President Biden on Thursday signed a bill meant to address a proliferation of assaults and other violent crimes against Asian-Americans since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, celebrating a rare moment of overwhelming bipartisanship but warning that Americans must do more to combat hate crimes.
The bill amounts to the first legislative action that Congress has taken to bolster law enforcement’s response to attacks on people of Asian descent during the pandemic.
The law passed by a vote of 94 to 1 in the Senate and 364 to 62 in the House. “We simply haven’t seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in America,” Mr. Biden said.
Over the last year, more than 6,600 anti-Asian hate incidents have been recorded nationwide, according to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate. New York had the largest increase in anti-Asian hate crimes relative to other major cities, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
“All of this hate hides in plain sight,” Mr. Biden said at the White House before a crowd of nearly 70 lawmakers and activists who had pushed for the bill’s passage. “Too often it is met with silence — silence by the media, silence by our politics and silence by our history.”
The measure will establish a position at the Justice Department to speed the agency’s review of hate crimes and expand the channels to report them, in an effort to improve data collection regarding attacks targeting Asian-Americans. It will also encourage the creation of state-run hate crimes hotlines, provide grants to law enforcement agencies that train their officers to identify hate crimes and introduce a series of public education campaigns about bias against people of Asian descent.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who is of Indian descent, introduced the president and said that the bill he was signing “brings us one step closer to stopping hate, not just against Asian-Americans, but for all Americans.”
Democratic Asian-Americans in Congress had confronted the Biden administration this year about what they said was an unacceptable lack of representation at the highest levels of government, culminating in the appointment of a senior official to focus on Asian-American priorities.
Jessica Chia contributed reporting.
President Biden praised what he described as a “mutual, unconditional” cease-fire between Israel and Hamas on Thursday, sending his condolences to “all the families, Israeli and Palestinian,” who endured some of the worst fighting the region has seen in years.
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely,” Mr. Biden said during brief remarks delivered at the White House, “and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”
Mr. Biden’s appearance in the East Room was quickly arranged after Hamas and Israel confirmed that they had agreed to a cease-fire mediated by Egypt — a de facto intermediary since the two groups do not deal directly with each other — to begin on Friday morning.
Mr. Biden did not answer questions from reporters about whether he believed the agreement to draw down the violence would hold.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had cautioned that “the reality on the ground will determine the continuation of the campaign.”
In the hours before the cease-fire announcement, Mr. Biden held a call with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt to discuss the possibility of brokering an end to more than 10 days of violence between Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, and the Israelis.
Mr. Biden had in recent days spoken six times, and on increasingly blunt terms, with Mr. Netanyahu, warning him that he could not withstand mounting international criticism of the Gaza strikes for long. In his remarks, Mr. Biden said he had also spoken with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority.
The president’s advisers said he believed he could quietly push Mr. Netanyahu, whom he has known for 40 years, to bring an end to violence that has killed more than 230 people in Gaza and 12 in Israel, many of them civilians.
But the cease-fire failed to materialize directly after their latest phone call on Wednesday, when Mr. Biden said he expected a significant de-escalation in violence that day. Amid mounting international pressure to find a resolution to the violence and direct appeals from some Democrats, White House officials on Thursday found themselves having to explain that Mr. Biden’s choice to speak carefully in public and forcefully in private had been the best approach.
For his part, Mr. Biden on Thursday appeared eager to emphasize that “quiet, relentless diplomacy” had led to the cease-fire.
“We have believed that they are in a position to start winding their operations down,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, though the administration’s readout of a Wednesday call held by the two leaders had been framed with much more direct language. “And certainly that is what we’ve been conveying.”
When asked why Mr. Biden had waited until Thursday to hold a call with Mr. Sisi, Ms. Psaki said that the administration’s approach to diplomacy “does not always require a call from a global leader.” Earlier in the day, Kamala Harris, the vice president, held a call with King Abdullah II of Jordan, to brief him “on our intensive diplomatic efforts to support the path to a cease-fire in Gaza,” she said in a tweet.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking to reporters while on a trip to Greenland, said that he would be “prepared at any time to go to Israel” or to parts of the Middle East “if that would serve the purpose of moving beyond violence and helping to work on improving lives for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
“There’s a deep and shared concern around the world for the deaths of Palestinians and innocent Israelis, and that our goal continues to be to stop the violence, bring calm, and then get back to work, trying to build lasting stability and a more hopeful future,” Mr. Blinken said.
With a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants on the horizon, the Biden administration is now turning to how it can help rebuild the besieged Gaza Strip — and in turn bring pressure, through promises of financial support, on Hamas not to resume fighting.
A senior Biden administration official said the United States was planning to be at the fore of an international response, most likely costing billions of dollars, to include restoring health and education services, and other reconstruction.
The senior official said that rebuilding Gaza — which will most likely be coordinated through the United Nations — was at the top of a list of festering diplomatic obstacles that the administration will face between Israel and the Palestinian Authority once the fighting winds down.
Mr. Biden is expected to consider other initiatives. American diplomats who had shelved the prospects of brokering a broader peace agreement between the two sides will take a new look at the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. The Biden administration will also refocus on how to build on new alliances between Israel and Arab states that were brokered last year, largely at the behest of President Donald J. Trump.
Rebuilding Gaza is a necessary part of the diplomacy — and not only as what some officials see as a moral imperative to help residents. Officials and experts said it was also a point of leverage with Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip but has lost popularity among residents who criticize its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
“In a sense, you need to put Hamas in a position where they have to choose between their rockets and the well-being of Gaza,” said Dennis B. Ross, a veteran American negotiator of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians and Middle East policy for at least four U.S. presidents.
Mr. Ross noted that international donors would probably be wary without enforceable assurances that any investments would not go to waste — as they all but certainly would if the group later reignited hostilities that would draw a harsh response from Israel.
By the thinnest of margins, a divided House voted on Thursday to approve $1.9 billion in emergency spending to cover costs related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and increase security to prevent a repeat, with progressive Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House by a vote of 213 to 212, leaving its future uncertain in the evenly split Senate, where most legislation needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and advance to a vote.
Every Republican voted against the security spending plan — a move that top Democrats cited as further evidence that the party is trying to rewrite the history of the mob violence that unfolded on Jan. 6 by downplaying or outright denying crucial facts and opposing efforts to investigate it.
But while Republicans voted as a bloc against the spending measure, opposition by a handful of liberal Democrats nearly defeated it. Several lawmakers on the left who are skeptical of increasing spending on policing argued that the Capitol Police bore some responsibility for what happened on Jan. 6 — or may even have been complicit in it — because they had turned a blind eye to right-wing extremism.
“The attack on Jan. 6 was not due to a lack of police funding; it was a lack of coordination, preparation, and sharing of intelligence,” said Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, who voted “present” to register opposition. “It was because the threat of white supremacy has been enabled to spread and fester throughout our nation, including within law enforcement.”
The attack on the Capitol was one of the most violent in American history. Nearly 140 police officers were injured, and at least five people died in connection with the riot.
The bill would provide more than $520 million to reimburse the National Guard, which has supplied thousands of troops to patrol the newly fortified Capitol; $250 million to create retractable fencing and other security features; $200 million to create a quick reaction force in the National Guard to respond to future emergencies; $160 million to harden windows and doors; more than $175 million to protect federal judges and courts; and nearly $40 million to fund the prosecution of people accused of storming the Capitol.
It includes smaller pots of money to equip Capitol Police officers with body cameras and bolster its intelligence division, and increases protection of lawmakers as they travel the country.
The vote came a day after the House approved the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Capitol riot, with four-fifths of the chamber’s Republicans opposing the measure amid increasing pressure from former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters to shift focus away from the attack. Hours before that vote, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, declared his opposition to the plan, after having said he was open to voting for it a day earlier.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Thursday confirmed that the United States was no longer interested in buying Greenland, scuttling for good a quixotic 2019 proposal by the Trump administration to annex the self-governing Danish territory.
“I can confirm that’s correct,” Mr. Blinken said during an appearance in Greenland with Danish officials and the premier of Greenland, Mute Egede, in response to a reporter who asked him to “definitively say that the United States does not seek to buy Greenland.” Earlier in the day, the secretary of state toured the territory and met privately with the premier to discuss “bilateral trade and investment.”
Mr. Blinken’s brief remarks closed the book on a bizarre episode in U.S. foreign policy. The Wall Street Journal had first reported in August 2019 that President Donald J. Trump had repeatedly asked aides to pursue a purchase of Greenland, in part to exploit the territory’s abundant natural resources. Mr. Trump’s advisers were highly skeptical of the idea, but agreed to investigate the matter.
News of Mr. Trump’s interest in annexing Greenland quickly became the butt of jokes online, while receiving a cold reception both from residents of the semiautonomous territory and among Danish leadership, who took umbrage at the then-president’s suggestion that the territory could be bought as, essentially, “a large real estate deal.”
“Greenland is not for sale,” Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister of Denmark, told a Danish newspaper at the time. “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland. I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”
“All they had to do is say, ‘No, we’d rather not do that’ or ‘We’d rather not talk about it,’” Mr. Trump said to reporters on the day he canceled the trip. “Don’t say, ‘What an absurd idea that is.’”
Pele Broberg, Greenland’s foreign minister, alluded to the diplomatic rupture during his appearance with Mr. Blinken on Thursday.
“We will underscore this is not considered a real estate deal,” Mr. Broberg said of talks with U.S. officials, quoting Mr. Trump. “Secretary Blinken has made it very clear that he is here for the people living in the Arctic, for the people living in Greenland.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Biden’s first two appeals court nominees over Republican opposition on Thursday, as Democrats try to quicken the pace of rebalancing the federal judiciary after hundreds of conservative jurists were seated in the Trump era.
The vote moved Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal district judge nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, who is slated for the Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a step closer to confirmation votes by the full Senate. The nominees, both Black women, are former federal public defenders whose selection was part of a concerted effort by the Biden administration to diversify the federal bench.
“These nominees will bring to the bench outstanding credentials and experience, and a variety of professional perspectives that have been underrepresented many times in the judiciary,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the committee, which also voted on Thursday to approve three lower district court nominees.
Republican committee members, citing broad Democratic opposition to circuit court nominees put forward by Donald J. Trump when he was president, by and large opposed the two nominees.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the committee, said that rejecting Mr. Biden’s nominees was only fair given the strong opposition Democrats mounted to Mr. Trump’s nominees over the previous four years. He also said he was not convinced of their commitment to interpreting the Constitution as intended.
“We need to hold Democratic circuit nominees to a high standard of constitutionalism, regardless of how impressive their credentials are and how compelling their own personal stories may be,” Mr. Grassley said. “Credentials and backgrounds are not enough, as Democrats showed us.”
Because of rules changes in the Senate, nominees are not subject to the 60-vote filibuster threshold and can be advanced and confirmed by a simple majority, meaning Democrats can seat the Biden picks without Republican votes as long as they remain united.
Mr. Biden has promised to name the first African-American woman to the Supreme Court if he gets the opportunity, and Judge Jackson is among those considered a potential pick should a seat become open.
President Biden has ordered government agencies to prepare for climate-related shocks across the economy, as escalating disasters threaten home prices, the value of retirements funds and even the stability of the global financial system.
The executive order signed Thursday is the latest indication of how climate change, once dismissed as a distant threat, is already complicating life for Americans. It follows a report last week from the Environmental Protection Agency, which showed that global warming is now being felt in the United States in the form of more heat waves, wildfires, floods and other disasters.
Experts warn of two broad types of financial risk posed by a hotter planet: The growing cost to businesses and investors as climate-related disasters damage or destroy buildings, crops or supply chains; and the potential for a sudden drop in the value of companies that depend on fossil fuels, as governments or consumers embrace wind, solar and other sources of energy that do not produce the carbon emissions driving global warming.
The order directs officials to report the risk that climate change poses to federal assets and tax revenue. It tells the Labor Department to find ways to protect pensions. And it says the government should consider requiring the companies with which it does business to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our modern financial system was built on the assumption that the climate was stable,” Brian Deese, head of President Biden’s National Economic Council, said Thursday on a call with reporters. “It’s clear that we no longer live in such a world.”
In the latest example of divisions among congressional Democrats over voting rights, four House Democrats emailed the party caucus on Thursday pushing for their colleagues to muscle through two election bills now being considered on Capitol Hill, arguing that “democracy is on the line.”
The email, which was signed by Representatives Mondaire Jones of New York, Val Demings of Florida, Nikema Williams of Georgia and Colin Allred of Texas, represented not-so-subtle pushback to recent statements from influential Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who have each expressed to the caucus a preference for a more narrow strategy.
The most ambitious legislation Democrats have put forward is the For the People Act, a sweeping bill to overhaul the nation’s elections system that would protect voting rights, reduce the role of money in politics, strengthen enforcement of existing election laws and limit gerrymandering. They have also introduced the narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore crucial parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, including the preclearance requirements under which some states mostly in the South had to receive federal approval before changing their election laws.
The email from the four representatives argues that passing only the John Lewis Act — which Democrats like Mr. Manchin and Mr. Clyburn have recently told other members they would prefer — would be an insufficient response to the spate of voting restrictions Republicans have enacted across the country since the 2020 presidential election. The email states that passing the narrower bill alone would leave too much up to the courts, do little about laws already enacted, do nothing to reduce partisan gerrymandering, and would still be no closer to Senate passage.
“John Lewis’s final fight was to champion both the For the People Act that contains his Voter Empowerment Act and the Voting Rights Act that now bears his name,” the email states, invoking the name of the Georgia representative and civil rights icon, who died last year. “Not since the Jim Crow era have we seen laws explicitly aimed at suppressing the votes of Black, Brown, and young Americans like those being considered in state capitals across the nation right now.”
“Any proposal that shuns H.R. 1 in favor of nationwide preclearance alone is either dangerously naïve or simply misinformed about what is happening in states across the country,” the email reads. “Time is running out.”
Mr. Clyburn and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have privately expressed discomfort with independent redistricting commissions. Those commissions would eliminate gerrymandering, which has been a thorn in the side of Democrats seeking to win swing districts but has also helped spur the rise of Black representation throughout the South, packing large numbers of Black voters into single urban districts.
President Biden has frequently emphasized the importance of voting rights legislation, but has yet to weigh in on which bill he would prefer to reach his desk, if not both. The measures are both unlikely to pass the Senate, where Republicans broadly oppose them, unless Democrats alter the Senate filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to advance legislation.
WASHINGTON — Workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been scouting shelters for the migrant children surging across the southern border. They’ve been running coronavirus vaccination sites in Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington. And they are still managing the recovery from a string of record disasters starting with Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
On the cusp of what experts say will be an unusually destructive season of hurricanes and wildfires, just 3,800 of the agency’s 13,700 emergency workers are available right now to respond to a new disaster. That’s 29 percent fewer than were ready to deploy at the start of last year’s hurricane period, which began, as it does every year, on June 1.
FEMA has seldom been in greater demand — becoming a kind of 911 hotline for some of President Biden’s most pressing policy challenges. And the men and women who have become the nation’s first responders are tired.
Deanne Criswell, President Biden’s pick to run the agency, identified employee burnout as a major issue during her first all-hands FEMA meeting, according to Steve Reaves, president of the union local that represents employees.
“FEMA is like the car engine that’s been redlining since 2017 when Harvey hit,” said Brock Long, who ran the agency under former President Donald J. Trump and is now executive chairman of Hagerty Consulting. “It is taking a toll.”
Part of the strain reflects the large number of disaster-recovery operations that FEMA is still handling, from last year’s record-breaking 30 named storms that pummeled states like Louisiana and Texas to the wildfires that blazed through California last September. Those disasters, which take years to recover from, have translated into an escalating workload for the agency’s staff.
A growing number of employees have headed for the exits. In 2020, more FEMA workers transferred to other agencies than in any other year over the last decade — twice the typical annual number, according to federal data.
Under President Biden, FEMA’s mission has expanded significantly. Lauded for his ability to empathize with those who are suffering, Mr. Biden has increasingly deployed to crises an agency that in the past had mostly managed distribution of disaster funds to state governments.
Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, introduced a resolution on Thursday to block the sale of a $735 million package of precision-guided weapons to Israel, ratcheting up growing pressure on President Biden from his party’s left flank.
Mr. Sanders and other progressive lawmakers in Congress have argued that the United States could not morally send American-made weapons to Israel at a time when it has carried out airstrikes that have killed civilians.
“At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate,” Mr. Sanders said. “I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”
It is unlikely that the resolution, introduced by Mr. Sanders in the Senate and in the House by a group of lawmakers including Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, will delay or halt the arms sale.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, referred questions on approval of the arms sale to the State Department, but reaffirmed America’s “long abiding security and strategic relationship with Israel.”
“We have seen reports of a move toward a potential cease-fire. That is clearly encouraging,” Ms. Psaki said at midday on Thursday. “We’re going to continue to press behind the scenes, press through intensive quiet diplomacy, to bring an end to the conflict.”
In order to block a sale, lawmakers would have to approve such a resolution in both chambers of Congress and then override Mr. Biden’s expected veto — all within a brief, designated period of time. A similar attempt to block a tranche of weapons from going to Saudi Arabia was defeated in 2019, after a bipartisan group of lawmakers linked arms to protest the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Saudi dissident.
But the resolutions add to the groundswell of pressure Mr. Biden is facing from progressives in Congress who have urged the president to take a more aggressive stance toward Israel. Earlier this week, 28 Democratic senators — more than half of the party’s caucus — put out a letter publicly calling for a cease-fire, putting the onus on both sides to lay down their weapons, and on Mr. Biden to weigh in to demand it.
Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had planned to write to Mr. Biden asking him to delay the arms sale, but has since reversed course, after the State Department agreed to brief his committee on the matter.
Republicans have pushed back. Senator Jim Risch of Idaho and Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republicans on the foreign relations panels in the Senate and House, wrote to Mr. Biden on Thursday to urge him to let the arms package go to Israel.
“To withhold this sale now would call into question our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge, and the basic reliability and trustworthiness of the United States as an ally and a defender of democratic values,” they wrote. “We have heard voices in Congress that are increasingly willing to forfeit the United States’ reputation for standing by its friends and partners. This is not right. We must draw a firm line that the United States will stand with Israel and other allies in their hour of need.”
The Biden administration on Thursday provided more details on its plans to raise $700 billion in revenue through beefed-up Internal Revenue Service enforcement, saying additional funds would enable the agency to more easily crack down on tax cheats.
The Treasury Department released a 22-page report laying out the administration’s new “tax compliance agenda,” which is a centerpiece of its plans to pay for a $1.8 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal. The Biden administration wants to give the I.R.S. $80 billion over the next decade so that it can overhaul its outdated technology and ramp up audits of wealthy taxpayers and corporations to ensure they are not avoiding — or evading — U.S. taxes.
Previous administrations have long talked about trying to crack down on tax evasion. The head of the I.R.S., Charles Rettig, told a Senate committee earlier this year that the agency lacked the resources to catch tax cheats, including those who hide income from cryptocurrencies, and that the government was losing out on as much as $1 trillion a year.
The Treasury Department estimated on Thursday that in 2019 the so-called tax gap was $584 billion and is on pace to total $7 trillion over the next 10 years.
The Biden administration’s estimates of the return on investment that it could generate from boosting the I.R.S. budget far surpassed projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And John Koskinen, a former I.R.S. commissioner under President Barack Obama and President Donald J. Trump, has suggested that it would be hard for the agency to efficiently spend that much money.
The Treasury Department said it believes its revenue projections are conservative. Much of the revenue from more rigid enforcement would become evident in the later part of the decade, the report said, but Treasury officials believe that with more enforcement staff and better technology the I.R.S. can chip away at the tax gap.
“This revenue is backloaded in the 10-year budget window as several of these new investments — such as hiring revenue agents capable of complex global high net-worth examinations and building the technological infrastructure to support a new information reporting regime — take years to reach their full potential,” the report said.
In the second decade, Treasury thinks the I.R.S. could bring in an additional $1.6 trillion.
The Biden administration’s proposal would include the hiring of 5,000 new I.R.S. enforcement agents, including those with the kind of sophisticated training needed to understand complex tax evasion schemes.
The Treasury report said that much of the revenue it estimates would come through its “information reporting” rules for financial institutions. This would give the I.R.S. more visibility into corporate accounts to determine how much money they are actually taking in and what should be taxed. The department said it expects that such reporting would be helpful for audits and would serve as a deterrent against corporate tax evasion.
The new information reporting rules would also include an effort by the Biden administration to bring cryptocurrencies into the tax regime and to crack down on those using cryptocurrencies to avoid paying taxes. The report said that cryptocurrency exchange accounts and payment accounts that accept them would fall under the reporting rules. Businesses that receive crypto assets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would be subject to information reporting.
The Biden administration has faced questions from Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, to justify its claims that giving the I.R.S. so much money will yield such robust returns. Conservative political groups have criticized the Biden administration’s plan hire an army of I.R.S. agents, saying it’s a way to hike taxes.
The Treasury report attempted to rebut such claims, noting that increased audits would be focused on the rich.
“It is important to note that the president’s compliance proposals are designed to ameliorate existing inequities by focusing on high-end evasion,” the report said. “Audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for those with less than $400,000 in actual income.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a news outlet funded by the U.S. government, is in a standoff with Russia over a law requiring that it label itself a “foreign agent” — something officials at the outlet said would drive away its audience and hinder its ability to report the news.
Russian officials have begun legal action and frozen the organization’s bank accounts until it pays roughly $67,000 of $2.4 million in estimated total fines for not complying with the law, Radio Free Europe officials said.
The fight has significant implications for press freedom in Russia, where many independent news outlets have managed to survive online despite Moscow’s efforts to stifle dissent. Russia has recently begun to use the “foreign agent” rule against other popular online publications, making Radio Free Europe’s battle a test case.
“It is not just RFE/RL’s physical presence inside Russia that is at stake here,” Jamie Fly, the network’s chief executive, said in an interview, “but whether the Russian people will be able to continue to freely access objective news and information during what has the potential to be a momentous period in their country.”
The issue poses a diplomatic challenge for the Biden administration, which is unsure how influential it can be. State Department officials have said that they are “deeply troubled” by the decision to freeze Radio Free Europe’s bank account and that the U.S. will respond if Russia forcibly shuts down the organization, but have provided no details.
“Ultimately, Moscow is doing what Moscow will do,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at an event last month for World Press Freedom Day. “But we’re trying to make sure that, at least in some ways, we can be supportive and helpful even if our advocacy falls on deaf ears in Moscow itself.”
Maria V. Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, dismissed the concerns at a news conference last week.
“The complaints about the obstruction of journalistic work in Russia are a fiction and a lie,” she said. “We welcome the activities of the U.S. media in our country.”
Leading congressional Republicans offer multiple justifications for why they oppose an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, but there is really one overriding reason: They fear it will hurt their party’s image and hinder their attempts to regain power in next year’s midterm elections.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, was unusually candid about his party’s predicament, which he said was “weighing on people’s minds” as they contemplated the prospect of an inquiry into the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
Republicans, he said, wondered “whether or not this can be, in the end, a fair process that fully examines the facts around Jan. 6 in an objective way, and doesn’t become a political weapon in the hands of the Democrats.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as is his style, was much more circumspect. But in a closed-door luncheon this week, Mr. McConnell, the minority leader, warned fellow Republican senators that the proposed panel was not as bipartisan as it appeared. He said he believed that Democrats had partisan motives in moving to set up the commission and would try to extend the investigation into 2022 and the midterm election season, tarnishing Republicans and complicating Mr. McConnell’s drive to return as majority leader.
A day later, Mr. McConnell joined Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, in flat-out opposing the creation of the 10-member commission.
Like Mr. McConnell, Mr. McCarthy is determined to put Republicans in the House majority next year and himself in the speakership, and he regards an investigation into what happened on Jan. 6 as an obstacle in his path.
Republican leaders have dug in against the commission even though one of their own members negotiated its details with Democrats, who acceded to their initial demands about its structure. The Jan. 6 proposal was modeled very closely on the Sept. 11 commission. But times have changed, and the Capitol riot has become just another partisan dividing line in a divided capital.