Top Republicans Move to Oust Liz Cheney From House Leadership

Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, at the Capitol last week. “This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight,” her spokesman said.
Credit…Pool photo by Jonathan Ernst

House Republicans moved decisively on Wednesday to expel Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from their leadership ranks for rejecting Donald J. Trump’s election lies, as top party leaders and the former president endorsed a replacement who has styled herself as a Trump loyalist.

Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, became the highest-ranking party figure to openly call for Ms. Cheney’s ouster and the elevation of Representative Elise Stefanik of New York in her place as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the third-ranking position. Lawmakers said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, was also working the phones behind the scenes, urging colleagues to support Ms. Stefanik, a close ally and rising Republican star.

“House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda,” said Lauren Fine, Mr. Scalise’s spokeswoman. “Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for conference chair.”

Mr. Trump, who has seethed over Ms. Cheney’s criticism of him, piled on a short time later, deriding her as a “warmongering fool” and endorsing Ms. Stefanik, whom he called “a far superior choice.”

“We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First,” he wrote in a statement. “Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

Ms. Stefanik, who had been quietly building support among colleagues behind the scenes, wasted no time after Mr. Trump’s endorsement in declaring her intentions publicly. In a post on Twitter just minutes after his statement, she thanked him for his support and said Republicans were “unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!”

It was a remarkable show of force by the party’s top leaders to run out a once-popular figure now deemed unacceptable by fellow Republicans because she has rejected Mr. Trump’s lies and refused to absolve him or the party of its role in perpetuating the false claims of a fraudulent election that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The fate of Ms. Cheney, who survived a February bid to oust her after she voted to favor of impeaching Mr. Trump for his role in stirring up the riot, has once again become a bellwether for the direction of the Republican Party. It has implications for Republicans’ chances of wresting control of the House in 2022, and has become a test of whether loyalty to Trump and a tolerance for misinformation have overtaken conservatism as the party’s guiding orthodoxy.

Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for Ms. Cheney, signaled Wednesday morning that she was gearing up for a messy fight, the significance of which would reach far beyond a narrow personnel question.

“Liz will have more to say in the coming days,” he said. “This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight.”

The turmoil could come to a head as early as next week, when House Republicans are expected to meet and could call a vote to replace Ms. Cheney.

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Mr. Biden expressed bewilderment at the leadership fight, saying he thought “Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.”

Calling the power struggle a “mini-revolution,” the president added, “I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. We’ve gone through periods where we’ve had internal fights and disagreements. I don’t ever remember any like this.”

Ms. Stefanik, 36, whose voting record is far less conservative than Ms. Cheney’s, became a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump in recent years, playing a prominent role defending him during his first impeachment trial and voting in January to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost.

Ms. Stefanik once styled herself as an establishment Republican in a similar vein to Ms. Cheney. She worked in former President George W. Bush’s administration and for former House Speaker Paul Ryan when he was the 2012 vice-presidential nominee, before becoming the youngest woman elected to the House at the time. But as Mr. Trump ascended, she quickly refashioned herself as one of his most strident loyalists.

Activists gathered outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall to call for an extension of the state’s moratorium on evictions in Manhattan on Monday.
Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions enacted by Congress last spring and extended by President Biden until June 30.

In a 20-page decision, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump, ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services had exceeded its authority when it imposed the freeze. The moratorium had been enacted under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which gives the federal government the power to impose quarantines and other measures to deal with health emergencies.

“The question for the court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the C.D.C. the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium?” wrote Friedrich, a one-time staff member to former Senator Orrin Hatch and was appointed to the court in 2017. “It does not.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The CARES Act, passed in March 2020, included a 120-day moratorium on evictions from rental properties participating in federal assistance programs or underwritten by federal loans.

On August 8, 2020, Mr. Trump extended the moratorium through an executive order, citing the possibility that evictions could spread the virus by forcing a large number of families to relocate to new shelter — or double up in overcrowded situations.

Shortly after taking office, President Biden extended the moratorium. He did so over the objections of landlords, real estate agents and residential apartment trade associations who argued that the freeze was an unfair interference in the free market, despite the inclusion of billions in emergency housing assistance in recent congressional relief packages.

In November, the Alabama Association of Realtors and a similar group of real estate agents in Georgia filed a lawsuit, claiming that the moratorium, and similar ones passed by states, shift the burden for rent payments “from the tenants to landlords, and that landlords across the nation stand to lose billions collectively if the ban is extended into 2021.”

Groups representing tenants have argued that the moratorium, while not universally effective, has prevented thousands of evictions of low-income tenants, especially among women-led households that are often the most likely to fall behind in payments.

The Biden administration has been stepping up pressure on the nation’s biggest residential landlords following reports that apartment building owners were seeking to evict tens of thousands of renters despite the moratorium.

Facebook banned President Donald J. Trump after he used social media accounts to incite a mob of supporters to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers ruled on Wednesday to uphold the social network’s ban of former President Donald J. Trump, ending any immediate return by Mr. Trump to mainstream social media and renewing a debate about tech power over online speech.

But the board also said that Facebook’s penalty of an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate,” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty.”

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“What’s to stop them from silencing you?” Senator Ted Cruz replied on Twitter.

Patrons dining at a restaurant in Elizabeth City, N.C., on Saturday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

A total of 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses applied for help from a new $28.6 billion federal aid program in the first two days it was accepting applications, President Biden said Wednesday, indicating huge demand from a struggling industry for limited relief funds.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was created by Congress as part of the $1.9 trillion relief bill passed in March. Business owners who were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for grants of up to $10 million.

The return of the dining industry will be a major test of Mr. Biden’s goal of getting back to normal, both for 2.3 million people whose restaurant jobs disappeared during the pandemic and for vaccinated Americans eager to go out and socialize again.

Promoting the new fund, Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that restaurants were “woven into the fabric of our communities” and described the industry as one of the best paths for many people to achieve the American dream.

“One in three Americans, a restaurant provided their first job,” Mr. Biden said. “More than half of all Americans have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives.”

For the first 21 days, the Small Business Administration will only approve claims from businesses that are majority-owned by women, veterans or individuals who qualify as both socially and economically disadvantaged.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Wednesday that 97,600 of the applications received in the program’s first two days had come from businesses owned by people who fell into those categories.

“We look forward to implementing that program,” Ms. Psaki said, emphasizing the high demand for the relief funds. But it’s not clear that high demand is necessarily a good thing for a program that has limited funding and will have to turn many needy businesses away.

“We know that the $28.6 billion is not enough to meet the demand,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the small business administrator, said last week. “However, we need to demonstrate that demand, and we need to encourage everyone to apply and access this fund as much as possible and demonstrate what remaining need is out there.”

Ms. Psaki said the administration would be open to seeking more funding from Congress in the future. Mr. Biden said the high demand should prove to skeptics that the program was badly needed.

Before his own remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden purchased tacos and enchiladas from Taqueria Las Gemelas, a Mexican restaurant in Washington that Ms. Psaki said was a beneficiary of the relief fund’s pilot program. The restaurant went from 55 employees before the pandemic to just seven, Mr. Biden said.

The program has yet to distribute any funds outside of the limited pilot.

Representative Charlie Crist of Florida announced a run for governor on Tuesday.
Credit…Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

With 18 months left before the midterms, a spate of Democratic departures from the House is threatening to erode the party’s slim majority in the House and imperil President Biden’s far-reaching policy agenda.

In the past two months, five House Democrats from competitive districts have announced they won’t seek re-election next year. They include Representative Charlie Crist of Florida, who on Tuesday launched a campaign for governor, and Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Rob Portman.

Three other Democrats will leave vacant seats in districts likely to see significant change once they are redrawn using the data from the 2020 census, and several more are weighing bids for higher office.

An early trickle of retirements from House members in competitive districts is often the first sign of a coming political wave. In the 2018 cycle, 48 House Republicans didn’t seek re-election — and 14 of those vacancies were won by Democrats. Now Republicans are salivating over the prospect of reversing that dynamic and erasing the Democrats’ six-seat advantage.

“The two biggest headaches of any cycle are redistricting and retirements — and when you have both in one cycle, it’s a migraine,” said former Representative Steve Israel of New York, who led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012 and 2014.

Democrats face other vexing challenges as well: Republican legislators control redistricting in key states where they can draw boundaries in their favor. Reapportionment alone — with red states picking up additional seats — could provide Republicans the seats they need to control the House. And political trends historically almost always work against the president’s party in midterm elections.

Attorney General William P. Barr with then President Trump during a visit to Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisc., in September.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A federal judge in Washington accused the Justice Department under Attorney General William P. Barr of misleading her and Congress about advice he had received from top department officials on whether President Donald J. Trump should have been charged with obstructing the Russia investigation.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington said in a ruling late Monday that the Justice Department’s obfuscation appeared to be part of a pattern in which top officials like Mr. Barr were untruthful to Congress and the public about the investigation. She ordered that a related memo be released.

She also singled out Mr. Barr for how he had spun the investigation’s findings in a letter summarizing the 448-page report before it was released, which allowed Mr. Trump to claim he had been exonerated.

Her rebuke shed new light on Mr. Barr’s decision not to prosecute Mr. Trump. She also wrote that although the department portrayed the advice memo as a legal document protected by attorney-client privilege, it was done in concert with Mr. Barr’s publicly released summary, “written by the very same people at the very same time.”

Judge Jackson said in the ruling that Mr. Barr had been disingenuous in those assertions, adding that it had not been left to him to make the decision about the prosecution.

Judge Jackson said that the government had until May 17 to decide whether it planned to appeal her ruling, a decision that will be made by a Justice Department run by Biden appointees.

President Joe Biden talked about changes to the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program in the State Dining Room at the White House, on Tuesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden, confronting lagging vaccinations that threaten his promise of near normalcy by July 4, overhauled the strategy to battle the pandemic, shifting from mass vaccination sites to more local settings to target younger Americans and those hesitant to get a shot.

In a speech at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden said he was launching a new phase in the fight against the coronavirus, with a goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of adults by Independence Day and with a personal plea to all of the unvaccinated: “This is your choice. It’s life and death.”

After three months of battling supply shortages and distribution bottlenecks, the Biden administration is confronting a problem that the president said was inevitable: Many of those who were most eager to get vaccinated have already done so. Vaccination sites at stadiums once filled with carloads of people seeking shots are closing, and states that once clamored for more vaccines are finding that they cannot use all of the doses that the federal government wants to ship to them.

Yet the administration’s own health experts say tens of millions more Americans must be vaccinated before the infection rate is low enough to return to what many people consider ordinary life.

Under Mr. Biden’s plan, pharmacies would allow walk-ins, and mobile clinics, especially in rural areas, would be set up. Those seeking vaccinations in high-risk areas would also be offered transport and child care. To build up confidence in vaccines, federal officials plan to enlist the help of family doctors and other trusted voices in their communities. There will also be a new federal website and phone number to help people find the vaccination site closest to them.

The administration is hoping for an uptick in vaccinations if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15 by early next week, as expected.

Passage of the bill, known as H.R. 1, would likely start a legal war with a dozen major Supreme Court cases. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at the Capitol in Washington, on March 3, 2021.
Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

If the sweeping voting rights bill that the House passed in March overcomes substantial hurdles in the Senate to become law, it would reshape American elections and represent a triumph for Democrats eager to combat the wave of election restrictions moving through Republican-controlled state legislatures.

But passage of the bill, known as H.R. 1, would end a legislative fight and start a legal war that could dwarf the court challenges aimed at the Affordable Care Act over the past decade.

“I have no doubt that if H.R. 1 passes, we’re going to have a dozen major Supreme Court cases on different pieces of it,” said Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at Harvard.

The potential for the bill to set off a sprawling constitutional battle is largely a function of its ambitions. It would end felon disenfranchisement, require independent commissions to draw congressional districts, establish public financing for congressional candidates, order presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns, address dark money in political advertising and restructure the Federal Election Commission.

The bill’s opponents say that it is, in the words of an editorial in The National Review, “a frontal assault on the Constitution” and “the most comprehensively unconstitutional bill in modern American history.”

More measured critics take issue with specific provisions even as they acknowledge that the very nature of the bill — a grab bag of largely unrelated measures — would make it difficult to attack in a systematic way. In that respect, the anticipated challenges differ from those aimed at the Affordable Care Act, some of which sought to destroy the entire law.

Democrats have made the bill a top legislative priority. But with Republicans united in opposition in the Senate, its path forward is rocky. Pushing it through the full chamber and to President Biden’s desk would require all 50 Senate Democrats to agree to suspend the filibuster rule and pass it on a simple party-line vote, a maneuver that at least two Democrats have so far rejected.

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