- The Senate approved a budget blueprint Friday, paving the way for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill to be passed.
- The chamber adopted the measure by a vote of 51-50 after a 15-hour session that continued through the night, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting her first tie-breaking vote.
- The House, which agreed on its own budget bill Wednesday, approved the Senate version later on Friday.
- These preliminary votes are just the first steps in a much longer and more complicated process. Biden’s sweeping proposal still needs to be written into law by Congress — a lengthy effort that lawmakers aim to have complete by mid-March.
Senate Approves Budget Bill
After 15-hours of voting and debating throughout the night, the Senate adopted a budget bill early Friday morning that will clear a path for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill to be passed in the coming weeks.
The Senators approved the blueprint in a 51-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting her first tie-breaking vote. The Democratic majority in the House has already agreed on its own budget bill, and the lower chamber acted swiftly to approve the Senate version later on Friday.
While the Friday votes are notable, there is still a long road ahead for the lawmakers, who now must actually begin writing Biden’s extensive plan into law. Now that the House has moved the Senate bill forward, committees will be directed to start working out the details of what is expected to be a very lengthy piece of legislation that lawmakers are aiming to complete by mid-March.
Notably, the House’s approval also sets up the next step in the budget reconciliation process, which will let the Senate pass the final version of the bill with a simple majority, rather than the 60 usually required for large legislation.
That, in turn, would allow Democrats to approve the package without any Republican support, though Biden and Democratic leaders have said they hope GOP members will join them.
Pathways for Bipartisan Negotiations
During last night’s marathon voting session — formally known as a vote-a-rama — Democrats did signal that they were open to negotiations on several key issues.
In addition to endorsing a proposal that would limit who would qualify for the next round of $1,400 stimulus checks based on income, Democrats also agreed to bar an increase in the federal minimum wage.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has been a centerpiece of Biden’s proposal, and also a key issue he campaigned on. Supporters of raising the wage say it still can be included in the final bill, but such a move would likely force a hard vote for more moderate Democrats who are already wary about the size of the proposal.
Including the provisio would also all but ensure a no-vote from Republicans who have already condemned Democrats for not engaging in bipartisanship and argued that the federal government has already given Americans enough support in earlier stimulus bills.
“This is not the time for trillions more dollars to make perpetual lockdowns and economic decline a little more palatable,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday.
“Notwithstanding the actual needs, notwithstanding all the talk about bipartisan unity, Democrats in Congress are plowing ahead. They’re using this phony budget to set the table to ram through their $1.9 trillion rough draft,” he added.
Biden, for his part, has pushed back against those accusations. Citing a jobs report published Friday that showed stalled growth, Biden pressed the need to quickly pass an all-encompassing stimulus bill.
“We are going to be in a situation where it will take a long time. People are really feeling the hole. They don’t know how to get out,” he said. “You’ve given them a lot of hope … We have the chance to do something big here.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Politico)
Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress
The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.
Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.
“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”
“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.
The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban.
“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”
While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.
But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.
The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic.
The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges.
Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban
In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.
Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.
According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.
In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.
“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”
Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.
The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)
Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Documents in Major Loss for Trump
The high court’s decision initiates the release of White House documents that the former president had attempted to block the Jan. 6 investigation committee from viewing.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the White House from handing over records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers had requested.
In the suit, he argued that the records were protected by executive privilege, which he said still applied to him even though he’s not president anymore, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden decided not to exercise his executive privilege over the documents.
Trump also claimed that the information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”
In an 8-1 decision with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court rejected the effort to block the records from the committee until the issue is resolved by the courts — a process that could take months if not years.
In their ruling, the justices wrote that there are “serious and substantial concerns” regarding whether a former president can obtain a court order to prevent the disclosure of records, especially when the incumbent president waived their right to exercise executive privilege over said documents.
However, they still agreed with the determination by an appeals court that Trump’s claim of privilege over the documents would fail “even if he were the incumbent.”
Records Handed Over to Committee
According to reports, within just hours of the ruling, the National Archives began sending the roughly 800 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee.
The documents have not been made public, and it remains unclear if and when they will be.
What is known is the nature of the content that the committee has requested, including records detailing all of Trump’s movements and meetings on Jan. 6.
Notably, the lawmakers also requested information about plans by the administration to undermine Congress’s confirmation of the electoral college vote and Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results of the elections.
Also unknown is what the panel will do with the documents if it finds damning evidence. While the committee’s powers are limited in scope, it could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which has its own ongoing probe into the insurrection and the events that preceded it.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post)
NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud
The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.
New York Attorney General’s Filing
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”
The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.
The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage.
The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”
James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.
That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.
In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.
While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.
Alleged Direct Involvement
The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.
The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations.
According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.”
Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.
While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.
It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.
Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.
“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”
The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”
As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”
Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.