April 17, 2020

President Trump is endorsing a little bit of anarchy to start the weekend.

On Friday, Trump sent out repeated tweets calling to "liberate" some states, seemingly in support of protesters demanding their governors reopen businesses and restart the economy. "Liberate Michigan!", "Liberate Minnesota!," and "Liberate Virginia, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!" Trump said in three separate Friday tweets with liberal all-caps usage. The tweets came just minutes after Fox News covered protests outside the Minnesota governor's office.

Trump's tweets seem to support an immediate return to normalcy for those states, but as a recent Pew Research study shows, that's the opposite of what two-thirds of Americans want. According to the study released Wednesday, 66 percent of Americans say they're afraid state governments will lift COVID-19 restrictions too soon, as opposed to 32 percent who worry they won't be lifted soon enough.

Experts also warn returning to normalcy without doubling or tripling testing coronavirus capacity would cause a dangerous surge in disease spread and perhaps make previous social distancing efforts worthless. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:15 p.m.

When former President Donald Trump makes his first major return to the public stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on Sunday, expect his rhetoric to be more reminiscent of his 2016 presidential campaign than his 2020 one, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman reports.

Rather than boast about his own accomplishments during his lone term in the White House, an adviser told the Times, Trump will instead deliver a fierce critique of President Biden's first few weeks in office. Reporting by CBS News' Ed O'Keefe appears to confirm the strategy, suggesting Trump will focus on Biden's immigration policy, school reopening plan, and "identity politics."

That said, Trump will reportedly find time to highlight and defend Operation Warp Speed and the COVID-19 vaccine development that took place under his administration, and he's also expected to bring up the future of the GOP. "There's a 99.99 percent chance" Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has steadfastly expressed her opposition to Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, will be brought up, a source told O'Keefe.

Of course, Trump is known for going off script, so all bets are off. Read more about Trump's return at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

12:47 p.m.

President Biden on Saturday praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her fellow Democrats who backed in his administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in the wee hours of the morning. Now, "there's no time to waste" as the package heads to the Senate, Biden added. "If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again," he said. "And the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering."

The president didn't address the minimum wage issue in his comments, but his call for speed seems to be in line with his previous rhetoric on the matter. Biden has made it clear he'd prefer an item gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour to remain in the bill, but he's also reportedly not interested in rewriting Senate rules or ignoring the parliamentarian who ruled against its inclusion in the package under budget reconciliation, the tool Democrats are using to push the bill through without Republican instruction. Biden has also said he didn't expect the measure to make it through with the rest of the bill. Tim O'Donnell

12:01 p.m.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) didn't exactly pull punches in an interview with Politico, going after congressional Republicans, Democrats, former President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration.

Sasse, who is facing imminent censure from the Nebraska GOP for voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, stands by that vote and says he's not bothered by the action his home state's Republican Party is taking against him, though he did say he thinks it's not "healthy." His comments to Politico seemed to back up his confidence. At one point, when asked about Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Sasse simply said "that guy is not an adult," and described Congress, generally, as "a bunch of yokels screaming."

Sasse's candor is gutsy, but it's worth noting he's generally well-respected by his Senate colleagues and won re-election handily last year, so he's ensconced in the upper chamber until 2026.

While he's been in the spotlight for his intra-party criticism of late, Sasse did have words for Democrats, as well, per Politico. He said the Biden administration is "cowering" to the opinions of progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and called the education spending plan in President Biden's COVID-19 relief package as "disastrous." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Ali Shamkhani, Iran's top security official, said Saturday that the United States' airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria earlier this week will rejuvenate the Islamic State in the region, Reuters reports. "The attack on anti-terrorist resistance forces is the beginning of a new round of organized terrorism," an Iranian news agency quoted him as saying during remarks to visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein.

Shamkhani reportedly went on to say Tehran "will confront the U.S. plan to revive terrorism" in the Middle East, but didn't elaborate. Later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the U.S. strikes as "illegal and a violation of Syria's sovereignty."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, provided an in-depth of analysis of the strikes — which were carried out in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq — suggesting that whether Iran, which denies involvement in the attacks on U.S. targets, chooses to respond in a way that escalates the already-tense relationship hinges on further developments in the Biden administration's diplomacy.

"The administration’s actions and Europe’s support for U.S. decisions in response to Iran’s regional tests will determine whether Tehran believes it can be more aggressive regionally under Biden," Norman Roule, who previously served as the U.S. intelligence manager for Iran, told the Post. "But if the Iranians go up the escalatory ladder, we have no choice but to do the same in order to protect our forces and our partners."

Still, the sense among experts largely remains that President Biden's Iran strategy will be less bellicose overall than former President Donald Trump's. Read more at Reuters, The New York Post, and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

8:19 a.m.

The House passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a 219-212 vote nearly along party lines early Saturday. Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) voted against the bill with Republicans, who consider the package too expensive, taking particular opposition to measures like funding for state and local governments.

The legislation, which includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals earning up to $75,000 per year (as well as couples earning a combined $150,000) and extends enhanced unemployment benefits through August, will now head to the Senate, where its contents could change, The New York Times reports.

The bill includes a proposal that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, but Democrats, who narrowly hold the Senate, are using reconciliation, a process that will allow them to pass the bill with a simple majority and avoid Republican obstruction. Reconciliation comes with strict limits on what can be included in a measure, and the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian ruled against the wage hike.

Several congressional progressives, who are prioritizing the increase, criticized the decision and called for Senate Democrats to move forward anyway, but the White House said Biden, while disappointed, respects the ruling. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his colleagues are exploring alternatives, including an escalating tax on the payrolls of large corporations whose employees earn less than a certain hourly wage. It's unclear if that will qualify under the rules of reconciliation. Read more at The Associated Press and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

February 26, 2021

A number of Republican lawmakers have reportedly claimed to be unable to attend votes due to the COVID-19 pandemic — even though they're able to appear in person at CPAC.

Several allies of former President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives have "skipped Friday's votes and enlisted their colleagues to vote on their behalf," signing letters declaring they can't themselves attend due to "ongoing public health emergency," yet at the same time, they're expected to speak at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, CNN reported on Friday.

Among these lawmakers is reportedly Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who already spoke to CPAC attendees on Friday. But he's not alone, as CBS News' Rebecca Kaplan reports that a total of 13 House Republicans appearing at CPAC have made proxy voting requests, citing the pandemic as the reason.

Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) was another one of these lawmakers, and his spokesperson told CBS that he "was forced to proxy vote for the first time" after the "Democrats rearranged the House schedule with extremely late notice," adding that "mentioning the pandemic in the letter is the standard language that both parties are required to use to proxy vote." The spokesperson also said that Budd "remains philosophically opposed to proxy voting" despite plans to do so himself.

Notably, Kaplan points out, "among the votes they will miss tonight: one on the COVID relief bill." Brendan Morrow

February 26, 2021

Democrats are calling the Biden administration's airstrikes in Syria unconstitutional.

President Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militant groups, his first military action since taking office. The strikes were in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.

While Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the limited scope of the airstrikes "aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq," many Democrats expressed concerns on Friday that the move has done just the opposite, and argued it wasn't legally justified.

"Some Democrats said that Congress has not passed an authorization for the use of military force specifically in Syria," reports CNN.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said "there is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization ... we need to extricate from the Middle East, not escalate."

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) agreed, calling for an immediate congressional briefing and saying "offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances."

Republicans, however, were seemingly largely pleased with the move. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.S. response a "necessary deterrent" to tell Iran that attacks on U.S. interests "will not be tolerated," reports CNN. As Fox News notes, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), among others, also applauded the strike, calling it "proportional."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the action as "necessary," and said Biden "has the right to take action" as he sees fit. She said "there was a thorough, legal response" and the Defense Department briefed congressional leadership in advance. Summer Meza

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