upon me to prove that to this committee and to members.”

But following the hearing, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said he would oppose her nomination, citing her tweets, and saying that her “overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget.”

“For this reason, I cannot support her nomination,” Manchin said.

Manchin’s opposition meant Tanden will need Republican support. But that effort to woo a Republican was hampered when Collins also said Monday she would vote against Tanden—dealing another blow to her confirmation.

“Congress has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent,” Collins said in a statement on Monday. “Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency.”

But the White House is still standing behind her, vowing not to pull her nomination, even though it’s unclear how Tanden will cobble together enough votes.

“The president nominated her because he thought she would be stellar,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, noting her experience.

When asked if they still felt her confirmation was possible, Psaki said: “We do.”

Meanwhile, another Biden pick is facing heightened scrutiny, with Becerra getting ready for his confirmation hearing in the Senate on Tuesday as Republicans have signaled plans to focus on trying to torpedo his nomination. But he could also have problems with Democrats: Manchin’s office says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll support Becerra.

More than 100 conservatives sent a memo to Republican members of Congress outlining their concerns with Becerra’s nomination, calling him an “extremist” who would carry a liberal agenda if confirmed.

MANCHIN TO OPPOSE BIDEN OMB PICK NEERA TANDEN OVER CONTROVERSIAL TWITTER POSTS

“Becerra has shown neither the judgment, character, or respect for human life necessary to lead the agency with such influence over the foundational rights of all Americans,” they continued. “Under his watch, we believe HHS – an agency that should protect human life, dignity, and enshrine the values of religious liberty – would be weaponized toward partisan and destructive ends.”

They added: “For all these reasons, we urge the Senate to firmly reject his confirmation.”
Hanson: Xavier Becerra would be ‘our version of Tedros’ at HHSVideo

Conservative groups have also taken issue with Becerra leading HHS amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying he has “no health care experience,” and instead, that a doctor or public health care expert should be leading the department.

Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates defended Becerra, saying he has “decades of health care policy experience, worked with Republicans and Democrats to expand access to COVID treatments and take on opioid manufacturers, while leading the largest state department of justice in the country.”

Bates added that Becerra also has a “strong record of fighting to lower costs for patients.”

BIDEN OMB PICK TANDEN CALLED OUT DURING CONFIRMATION HEARING FOR ANTI-GOP TWEETS, SAYS ‘I’M SORRY’

“That’s why President Biden chose this tested, qualified leader to be at the forefront of the pandemic response and to help lower drug prices,” Bates said. “We look forward to his hearings and confirmation votes.”

And Psaki on Monday, during her briefing, said Becerra “helped play a role in getting the Affordable Care Act through” and “brings decades of health care policy experience to the table.”

Psaki pointed to Becerra’s work as California attorney general, saying he “fought alongside his Republican counterparts to expand access to COVID treatments.”

Despite conservative opposition, the Biden transition team told Fox News that Becerra is looking forward to “working in good faith with members of both parties in Congress.”

Meanwhile, Biden’s pick for attorney general Judge Merrick Garland also appeared this week for his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Garland was pressed on hot-button issues but lawmakers on the committee, including Republicans, indicated he would likely be confirmed.

FBI and intel agencies hand over first documents to lawmakers ahead of Capitol attack hearings next week
FBI and intel agencies hand over first documents to lawmakers ahead of Capitol attack hearings next week
Her new testimony comes as officials are starting the search for a new USCP chief.
A congressional source told CNN that Congress is moving forward with hiring an outside entity to begin the search.
Several other committees working together have already received briefings and documents from intelligence agencies as part of the numerous probes.
The House Intelligence, Homeland Security, Oversight and Judiciary committees’ joint review prompted an initial production of documents last week from FBI, DHS and NCTC, a congressional source told CNN. Additionally, they have received several briefings from the three agencies.

The source said so far the documents have mostly been finished intelligence products that the committee could already access.

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Biden’s proposal is a top priority for progressives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who say it’s critical to take action in the early months of his term. But Democratic leaders were never going to bring up a bill on the floor that would fail

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Top House Democrats have promised to put key immigration bills on the floor this month — but President Joe Biden’s sweeping overhaul won’t be one of them.

The issue of what to do with Biden’s comprehensive immigration plan has bedeviled Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team, particularly after a disappointing whip count came back this week showing they don’t yet have the votes to pass the bill on the floor, according to people familiar with the talks.

So now Democrats are moving ahead with an alternative plan: Move the Biden bill through committee while the full House votes on more targeted immigration legislation that already enjoys broad caucus support.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), confirmed the path forward, calling the Biden proposal both “important and serious.”

“We need to engage in some consultation with key members and stakeholders, but I see no reason why we wouldn’t mark it up when we reconvene in April,” Nadler said in a statement to POLITICO.

Biden’s proposal is a top priority for progressives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who say it’s critical to take action in the early months of his term. But Democratic leaders were never going to bring up a bill on the floor that would fail — putting them on a tightrope as they try to keep all factions of their diverse caucus on board for a realistic approach to one of Washington’s thorniest issues. Further complicating matters, the White House has taken more of a hands-off approach to the bill’s future in the House, several lawmakers and aides said.

Biden may get a stimulus check win. What about the rest of his agenda?
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“We need to have a discussion. It was put together by a few people. I don’t know what the role of the administration has been,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), a border-state Democrat who belongs to the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. “But I have a sense that it’s just not quite ready yet.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, acknowledged that “it’s difficult because of the schedule,” but vowed that “at the same time, we’re pushing very hard” to lend momentum to Biden’s sweeping proposal.

“It’s like we have three pedals, and we’re pushing every one of them with just as much strength,” she said, referring to a pair of other, more targeted immigration bills that will hit the floor in two weeks.

Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) huddled on Tuesday evening to discuss the whip count and strategize on what to do next. That meeting was interrupted as the nominee to lead Biden’s budget office yanked her name from consideration, and multiple Democrats said Wednesday that immigration issues remained unresolved.

Proponents of the Biden bill, meanwhile, are still furiously working the phones to get their colleagues on board. That group, led by California Reps. Linda Sánchez, Judy Chu and Zoe Lofgren, has also lined up meetings with influential groups across the caucus, including the Blue Dogs on Tuesday and progressives on Thursday. Sánchez and Lofgren, along with other top Democrats, also spoke to the New Democrat Coalition late last month.

President Joe Biden signs an executive order in the State Dining Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris watches.
IMMIGRATION

Biden promised a ‘fair and humane’ immigration overhaul. What he inherited is a mess.
BY SABRINA RODRIGUEZ

One of the White House’s leading officials on immigration, Tyler Moran, will also hold a staff briefing on the bill on Friday.

It’s unclear if or when Biden’s bill will come to the floor after moving through the Judiciary Committee in April. But several Democrats have been privately pushing leadership to make a decision one way or the other, privately expressing frustration that top Democrats were still projecting the possibility of the massive bill coming to the floor in March.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s four medical advisers were not all on board with his move to end the state’s coronavirus restrictions — or even included in the decision.

“I don’t think this is the right time,” said advisor Mark McClellan, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, adding he was not consulted before the decision.

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ERCOT fires CEO on same day Congress launches probe into Texas power outages
“Texas has been making some real progress but it’s too soon for full reopening and to stop masking around others,” McClellan said in an email.

From the start of the pandemic, Abbott said he would rely on data and doctors to guide state policy. But conflicting opinions from his medical advisers about one of the biggest shifts in state pandemic policy raise questions about how the choice — which has been widely panned by public health experts — was made.

State health commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt on Wednesday didn’t explicitly answer whether he endorsed the plan ahead of time to end the mask mandate and let businesses fully reopen on March 10. Pressed by state lawmakers, Hellerstedt said he “did not have a personal conversation” with Abbott before the decision, but that his agency is in regular contact with the governor’s staff.

A third advisor, Dr. Parker Hudson of Dell Medical School in Austin, has said he was “not involved in this decision.”

And a fourth said he agreed with the decision, explaining it was initiated by Abbott and rested on the governor’s general comfort level with the pace of vaccinations, other medical improvements, and the notion that Texans know to wear masks and will continue to even without a mandate — an idea refuted by public health research.

“He brought it to us, he talked to us about it, he talked through it,” said Dr. John Zerwas, a vice chancellor with the University of Texas System. “And he said, ‘okay, this is when I feel like it’d be a good time to do it’.”

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cancer in the Oval Office on March 3, 2021.
POLITICS
Biden blasts Abbott for ‘big mistake’ and ‘Neanderthal thinking’ in lifting Texas’ COVID restrictions
BY TODD J. GILLMAN
The nation’s top infectious disease experts and President Joe Biden criticized Abbott’s decision to end restrictions next Wednesday, saying it’s premature and warning the move could lead to a new surge in the outbreak that has already killed more than 43,000 Texans.

Former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden said the reversal of the mask mandate was particularly dangerous and could lead to a decline in their use.

“A mask mandate is about you not inadvertently killing someone,” said Frieden, who served during the Obama administration. “There is no argument for not having a mask mandate.”

When asked Wednesday about defying some medical advisers, Abbott said he spoke with Zerwas and Hellerstedt.

“They both agree that because of all the metrics and numbers… now is a very safe time to open,” Abbott said Wednesday during a television interview on KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls. “Texans know how to keep themselves safe and they don’t need government mandates to tell them anymore.”

Abbott’s decision
In making his announcement Tuesday, Abbott offered no one specific reason for the timing of the roll backs; rather he focused in general on increased access to vaccinations, and a recent decline in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Abbott intended to unveil his plan even earlier, on Feb. 22, but was forced to postpone when the winter storm delayed vaccine shipments to Texas, he told a radio host Tuesday.

“All of our decision-making processes hinged to the distribution of those vaccines,” Abbott, a Republican in his second term as governor, said in the interview on KYFO.

Texas is one of several states to lift mask requirements within the last few weeks.

Discussions about the rollback had been ongoing over the last week and a half, said Zerwas, who is a former Republican state representative and an anesthesiologist.

Masks came up as a point of discussion.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivers a speech at a Lubbock restaurant, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Coming up on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Abbott announced reopening the State of Texas to all businesses. He also wants to end the statewide mask mandate. (video via KXAS Dallas)
POLITICS
Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s time to open Texas 100%, end statewide mask mandate
BY ALLIE MORRIS AND SUE AMBROSE
Abbott “pushed on it and said ‘Do you really think that a state mandate for masking is the thing that is really driving people to comply’,” Zerwas recalled. “And I said personally, ‘No, I don’t and the people that I’m around on a regular basis don’t even mention that.’”

Zerwas said that Abbott’s statewide order for face coverings last year helped get the message across, and now, citizens of Texas are doing it because they are familiar with the benefits.

Abbott concluded, Zerwas said, that “the heavy hand of the state doesn’t need to be doing this.”

Asked what evidence Abbott’s administration had for that, Zerwas didn’t cite any specific examples.

“I can only speak for myself,” Zerwas said. “I think I’m your regular person out there that is as much tuned into this pandemic as anybody else.”

Freiden, however, said the data shows the opposite. Mask mandates are effective, as are mandates for other safety measures. For example, states have not repealed seatbelt laws because people know the benefits of wearing one, he said.

“Every piece of data we have from public health strongly indicates that ending a mask mandate prematurely will decrease mask use,” Frieden said. “I think that’s a political decision that will result in the loss of lives.”

Enforcement left to businesses
Abbott’s new order leaves it up to businesses to make the public health decision on whether their employees and customers must wear masks.

Some businesses are now only “urging” customers to do so. Others are maintaining a mandate, although without a statewide policy, enforcing it may be more difficult.

“The advantage of a consistent expectation from the state was that it set that expectation for everyone,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. “We will certainly see people peel off that now.”

As for the timing of the decision, Zerwas said there was no medical threshold or trigger the state had been working toward.

“It’s always been a conversation in progress,” he said. “And where could all of us, when we talk about this, get comfortable with where we were going, what we were accomplishing.”

Kroger has
RETAIL
Kroger, Costco and other big and small retailers stick with required masks
BY MARIA HALKIAS
Late Wednesday, Abbott told KXAS-TV (NBC5) in Dallas that the timing of the rollback was tied to vaccination rates among Texas seniors. People aged 65 and older make up a majority of COVID-19 deaths in Texas and in the nation.

“We wanted to achieve this 50% mark in vaccinations for seniors,” Abbott said. “Once we got the extra doses this past week, and once we saw the vaccination rates among seniors increase, we knew that we would be able to have more than half of seniors vaccinated by the time we opened back up.”

Frieden said many public health experts advocate rolling back restrictions when new daily cases drop to about 1 per 100,000 population. Texas is currently above 25, he said.

Just this week, federal public health experts cautioned states to keep their guard up against the virus. While the pace of vaccinations is expected to pick up over the coming weeks, only about 2.2 million Texans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in a state of 29 million. Others are likely to have some natural immunity if they’ve been infected, but many Texans still have none.

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Zerwas said he didn’t specifically recall whether Abbott discussed waiting a few weeks, or months, longer to make the change. But Zerwas recalled mulling over the issue himself.

He remembers asking himself “what are you going to get if you wait, what are you going to get in 30 days?”

“I said ‘yeah, you’re going to put a million more vaccines into people’s arms in a week’,” he said. “That’s a good thing. And in two more weeks after that, you’ll put a couple million more in there.’”

In the end, Zerwas said, the decision was Abbott’s.

“You could make an argument to do it later,” Zerwas said. “But I don’t know that it’s a good argument.”

Masking message
Hellerstedt, who leads the Texas Department of State Health Services that oversees that state’s pandemic response and vaccination efforts, did not appear alongside Abbott at the Tuesday announcement, which was held at a crowded restaurant in Lubbock.

On Wednesday, Hellerstedt stressed the importance of still wearing masks, and said Abbott also believes wearing masks is valuable. Asked by The Dallas Morning News whether Hellerstedt supported Abbott’s decision to repeal the restrictions at this time, a spokesman for the department did not answer directly.

“Dr. Hellerstedt agrees with what the governor said yesterday that COVID-19 is still with us, and people should continue to take public health precautions to slow its spread as more and more people are vaccinated,” Chris Van Deusen said in a statement.

Zerwas said he told Abbott that if he was going to rescind the mask mandate, he needed to emphasize that it was still a good idea.

Although Abbott’s executive order urges Texans to wear masks, the governor didn’t stress it when he announced the changes Tuesday. And Abbott’s social media posts Tuesday emphasized the rolling back of the mandate, not the need to keep wearing them.

Federal law enforcement is on high alert Thursday in the wake of an intelligence bulletin issued earlier this week about a group of violent militia extremists having discussed plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4 — a date when some conspiracy theorists believe former President Donald Trump will be returning to the presidency.

US officials on Wednesday alerted lawmakers to a potential threat, for which security has been enhanced as a precaution. The House changed its schedule in light of warnings from US Capitol Police, moving a vote planned for Thursday to Wednesday night to avoid being in session on March 4. The Senate is still expected to be in session debating the Covid-19 relief bill.
The joint warning from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday underscores a broader effort by federal agencies to avoid repeating the mistakes made ahead of January 6, when officers were overtaken by a violent pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol. Those intelligence sharing and planning failures have been laid bare over the last two months in several hearings and have been a focal point of criticism from lawmakers investigating the violent attack that left several people dead.
The violent extremists also discussed plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the March 4 plot, according to the joint intelligence bulletin.
One source noted to CNN that it is mostly online talk and not necessarily an indication anyone is coming to Washington to act on it.
Some of the conspiracy theorists believe that the former President will be inaugurated on March 4, according to the joint bulletin. Between 1793 and 1933, inauguration often fell on March 4 or a surrounding date.
US Capitol Police acting chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress earlier Wednesday that her department had “concerning intelligence” regarding the next few days in Congress — but said it wouldn’t be “prudent” of her to share the “law-enforcement sensitive” intelligence in a public hearing or public format.
Pittman assured lawmakers, though, that her department is in an “enhanced” security posture and that the National Guard and Capitol Police have been briefed on what to expect in the coming days.
Increased communication
There has been a concerted effort among federal agencies to communicate the possible threats ahead of March 4 in a way they failed to do before January 6.

The effort to improve preparation extends to communicating with state and local officials. DHS held a call Wednesday with state and local law enforcement officials from around the country to discuss current threats posed by domestic extremists, including concerns about potential violence surrounding March 4 and beyond, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
While specific details from the call remain unclear, both sources said the overarching message from DHS officials is that addressing threats posed by domestic extremists requires increased communication and intelligence sharing across federal and state and local entities, as well as a shift in how law enforcement officials interpret the information they receive.

In a clear sign federal agencies are working to avoid the same communication failures for which they have been roundly criticized since the Capitol attack, DHS officials are stressing that law enforcement should not view intelligence solely through the lens of whether a threat qualifies as “credible and specific,” but use the warnings coming from DHS, FBI and other partner agencies to inform decisions about their security posture, even if the information provided falls short of pointing to an imminent attack or violence, the sources said.

Federal officials are emphasizing the point that gaps in intelligence sharing left law enforcement unprepared for the chaos that unfolded on January 6, even though they were notified of potential violence days before the attack, and that going forward, bulletins issued by DHS and FBI indicate a threat is serious enough to be communicated to relevant entities, even if the intelligence is based primarily on online chatter or other less definitive indicators, the sources said.

DHS acting intelligence chief Melissa Smislova testified Wednesday that DHS is “completely dissatisfied” with the results of the department’s “efforts leading up to January 6th.”
She told lawmakers that the department is re-examining how it distributes information and coordinates with partners. “We thought that it was sufficient and clearly it was not,” she said.
“We will do better,” she added.

Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called on the department to evaluate its operational posture at the tactical and strategic level, specifically the ability to respond to a potential emerging situation within the Capital region, a US official told CNN.

Election fraud conspiracies

Perceived election fraud and other conspiracy theories associated with the presidential transition may contribute to violence with little or no warning, according to the bulletin, which is part of a series of intelligence products to highlight potential domestic violent extremist threats to the Washington, DC, region.

“Given that the Capitol complex is currently fortified like a military installation, I don’t anticipate any successful attacks against the property,” said Brian Harrell, the former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at DHS. “However, all threats should be taken seriously and investigations launched against those who would call for violence. We continue to see far-right extremist groups that are fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories quickly become the most dangerous threat to society.”

In the current environment, “You really cannot underestimate the potential that an individual or a small group of individuals will engage in violence because they believe a false narrative that they’re seeing online,” the US official said.
The false narrative of a stolen election is still drawing the attention of domestic extremists, the official said, adding that there are people “in the domestic extremist world who are calling for acts of violence in response to that narrative.”
Although March 4 is a concern to law enforcement, it’s not a “standalone event,” the official said; rather, it’s part of a “continuum of violence” based domestic extremist conspiracy theories.
“It’s a threat that continues to be of concern to law enforcement. And I suspect that we are going to have to be focused on it for months to come,” the official said.
The bulletin also notes that militia extremists “have allegedly threatened an attack against the US Capitol using explosives to kill as many members of Congress as possible during the upcoming State of the Union address, according to (the) US Capitol Police Chief.”
Pittman warned last month that militia groups involved in the January 6 insurrection want to “blow up the Capitol” and “kill as many members as possible” when President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress.
At the time, Pittman said law enforcement remains concerned about threats by known militia groups “with a direct nexus to the State of the Union” address.

In recent days, Democratic leaders have publicly sounded a note of skepticism, while acknowledging the final push behind the scenes.

“If ready, we will also consider comprehensive immigration reform,” Hoyer told reporters this week as he ticked off the upcoming floor schedule. “But I stress, if ready. There’s a lot of discussion going on about that.”

Democrats were already planning to take up some of their most popular immigration proposals in the coming weeks — one to protect the undocumented population known as Dreamers and another to reform the system for farmworkers. Both have bipartisan support, including strong backing from the CHC and CPC, and could soon see floor votes in the Senate.

But some members of the CHC say those bills aren’t enough because they don’t go nearly as far as Biden’s plan.

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“I want to make sure the broader bill gets as much support as possible, and that we send it over as quickly as possible, and that we get this done,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who helped shape Biden’s proposal and has been actively lobbying her colleagues on the bill.

Biden strikes stimulus deal with Senate Democrats
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“My fear, always, is that we will get morsels and, as a Congress, continue to kick the can down the road,” she said.

As Democrats move quickly toward a piecemeal immigration strategy, some corners of their caucus have begun to seek changes to the Biden plan. Some moderates, for instance, are pushing to include a provision requiring employers to confirm workers’ legal status — known as e-verify. Progressives, meanwhile, want some tweaks to ensure the bill doesn’t disqualify people from citizenship because of minor infractions on their criminal record.

It’s not clear yet which changes might be made to the bill. The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed a willingness to consider more tailored immigration measures that Democrats can get to the president’s desk. A White House official said the administration was in “regular touch” with lawmakers on immigration reform and would continue to hold briefings on Biden’s immigration priorities as Congress considers proposals.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a swing-district Democrat, has been making the case to Biden’s Hill team that an e-verify provision should be part of the bill, just as it was in the bipartisan immigration bill in 2013 that fell just short of passage.

“Yes, I support what’s in the bill. I think we would be in a stronger position to get it enacted if we eventually ended up where, I think, the middle ground is,” Malinowski said. “I think for both solid political, practical reasons and moral reasons, those two things should go together.”

The biggest fear for many progressives, however, is what could happen to the bill to win over the party’s centrists, either in the House or when the bill crosses over to the Senate.

“We don’t want this bill to be watered down before it gets to the floor, which is sometimes what happens with immigration bills,” Jayapal said.

Immigration advocates have argued that failing to act on the issue could come back to haunt them politically, leaving Democrats vulnerable among their base in 2022.

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During a session at the House Democratic Caucus’s virtual retreat on Wednesday, advocates shared new polling conducted for the immigrant rights groups FWD.us and America’s Voice, which showed that 63 percent of voters would be “upset” if protections for undocumented immigrants didn’t pass. The online survey of 1,200 voters who participated in the 2020 election was conducted Feb. 20-26.

A clean Dream Act proposal received the highest support nationally with 72 percent of voters supporting it compared to 71 percent support for a bill providing citizenship to undocumented farmworkers and 66 percent support for citizenship for undocumented essential workers. The latter is a proposal that has been pushed by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) alongside Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

“Voters will be upset over inaction, especially the voters Democrats need to show up in the midterm elections,” stated the polling memo shared with House Democrats and obtained by POLITICO. “Republicans will not receive all or even most of the blame should the efforts to pass citizenship bills fail.”

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farmworkers. Both have bipartisan support, including strong backing from the CHC and CPC, and could soon see floor votes in the

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Top House Democrats have promised to put key immigration bills on the floor this month — but President Joe Biden’s sweeping overhaul won’t be one of them.

The issue of what to do with Biden’s comprehensive immigration plan has bedeviled Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team, particularly after a disappointing whip count came back this week showing they don’t yet have the votes to pass the bill on the floor, according to people familiar with the talks.
With the Republican Party broadly embracing election disinformation, voter suppression and minority rule, it falls to Democrats to bear the standard of democracy. Doing so will require them to finish off an anti-democratic tradition of a quasi-democratic body, the Senate filibuster.
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The House on Wednesday considered Democrats’ signature response to the party opposite’s authoritarian drift in the form of HR1, an omnibus of election, redistricting and campaign finance reforms. Its fate and perhaps that of American democracy depend on the Democrats’ willingness to use the majority they narrowly won in the Senate, where their 50 seats represent 41.5 million more Americans than the equivalent Republican caucus.

Democratic San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House caucus with jurisdiction over the bill, noted the thwarted popular will for addressing climate change and raising the minimum wage in a news conference before the House vote. “Nothing else happens unless the people’s voices are heard,” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, clutching a miniature American flag on the steps of the Capitol, agreed. “This reminds me of what it must have felt like at Valley Forge,” the San Francisco Democrat said. “Everything is at stake.”

It’s not much of an exaggeration. Pelosi and her fellow representatives stood at the scene of the violent insurrection that delayed Congress’ certification of President Biden’s election just two months ago, while further security threats canceled a House session scheduled for Thursday. Though the mob that stormed the capital on Jan. 6 literally called for Mike Pence’s neck, the former vice president typified the party’s stance by embracing the false claims of election fraud that fueled the violence in an op-ed published Wednesday, joining former President Donald Trump in attacking HR1.

Republican-run state legislatures, meanwhile, already have begun moving bills to limit ballot access and suppress participation. The party can also be counted on to oust several members of the House’s slim Democratic majority in two years not by persuading voters but through nakedly partisan gerrymandering, which already gives Republicans an advantage over their vote share of as many as 22 seats, or twice the current Democratic advantage, according to an Associated Press analysis. A restoration of Republican control of Congress could in turn mean that the next attempt to overturn certification of a legitimate presidential election succeeds.

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HR1 would stem this anti-democratic movement by setting national standards for ballot access, easing voter registration nationwide, requiring early voting and prohibiting excessive barriers to voting by mail. It would also impose more transparency on large political donations and create a matching system for small donations to congressional campaigns. And it would mandate California-style independent redistricting commissions to prevent partisan gerrymandering.

While these measures would empower voters regardless of their politics, they are unlikely to draw much support from a party increasingly dedicated to voter suppression and amenable to overturning elections. That has turned attention to what remains of the filibuster, which effectively requires 60 votes to pass most legislation and would therefore doom HR1 in the Senate. Undoing that tradition would require the assent of the more conservative-leaning Democrats such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and California’s Dianne Feinstein, who have defended the filibuster. It’s time for these and other Democrats to live up to their label and defend democracy instead.

So now Democrats are moving ahead with an alternative plan: Move the Biden bill through committee while the full House votes on more targeted immigration legislation that already enjoys broad caucus support.

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), confirmed the path forward, calling the Biden proposal both “important and serious.”

“We need to engage in some consultation with key members and stakeholders, but I see no reason why we wouldn’t mark it up when we reconvene in April,” Nadler said in a statement to POLITICO.

Biden’s proposal is a top priority for progressives and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who say it’s critical to take action in the early months of his term. But Democratic leaders were never going to bring up a bill on the floor that would fail — putting them on a tightrope as they try to keep all factions of their diverse caucus on board for a realistic approach to one of Washington’s thorniest issues. Further complicating matters, the White House has taken more of a hands-off approach to the bill’s future in the House, several lawmakers and aides said.

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“We need to have a discussion. It was put together by a few people. I don’t know what the role of the administration has been,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), a border-state Democrat who belongs to the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. “But I have a sense that it’s just not quite ready yet.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, acknowledged that “it’s difficult because of the schedule,” but vowed that “at the same time, we’re pushing very hard” to lend momentum to Biden’s sweeping proposal.

“It’s like we have three pedals, and we’re pushing every one of them with just as much strength,” she said, referring to a pair of other, more targeted immigration bills that will hit the floor in two weeks.

Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) huddled on Tuesday evening to discuss the whip count and strategize on what to do next. That meeting was interrupted as the nominee to lead Biden’s budget office yanked her name from consideration, and multiple Democrats said Wednesday that immigration issues remained unresolved.

Proponents of the Biden bill, meanwhile, are still furiously working the phones to get their colleagues on board. That group, led by California Reps. Linda Sánchez, Judy Chu and Zoe Lofgren, has also lined up meetings with influential groups across the caucus, including the Blue Dogs on Tuesday and progressives on Thursday. Sánchez and Lofgren, along with other top Democrats, also spoke to the New Democrat Coalition late last month.

President Joe Biden signs an executive order in the State Dining Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris watches.
IMMIGRATION

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One of the White House’s leading officials on immigration, Tyler Moran, will also hold a staff briefing on the bill on Friday.

It’s unclear if or when Biden’s bill will come to the floor after moving through the Judiciary Committee in April. But several Democrats have been privately pushing leadership to make a decision one way or the other, privately expressing frustration that top Democrats were still projecting the possibility of the massive bill coming to the floor in March.

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In recent days, Democratic leaders have publicly sounded a note of skepticism, while acknowledging the final push behind the scenes.

“If ready, we will also consider comprehensive immigration reform,” Hoyer told reporters this week as he ticked off the upcoming floor schedule. “But I stress, if ready. There’s a lot of discussion going on about that.”

Democrats were already planning to take up some of their most popular immigration proposals in the coming weeks — one to protect the undocumented population known as Dreamers and another to reform the system for farmworkers. Both have bipartisan support, including strong backing from the CHC and CPC, and could soon see floor votes in the Senate.

But some members of the CHC say those bills aren’t enough because they don’t go nearly as far as Biden’s plan.

“I want to make sure the broader bill gets as much support as possible, and that we send it over as quickly as possible, and that we get this done,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who helped shape Biden’s proposal and has been actively lobbying her colleagues on the bill.

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“My fear, always, is that we will get morsels and, as a Congress, continue to kick the can down the road,” she said.

As Democrats move quickly toward a piecemeal immigration strategy, some corners of their caucus have begun to seek changes to the Biden plan. Some moderates, for instance, are pushing to include a provision requiring employers to confirm workers’ legal status — known as e-verify. Progressives, meanwhile, want some tweaks to ensure the bill doesn’t disqualify people from citizenship because of minor infractions on their criminal record.

It’s not clear yet which changes might be made to the bill. The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed a willingness to consider more tailored immigration measures that Democrats can get to the president’s desk. A White House official said the administration was in “regular touch” with lawmakers on immigration reform and would continue to hold briefings on Biden’s immigration priorities as Congress considers proposals.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a swing-district Democrat, has been making the case to Biden’s Hill team that an e-verify provision should be part of the bill, just as it was in the bipartisan immigration bill in 2013 that fell just short of passage.

“Yes, I support what’s in the bill. I think we would be in a stronger position to get it enacted if we eventually ended up where, I think, the middle ground is,” Malinowski said. “I think for both solid political, practical reasons and moral reasons, those two things should go together.”

The biggest fear for many progressives, however, is what could happen to the bill to win over the party’s centrists, either in the House or when the bill crosses over to the Senate.

“We don’t want this bill to be watered down before it gets to the floor, which is sometimes what happens with immigration bills,” Jayapal said.

Immigration advocates have argued that failing to act on the issue could come back to haunt them politically, leaving Democrats vulnerable among their base in 2022.

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During a session at the House Democratic Caucus’s virtual retreat on Wednesday, advocates shared new polling conducted for the immigrant rights groups FWD.us and America’s Voice, which showed that 63 percent of voters would be “upset” if protections for undocumented immigrants didn’t pass. The online survey of 1,200 voters who participated in the 2020 election was conducted Feb. 20-26.

A clean Dream Act proposal received the highest support nationally with 72 percent of voters supporting it compared to 71 percent support for a bill providing citizenship to undocumented farmworkers and 66 percent support for citizenship for undocumented essential workers. The latter is a proposal that has been pushed by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) alongside Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

“Voters will be upset over inaction, especially the voters Democrats need to show up in the midterm elections,” stated the polling memo shared with House Democrats and obtained by POLITICO. “Republicans will not receive all or even most of the blame should the efforts to pass citizenship bills fail.

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On Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis issued a confidential assessment to law enforcement agencies, which

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Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden settled a last-minute debate over Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, choosing to keep federal unemployment benefit payments at $400 per week but phase out the measure’s $1,400 stimulus checks more quickly.

The breakthrough comes just a few hours before Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is hoping to kick off debate on the Covid aid bill. One Senate Democratic aide said the chamber is now waiting only on official scores from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to confirm its bill doesn’t run afoul of the rules of budget reconciliation, the process that allows passage of the package with a simple majority.

Biden signed off on moderate Democrats’ demand to phase out the checks more quickly, the aide said. The bill’s $1,400 payments will now phase out completely at $80,000 per year for individuals and $160,000 for joint filers; the phase-outs will start at $75,000 and $150,000 respectively. But the bill will retain $400 in extra weekly unemployment payments through August rather than cut them to $300, as suggested by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

That breakthrough has Democrats ready to press forward on Biden’s bill as soon as possible. Biden urged the party to “swallow” provisions they don’t like during a virtual lunch meeting on Tuesday, according to one Senate Democrat. Moderate senators could offer their $300 weekly proposal as an amendment later this week, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he plans to force a vote on a $15 hourly minimum wage.

Sen. Joe Manchin questions President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.
Sen. Joe Manchin questions President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. | Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The disagreement over unemployment benefits was not a big enough problem to derail, or even delay, the party’s push for quick passage of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.

Those Democrats said that they expected a relatively smooth process as they race to finish the bill ahead of the March 14 expiration of some boosted unemployment benefits. The Senate is hoping to send its version of the legislation back to the House well before that deadline in order to give states a head start on the logistics of extending those benefits.

Schumer took procedural steps to put the House-passed legislation on the floor, though the Senate will substitute in its own text before it finishes voting. Among the things the Senate will remove from the House bill: the $15 minimum wage increase, as well as several transportation projects, all of which were ruled out by the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian.

U.S. Capitol Police officials said Wednesday they have “obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4” — the date that far-right conspiracy theorists believe former President Donald Trump will return to power.

The intelligence is being taken “seriously,” the officials said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers, the statement said. “Our Department is working with our local, state, and federal partners to stop any threats to the Capitol. We are taking the intelligence seriously. Due to the sensitive nature of this information, we cannot provide additional details at this time.”

The statement issued Wednesday morning follows another Tuesday night in which officials said they had beefed up security.

MORE: ‘Many’ US Capitol Police officers want to retire or leave after Jan. 6 insurrection, union says
“The Department is aware of concerning information and intelligence pertaining March 4th and continues to work with all of our law enforcement partners,” the federal law enforcement agency said in that statement. “Based on the intelligence that we have, the Department has taken immediate steps to enhance our security posture and staffing for a number of days, to include March 4th. The Department has communicated our enhanced posture as well as the available intelligence for the entire workforce.”

PHOTO: The United States Capitol Police seal appears on the side of a bus parked near the federal law enforcement agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 19, 2021.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The United States Capitol Police seal appears on the side of a bus parked near the federal law enf…Read More
The threats appear to stem from QAnon, the umbrella term for a set of disproven and discredited internet conspiracy theories that allege the world is run by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles. Followers of the fringe movement believe that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen from Trump, who has pushed baseless claims of voter fraud along with his allies.

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QAnon followers also believed that Trump would not actually leave office on Inauguration Day but rather would declare martial law, announce mass arrests of Democrats and stop Joe Biden from becoming president. When that didn’t happen, the date was moved from Jan. 20 to March 4, the original inauguration day for all U.S. presidents prior to 1933.

PHOTO: Members of the National Guard are seen on the east front of the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2021.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Members of the National Guard are seen on the east front of the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol…Read More
The Federal Bureau of Investigation first labeled QAnon and its fluid online community of supporters as a “dangerous extremist group” in August 2019. A number of individuals believed to be QAnon followers have been charged for their alleged involvement in the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

MORE: QAnon emerges as recurring theme of criminal cases tied to US Capitol siege
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis issued a confidential assessment to law enforcement agencies, which was obtained by ABC News, saying that the threat of domestic violent extremism in 2020 — largely driven by “violent anti-government or anti-authority narratives, periods of prolonged civil unrest and conspiracy theories” — is a trend that will likely continue in 2021 and “could escalate to include targeting of critical infrastructure.”

Two separate teams of Republican lawyers looked at Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, a case the Supreme Court heard on Tuesday, and saw an opportunity to stick a knife in the Voting Rights Act — potentially eliminating any meaningful safeguards against racist voting laws in the process.

The case involves two Arizona laws that make it harder for some voters to cast a ballot. One law requires election officials to discard ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct. The second prohibits many forms of “ballot collection,” where a voter gives their absentee ballot to another person, who then delivers that ballot to the election office so it can be counted.

Michael Carvin, a lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party, argued in his brief that states have broad power to enact laws restricting the “time, place, or manner” where voters cast their ballots — though he rapidly backpedaled after Justice Elena Kagan suggested that this proposed rule would allow a state to require all voters to cast their ballots at, say, country clubs.

Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, meanwhile, suggested in his brief that states that wish to disenfranchise voters of color may take advantage of existing demographic disparities to target racial minorities, so long as the state does not create those disparities. As Brnovich argued, the restriction on out-of-precinct voting should be upheld because “the fact that a ballot cast by a voter outside of his or her assigned precinct is discarded does not cause minorities to vote out-of-precinct disproportionately.”

Taken to its logical extreme, this proposed rule could permit truly outlandish attempts to restrict voting. Suppose that Arizona had passed a law limiting the franchise to country music fans, on the theory that white voters are more likely to listen to country music than voters of color. Under Brnovich’s standard, that law might not violate the Voting Rights Act’s protections against race discrimination because the state did not cause non-white voters to prefer other genres of music.

Both Carvin and Brnovich’s briefs, in other words, proposed reading a key prong of the Voting Rights Act so narrowly that it would become virtually meaningless. States would gain a broad power to disenfranchise voters of color, so long as they were somewhat clever about how they did so.

By the end of Tuesday’s arguments in Brnovich, however, it appeared unlikely that these attempts to neutralize the Voting Rights Act will prevail. There may very well be five votes — or even more than five votes — to uphold the two Arizona laws at issue in Brnovich. But several key justices appeared reluctant to go as far as Carvin and Brnovich asked them to go.

Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — all conservatives — each expressed concerns that Carvin’s proposed test either wasn’t workable or contradicted the text of the Voting Rights Act. After Carvin conceded that a state could not require every ballot to be cast at a country club, Barrett warned him that his argument “has some contradictions in it.”

Brnovich ran into similar trouble when he stepped up to the podium. Roberts, for example, appeared unconvinced that a key prong of Brnovich’s argument could be squared with the text of the Voting Rights Act. Kavanaugh suggested that a state law might violate the Voting Rights Act if it imposes unnecessary burdens on racial minorities. Barrett suggested that Brnovich’s approach would make it too easy for a state to disenfranchise racial minorities, so long as it enacted a series of laws that each disenfranchised a relatively small group of voters.

None of this means that the Arizona laws are likely to be struck down — many of the conservative justices appeared to spend the latter half of the argument trying to devise a legal standard that would allow them to uphold the laws. But the mere fact that they felt it necessary to come up with a new legal standard is a somewhat optimistic sign for voting rights, as it suggests that the Court is not ready to strangle the Voting Rights Act in the way proposed by Carvin’s or Brnovich’s brief.

These Republican lawyers simply asked for too much.

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The Voting Rights Act, briefly explained
Enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act is one of the most important civil rights laws in American history. It dismantled, at least for a while, many of the tools that Jim Crow lawmakers used to disenfranchise Black voters, and began a half-century long experiment in pluralistic democracy.

On the day that the Voting Rights Act was signed, only about 5 percent of the Black people of voting age in Mississippi were registered to vote. Two years later, that number was 60 percent.

Broadly speaking, the Voting Rights Act provides three safeguards against racist state and local voting laws. Section 5 of the law required state and local governments with a history of enacting such laws to “preclear” any new election rules with officials in Washington, DC, before those rules could take effect. Section 2 of the law, meanwhile, provides two separate protections against discriminations — known as the “intent test” and the “results test.”

If a voting rights plaintiff can show that an election law was enacted for the purpose of making it harder for voters of a particular race to cast their ballot, then the law violates Section 2’s “intent test.”

Under a 1982 amendment to the Voting Rights Act, state and local governments also may not enact a law that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” — and this “results test” applies even if the lawmakers who enacted an allegedly racist law did not do so with any racial animus.

Under Chief Justice Roberts’s leadership, however, the Supreme Court has largely dismantled the first two prongs of the Voting Rights Act.

In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court effectively deactivated Section 5’s preclearance requirement by striking down the formula that the Act used to determine which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance. Then, in Abbott v. Perez (2018), the Court held that lawmakers enjoy such a strong presumption of racial innocence that voting rights plaintiffs will struggle to prove racist intent in all but the most egregious cases.

Brnovich primarily concerns whether the two challenged Arizona laws violate the Voting Rights Act’s results test, which prohibits at least some laws that have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities. Given the Court’s decisions in Shelby County and Perez, many Supreme Court observers (including myself) feared that the Court’s conservative majority would use Brnovich to gut the results test in much the same way that the Court previously hobbled preclearance and the intent test.

That may very well still happen, but the oral argument in Brnovich suggests that annihilation of the results test will probably have to wait until another case comes along. While many of the justices signaled that they are inclined to uphold Arizona’s laws, the justices seemed unwilling to go quite as far as lawyers like Carvin and Brnovich hoped.

So what happens now?
Carvin’s brief took the bold position that “race-neutral regulations of the where, when, and how of voting do not implicate § 2” — though the brief does suggest at some points that only “ordinary” restrictions on “the time, place, or manner of voting” are permissible. But several justices appeared to view this proposed test as unworkable.

Kagan, for example, spent her questioning time with Carvin peppering him with questions about hypothetical voting restrictions — such as whether a state could require everyone to vote at a country club with a history of racist policies, or whether a state could require everyone to vote between 10 am and 2 pm on a particular day. And Carvin quickly started backtracking from the position he took in his brief when confronted with Kagan’s hypotheticals.

Even Carvin appeared to realize that it would be untenable to require every voter to cast their ballot at a country club.

Kavanaugh, meanwhile, homed in on Carvin’s suggestion that only “ordinary” voting restrictions may be allowed — wondering how a judge is supposed to distinguish an “ordinary” restriction from an “extraordinary” one.

Brnovich received a somewhat less chilly reception from the justices than Carvin did, but he still faced a barrage of skeptical questions. A key prong of Brnovich’s argument, for example, is that a plaintiff can only prevail under the results test if they can show that a challenged law “causes a substantial disparity in minority voters’ opportunity to vote and to elect their preferred candidates.” But that argument prompted Roberts to wonder where Brnovich is able to find this “substantial disparity” requirement in the Voting Rights Act’s text.

By the time Jessica Ring Amunson and Bruce Spiva, two of the lawyers challenging Arizona’s election laws, began their arguments, the Court’s conservatives appeared more interested in coming up with a new framework that would allow them to uphold Arizona’s laws, then they were in applying the scorched-earth frameworks proposed by Carvin and Brnovich.

Several justices repeatedly brought up the 2005 Carter-Baker Commission Report, a report produced by a commission chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, which, as Roberts noted, suggested that states should have some safeguards against fraud in “ballot harvesting.” Ballot harvesting is a pejorative term for a practice in which absentee voters give their ballots to a third party, who delivers that ballot to a polling place.

According to Kavanaugh, it is “a matter of common sense” that a voting restriction supported by such a commission probably isn’t a racist attempt to restrict minority voting.

Similarly, Kavanaugh also suggested that voting laws that are “commonplace” in states that do not have a history of racist voting restrictions are likely permissible under the Voting Rights Act — reasoning that could save Arizona’s restrictions on out-of-precinct voting. According to Kavanaugh, similar restrictions exist in about two dozen states.

The bottom line is that there’s a good chance that Arizona’s restrictions on ballot collection and out-of-precinct voting will be upheld. And there’s even a good chance that the Court will take a significant bite out of the Voting Rights Act in Brnovich.

But going by today’s arguments, at least, the full-scale attack on the Act proposed by Carvin and Brnovich seems less likely. Such an attack may still come in a future case, but Carvin and Brnovich’s ham-handed lawyering left the justices little to work with if they hope to dismantle the results test right now.

Senate Democrats need all 50 of their members to kick off consideration of the bill, a vote expected on Wednesday afternoon. After that the chamber will plunge into a long debate and finish with a series of amendment votes that could run for hours on end, known as a “vote-a-rama.”

Senate Republicans are debating how painful to make things for Democrats, possibly by dragging out the marathon of unlimited amendments overnight. That would likely happen late on Thursday and run into early Friday morning.

“I’m hoping for infinity. There are people talking about trying to set up a schedule and having it go on and on,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Paul said some in his party want to push the debate well past Thursday and keep adding amendments into Friday, while he has suggested to Schumer to spread the pain over two days.

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