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While Many Cheer Kamala Harris as Biden’s VP Pick, Others Scrutinize Her Past as California’s AG

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  • After Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) as his running mate, many celebrities and Democrats cheered the decision.
  • On the other side of the aisle, President Donald Trump immediately attacked Harris, sharing an ad that called her part of the radical left and “phony Kamala.” That phrase was then echoed by Fox News and trended on Twitter.
  • Some who identify as Democrats or liberals have also questioned Biden’s pick, noting that Harris’ time as attorney general has proved to be controversial.
  • Still, some analysts have argued that a vice presidential pick will likely not substantially affect an election, and many already planning to vote for the Democratic candidate have said despite reservations, they don’t plan on changing their vote. 

Celebrities and Major Democrats Cheer Harris Pick

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected Kamala Harris (D-CA.) as his running mate. Immediately, the response to that decision was strong and widely varied, even within the Democratic party. 

Many congratulated Harris for being both the first Black and first Asian-American women to run as vice president on a major political party’s ticket. 

“Was there ever more of an exciting day?” actress Mindy Kaling tweeted.

“For our entire country of course, but especially for my Black and Indian sisters, many of us who have gone our entire lives thinking that someone who looks like us may never hold high office? We work so hard and contribute to the fabric of our lives in America, & now to see @SenKamalaHarris rise to the top like this? It’s thrilling!! I am filled with hope and excitement. Thank you @JoeBiden. Let’s do this!⁣” 

Kaling was also joined by numerous other celebrities, including Kerry Washington, LeBron James, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend.

Alongside celebrities, a number of major Democrats have backed Harris, including some who are seen as possible candidates to join Biden’s administration should he win the November election.

Trump Denounces Harris as “Phony”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump immediately took aim at Harris, tweeting an ad that called her part of the “radical left” and “phony Kamala. 

The same night, similar sentiments made their way to Fox News, where commentator Jesse Watters said, “She’s kind of a phony who never caught on.” Alongside that, “Phony Kamala” trended on Twitter Tuesday night. 

Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee Chair, has also blasted Biden for picking Harris, saying he “chose the person who would actually be in charge the next four years if he is somehow able to win.”

“Kamala Harris’ extreme positions, from raising taxes to abolishing private health insurance to comparing law enforcement officials to the KKK, show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president,” McDaniel said. “These radical policies might be popular among liberals, but they are well outside the mainstream for most Americans.”

She added that Harris should expect “an unprecedented level of scrutiny and attention.”

Scrutiny Into Harris’ Time as California AG

Regardless of political views, McDaniel’s prediction has proved right: scrutiny has already been widespread since Tuesday. 

Most of that stems from Harris’ time as the “top cop” attorney general of California, and it’s come from both sides of the aisle. The difference? While many conservatives have painted Harris as too extreme for America, some liberals have argued that she is simply too moderate and that her actions as attorney general don’t align with the current cultural flashpoint America is in — especially for what they want to see out of the Democratic Party.

For example, many online have taken issue with the fact that Harris used to be a police officer, a career that has become increasingly polarized as calls to defund police departments are receiving more support than ever.

Some hoping to oust Trump have feared that Biden’s choosing of her could cause a split in the party, leading to Trump’s re-election. Many experts have shut that idea down, saying that a vice presidential candidate isn’t likely to make or break the election. Others online have echoed that sentiment, saying that even if they aren’t enthused, they still plan to vote for Biden and Harris.

Many have also attempted to ease concerns from liberals by pointing to a Propublica report that shows Harris voting alongside the much more progressive Bernie Sanders 93% of the time in 2017 and 2018. 

Police Shootings in San Francisco

Harris was first elected as California’s attorney general in 2011, and she served in that role until 2017 when she won her current Senate seat. 

For her part, Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” who’s tough on crime but also addresses inequities in the criminal justice system. She has long-claimed that she became a prosecutor because she wanted to change that system from within.

But her role as attorney general carries a significant amount of baggage. For example, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, many urged her to launch an investigation into a series of police shootings in San Francisco.

Despite this, Harris said that her office did not have the power to initiate those types of investigations except in extreme circumstances. In 2015, she refused to back a bill that would have required her office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate cases involving police misconduct.

In 2016, Harris proposed what The New York Times described as a “modest” expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police use of force. By that time, she had also begun reviewing two municipal police departments and backed a Justice Department investigation in San Francisco.

“Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo,” The New York Times reported. 

Critics have similarly held Harris accountable for saying in her 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” “If we take a show of hands of those who would like to see more police officers on the street, mine would shoot up.”

“Virtually all law-abiding citizens feel safer when they see officers walking a beat,” she added. “This is as true in economically poor areas as in wealthy ones.”

However, earlier this summer following the death of George Floyd, she said, “It is status-quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”

Likely, this plays into the reason why Trump and other conservatives have attacked Harris as being “phony.” For liberals, the opposing comments (along with other controversies) have similarly raised questions about whether she is a “pragmatic progressive” or if she has genuinely shifted ideology over the last 11 years. 

Prison Labor

One of the most notable concerns surrounding Harris stems from 2011 when the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce prison crowding. In that decision, justices ruled that conditions in state prisons were so bad they violated the 8th Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Then-justice Anthony Kennedy further wrote that the prison system in the state had failed to deliver the minimum level of care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems, producing “needless suffering and death.”

At the time, Harris created a division in her office to help counties devise alternatives to incarceration, and in February 2014, the state agreed to reduce its prison population by releasing nonviolent prisoners with only two felonies after serving half of their sentences.

However, by November 2014, Harris’ office unsuccessfully argued in court against releasing too many prisoners eligible for parole — prisoners it had agreed to release — because “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.”

At the time, Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney also argued against releasing those prisoners because many were being used as firefighters to combat California’s fire season.

According to The Los Angeles Times, most of those prisoners were earning only between 8 and 37 cents an hour. 

Harris later denied that she ever knew such an argument was being used in court and later directed her lawyers not to make that argument in the future. 

“The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities,” she told the website ThinkProgress. “The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servitude is one of the worst possible perceptions. I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”

Mass Incarceration

Also related to prisons, Harris has faced criticism involving her arrest record regarding marijuana offenses. 

In fact, on Tuesday, a clip of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.) from a presidential debate last year resurfaced. In that clip, Gabbard attacks Harris’ policing of marijuana offenses. 

“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said. 

Gabbard’s claims are a little misleading. It appears Gabbard was citing an article from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet that ran the headline: Kamala Harris Packed California Prisons With Pot Peddlers.”

However, during Harris’ time as attorney general, around 1,900 marijuana and hashish offenses were recorded. Though that’s actually higher than what Gabbard claimed, a few points should be clarified.

For one, marijuana offenses dramatically dropped after Harris’ first year in office. 

The vast majority of those cases also weren’t directly prosecuted by her office. Instead, lower-level attorneys prosecuted those cases.

Both former lawyers in her office and defense attorneys who’ve worked on drug cases have also argued that most of those people were never locked up. In fact, they contend that only a few dozen were sent to state prison for marijuana convictions while Harris was in office.

Blocking DNA Evidence

In the resurfaced Gabbard clip, the Hawaii rep. also claims that Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” 

Gabbard is likely referring to a Black man by the name of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of hacking and murdering four people in a family in 1983. In 1985, he was then placed on death row but has continued to maintain his innocence ever since.

Along with his claims, there have been serious concerns over his conviction. For example, an 8-year-old witness described the perpetrators as three white men.

According to an investigative column from The New York Times, brown and blond hairs were found in the victims’ hands, yet Cooper had black hair and an afro at the time. In fact, sheriff’s deputies never found Cooper’s hair or even his fingerprints at the scene.

One woman even called police and told them that she believed the murderer was her boyfriend — a man who was already a convicted murder — after she found his bloody overalls and noticed that a hatchet had gone missing.

Still, police proceeded to investigate Cooper, who had been found hiding near the family’s home after escaping from a prison on a burglary conviction.

Decades later, in 2016, Cooper’s attorneys filed a clemency petition insisting that newly available DNA testing would exonerate him; however, Harris’ office refused to allow that DNA testing.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Harris — now in the Senate — said in a Facebook post that she hoped the state would allow DNA testing for Cooper’s case. That finally moved forward last year after Gavin Newsom (D) was elected governor of California.

While Harris was never forced to lift the block on that evidence like Gabbard claimed, her office did still block it all the same.

Following the attack from Gabbard last year, Harris’ campaign spokesperson denied that she was ever directly involved in that decision.

“Senator Harris ran an office of 5,000 people and takes responsibility for all the actions of the [California] Department of Justice during her tenure,” he said.

“Most of the legal activity around this case occurred before her terms in office, but this specific request was made to and decided by lower level attorneys. When the case was brought to her attention, she publicly called for further DNA testing. She has always been a strong proponent of DNA testing and again, an opponent of the death penalty.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (SF Weekly) (CNN)

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Wisconsin Recount, Requested by Trump, Gives Biden Another 87 Votes

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  • The recount of votes in Wisconsin’s two largest counties ended Sunday, solidifying Joe Biden’s lead in the state by around 20,600 votes and also giving him an additional 87 votes.
  • The recount, which cost around $3 million, was both requested and paid for by Donald Trump’s campaign.
  • Before the final totals were even announced, Trump said he would be taking legal action in the state, though that is yet to be seen.
  • The news comes amid a series of sweeping legal losses for Trump, who continued to push unproven and debunked claims about voter fraud over the holiday weekend.

Wisconsin Recount Ends

A recanvass of ballots in Wisconsin’s two largest counties concluded Sunday, firmly solidifying former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in the state.

In fact, the new tally even gave Biden another 87 votes in the $3 million recount requested and paid for by President Donald Trump.

The Trump campaign asked for ballots to be re-tallied in the two Democratic strongholds, Milwaukee and Dane Counties, which are home to Milwaukee and Madison respectively. The request came after the Wisconsin Election Commission estimated it would cost nearly $8 million to recanvass the whole state.

The two recounts changed very little from the initial count, maintaining Biden’s statewide lead of around 20,600 votes. In Milwaukee County, both Biden and Trump’s totals increased very slightly from the original count, though Biden still won by a hefty majority of 317,527 votes to Trump’s 134,482. 

Meanwhile, in Dane County, both candidates actually saw minor decreases in their totals, with Biden losing 91 votes and Trump losing 46. While that is a net gain of 45 votes for Trump, he still ended up losing the county pretty handily with just 78,754 votes to Biden’s 260,094.

Those numbers are by no means surprising. Instead, they solidify some important elements of recounts: that they usually only change the final tally by just a few dozen votes, and that they almost never change the original outcome of an election.

These facts remain true despite the president’s repeated insinuations that recanvassing ballots will change the outcome of the election in his favor.

The finalization of the recounted ballots also marks another big loss for Trump, who has seen a series of sweeping upsets in the multitude of legal cases his campaign and allies have filed. In fact, according to Democratic voting-rights lawyer Marc Elias, as of Saturday, Trump’s legal strategy had given him a 1-39 loss record in various state and federal courts across the country.

Notably, the vast majority of those lawsuits do not even make any kind of allegations that voter fraud or other irregularities occurred as the president continues to claim.

On top of that, as more states continue to certify their results, Trump’s legal opportunities continue to dwindle.

Once a state has certified its election, it makes it much harder for any new legal challenges to be brought, and with the Wisconsin Elections Commission scheduled to meet Tuesday, the state is expected to fully certify its election for Biden very soon.

Despite that, Trump said on Saturday, before the recount totals were even announced, that he would continue to fight the results in Wisconsin.

“The Wisconsin recount is not about finding mistakes in the count, it is about finding people who have voted illegally, and that case will be brought after the recount is over, on Monday or Tuesday,” he wrote. “We have found many illegal votes. Stay tuned!” 

Fox News Business Interview

No such lawsuit has materialized, and with the clock ticking, it is unclear what such a challenge would even look like. Trump has not provided any evidence of voter fraud or illegal votes being counted in either Wisconsin’s first tally or the recount, which were live-streamed in both counties and where officials reported zero irregularities.

Regardless, Trump still has continued to spout endless conspiracies and baseless claims about fraud all over the country, claiming in numerous tweets over the weekend that were flagged by Twitter as misinformation that the election was rigged.

On Sunday, in the first interview he has given since the election was called for Biden, the president went on Fox News Business where he repeated his unproven allegations, and even accused the FBI and the Department of Justice of rigging the election.

The president did, however, appear to acknowledge that his own legal team and other experts have said many of his lawsuits will not stand, and that it is unlikely any of his cases will go to the Supreme Court, though he faulted the legal system for these factors.

“You mean as president of the United States, I don’t have standing?” he asked. “What kind of court system is this? And the judges stay away from it.” 

Notably, Trump did not answer questions as to when he would end his legal challenges, but during a press conference Thursday, he did say he would leave the White House if Biden won the Electoral College.

His comments marked the closest the president has come to saying he will accept the results of the election, at least in practice. Still, he added that “a lot of things” would happen between now and the Electoral College on Dec. 14 that could change the results of the election.  

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (Business Insider)

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SCOTUS Hears Case on Whether or Not the Census Must Include Undocumented Immigrants

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  • On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing a case over whether a sitting president is allowed to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census.
  • The arguments in favor, brought by President Donald Trump, have already lost in three lower courts. 
  • If SCOTUS were to side with Trump, it would break 230 years of precedent. It could also affect the makeup of the House of Representatives, the electoral college, and billions of federal dollars sent each year to states.
  • Census officials have indicated that they may not be able to submit a final tally before Trump leaves office, potentially leaving the situation largely moot under President-elect Joe Biden, who would almost certainly include figures for undocumented immigrants.

SCOTUS Begins Hearing Census Case

The United States Supreme Court has begun hearing a case that could affect billions in federal funding as well as the makeup of the House of Representatives for the next 10 years.

The case in question concerns whether or not President Donald Trump is allowed to exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census. In lower courts, the Trump administration has argued that it should be up to presidents to decide whether undocumented immigrants should be counted.

Notably, three lower courts have all rejected the administration’s argument. A fourth said the time wasn’t right to answer the question. Ultimately, the decision will now be up to the Court.

If it decides in favor of the Trump administration, which is seeking to remove undocumented immigrants from the final tally of the 2020 Census, that would be unprecedented. In U.S. history, noncitizens have been counted in every Census since the first one in 1790. Each census is conducted once every 10 years.

This also won’t even be the first time SCOTUS has considered a question around the Census. Last year, President Trump tried to add a question that would ask whether a person was a U.S. citizen.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Immigrants rights’ advocates worried that if the Court ruled in Trump’s favor, it could discourage undocumented immigrants from filling out the Census. Ultimately, SCOTUS ruled the opposite way, siding 5-4 with lawyers who argued that just the news of Trump trying to add the question was enough to discourage immigrants from filling out the form. 

Chief Justice John Roberts was the deciding vote in that ruling, as he broke from the Court’s conservative justices to side with the liberal bloc. At the time, that included Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Amy Coney Barrett Could Be the Deciding Vote

After failing to have the citizenship question implemented, Trump issued a July memo that directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to submit two counts to him: one with the full Census count and another with that same count minus undocumented immigrants. The goal? To use the second count as the official Census count.

From there, a group of 22 states and local officials, along with organizations represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the Trump administration.

“Nothing in the text or history of the Constitution or the Census Act suggests that [the Trump administration] may treat millions of people who undisputedly live here as if they were not here, solely because of their immigration status,” lawyers for the state argued. 

In fact, they’ve even argued that Trump’s policy is directly in violation of the Constitution because it requires “the whole number of persons in each state” to be counted for apportionment of the House of Representatives.

As for whether SCOTUS will side with Trump or immigrant rights’ advocates, there is a major difference between the Court this year and the Court last year: Ginsburg is gone. 

In her place, there is now Justice Amy Coney Barret, a conservative Trump appointee who was the deciding vote in a 5-4 case last week that now bars New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on gatherings for religious services. Roberts was the lone conservative to dissent. 

That means that even if Roberts were to dissent from the Court’s other conservatives again for the Census vote, they would still hold a majority of the voting power. 

If those conservative justices do side with Trump, that could have lasting effects for the next 10 years. The Census determines how many Representatives each state sends to Congress. That number is also used to determine how many votes each state has in the electoral college during presidential elections.

That could mean states with large immigrant populations — such as California, Texas, and Florida — could lose seats, while states with smaller populations and low immigrant populations might gain them. For example, Alabama could gain seats even though it is currently projected to lose a seat in the near future.

The Census also determines how much states receive from Congress’ annual $1.5 trillion budget. That could mean a lot of money lost for states with large immigrant populations.

Can Biden Change This?

It’s possible that Trump’s goals could be rendered moot — in part or in full.

For one, it is unclear how SCOTUS will decide. Conservative justices like Barrett could be swayed by arguments that there is no room for interpretation of the Constitution’s words. In fact, Barrett herself has championed her belief that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was written. On Monday, she even seemed to suggest that the founding fathers intended all residents should be counted.

On top of that, judges also risk breaking 230 years of precedent and the decision of dozens of judges in lower courts.

Also on Monday, Roberts suggested that the case may be too premature to rule on, as the Trump administration has yet to go through with its plan.

If it does eventually side with Trump, that could impede Biden’s ability to challenge Trump’s numbers.

SCOTUS aside, Census officials have said that they’re having difficulties processing responses, meaning that a final count could be delayed past Trump’s term. According to The Washington Post, Census employees are frustrated and exhausted, some reportedly working up to 15 hour days.

“We are not currently on pace to send the report to the president by the year-end statutory deadline,” acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall said Monday.

While a final count is currently required to be submitted by Dec. 31, in the event that the final count does come after Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Trump’s efforts for this Census will almost certainly be in vain.

Even if Trump did submit the numbers on time, it’s possible that Congress could reject them. That could then leave Biden with a chance to submit a final count that includes uncodumented immigrants once he becomes president. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg) (Reuters)

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Mnuchin To Cut Off $455 Billion In Stimulus Money and Move It Out of the Biden Administration’s Reach

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  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked the Federal Reserve to return $455 billion in stimulus funding for key emergency lending programs when they expire at the end of the year. 
  • Previously, the Treasury Department was expected to extend those programs as the pandemic is still raging. Because it’s now pursuing the opposite, the Fed has rebuked Mnuchin’s decision, a rare move to see from the agency.
  • Other critics have called Mnuchin’s move political, saying it appears to be a blatant attempt to hamper Biden’s transition into the White House in January.
  • Still, the Fed has agreed to return the funding, and it’s now being reported that the money will be placed into an account that Mnuchin’s likely successor, Janet Yellen, will need Congressional approval to access.

Mnuchin To End Emergency Funding Without Extension

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he doesn’t plan to extend $455 billion in key emergency lending programs past the end of the year. Instead, he’s planning on stashing that money in a fund that his successor can’t reach without Congressional approval.

Mnuchin has asked Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to return the $455 billion in unused funding. Notably, that money is meant to fund programs stemming from the $2 trillion CARES Act — the only stimulus package Congress has agreed upon thus far. Those programs are meant to prop up the economy by providing financial assistance and loans for struggling businesses and local governments.

In his letter to Powell, Mnuchin said the Fed programs “have clearly achieved their objective” because “Markets responded positively, spreads tightened, and banks continued lending.”

While he also said that Congress will later be able to use that $455 billion for other purposes, such as PPP and grants, his decision has been so controversial that even the Fed criticized it. That’s highly unusual because the Fed isn’t usually keen on inserting itself within sensitive political issues.

The Fed has said that the programs are necessary while the pandemic rages on. In fact, it even noted the “important role” of these programs “as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”

The Treasury Department cannot simply reallocate that money on its own. Instead, it needs agreement from the Fed. Despite the Fed’s criticism, it ultimately gave that agreement on Friday.

Critics Blast Mnuchin’s Plan as an Attack on Biden

Top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Patrick Toomey have backed Mnuchin’s decision. Last week, McConnell described it as “fully aligned with the letter of the law and the intent of the Congress.”

Among some Republicans, there is a concern that leaving the programs operational for too long could distort markets.

On top of that, only about $20 billion of that $455 billion has actually been used, likely because the program’s loan terms for small- and medium-sized businesses are very restrictive. Still, that’s not to say this money hasn’t been useful. As The New York Times pointed out, “Some programs calmed market conditions merely by reassuring investors.”

Connected to that and similar to the Fed’s arguments, economists are concerned that Mnuchin is pulling the plug on these programs too soon, arguing that they should not be ended before the markets have fully recovered.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the largest lobbying group in the country — said that Mnuchin’s decision to end these programs “closes the door on important liquidity options for businesses at a time when they need them most.” 

The chamber also added that it “unnecessarily ties the hands of the incoming administration.”

“This appears to be a political move by Team Trump to limit what President-elect Joe Biden can do next year to boost the economy, especially if Congress fails to pass a big stimulus,” Jaret Seiberg, an analyst at Cowen Inc., added.

“It’s not just closing the store down for Biden,” policy economist Ernie Tedeschi said. “It’s burning the store down.” 

Mnuchin has said that this decision isn’t political. He also argued that in the “unlikely event” that these programs need to be re-established, the Fed can still request approval from other emergency funds.

Yellen Would Need Congressional Approval to Access Funds

Still, as The New York Times noted last week, this move could prevent President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming Treasury secretary from quickly restarting the efforts at scale in 2021.

That incoming secretary is expected to be Janet Yellen, who Biden chose for the role on Monday. Notably, if confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first female Treasury secretary. 

On Tuesday, it was reported that Mnuchin is planning on moving that $455 billion into the Treasury’s General Fund, which means that Yellen would need Congressional approval to access any of that money.

That would then leave Yellen with only $80 billion at her discretion. While that might sound like a lot of money for the average person, it’s much less than the nearly half a trillion dollars currently set to be removed from play. 

It also comes at a time where coronavirus cases are spiking, local and state governments are once again employing more restrictive lockdowns, and millions of people are set to lose their unemployment benefits at the end of the year.

Bharat Ramamurti, a Democratic member of the congressional watchdog panel overseeing the $455 billion, said on Twitter that Mnuchin’s move is illegal and that it can be reversed next year.

A spokesperson for the Treasury has asserted that Mnuchin’s move is legal under the CARES Act. 

In the summer, Mnuchin initially extended the fund’s expiration date, which is why it now expires at the end of the year.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Axios) (Bloomberg)

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