A sharply divided House voted on Wednesday to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, overcoming opposition from Republicans determined to stop a high-profile accounting of the deadly pro-Trump riot.
But even as the legislation passed the House, top Republicans locked arms in an effort to doom it in the Senate and shield former President Donald J. Trump and their party from fresh scrutiny of their roles in the events of that day.
The final vote in the House, 252 to 175, with four-fifths of Republicans opposed, pointed to the difficult path ahead.
The vote came hours after Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, declared his opposition to the plan. Mr. McConnell had said just a day earlier that he was open to voting for it, and had previously been vocal both in denouncing Mr. Trump’s role in instigating the assault and in decrying the effort by some Republicans on Jan. 6 to block certification of the election results.
His reversal reflected broader efforts by the party to put the assault on the Capitol behind them in political terms, or recast the rioting as a peaceful protest, amid pressure from Mr. Trump and concerns about the issue dogging them in the 2022 elections.
Proponents, including 35 Republicans, hailed the move to establish the commission as an ethical and practical necessity to fully understand the most violent attack on Congress in two centuries and the election lies from Mr. Trump that fueled it. Modeled after the body that studied the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, the 10-person commission would take an inquiry out of the halls of Congress and deliver findings by Dec. 31.
“I was on the Capitol floor, the speaker was in the chair and a howling mob attacked the United States Capitol,” Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of a committee already studying the attack, said in an animated appeal before the vote. She reminded colleagues of the “pounding on the doors” and “maimed police officers.”
“We need to get to the bottom of this to not just understand what happened leading up to the 6th, but how to prevent that from happening again — how to protect the oldest democracy in the world in the future,” Ms. Lofgren said.
Among the Republicans voting in favor of the commission were a familiar group of moderates and stalwart critics of Mr. Trump, but also several longer-serving members from safe conservative districts who were rattled by the attack. The most notable was Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was run out of the party leadership last week because she refused to stop criticizing Mr. Trump for his attempts to overturn the election.
But the prospects for Senate passage dimmed substantially after Mr. McConnell joined his House counterpart, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, and Mr. Trump in panning the proposal crafted by Democrats and a moderate House Republican as overly partisan and duplicative of ongoing Justice Department criminal prosecutions and narrow congressional investigations.
“After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to oppose the House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of Jan. 6,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, vowed to put it up for a vote there in the coming weeks to force Republicans to choose.
“An independent commission can be the antidote to the poisonous mistruths that continue to spread about Jan. 6, and that is what our founding fathers believed in,” he said. “The American people will see for themselves whether our Republican friends stand on the side of truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s big lie.”
President Biden delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s graduation ceremony in New London, Conn., on Wednesday, his first speech at a service academy since becoming president in January.
The president saluted cadets for persevering through the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that last year’s class had not been able to hold graduating ceremonies. He also chided them, in jest, for not clapping at a joke he made at the expense of the Navy.
“You are a really dull class,” Mr. Biden said. “Come on, man, is the sun getting to you? I would think you would have an opportunity when I say that about the Navy to clap.”
He went on to praise the class and the Coast Guard, citing its role in safeguarding global trade and responding to the pandemic and to national disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires, exacerbated by climate change.
“All kidding aside, being here today is a victory in and of itself, an important mark in the progress we made to turn the tide of the pandemic, and it’s a testament of the military’s sense of responsibility you already embody,” Mr. Biden said. He added that he had no doubt the current class of graduates would “reflect the best of our country and the proudest traditions of our service.”
The president also praised the racial and gender composition of the graduating class, noting that about a third of the graduates were underrepresented minorities and a third were women.
“We need to see more women at the highest levels of command, and we have to make sure women have a chance to succeed and thrive throughout their careers,” he said, adding, “My administration is committed to taking on the scourge of sexual assault in the military.”
Mr. Biden’s commencement speech came more than a month after he announced that he would pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11. He said there was no longer any justification to believe that the United States’ military presence could turn Afghanistan into a stable democracy.
The ceremony was not open to the public, and the number of guests was reduced and social distancing measures were in place, though fully vaccinated attendees were not required to wear a mask.
Wednesday’s event was the second time that Mr. Biden had addressed the academy’s graduating class. He last gave the keynote address in 2013 as vice president.
“You’re graduating into a world that is rapidly changing,” Mr. Biden said at the time, pointing to environmental security threats and record-high levels of piracy and human trafficking.
A president last addressed the U.S. Coast Guard’s graduating class in 2017, when President Donald J. Trump delivered the commencement speech. Mr. Trump used much of his speech to defend himself, telling attendees that no leader in history had been treated more “unfairly” by the news media and Washington elites.
President Barack Obama gave the academy’s commencement address twice, in 2011 and 2015. He used the speech in 2015 to push for action on climate change, calling it “an immediate risk to our national security.”
House Democrats defeated a Republican-led effort on Wednesday to urge the attending physician to update the chamber’s mask mandate, panning the attempt and seizing the opportunity to point out the minority party’s paltry vaccination rates.
Republicans, led by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, and a slate of doctors who now serve as lawmakers, tried to turn the tables on Democrats and paint them as being opposed to science after leadership decided to abide by an existing rule requiring lawmakers to wear masks on the House floor.
They introduced a bill directing the attending physician to “take timely action to provide updated mask-wearing guidance” consistent with new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors.
“The continued House mask mandate sends the erroneous message that the efficacy of the vaccines cannot be trusted,” Mr. McCarthy’s resolution read, adding, “Those who have not yet received the vaccine pose no real threat to those who have been vaccinated.”
But the resolution, which was defeated in a party-line vote, 218 to 210, did not mention that several Republican lawmakers have publicly refused to take the Covid vaccine, and that dozens more have refused to disclose whether they have been vaccinated.
Mr. McCarthy said in March that 70 percent of House lawmakers had been vaccinated. That number has most likely increased in the months since, and House Democrats have since reported a 100 percent vaccination rate. But a CNN survey this month found that only 45 percent of House Republicans were willing to say they had been vaccinated.
In guidelines issued by his office on Wednesday, the attending physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, argued that the uncertainty around how many members of Congress had been vaccinated — as well as the sheer number of lawmakers gathering in one location — justified continuing the mask mandate.
“Extra precautions are necessary given the substantial number of partially vaccinated, unvaccinated and vaccine-indeterminate individuals,” Dr. Monahan wrote. “Additional medical safeguards are required to reduce the risk of coronavirus outbreak in this vital group.”
In recent days, several hard-right House Republicans, some of whom have indicated that they will not get vaccinated, have refused to wear masks on the House floor as mandated by the attending physician, incurring fines of up to $500.
“If Minority Leader McCarthy wants to be maskless on the floor of the House of Representatives, he should get to work vaccinating his members,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement, saying the resolution had “zero basis in science or reality.”
President Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the White House principal deputy press secretary told reporters onboard Air Force One.
“Our focus has not changed,” the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said. “We are working towards a de-escalation.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden wanted the situation to reach a “sustainable calm.”
She said the call, which came before the president departed from Washington to address graduates at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday morning, did not reflect a shift in administration policy as it pertains to a cease-fire.
“This is what we have been calling for for the past eight days,” she said.
Mr. Netanyahu did not give any assurance during the call that Mr. Biden could expect a cease-fire, according to a senior administration official who received a readout of the call shortly after it happened.
After visiting Israeli military headquarters, Mr. Netanyahu said he was “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Still, the president’s call to the Israeli leader added to a growing chorus of international parties urging the Israeli military and Hamas militants to lay down their weapons as the conflict stretched into its 10th day.
France is leading efforts to call for a cease-fire at the United Nations Security Council, but it remains unclear when a resolution will be put to a vote.
Israel and Hamas have signaled a willingness to reach a cease-fire, diplomats privy to the discussions say, but that has not reduced the intensity of the deadliest fighting in Gaza since 2014.
At least 227 people in Gaza have been killed, including 64 children, and 1,620 have been wounded as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israeli airstrikes and shelling have destroyed or damaged homes, roads and medical facilities across the territory.
Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli towns on Wednesday, sending people scurrying for shelter. More than 4,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza since the conflict began, according to the Israeli military, killing at least 12 Israeli residents.
As Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations mediated talks between Israel and Hamas, the two adversaries indicated publicly that the fighting could go on for days.
A senior Hamas official denied reports that the group had agreed to a cease-fire, but said that talks were ongoing.
Still, with Israeli warplanes firing into the crowded Gaza Strip, in a campaign that Israeli officials say is aimed at Hamas militants and their infrastructure, the humanitarian crisis has deepened for the two million people inside Gaza.
The United Nations said that more than 58,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been displaced from their homes, many huddling in U.N.-run schools that have in effect become bomb shelters. Israeli strikes have damaged schools, power lines, and water, sanitation and sewage systems for hundreds of thousands of people in a territory that has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade. Covid-19 vaccinations have stopped, and on Tuesday an Israeli strike knocked out the only lab in the territory that processes coronavirus tests.
“There is no safe place in Gaza, where two million people have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world for over 13 years,” the U.N. emergency relief coordinator in the territory, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.
The Trump-era Justice Department’s attempt to identify the person behind a Twitter account devoted to mocking Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California, stemmed from a Capitol Police investigation into a purported threat to Senator Mitch McConnell, not to Mr. Nunes, according to two law enforcement officials.
The account by the officials, which dovetailed with earlier reporting by CNN, filled in some gaps about the Justice Department’s issuance of a grand-jury subpoena in November in an effort to identify the user behind the @NunesAlt parody account.
On Monday, a federal judge unsealed court filings showing that Twitter had balked at complying with the subpoena, expressing concern that it might be an abuse of power to go after a critic of a close Trump ally. But the new information suggests that Mr. Nunes, whose office has not responded to a request for comment, may not have had any role in the subpoena.
The two law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it stemmed from an online threat last fall to Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who was the majority leader at the time and drew the ire of liberals by rushing to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just before the election.
The offending post has since been deleted or removed, one of the officials said. The other said that the primary offending post had not been written by the user of @NunesAlt, but that the account may instead have amplified it.
In a Twitter direct message, the user of @NunesAlt expressed bewilderment, writing, “I’ve been searching my tweets also for anything that could be interpreted as threatening and haven’t been able to find anything.”
President Biden’s commission to evaluate proposed overhauls to the Supreme Court held its first public meeting on Wednesday, approving its bylaws, announcing the formation of a series of subcommittees and promising to hold hearings from expert witnesses in June and July.
The 36-member, ideologically diverse panel of scholars, lawyers, political scientists and former judges, which Mr. Biden named in April, was formed after calls by some Democrats to expand the number of Supreme Court justices. But the public meeting, conducted over videoconference and streamed live on the White House website, showed that the commission’s aspirations go beyond scrutinizing court expansion — or “packing” — proposals.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us,” said Cristina M. Rodríguez, a co-chairwoman of the commission who is a Yale Law School professor and former Justice Department official. “But I’m glad that we have a number of extremely talented and committed people, and we look forward to benefiting as much as we can from members of the public and others who are interested in this very weighty subject at this moment in time.”
The commission, as The New York Times reported in April, will be made up of committees that will develop research for the full panel to consider. In addition to a working group examining the court’s size, it will have groups on other possible changes to the court, including creating term limits or a mandatory retirement age; placing greater restrictions on the court’s ability to strike down laws as unconstitutional; expanding the number of cases the court is required to hear; and limiting its ability to decide major issues without a full briefing and arguments.
The commission also made clear that the final report it will deliver to the president will scrutinize previous periods in American history when there were serious calls for changes to the structure of the Supreme Court, and it will assess what lessons those earlier episodes may offer for debates playing out today.
Mr. Biden committed during the 2020 presidential campaign to create the commission, aiming to defuse the hot-button question of whether he would support adding seats to the Supreme Court in response to Republican moves in 2016 and 2020 that shifted the balance of the court to a 6-to-3 conservative advantage.
The Constitution does not say that the Supreme Court has to have nine justices, and Congress has changed the number of seats several times by legislation, although not since the 19th century. Many conservatives vehemently oppose the idea of expanding the court, and with the filibuster in place, any legislation in the Senate would almost certainly fail.
The Biden administration has reappointed the scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s premier contribution to climate knowledge, after he was removed from his post last year by President Donald J. Trump.
The removal of the scientist, Michael Kuperberg, was part of an effort in the final months of the Trump administration to thwart the climate assessment, which compiles the work of hundreds of scientists and helps shape regulations.
Dr. Kuperberg was replaced last November by David Legates, an academic who had previously worked closely with climate change denial groups. Just days before Mr. Trump left office, Dr. Legates posted a series of debunked scientific reports bearing the logo of the executive office of the president.
The Trump administration also removed the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which helps coordinate the climate assessment. And it removed a third scientist involved in the previous version of the climate assessment after she resisted changes sought by the administration.
The reappointment of Dr. Kuperberg, whose title is executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, follows the Biden administration’s creation this month of a Scientific Integrity Task Force, which White House officials have said will “review lapses of scientific integrity and ways to remedy them.”
In a statement, Dr. Kuperberg said he looked forward to helping his office “deliver nonpartisan, science-based results” to guide climate policy.
The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.
The debt relief was approved as part of the stimulus package that Congress passed in March and was intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other nonwhite farmers have faced from lenders and the Department of Agriculture over the years.
But no money has yet gone out the door.
Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of discrimination sued the U.S.D.A. over the initiative, The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport writes.
Now, three of the biggest banking groups are waging their own fight and complaining about the cost of being repaid early. Their argument stems from the way banks make money from loans and how they decide where to extend credit.
By allowing borrowers to repay their debts early, the lenders are being denied income they have long expected, they argue. The banks want the federal government to pay money beyond the outstanding loan amount so that banks and investors will not miss out on interest income that they were expecting or money that they would have made reselling the loans to other investors.
Bank lobbyists have been asking the Agriculture Department to make changes to the repayment program, a U.S.D.A. official said. They are pressing the U.S.D.A. to simply make the loan payments, rather than wipe out the debt all at once. And they are warning of other repercussions.
In a letter sent last month to the agriculture secretary, the banks suggested that they might be more reluctant to extend credit if the loans were quickly repaid, leaving minority farmers worse off in the long run. Some organizations that represent Black farmers viewed the intimation as a threat.
The U.S.D.A. has shown no inclination to reverse course.
The chief executive of Emergent BioSolutions, whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for possible contamination.
In more than three hours of testimony before a House subcommittee, the chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, calmly acknowledged unsanitary conditions, including mold and peeling paint, at the Baltimore plant. He conceded that Johnson & Johnson — not Emergent — had discovered contaminated doses, and he fended off aggressive questions from Democrats about his stock sales and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for top company executives.
Emergent’s Bayview Baltimore plant was forced to halt operations a month ago after contamination spoiled the equivalent of 15 million doses, but Mr. Kramer told lawmakers that he expected the facility to resume production “in a matter of days.” He said he took “very seriously” a report by federal regulators that revealed manufacturing deficiencies and accepted “full responsibility.”
“No one is more disappointed than we are that we had to suspend our 24/7 manufacturing of new vaccine,” Mr. Kramer told the panel, adding, “I apologize for the failure of our controls.”
Mr. Kramer’s appearance before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has opened a broad inquiry into his company, offered the public its first glimpse of the men who run Emergent, a politically connected federal contractor that dominates a niche market in biodefense preparedness, with the U.S. government as its prime customer.
Testifying virtually, Mr. Kramer was joined by the firm’s founder and executive chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, who over the past two decades has expanded Emergent from a small biotech outfit into a company with $1.5 billion in annual revenues. Executive compensation documents made public by the subcommittee show that the company’s board praised Mr. El-Hibri, who cashed in stock shares and options worth more than $42 million last year, for “leveraging his critical relationships with key customers, Congress and other stakeholders.”
Among those members of Congress is Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican and the top Republican on the House subcommittee. Federal campaign records show that since 2018, Mr. El-Hibri and his wife have donated more than $150,000 to groups affiliated with Mr. Scalise. The company’s political action committee has given about $1.4 million over the past 10 years to members of both parties.
Mr. El-Hibri expressed contrition on Wednesday. “The cross-contamination incident is unacceptable,” he said, “period.”
Mr. Kramer’s estimate of 100 million doses on hold added 30 million to the number of Johnson & Johnson doses that are effectively quarantined because of regulatory concerns about contamination. Federal officials had previously estimated that the equivalent of about 70 million doses — most of that destined for domestic use — could not be released, pending tests for purity.
An expansive bill that would pour $120 billion into jump-starting scientific innovation by strengthening research into cutting-edge technologies is barreling through the Senate, amid a rising sense of urgency in Congress to strengthen the United States’ ability to compete with China.
At the heart of the legislation, known as the Endless Frontier Act, is an investment in the nation’s research and development into emerging sciences and manufacturing on a scale that its proponents say has not been seen since the Cold War. The Senate voted 86 to 11 on Monday to advance the bill past a procedural hurdle, with Democrats and Republicans united in support. A vote to approve, along with a tranche of related China bills, is expected this month.
The nearly 600-page bill has moved swiftly through the Senate, powered by intensifying concerns in both parties about Beijing’s chokehold on critical supply chains. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the risks of China’s dominance, as health care workers have confronted medical supply shortages and a global semiconductor shortage has shut American automobile factories and slowed shipments of consumer electronics.
The bill, led by Senators Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, and Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, is the spine of a package of legislation Mr. Schumer requested in February from the leaders of key committees, aimed at recalibrating the nation’s relationship with China and protecting American jobs. Taken together, the bipartisan bills are the most significant step Congress has seriously considered in years to increase the nation’s competitiveness with Beijing.
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday to hear a case about a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks could end up weakening or even overturning Roe v. Wade. Depending on the ruling, legal abortion access could effectively end for people living in much of the American South and Midwest, especially for those who are poor, according to a New York Times analysis updated this week.
In more than half of states, though, legal abortion access would be unchanged, according to the analysis, a version of which we first covered in 2019.