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Senate Moves Forward With Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan

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  • 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)

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Restrictive Elections Bill Into Law

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  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that critics say will significantly limit voting access.
  • Among other measures, the bill will impose new restrictions on ballot drop boxes, add barriers to mail-in voting, and limit who can hand out materials to voters at polling locations — a provision many believe will ban the distribution of food and water.
  • While Republicans claim the bill is necessary to provide election security and transparency, Democrats and voting rights advocates argue that it will suppress voters, particularly voters of color.
  • DeSantis also received widespread backlash from critics and the media for taking the unprecedented step of blocking all journalists from attending the signing ceremony for the law, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.

Newest Voting Restrictions Law

Florida became the latest Republican-led state to impose new voting restrictions Thursday when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a broad elections bill into law.

The new law contains many provisions similar to the dozens of pieces of legislation aimed at restricting voting access that have been proposed and approved in the months following the 2020 election.

Among other measures, the Florida law will:

  • Limit the use of drop boxes and impose new restrictions on where they can be placed.
  • Add more identification requirements for requesting absentee ballots.
  • Require voters to request absentee ballots for each election, rather than getting them automatically through a voting list.
  • Limit who can collect and drop off ballots.
  • Give more power to partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
  • Expand a current rule that bans outside groups from engaging in actions that could influence voting within a 150-foot radius of a polling place, which voting rights experts say could be used to prohibit people from giving out food and water to voters waiting in line to vote.

On top of that, critics have also said the new law could result in longer lines for both early in-person and Election Day voting. Democrats and voting rights advocates have also argued that this is just a transparent attempt to suppress voters, and specifically voters of color.

Republicans, meanwhile, have claimed the new law is necessary to make elections more secure — claims that were reiterated by DeSantis during the signing ceremony.

“Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts,’” he said. “Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy.”

DeSantis Blocks Media From Bill Signing

In addition to backlash against the new law itself, many condemned DeSantis for speaking about transparency but then completely shutting the media out of the signing, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.

Numerous individual reporters and outlets were blocked from accessing the event, including Jay O’Brien, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate, who tweeted that the station was supposed to film pool footage of the event to feed to affiliates nationwide.

“This isn’t a story about the press being locked out of an event,” O’Brien later added. “It’s about Floridians who had their eyes and ears in that room cut off. @GovRonDeSantis signed a law today that will impact ALL Floridians. And only some viewers were allowed to see it. That’s not normal.”

That disbelief was also echoed by other outlets, like The New York Times, which explained that “Giving exclusive access to a cable news network was unusual, if not unprecedented.” 

The Flordia law, which was immediately challenged by civil rights groups in federal court, comes just months after Georgia passed a similar, widely controverisal bill. 

Meanwhile in Texas, Republican leaders are ignoring the pleas of major corporations like Dell, Microsoft, and American Airlines by moving forward with legislation that would make the state one of the toughest to vote in throughout the entire country. That proposal, which has already been passed by the state Senate, could see a full state House vote as early as next week.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)

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Biden Administration To Reunite Four Migrant Families Separated Under Trump

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  • Four migrant families split up under former President Trump’s child separation policy will be reunited this week, Biden administration officials said Sunday.
  • More than 5,500 children were separated from their parents from 2017 to 2018. Around 1,000 families remained separated when Trump left office and over half had not been contacted by the administration.
  • Shortly after taking office in January, President Biden formed the Family Reunification Task Force, which has located at least 200 more parents. The families that will be reunited later this week mark the first that the task force has connected.
  • While immigration advocates applauded the move, they also criticized Biden’s team for not moving faster or pouring adequate resources into reunification efforts.

Four Migrant Families To Reunite

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Sunday that four migrant parents who were separated from their children and deported alone under former President Donald Trump’s controversial family separation policy will be allowed to return to the U.S. and reunite with their kids.

The “zero tolerance” policy, one of Trump’s most notorious actions on immigration, was formally enacted in April 2018 and ended just months later in June after a federal judge forced the administration to stop.

It was later revealed that the administration had actually been regularly separating families throughout much of 2017. According to government documents, over 5,500 children were separated from their parents in 2017 and 2018.

Most of those families were later reunited, but at least 1,000 parents remained separated because a parent had been deported. More than half of those parents — an estimated 645 — still had not been contacted by the time Trump left office.

President Joe Biden has said reuniting families would be a top priority as he begins undoing the complex network of immigration policies set by Trump. This latest move marks the first families that will be reunited through the Family Reunification Task Force, which Biden created shortly after taking office in January.

So far, that task force has managed to find around 200 of the 645 remaining parents and recently reported that it’s looking into 5,600 files from the first few months of the Trump administration that may have evidence of even more separations.

Immigration Advocates Call for More

While immigration advocates and lawyers applauded the move, they also criticized the slow rate of reunification. Some also accused the Biden administration of taking credit for the reunions despite doing very little to facilitate them.

“Despite what Secretary Mayorkas would have the public believe, DHS has done nothing to facilitate the return and reunification of these parents this week, other than to agree to allow them in,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, a managing attorney for the reunification project run by immigrant advocacy organization Al Otro Lado. 

“The only reason these mothers will be standing at the port of entry is because Al Otro Lado negotiated their travel visas with the Mexican government, paid for their airline tickets and arranged for reunification,” she added.

Many advocacy groups have also slammed the Biden administration for not doing enough to plan what happens next for these families. Some have urged them to provide permanent legal status to parents so they cannot be separated from their children again, as well as support services and potential financial compensation.

The parents arriving this week will be allowed to temporarily stay in the country under what’s called humanitarian parole, their long-term immigration status and what happens from here is largely up in the air.

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

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Matt Gaetz’s “Wingman” Reportedly Said the Congressman Paid for Sex With a Minor

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  • The Daily Beast reported Thursday that it had obtained a letter written by Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a close associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), where he admitted that he and the congressman paid for sex with numerous young women, including a 17-year-old girl.
  • In the letter, Greenberg allegedly claimed that he and Gaetz believed the girl was 19 but ended contact in September 2017 after realizing she was a minor. Once she turned 18, he said both men re-established contact.
  • The Daily Beast also obtained alleged screenshots of messages where Greenberg offered to pay Roger Stone to help him secure a pardon from then-President Trump. Greenberg admitted he and Gaetz paid for sex with a minor in those messages as well.
  • In a statement, Stone confirmed that he had spoken to Greenberg about a possible pardon and said he had requested Greenberg’s letter but denied receiving compensation. Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for possible violations of sex trafficking laws, denied ever paying for sex or having sex with a minor.

Alleged Greenberg Letters

Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a central figure in the ongoing federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), admitted that both men paid for sex with multiple young women and a 17-year-old girl, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Beast Thursday.

Greenberg was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a minor. The former Florida politician is an ally of Gaetz, who is currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation that is allegedly part of a broader probe into Greenberg.

The letter in question was reportedly written after Greenberg asked Roger Stone, a close associate of former President Donald Trump, to help him obtain a pardon from the then-president before he left office.

According to The Daily Beast, Greenberg had written multiple drafts of the letter at Stone’s request, including “two typed versions and an earlier handwritten one,” seen by the outlet. In at least one of the letters, Greenberg reportedly said both he and Gaetz had repeated interactions with a girl who was 17-years-old.

“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” he allegedly wrote of the girl.

“From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”

In the drafts, Greenberg purportedly stated that “all of the girls were in college or post college,” and he claimed that he and Gaetz had believed the minor was 19 at the time of their sexual relationships with her.

He said he learned she was underage in September of 2017 and contacted Gaetz, who he reportedly wrote was “equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.” After that Greenberg said, “there was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday.”

However, after she was legal, Greenberg contacted her again, according to The Daily Beast, which previously reported Gaetz had sent Greenberg $900 on Venmo asking him to “hit up” the same girl five months after she turned 18.

Messages Between Greenberg and Stone

The outlet also obtained a series of private messages between Greenberg and Stone starting in late 2020 that had been sent over the encrypted app Singal. Greenberg appears to have taken screenshots of a number of conversations, which are automatically deleted after a set period of time.

“If I get you $250k in Bitcoin would that help or is this not a financial matter,” Greenberg wrote to Stone in one of the screenshots published in the exposé.

“I hope you are prepared to wire me $250,000 because I am feeling confident,” Stone appears to have responded in a message The Daily Beast said was sent on Jan. 13. Just weeks before, Trump pardoned Stone himself for his 2019 conviction.

Source: The Daily Beast

The images also appear to show Greenberg describing his activities with Gaetz, who he repeatedly refers to as “MG” or “Matt.” In one exchange, Greenberg says that he has not spoken to Gaetz and implored Stone to help him reach out to the congressman. 

“He absolutely has to know that the sex charge they hit me with would be what they would hit him with,” he wrote, per the screenshot. 

The Daily Beast additionally detailed several other messages between the two men that it did not provide screenshots of. In one alleged interaction, the outlet claims that Greenberg said that federal law enforcement officials were pressuring him to cooperate with their investigation and that he fired his lawyers for urging him to do the same.

“My lawyers that I fired, know the whole story about MG’s involvement,” he purportedly wrote. “They know he paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage. So naturally they think that is my golden ticket.”

However, according to the outlet, Stone said several times that Gaetz refused his request to help with the matter. Greenberg did not ultimately receive the pardon, though The Daily Beast stated that White House officials confirmed his name had made it on a list of possible candidates, a detail backed up messages seen by the outlet. 

“What I don’t understand is why [Gaetz] would not help me at all and actually told me not to help you which I tried to do anyway. In the end it would not have mattered,” Stone purportedly wrote after Trump had announced his final pardons.

Official Responses to Latest Allegations

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Stone confirmed that Greenberg had tried to hire him to help get a pardon, but denied that he asked for or received payment.

“I made no formal or informal effort in regard to a pardon for Mr. Greenberg,” Stone said. “I recall requesting a document explaining his prosecution The [sic] details of which I was unfamiliar with.”

“I never requested or received a penny from Mr. Greenberg,” he continued. “I recall him offering to retain me and I declined.” 

Stone also acknowledged that there may be “copies of correspondence” between him and Greenberg, but he questioned whether they were in full context.

“Sounds to me like you have been presented some kind of cut and paste record,” he said, warning the outlet to “be very careful” and threatening legal action if it published “anything that is false or defamatory.”

Greenberg’s lawyer declined to comment on the story. Gaetz’s office did not respond to the request to comment, but Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm hired by the Congressman, denied the accusations in a statement.

“Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex nor has he had sex with a 17 year old as an adult,” the firm said. “We are now one month after your outlet and others first reported such lies, and no one has gone on record to directly accuse him of either.”

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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