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Democrats confront a harsh political choice: Save the filibuster or pass Biden's agenda – NBC News

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is waking up to a haunting new reality that will test his determination to pass his legislative agenda, as progressives in the Democratic Party say prospects for bipartisanship are bleak and instead agitate to end Republicans’ power to block bills.

Two packages are moving on parallel tracks this week: The Senate will take up Biden’s coronavirus relief package as the House turns to a sweeping expansion of voting rights Wednesday.

But there’s a vital difference between the two. The relief package isn’t subject to the Senate filibuster, and it is likely to become law. The voting rights bill, like most of Biden’s agenda, is on course for a fatal crash with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Democrats suffered their first major defeat due to the filibuster when an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour was dropped from the coronavirus relief package because it exceeded the limits of the simple-majority budget process.

Jan. 24, 202102:21

Republicans say Biden is barely trying to work with them. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who isn’t running for re-election, laughed when he was asked about cooperation with Biden, saying, “We’re yet to see any reach-out on his part.”

Democrats expect Biden to make a more concerted effort to find common ground with Republicans after the relief bill. But some say it’s a fool’s errand that will waste time they can’t lose.

Progressives already warn that if Republicans uniformly reject a widely popular bill like the relief package, they are unlikely to supply 10 Senate votes to pass other parts of Biden’s agenda.

“I want us to get rid of the filibuster because it is too costly to America,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told reporters Monday. “The piece in front of us right now is the minimum wage. The piece that’s coming up is the Voting Rights Act. And the piece after that is immigration reform. And another piece is universal child care. The infrastructure package.

“If we want to deliver on our promises, we’ve got to be willing to get out there and fight for it. And that starts with getting rid of the filibuster,” she said.

The coronavirus relief debate reveals a different landscape from the one Biden hoped for when he predicted a GOP “epiphany” that would liberate Republicans to work with him. Republicans appear to have little appetite for major parts of his agenda as they eye a strategy similar to the one they used in 2009 to win back power: unify against a Democratic president and portray him as too liberal.

Biden “said back in the campaign that his commitment to the filibuster depended on how ‘obstreperous‘ McConnell is, which is little like saying your plans depend on if the sun will rise tomorrow,” Dan Pfeiffer, who was a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said in an email, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Asked to comment, a White House official cited broad bipartisan support for many of Biden’s nominees as an example of cooperation. In response to progressives’ concerns, the official pointed to policies that are on track to pass in the coronavirus relief bill, including direct cash for raising children and larger subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

GOP ‘headwinds’ threaten Biden’s agenda

Democrats don’t have the 50 votes they need to end the filibuster, as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona say they want to preserve it. The two centrists argue that the 60-vote rule promotes bipartisan cooperation. Their commitment to the 60-vote threshold will be tested if it ends up doing the opposite and creates gridlock.

How Biden handles the dispute could define his presidency — and his party’s political future. Some Democrats want him use his clout to persuade the holdouts. A congressional aide said moderate Democrats have privately joked that whatever Biden supports becomes the reasonable position in the party.

Many Republicans sounded pessimistic this week when asked whether Biden’s agenda has a future; some of them blamed his decision to pass coronavirus aid without them.

“It certainly creates some headwinds for whatever his agenda might hold moving forward,” said Todd Young of Indiana, one of 10 Republican senators who met with Biden to discuss coronavirus aid for two hours. “It undermines trust. And trust is what enables us to come together, find common ground.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who isn’t seeking re-election and is free of political pressures, said the $1.9 trillion package “does poison the well” for future cooperation.

Pfeiffer said that while some parts of Biden’s agenda can bypass or overcome filibusters, voting rights measures can’t — and failure would be devastating for the Democratic Party.

“Democrats cannot pass voting rights legislation with the filibuster in place and if Democrats do not pass voting rights legislation they are making a generational mistake that could doom them to the minority for a decade,” Pfeiffer said by email.

March 2, 202101:37

H.R. 1 would bolster the Voting Rights Act, guarantee 15 days of early voting and ensure universal access to mail-in voting, among other policies. The White House formally endorsed it this week, casting it as a necessary solution to combat an “unprecedented assault on our democracy.”

For now, Senate supporters of the filibuster aren’t backing down.

“Never!” Manchin shouted Monday when a reporter asked whether he’s open to changing his mind.

Both parties have invoked the so-called nuclear option in recent years to change filibuster rules: Democrats in 2013 to scrap it for most nominations and Republicans in 2017 to eliminate it for Supreme Court picks.

Manchin is the only senator who opposed both changes.

Sinema, who became a senator in 2019, said in a letter to a constituent that preserving the filibuster “is not meant to impede the things we want to get done.”

“I support the 60-vote threshold for all Senate actions,” Sinema wrote in the letter, which was dated Feb. 12 and obtained by NBC News. “Debate on bills should be a bipartisan process that takes into account the views of all Americans, not just those of one political party. Regardless of the party in control of the Senate, respecting the opinions of senators from the minority party will result in better, commonsense legislation.”

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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