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GOP senators offer Covid-19 relief counterproposal to force talks with White House back to middle

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Washington (CNN)Ten Republican senators on Sunday announced plans to unveil a roughly $600 billion Covid-19 relief package, a counterproposal to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan meant to force relief talks with the White House back to the middle.The lawmakers, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Rob Portman of Ohio, told Biden in a letter that they devised the plan “in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity” that the President has urged and said they plan to release a full proposal Monday.The Republican proposal represents the most significant response yet to the White House’s planned package, though with a price tag more than a trillion dollars less than the Democratic plan, the GOP proposal will likely face opposition from congressional Democrats. The White House, however, signaled Sunday an openness to compromising on some parts of Biden’s plan.

Sen. Portman lays out GOP counterproposal to Biden's covid plan

Sen. Portman lays out GOP counterproposal to Biden’s covid plan 02:48The counterproposal includes a total of $160 billion for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, and treatment and supplies, including the production and deployment of personal protective equipment. It also includes a new round of direct payments for “families who need assistance the most,” extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits at the current level and provide $4 billion to bolster behavioral health and substance abuse.Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of the Republicans who signed on to the letter, told Fox News on Sunday that the GOP plan includes payments starting at $1,000 — an amount lower than the $1,400 Biden’s plan provides for — that would decrease depending an individual’s income level.

With new urgency, Biden makes his case to the American people for Covid-19 relief

With new urgency, Biden makes his case to the American people for Covid-19 reliefAn aide close to the process told CNN the plan is expected to be between $500-$600 billion, though lawmakers are still waiting to hear from the Congressional Budget Office on the estimated cost.Portman, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, wouldn’t specify how much the group’s package would cost, but said it will be “less than $1.9 trillion,” the cost of Biden’s plan.”You know, our proposal is an example — it’s going to have all of the health care funding that President Biden has in his proposal, all of it. So there’s a lot of bipartisanship,” he said, adding separately that “if you can’t find bipartisanship on Covid-19, I don’t know where you can find it.”

Republicans devise their own plan

In recent days, it had become apparent to Republicans that the narrative taking hold suggested the Democrats had a plan for Covid relief and Republicans could either stand in the way or agree to it. They didn’t feel like there was a negotiating place for them to start and the frustration among Republicans was palpable.As the week dragged on, one idea being floated was that they needed their own alternative to present to the White House. And most importantly, they needed 10 Republicans to be on board.One of the issues with having just the support of the so-called Sweet 16 group, is that the group of centrist senators only includes 8 Republicans, which never was going to be enough to pass any bill. They needed 10 to show there were enough willing partners to give Democrats the 60 votes needed to pass legislation in a bipartisan manner.The letter’s other signatories include Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.One GOP aide familiar with the talks told CNN that the group worked all day Thursday and Friday, and by Saturday, they had broad agreement, but the details took time to figure out.

Sanders says Democrats have the votes to pass Covid-19 relief bill through reconciliation

Sanders says Democrats have the votes to pass Covid-19 relief bill through reconciliationAny bipartisan plan will likely lose votes on the Democratic side, meaning for every progressive senator against the proposal, they’d need another Republican supporting it. Still, this idea of putting two plans side by side is one that aides and members have been discussing for several days as a way to force the conversation back to a bipartisan place.Eight Senate Democrats from the “Sweet 16” group talked on Saturday about how to handle Covid relief negotiations with Republicans and how they should vote on a budget resolution this week that would unlock reconciliation — a procedural tactic being pushed in part by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee — and allow Democrats to eventually pass a relief bill with just 51 votes, a Democratic Senate aide told CNN.The Democrats discussed whether voting on a budget resolution would spoil their ability to continue to work in a bipartisan fashion on a relief package. The budget vote is just the beginning of the process, but the source told CNN there is still concern that moving ahead would send a signal that Democrats are going ahead with a partisan process and potentially poisoning the well.Portman told Bash that such a maneuver would do just that. The prospect of Democrats using reconciliation “is not in the interests of the Democratic Party,” he said Sunday, arguing that “it will set President Biden down a path of partisanship that I think will poison the well for other bipartisanship we’ll need on so many issues.”

How partisanship is already hurting Biden in the polls

How partisanship is already hurting Biden in the pollsThe source told CNN that most members on the Democratic call were comfortable with moving forward on at least the budget resolution, but there is still work to do to get every Democrat comfortable. There is a legitimate desire to give the new President a win on his first legislative push, but concerns remain about not giving bipartisan talks enough time to fully develop.Moderate Democrats were given a heads up that Republicans were going to release their own plan, but were not given specifics of what was included.Ultimately, it will be up to Biden as to whether he wants to give Republicans more time for negotiations.Biden has previously suggested he’s open to passing major portions of his $1.9 trillion Covid relief proposal through reconciliation if Republicans refuse to move on the measure.And while Biden has said he is willing to consider less than $1.9 trillion in relief, White House officials made clear they are not interested in splitting up the legislation by getting a bipartisan vote on some aspects and then passing a separate package along party lines using reconciliation.Biden’s proposed package expands on many of the proposals in Congress’ $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill from March and the $900 billion legislation from December, which was scaled back to garner bipartisan support in the Senate.

A test of bipartisanship

The counterproposal will stand as an early test of Biden’s stated commitment to reaching across the aisle during his time as president. In his inaugural address earlier this month, the President called for bipartisanship and unity, something the Republican senators referenced in the opening of their letter, writing: “Heeding that important call, we welcome the opportunity to work with you in a bipartisan manner.”BIDEN’S FIRST 100 DAYS

The senators also requested a meeting with the President “to discuss our proposal in greater detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this persistent pandemic,” adding that they “want to work in good faith.”Brian Deese, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, confirmed on “State of the Union” on Sunday that the White House had received the letter and said they would be “reviewing it over the course of the day.””We’ve received the letter and we certainly will be reviewing it over the course of the day,” Deese said. “What I will say is that the provisions of the President’s plan, the American Rescue plan, were calibrated to the economic crisis that we face.”The President, he added, is “uncompromising when it comes to the speed we need to act at to address this crisis.”And pressed on whether the White House was willing to ensure a new round of stimulus checks is targeted toward Americans who most need the money and are most likely to spend it, Deese told CNN they were “open to that idea” and that they “think this plan is targeted to provide cash into the pockets of the people who are the most in need.”

Biden econ chief: 'We're open' to making checks more targeted

Biden econ chief: ‘We’re open’ to making checks more targeted 02:20Democratic Sen. Jon Tester defended the cost of the Democratic plan Sunday, saying that although it’s a large amount, it is not too much, because the economic crisis caused by the pandemic is not improving.”So, I don’t think $1.9 trillion, even though it is a boatload of money, is too much money,” Tester, who represents Montana, told CNN’s Abby Phillip on “Inside Politics.”Asked Sunday if the White House was open to negotiating parts of Biden’s proposal, Deese told CNN they were “certainly open to ideas.””We welcome input to say where we may have not gotten everything right, where we could be more effective, certainly that’s part of the process as we go forward,” he said. “But what we really need to focus on now is what do we need to get this economy back on track and what are the resources necessary to do so.”Cedric Richmond, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, also signaled that Biden is open to some type of compromise on a package, telling CBS on Sunday that the President wants “to work with both sides in order to help the American people.””He is very willing to meet with anyone to advance the agenda,” Richmond said.This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Nicky Robertson, Alison Main and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.

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Biden to take first limited steps on gun control, including on ‘ghost guns’ and pistol braces

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By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Updated 10:57 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

(CNN) — President Joe Biden will take his first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official.

The steps — which also include nominating a gun control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — fulfill a commitment Biden made in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last month to take “common sense” steps right away to address gun violence.
But they fall short of the sweeping actions Biden promised as a candidate that must be passed by Congress, including a ban on assault weapons or enacting universal background checks. Senior administration officials framed the upcoming announcements as initial steps that would be followed by additional actions later on, including applying pressure on lawmakers to act.
    Biden said last month following a mass shooting in Colorado, “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.” But he has acknowledged that passing a massive new infrastructure plan — and not new gun laws — is his top legislative priority.
      Biden will make the announcements Thursday from the White House alongside his attorney general, Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department will be responsible for drafting the proposed rules.
          The announcements will come as the President is expected to nominate David Chipman as the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a White House official told CNN. Chipman is a former ATF agent who serves as senior policy adviser at Giffords, the organization led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who became a gun control advocate after being shot in 2011.
          The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
          Biden also plans to announce new investments in intervention programs in violence-prone communities; a directive to the Justice Department to publish model “red flag” laws for states that allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others; and a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking.
          Taken together, the actions amount to the first real steps by Biden’s administration to combat gun violence. Inside the White House, efforts to devise executive actions have been led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond, administration officials and gun safety advocacy groups told CNN.
          That included meeting with some of those groups and fielding ideas for steps that Biden could take on his own. Some advocates had been clamoring for steps earlier in the administration, pointing to Biden’s pledge to prioritize gun control during his campaign.
          But initial reaction from gun safety advocacy groups Wednesday evening was positive.
          “Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
          “These much-needed executive actions will start saving lives right away, and our grassroots army of nearly 6 million supporters looks forward to standing behind President Biden as he urges the Senate to follow his lead and act,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.
          While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.
          Following last month’s shootings, Biden called on Congress to take steps like reenacting an assault weapons ban, with Vice President Kamala Harris, who argued for executive actions on the campaign trail, telling “CBS This Morning” that “if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.”
          The Democratic-controlled House passed gun legislation that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales last month, but the bills face tougher paths in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority and would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.
          Biden acknowledged during a news conference that his main legislative priority was passing an infrastructure package and that he believed careful timing was key to the success of any proposed bills.
          And he has acknowledged that his political capital is limited.
          “I haven’t done any counting yet,” he said in March when asked whether he believed he had enough votes to pass significant reforms.
          As the nation’s posture on guns has evolved, Biden has been front-and-center at most every stop along the way for more than three decades, from the triumph of a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994 to the disappointment of a failed push for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
            Recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado had raised the question inside the West Wing over how much political capital Biden should expend on the matter, which has so often ended in frustration.
            This story has been updated with details about Biden’s executive actions and reaction to them.

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            Virginia lawmakers OK marijuana possession starting July 1

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            By Paul LeBlanc and Kay Jones, CNN
            Updated 9:45 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

            (CNN) — The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill legalizing simple possession of marijuana, becoming the latest state to modify its laws around cannabis use and possession that disproportionately jailed Black people for nonviolent offenses.

            The new law, which goes into effect July 1, allows anyone in the state 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The law also “modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana, and imposes limits on dissemination of criminal history record information related to certain marijuana offenses,” according to a summary posted to the Legislature’s website.
            “Virginia led and made history once again today,” Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who cast the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, said in a tweet.
              “I was proud to cast the tie-breaking vote to legalize marijuana and bring long overdue justice, fairness, equity and opportunity to the people of our great Commonwealth.”
                The bill had originally passed in late February, but Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sent it back to the Legislature with a series of revisions, including a proposal to accelerate the timeline of its enactment to this July instead of 2024.
                    Still, the measure was met with fierce opposition from state GOP lawmakers Wednesday, including Del. Chris Head, who called it a “train wreck” during a virtual House floor speech.
                    “If this policy change is to be undertaken, it has to be undertaken prudently, and I understand the enormous pressure on the majority party to make this change right now. I understand that opposing immediate legislation and legalization is going to anger many of your constituents. And I understand that taking the time to do this right might possibly even lead to charges of racism,” he said.
                    “But we have to do this right. And doing it right takes time.”
                    Legalization advocates have long touted the righting of past criminal justice wrongs, eliminating illegal market activity and generating additional tax revenue when they’ve pushed for overhauling state cannabis laws.
                    “At the end of the day, economics talk and jobs talk,” Jessica Billingsley, chief executive officer of Akerna, which makes regulatory compliance software that helps states track cannabis sales from seed to sale, previously told CNN.
                      “I truly believe we’re going to see some very meaningful and important movement coming out of this as states and governors look for a way to bolster their economy.”
                      Cannabis sales in states that have legalized the plant for medical and recreational purposes totaled about $15 billion in 2019, and are expected to top $30 billion by 2024, according to data from BDS Analytics, which tracks dispensary sales.

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                      Biden’s planned pick for ATF director a fierce advocate for gun control

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                      By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
                      Updated 9:30 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                      Washington (CNN) — David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s planned nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has a long history at the agency and sports credentials in gun control advocacy sure to excite firearm safety groups.

                      If confirmed, Chipman will lead the agency that enforces gun laws at a critical point in Biden’s early tenure, as the President looks to take fresh action on the issue in the wake of two deadly shootings last month.
                      “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said last month. The President plans to announce new executive actions on guns Thursday, a person familiar with the plans said.

                        Longtime ATF special agent

                          Chipman, if confirmed, would return to the agency where he worked for 25 years as a special agent.
                            He lists “Violent Crime Reduction Strategist,” “Certified Explosives Specialist” and “Interagency Liason Specialist” among his specialties on his Linkedin profile, and Giffords notes his expertise includes ghost guns, the gun industry, law enforcement and assault weapons.
                            In the President’s first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, Biden will direct his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official. Ghost guns are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers, and some can be fabricated in as little as 30 minutes using kits and parts purchased online.
                            The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
                            In recent years, the bureau has become most visible in the aftermath of mass shootings around the US and at other crimes involving firearms. But the agency has a broader scope than just guns.
                            According to its website, ATF “protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.”
                            “We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology,” the bureau’s website states.

                            Gun control advocacy

                            After leaving the ATF in 2012, Chipman became a senior adviser at Everytown for Gun Safety, where he was “consulted frequently” by lawmakers considering gun control legislation, according to his Linkedin.
                            Chipman then served as senior vice president of Public Safety Solutions for almost three years before arriving at Giffords as a senior policy adviser in 2016.
                            It’s in these roles that Chipman’s voice as a fierce advocate for gun control was elevated, as he frequently wrote op-eds and made media appearances to advance the cause.
                            “As a former ATF special agent with more than 24 years of experience at the bureau, I know all too well how serious our gun violence problem is and how desperately the agency lacks for the law enforcement tools that are necessary to help curb this national epidemic,” Chipman wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed.
                            The country’s gun safety laws, he wrote at the time, “make it all too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands — and since Congress has failed to address these gaps legislatively, ATF must chart a new course to combat the scourge of gun violence. This requires strong leadership.”
                            More recently, Chipman voiced support for limiting high-capacity magazines in a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour.
                            “Talking to any gun owner, a 100-round magazine is just not traditional. It’s not normal. And I can’t think of a purpose, beyond killing a lot of people, for having it,” he said. “So if the debate is, should it be 10 or what have you, it can’t be 100. And so I think there’s room where we can have progress, although we will not have perfection.”
                              And in light of FBI records last summer showing US firearm background checks having skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Chipman told CNN at the time: “My biggest concern involves the potential number of first time gun buyers who, before March, did not think they needed a gun.”
                              This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.

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                              Andrew Giuliani, former Trump aide and son of Rudy Giuliani, says he plans for to run for governor of New York

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                              By Devan Cole, CNN
                              Updated 12:16 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                              Washington (CNN) — Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says he’s planning to run for governor of the heavily Democratic state next year.

                              “I plan to run,” Andrew Giuliani, who served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner in an interview published Wednesday.
                              Giuliani’s gubernatorial bid could set up a high stakes, headline-grabbing showdown with Andrew Cuomo, should the embattled incumbent Democratic governor decide to seek a fourth term. But Giuliani would face a steep uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state, and his candidacy could help hand another win to the party as his proximity to Trump would likely be seen as a liability in a state where the former President is widely unpopular.
                                “I believe I can win the race,” Giuliani told the Examiner. “I think I’m the right candidate, and this is the right time to help change New York State, and we’ve got a playbook that works.”
                                  “Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there’s an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate, whether it’s going to be Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, whether it’s going to be a radical (attorney general), Letitia James, whether it’s going to be a no-name lieutenant governor, I think there’s a very, very real chance to win,” he said, according to the magazine.
                                        Asked if he expected Cuomo to seek reelection to a fourth term next year, Jay Jacobs, the state party chair and a close ally of the governor, demurred.
                                        “I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I think that he’s more focused on getting through his current troubles, then seeing where he’s going to go,” he said. “These investigations are going to be critical in all of that. It’s hard to tell. I’m sure that, given his druthers, he’d like to run for reelection.”

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                                        Stephen Breyer worries about Supreme Court’s public standing in current political era

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                                        By Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst & Supreme Court biographer
                                        Updated 9:07 PM ET, Tue April 6, 2021

                                        (CNN) — Justice Stephen Breyer, who may be nearing the end of his Supreme Court tenure, expressed concern on Tuesday about the standing of the high court and the possible erosion of public confidence in its decisions.

                                        In an expansive, two-hour lecture at Harvard Law School, Breyer bemoaned the common practice — by journalists, senators and others — of referring to justices by the presidents who appointed them and of describing the nine by their conservative or liberal approach to the law.
                                        “These are more than straws in the wind,” the 82-year-old Breyer said. “They reinforce the thought, likely already present in the reader’s mind, that Supreme Court justices are primarily political officials or ‘junior league’ politicians themselves rather than jurists. The justices tend to believe that differences among judges mostly reflect not politics but jurisprudential differences. That is not what the public thinks.”
                                          Breyer also warned against proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court from its current nine members. Public trust was “gradually built” over the centuries, he said, and any discussion of change should take account of today’s public acceptance of the court’s rulings, even those as controversial as the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled a presidential election.
                                            “The public now expects presidents to accept decisions of the court, including those that are politically controversial,” he said. “The court has become able to impose a significant check — a legal check — upon the Executive’s actions in cases where the Executive strongly believes it is right.”
                                              Some of Breyer’s most compelling opinions, it should be noted, have been written in dissent. In 2007, for example, he objected to an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts rejecting school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville. Roberts said districts could not consider a student’s race when making school assignments to reduce racial isolation throughout the school district.
                                              “This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret,” wrote Breyer, whose father, Irving Breyer, was a long-serving school board member in San Francisco. Breyer still wears the wristwatch his father received upon his retirement from the district. Breyer said the Roberts opinion threatened “the promise of” the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
                                              Breyer said Tuesday that differences with his colleagues were based on their distinct views of the structure of the Constitution or how they interpreted statutes. He did not refer to instances in which his colleagues themselves have publicly questioned each other’s motives.
                                                Breyer did allow that sometimes justices weigh public opinion or the future ramifications of a decision. And he acknowledged that the nine are products of their individual backgrounds and experiences.
                                                Still, he said, “judicial philosophy is not a code word for ‘politics.'”

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