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Wake Up To Politics - June 11, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: What we’ve learned about the Trump DOJ
Wake Up To Politics - June 11, 2021

Good morning! It’s Friday, June 11, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 515 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,243 days away.

Another bombshell revelation emerged about the Trump administration on Thursday night, courtesy of the New York Times and the Washington Post: In 2017 and 2018, the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed Apple for the data of at least two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, as well as their aides and family members.

According to the two outlets, the department seized records belonging to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who was then the panel’s top Democrat and is now its chairman; Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), another chief Trump critic; and at least 10 staffers or relatives of theirs, including one minor.

The subpoenas were issued as part of an investigation initiated by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find the sources behind news reports on contacts between Trump associates and Russia. No evidence emerged to tie the House Intelligence Committee to the leaks, but the probe was later revived by Sessions’ successor, William Barr.

“The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations,” the Times reported.

“While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (center) at a meeting of the panel. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This was not the only Trump DOJ action to be recently uncovered. In the last month, the Justice Department has notified the Times, the Post, and CNN that prosecutors secretly pushed to obtain email records of their reporters in 2020, during Trump’s final weeks in office.

At least in the case of the Times reporters, the Biden Justice Department continued fighting for the records, although Attorney General Merrick Garland has since promised that the DOJ will no longer use subpoenas or other legal tools to obtain information from journalists about their sources during future leak investigations.

During the investigations of the House Intelligence Committee members, the New York Times, and CNN, the Justice Department also reportedly enforced gag orders to block its targets from disclosing that they were being subpoenaed. Those orders recently expired, which led to the notifications of those whose records had been seized.

Democrats are calling for further investigations of the new disclosures. “President Trump repeatedly and flagrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will, and tried to use the Department as a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media,” Schiff said in a statement.

“Though we were informed by the Department in May that this investigation is closed, I believe more answers are needed, which is why I believe the Inspector General should investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”

The Rundown

What else you need to know to start your day.

DEAL OR NO DEAL: A bipartisan group of 10 senators announced on Thursday that they had agreed on a framework for a possible infrastructure deal. According to NBC News, the deal would cost $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion in new spending — a significant increase from the Republican proposal that President Joe Biden rejected earlier this week.

  • The deal was brokered by five Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and five Republican senators, including Mitt Romney (UT) and Rob Portman (OH). However, it remains unclear whether the compromise would be able to receive 60 votes in the Senate.
  • Among the hurdles it faces: the agreement will likely pay for the new spending partially by indexing the gas tax to inflation, which the White House opposes; it will only invest in physical infrastructure and will not address climate change, jeopardizing support from progressive Democrats; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has yet to comment, making it unclear whether the deal could pick up the five additional GOP votes it would need to be approved even if all Democrats fall in line.
Sens. Mitt Romney (left) and Joe Manchin confer with each other. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

INSIDE THE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: “Top Democrats on Thursday attempted to quickly defuse a fraught dispute within their caucus after comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar that compared war crimes committed by the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban incensed some Jewish Democrats.”

  • “Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team took the unusual step of issuing a statement that both rebuked Omar for her comments and thanked her for later clarifying her remarks — taking a more nuanced approach than the last major uproar over the Minnesota Democrat's comments on Israel that escalated into a days-long political crisis for her party.” Read more from Politico

THE LATEST FROM ENGLAND: “Angela, Boris, Emmanuel, Justin, Mario, Yoshihide and a relative newcomer: Joe. They’re the board of global democracy’s most exclusive club, and they’re meeting this week after four years of U.S. disruption and a two-year coronavirus interruption.”

  • “Already on a first-name basis with relationships that range from just months to years, the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized democracies are gathering Friday amid hopes that the departure of their most unruly member and a new era of personal friendships enhanced by face-to-face discussions can restore a global anti-authoritarian consensus on climate, the coronavirus, China and Russia.” Read more from the Associated Press

Policy Roundup: Health

A rotating group of student journalists offers briefings on a range of policy areas. On Fridays, Ellen Burstein breaks down the week’s top health news:

The United States will send 500 million doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to about 100 countries over a year, President Biden announced on Thursday. The first 200 doses will be distributed by the end of this year, and the remaining 300 before next June. The move marks an increase of the doses previously pledged by the administration, but nonetheless falls far short of the 11 billion doses the WHO estimates are needed for everyone in the world to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. While 42 percent of people are fully vaccinated in the United States and the United Kingdom, less than 1 percent have been vaccinated in many African countries.

The FDA approved a controversial new drug to treat Alzheimer’s despite doubts raised by experts. The drug, Aducanumab, or Aduhelm, is the first approved Alzheimer’s treatment in 18 years. Patient advocates strongly pushed for the treatment to be approved, as only five other medicines are approved to treat the disease. However, some experts say there is a lack of evidence the drug effectively treats the symptoms of dementia. Two Phase 3 trials of the drug displayed contradictory results: one study suggested that the drug can slow cognitive decline, while the other indicated no benefit to patients. (Both trials were stopped early.)

An FDA advisory committee declined to endorse the drug in November, citing a lack of evidence that it is effective in reducing cognitive decline. Three advisors have resigned from the committee since the FDA moved forward with approval anyway. “This might be the worst approval decision that the FDA has made that I can remember,” Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who resigned from the group, told the New York Times. Biogen, Aducanumab’s manufacturer, said the treatment will be listed at $56,000 a year. Biogen’s stock price surged 38 percent on Monday following the announcement.

Dr. Aaron Kesselheim blasted the FDA’s decision to approve an Alzheimer’s drug. (Scott Eisen/Associated Press)

The Biden administration elected to limit mandatory Covid-19 workplace rules to healthcare settings. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said that the department would issue some optional guidance for general industry. The move is a blow to unions, many of which had lobbied for broader protections for workers on the job. Business advocates argue that such rules are unnecessary in the waning days of the pandemic and could stymie the country’s economic recovery.

More health headlines, via Ellen:

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing to examine the Sackler family’s role in the opioid epidemic
  • The North Carolina legislature voted to ban abortion based on race, sex, or Down Syndrome diagnosis
  • A new blood test could predict early cancer recurrence for lung, colon, bladder, and breast cancer.

Ask Gabe

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why do the House and Senate have pro forma sessions? Bill from St. Louis, MO

A: Congress only meets for around 150 days each year. But that doesn’t mean the House and Senate are *technically* on recess during the other 200 or so days. As you may have noticed from “Daybook,” more often they hold pro forma sessions: brief sessions where one member gavels the chamber in and then promptly gavels it out a few minutes later, without holding any votes or conducting any business. (You can watch it happen in the House today at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.)

There are two reasons for this admittedly odd practice: the first has its roots in Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which prohibits either chamber from going on recess for more than three days without receiving the consent of the other chamber. Instead of having to go through the process of getting the other chamber to sign off every time they want to leave town, the House and Senate just hold pro forma sessions every three days to avoid following this section and technically going on recess.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) presides over a mostly empty Senate chamber during a recent pro forma session. (C-SPAN)

But the more significant reason can be found in Article II, Section 2. That’s where the Constitution gives the president the power to make “recess appointments”: appointees who can serve in an executive branch position while the Senate is on recess, without requiring Senate confirmation. In recent years, the Senate has used pro forma sessions to block the president from making recess appointments, since the chamber is not technically on recess if they gavel in every three days, even if it is for only a few minutes. (Pro forma, by the way, is Latin for “as a matter of form.”)

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this practice: in 2012, then-President Barack Obama tried to name appointees to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was meeting in pro forma sessions. Two years later, the court ruled in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning that the appointments were invalid. However brief, pro forma sessions do count as meetings of the Senate, the court unanimously decided, and not as recesses.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern.)

President Joe Biden is in Cornwall, England, for the Group of Seven (G7) Summit. At 7:15 a.m., he received his daily intelligence briefing. At 9:10 a.m., he will be greeted briefly by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson.

At 9:20 p.m., Biden will participate in a “family photo” with the other G7 leaders. At 9:45 a.m., he will attend the first session of the G7 Summit. At 1:15 p.m., he will participate in a reception, “family photo,” and dinner with other G7 leaders, their spouses, and the Royal Family.

Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks at 10:30 a.m. at a child care center in Washington, D.C., discussing the administration’s investments in child care and families.

First Lady Jill Biden toured a preschool in Cornwall with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, at 7 a.m. and participated in a roundtable on early childhood education. She will also join her husband for the brief greeting with Boris and Carrie Johnson at 9:10 a.m. and for the G7 reception and dinner at 1:15 p.m.

The Senate is not in session.

The House will convene at 11:30 a.m. for a brief pro forma session.

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on “building climate resilient communities” with Mayors Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Satya Rhodes-Conway (Madison), and Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta) at 12:30 p.m.

The Supreme Court is not in session.

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