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Yates says Obama, Biden didn’t influence Flynn investigation

Trump has provided no evidence to support the claim, and Yates said under oath that Obama’s only interest in Flynn was to ensure that it was safe to share sensitive national security information with the incoming administration while the FBI was probing concerns that Flynn was attempting to undermine sanctions leveled by Obama in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

“General Flynn had essentially neutered the U.S. government’s message of deterrence,” Yates said.

Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about those efforts, which he made during a series of phone calls, weeks before Trump’s inauguration, with Russia’s then-U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Transcripts of those calls show that Flynn urged Russia not to escalate in response to the Obama administration sanctions, and that Kislyak later told him Vladimir Putin refrained from retaliation because of his request.

Yates also rejected assertions that a discussion of a potential violation by Flynn of the Logan Act — a largely obsolete 18th-century law intended to prevent private citizens from interfering in foreign policy — was a central focus of the FBI’s reason for pursuing its Flynn investigation. Rather, she said, Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak and subsequent lies about those calls both publicly and to FBI agents investigating Russia’s efforts, were an obvious counterintelligence risk.

The Logan Act “wasn’t our primary concern,” she said. “It was a counterintelligence concern.”

Yates’ appearance before the Judiciary Committee, part of Chairman Lindsey Graham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s links to Russia in 2016, is part of an effort by Trump allies to undercut the basis for the probe, which they say was a politically motivated effort to amplify charges of collusion between Trump and Russia.

But the hearing also offered Yates a chance to repeatedly knock down allegations of misconduct and incorrect assertions about the Obama administration’s actions in the closing days of the administration. Yates corrected Graham for incorrectly asserting that the FBI had closed its case on Flynn before it interviewed him on Jan. 24, 2017. She also called it highly irregular that the Justice Department recently dropped the case against Flynn, who reversed course and sought to withdraw his guilty plea earlier this year.

And Yates also emphasized that there was no effort to monitor Flynn’s communications. Though she said DOJ didn’t permit her to share exactly how the FBI obtained a recording of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak, monitoring of foreign operatives like Kislyak on U.S. soil is a routine practice.

“There was no surveillance of General Flynn,” Yates said.

Republicans focused much of their questioning on Yates’ October 2016 approval of an application to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who the FBI suspected of acting as a Russian agent. The application relied heavily on a dossier compiled by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele, who was collecting anti-Trump information for a company hired by the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party.

The so-called Steele dossier’s reliability has been undercut in the years since, and Republicans have accused the FBI of leaning on the opposition research document to justify monitoring Page. In addition, a review by inspector general Michael Horowitz found that the application included a slew of errors and omissions, though he did not find the application itself to be invalid.

Yates insisted that she rigorously reviewed the application but relied, as is required, on the factual representations made by the FBI to determine whether to approve it. She acknowledged that the Steel Dossier was an important component of the application and emphasized that anyone who participated in making false representations to the court that approved the warrant for Page should be held accountable.

Yates emphasized that despite the problems with the FISA application, Horowitz did not find evidence that political bias was a contributing factor and in fact did not include the political provenance of the Steele Dossier as one of the errors he found with the FBI’s process. Yates indicated she had internal discussions about potential political motivations behind the dossier with a lawyer in her office but added, “I was not aware the DNC was funding it.”

Graham said he intends to steer his committee’s continuing investigation toward the FBI agents and analysts who interviewed Steele’s primary source of information, a researcher whose identity was recently revealed after Graham released a redacted summary of the source’s FBI interview, declassified last month by the Justice Department. As the hearing wound down, Graham indicated that the summary he released was actually the first of three with Steele’s source and that he intends to interview “the intel analyst and case agent and two others.”

“We’re going to ask them, ‘Oh by the way, did you tell anyone in the FBI that the reliability of the dossier has gone down to zero.’ And if you did tell somebody, who was it?” Graham said. “Then we’ll decide as a nation what accountability they should have, whether it be being fired, going to jail or whatever. That is the purpose of this investigation going forward.”

Graham (R-S.C.) said at the outset of the hearing that he considered the FBI’s rationale for interviewing Flynn to be a “sham.”

“We need to make sure going forward in the next transition, no matter who wins, that you can talk with foreign leaders without being afraid of going to jail,” Graham said.

Despite sharp questioning at times, Graham offered repeated praise for Yates, whom he said resisted some of the most controversial decisions made by the FBI during the outgoing days of the Obama administration. But his plaudits were quickly undercut by Trump, who contradicted Graham with a tweet in the early moments of the hearing.

“Sally Yates has zero credibility. She was a part of the greatest political crime of the Century, and ObamaBiden knew EVERYTHING!” Trump said, reviving an attack on his predecessor that he’s provided no evidence to support.

Trump also urged Republicans to press Yates on whether she was the source of a classified leak of a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, which helped drive a public furor in the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration.

“Ask her under oath,” Trump said. “Republicans should start playing the Democrats game!”

No senators asked Yates about the leak, though she has previously denied being the source.

When Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asserted that Yates didn’t like Trump, she replied, “I don’t respect the manner in which he has carried out the presidency.”

Kennedy pressed: “You despise Trump.”

“I don’t despise anyone,” Yates said.

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After Last Night’s Elections, “the Squad Is Here to Stay”

For leftists and progressively minded Democrats still reeling from Bernie Sanders’s defeat, this week’s elections were very welcome news indeed.

In what can only be called an historic electoral upset, formerly homeless nurse and Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush defeated the scion of a half-century-old political dynasty to to secure the Democratic nomination in Missouri’s 1st congressional district. Meanwhile, in a race that had been framed by parts of the media as tight, incumbent Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was handily reelected against challenger Brenda Jones in Michigan.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting on Wednesday morning, the Associated Press called the contest for Tlaib — who will cruise to victory by a double-digit margin. The scale of Tlaib’s win is notable given the recent history of the district, which has seen no less than three congressional primary races since 2018: a special contest to replace veteran representative John Conyers, following his resignation (which Jones narrowly won) and two regular elections, the first of which Tlaib won with a narrow margin of only nine hundred votes.

Between 2018’s close contests and the Super PAC money flowing into Jones’s campaign coffers there was at least some reason to believe the race might be close — the New York Times framed it as “the fight of [Tlaib’s] political life.” With a margin of victory that may yet surpass 30,000 votes, Congress’s most unapologetically left-wing member has put any lingering doubts about her popularity or her longevity to rest.

The night’s biggest upset, however, clearly goes to Bush — who lost her 2018 race against incumbent William Lacy Clay by 20 points. Having represented Missouri in the House since 2001, Clay has many allies in Congress and a family with deep roots in the district (his father, Bill Clay, who held the seat between 1969 and 2001, also cofounded the Congressional Black Caucus). As recently as a few days ago, he was reportedly confident of victory.

The race will rightly be seen in the context of other recent insurgent wins, notably that of Jamaal Bowman against Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th congressional district in June (Bowman, incidentally, endorsed Bush). Nonetheless, despite some obvious parallels, a somewhat different dynamic arguably made the contest an even tougher one for Bush to win.

Clay’s roots in the district clearly set him apart from Engel, who hadn’t faced a competitive primary challenge in decades and whose absenteeism became an issue in the election. Far from exhibiting the same complacency, he mounted a vigorous reelection effort including negative mailers and attack ads and allies in Congress, notably the Congressional Black Caucus, were loud and outspoken in their support.

As Ross Barkin points out, many of the elected officials and groups that aided in Bowman’s victory failed to get behind Bush — a part of the story that is almost certain to be left out of many accounts of the race:

The narrative of Cori Bush’s stunning upset in Missouri won’t include a few inconvenient facts: that Bush, who rose to prominence as an organizer during the Ferguson protests in 2014, unseated a longtime incumbent, Lacy Clay, without the help of Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, MoveOn, PCCC, Indivisible, the Working Families Party, or any of the national progressive institutions who have helped fuel other insurgencies that seemed, to outsiders, much more winnable. Bush’s only well-known backers, beyond her district, were Bernie Sanders and the Sunrise Movement, which also helped Booker early in his race, and Justice Democrats, the young organization that helps launch left-wing challengers from the ground up.

Sanders’s involvement in the race itself became a contentious issue, with one member of the Congressional Black Caucus calling his endorsement “political trespassing.” In their only public statement since Tuesday’s election, the Clay family even blamed “outside money from sources associated with Bernie Sanders” for their son’s defeat.

On election night, Bush herself was unapologetic: “We’ve been called radicals, terrorists. We’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement,” she said during her victory address. “But now we are a multi-racial, multiethnic, multi-generational, multi-faith mass movement united in demanding change, in demanding accountability, in demanding that our police, our government, our country recognize that Black lives do indeed matter.”

In her own victory remarks, Tlaib said much the same, remarking in a statement: “We have a resounding mandate to put people before profits. Let it be known that in the 13th District, just like in communities across our country, we are done with establishment politics that put corporations first.”

Summing up the spirit of what appears a growing political insurgency, she added: “I think it’s safe to say the Squad is here to stay, and it’s only getting bigger.”

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Trump campaign requests earlier debate date to get ahead of mail-in ballots

Giuliani said having the debates after the first voters send their ballots would amount to disenfranchisement, and he called the current schedule an “outdated dinosaur.”

“For a nation already deprived of a traditional campaign schedule because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it makes no sense to also deprive so many Americans of the opportunity to see and hear the two competing visions for our country’s future before millions of votes have been cast,” Giuliani wrote.

The Commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Axios first reported on Giuliani‘s letter.

Giuliani also proposed a number of potential moderators for the debate, including Bret Baier, Harris Faulkner, Hugh Hewitt, David Muir and Norah O’Donnell. Baier, a Fox News host and political correspondent, recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post celebrating Trump.

The Trump campaign had already been pushing for an earlier, fourth debate, citing similar reasons to those Giuliani presented Wednesday. The campaign announced on Tuesday that it was in an agreement to debate Biden three times, but did not say whether it would follow through with the debates if Biden did not accept an additional, earlier face-off.

The Biden campaign was immediately dismissive of the push for a new debate.

“We have said all along, including in a letter to the commission in June, that Joe Biden will appear on the dates that the commission selected and in the locations they chose,“ Andrew Bates, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “Donald Trump has not, continually trying to insert his choice of friendly moderators, now including one who just published an op-ed offering ‘the case‘ for Trump’s reelection.“

The commission currently has three debates and one vice presidential debate scheduled for this fall. The first debate is set for Sept. 29 in Cleveland, and the last is set for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.

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Hannity argues Biden appeasement of Democrats’ left wing is ‘sign of weakness’ in former VP

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is facing a “quandary” over how to find common ground between the party’s center and its left wing, Fox News host Sean Hannity told “The Daily Briefing” on Tuesday.

“I understand the dilemma they are in and I think it’s a sign of weakness of Joe Biden,” the “Hannity” host and author of the new book  “Live Free or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink,” told Dana Perino. “They want to say to the country that they are moderate, but yet they don’t feel strong enough that their base, that the ‘Bolshevik Bernie [Sanders]’ base of the party will vote for him unless he adopts those socialist ideas …”

JILL BIDEN DEFENDS HUSBAND, CALLS HIM ‘A MODERATE’ 

“I’ll tell you what,” Hannity added, “even [with Biden] appeasing them, I don’t even think they’re going to go out with any real enthusiasm or energy to vote for him.”

Hannity was responding to the former vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, who insisted on “The Daily Briefing” Tuesday that her husband is a moderate with “progressive and bold and forward-thinking” ideas.

“But,” she emphasized, “he’s not someone who’s left, he’s not someone who is right, he’s a moderate and that’s who he’s always been.”

Perino had observed to the former second lady that some of the policies Biden has embraced during this primary and in conversations with Sanders appear to be “a lot more progressive even than during the Obama years.”

On Wednesday, Hannity argued that the lack of moderates in today’s Democratic Party makes the upcoming election the most critical choice “of our time.”

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“You’ve got all these candidates, they always moved to the left or the right to get whatever nomination and then they moved to the center,” he explained. ” Here, Joe Biden not only didn’t move to the center, he took on Bolshevik Bernie’s economic plan, AOC’s New Green Deal … so the difference now is, nobody in this modern, new, extreme, Democratic-Socialist party is moderate.

“And while there might be controversy about Donald Trump’s style for some people —  I happen to be a bit of a brawler my whole life, so I don’t mind controversy and I don’t mind fighting back, ” Hannity went on, “but I’ll tell you, he also fought and got done every conservative principle that he ran on.”

Fox News’ Talia Kaplan contributed to this report.

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CIA steers clear of Senate Republican probe into Bidens

The agency’s reluctance to engage with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Johnson chairs, underscores the intelligence community’s doubts about the probe. And while it is unlikely to deter Johnson from moving forward, it could give Democrats more support as they seek to rebut Trump and GOP allegations that Biden is corrupt.

The episode began earlier this year, when Democrats raised concerns about Johnson’s investigation and the committee asked the FBI to brief senators. The FBI responded by saying the CIA should also participate, according to a person familiar with the matter — a highly unusual ask given that the Homeland Security Committee rarely, if ever, deals with the CIA.

On May 14, the Democratic committee staff sent an email to the CIA’s office of congressional affairs detailing the scope of the requested briefing, according to sources who described the email to POLITICO. Republican aides on the panel were copied on the email, which was unclassified.

The committee followed up the next day, but the CIA never responded. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

Democrats have long demanded what are known as “defensive briefings” from intelligence officials on potential efforts by the Russian government to promote disinformation and influence the 2020 presidential election. The CIA’s stance comes as Democratic congressional leaders have also been pushing senior intelligence officials to disclose more information to the public about Russia’s latest interference campaign.

But securing a briefing for the committee has been a challenge. In addition to potential concerns about Johnson’s probe, the CIA is wary of providing a briefing that could reveal sensitive sources and methods to a panel other than the Senate or House intelligence committees, which are the agency’s direct oversight bodies in Congress.

“There is a significant trust gap there,” said one current national security official. “At what point does someone turn from an ‘unwitting’ participant in that to a witting one?”

The official added that enough is known about certain bad actors that it should be “out of the question to consider their information legitimate investigative material,” referring to the Ukrainians who have sought to feed information to Johnson and other Trump allies on Capitol Hill.

Johnson has maintained that his investigation has nothing to do with the presidential election and that his committee fully vets all the information it receives.

Austin Altenburg, a spokesman for Johnson, said the criticisms are an example of “the bias that exists within the federal bureaucracy, including, unfortunately, our intelligence agencies.” He also accused Democrats of requesting briefings that are “untethered to our work.”

“What the email doesn’t show are the intelligence briefings and documents the committee has already received and the multiple conversations in which the agencies told Democrats that they had no further information relevant to our investigation,” Altenburg added.

The May email to the CIA’s congressional affairs office outlined what senators wanted to hear from intelligence officials as the Biden investigation ramped up. The committee specifically asked for information about the foreign nationals pushing allegations against the Bidens, including whether they have ties to foreign governments or foreign security services. Lawmakers also wanted to know more about efforts to interfere in the 2020 election more broadly.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, renewed his demand for such briefings in a letter to Johnson last month, imploring Johnson to pursue the issue if he continued with his probe. A spokeswoman for Peters declined to comment for this story.

Johnson’s aides, though, have blamed Democrats for the delay. Last week, Johnson sent a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel requesting a slew of documents related to the origins of the federal investigation into Russian interference in 2016, but the letter did not mention the CIA’s apparent refusal to brief his committee.

Democrats first called for the briefings in March, when the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force briefed committee staffers about Andrii Telizhenko, a Ukrainian who has amplified disputed claims about coordination between Kyiv and the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Johnson was set to subpoena Telizhenko, but he scrapped plans for a committee vote on the matter after the briefing, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The day before, FBI Director Christopher Wray had briefed all senators in a classified setting about election security. POLITICO previously reported that Democratic senators pressed him about Telizhenko in the context of Russia’s efforts to sow disinformation in American politics, including about whether Telizhenko was a willing partner in the Kremlin-backed campaign.

The briefing was described as “combative” and “personal” by attendees, who said Johnson engaged directly with some of his detractors in the Senate as he sought to defend his investigation.

More recently, though, as Johnson has sought to highlight, all senators have received briefings from the intelligence community on threats to the integrity of the 2020 vote. Those briefings have touched on Telizhenko and Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who has sent information about the Bidens to Trump allies on Capitol Hill, including Johnson.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and other national security and intelligence officials briefed senators on Monday about election security and foreign influence, and they appeared to signal that they were preparing to disclose more information to the public about Russia’s intentions.

The House received a similar briefing last week, during which William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, acknowledged that Russia is again trying to boost Trump’s reelection and denigrate his Democratic opponent.

Evanina was chastised during that briefing by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who along with other Democrats has urged the intelligence community to make public more details about Russia’s ongoing interference efforts.

Pelosi told CNN on Monday morning that it “could be unwitting on [Johnson’s] part — I don’t know what he knows. That’s why we want the intelligence community to tell the American people what they know, not jeopardizing sources and methods.”

“There is plenty they could be telling the American people,” Pelosi said, “and including the United States senators who may be associating with some of these people.”

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Mail-in Voting Controversy Deepens as USPS Becomes Focal Point for Congress

Over a hundred members of Congress sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting thorough funding for the United States Postal Service (USPS), to meet states’ needs for delivering mail-in ballots, in the pandemic relief package currently being negotiated.

Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) led 129 other House members to urge Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to fully fund the USPS.

“As negotiations over phase 4 COVID-19 relief legislation continue, we urge you to continue to include strong support for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in any final relief legislation,” wrote the congress members (pdf).

States throughout the union are expanding access to mail-in voting in an effort to reduce the spread of the CCP virus, which has led to growing concerns that inadequate postal service could extend vote counting for days or weeks after Election Day.

“Millions of Americans across the country rely on the Postal Service for the delivery of essential items, including life-saving medications, census forms, and mail-in ballots,” said Chairwoman Maloney.

The Chairwoman criticized the Trump Administration for not prioritizing funding for the USPS.

“Congress must ensure that the next stimulus package includes provisions to protect the Postal Service and maintain the mail service that is essential to Americans across the country,” the chairwoman added.

There are concerns that ballots that are missing or late, will lead to legal actions against states that have widespread mail-in voting.

President Donald Trump has criticized widespread mail-in ballot initiatives, calling them corrupt. He told Axios that mail-in voting could significantly delay election results.

“We went through World War I, you went to the polls, you voted. We went through World War II, you went to the polls, you voted. And now because of the China virus, we’re supposed to stay home, send millions of ballots all over the country, millions and millions,” Trump said in an interview with Axios. “You know, you could have a case where this election won’t be decided on the evening of Nov. 3. This election could be decided two months later.”

Trump and other Republicans have said mail-in voting could lead to ballot harvesting, allowing for dead people to vote, or allowing for people who have moved to fraudulently vote, as well as ballots being lost in the mail.

However, Democrats say mail-in voting is secure as long as the USPS is adequately funded.

“The United States Postal Service will play a critical role in facilitating a safe, secure vote-by-mail election in November. We must fully fund @USPS and call out this administration’s attempts to dismantle it for what they are: voter suppression,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)

During a White House press event at the end of April with industry executives about opening the economy after lockdowns, President Trump said big companies should pay more for the USPS services to help maintain the quality, not the taxpayers.

“No, we want to stabilize the post office, and the way you do that is these companies are going to have to pay more, not the people.  We’re not looking for the people to pay.  But the companies are going to have to pay a percentage of that—that loss.  You can’t do that.  The government shouldn’t have to do it.  I think the post office could—wouldn’t it be great if it could, after so many decades, break-even,” said The President.

USPS and the Department of Treasury reached a deal at the end of July, which gives the service a loan of up to $10 billion, but only if it’s needed.

The loan comes through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump in late March to provide relief amid harsh restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the letter House Democrats, said despite the emergency funding from the treasury and elsewhere they still have significant concerns about the USPS having the money it needs to fully handle mail-in voting if it is employed broadly across the nation.

They pointed to the newly appointed, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s cost-cutting that prevents employees from working overtime, which they say has affected the timely delivery of mail.

“Congress must mandate that USPS return to operation standards as they were on June 14, 2020, immediately prior to Louis DeJoy joining USPS,” they wrote.

More recently, President Donald Trump said he supports mail-in ballots in states that have the proper infrastructure for a mail-in voting system.

President Trump wrote on Wednesday, “Nevada has ZERO infrastructure for Mail-In Voting. It will be a corrupt disaster if not ended by the Courts. It will take months, or years, to figure out. Florida has built a great infrastructure, over the years, with two great Republican Governors. Florida, send in your Ballots!”

Meanwhile, the president of the U.S. Vote Foundation told The Hill, “The ability of the USPS to function knows no party, you can’t tell if the ballot is Republican or Democrat when it’s in an envelope,” Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, “We believe this is a bipartisan issue of great concern.”

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McConnell mocks Malibu for seeking stimulus funding to help with electric car conversion

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed incredulity on Wednesday after receiving a letter from the tony beachside California city of Malibu asking that funding be included in the next coronavirus stimulus bill to help with the “conversion to an all-electric city fleet” of cars and other priorities.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell mocked Malibu’s request as talks over what will be included in any legislation continue between congressional Democrats and White House negotiators.

“Yesterday, I received an urgent letter from the city of Malibu, California,” McConnell said. “And — I promise I am not making this up — they asked Congress for hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments because they have had to delay their ‘conversion to an all-electric city fleet.’”

He added: “I guess that’s an emergency in Malibu: When they can’t keep buying brand-new electric cars as quickly as they’d like.”

PETER NAVARRO ON STALLED CORONAVIRUS RELIEF NEGOTIATIONS: PELOSI, DEMS ‘MIGHT BE USING WORKERS AS HOSTAGES’

The letter, which was signed by the Malibu City Council and City Manager Reva Feldman, was sent to McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted municipal budgets across the country in ways that local governments could never have foreseen,” the letter read. “Critical City environmental projects intended to improve our environment while reducing City costs, including a solar energy project, conversion to an all-electric city fleet, streetlight upgrades, and resiliency projects related to wildfire and earthquake preparation, among others, have been postponed indefinitely due to projected budget shortfalls.”

McConnell is not a direct participant in the stimulus talks but is likely to be an important force in closing out any potential agreement.

PAYROLL TAX CUT WON’T BE INCLUDED IN FOURTH CORONAVIRUS BILL, MNUCHIN SAYS

“The speaker of the House and the Democratic leader are continuing to say ‘our way or the highway’ with a massive wish list for left-wing lobbyists that was slapped together a few weeks ago called a coronavirus bill,” McConnell said earlier this week.

Multiple obstacles remain before any legislation is passed, including an impasse so far on extending a $600-per-week pandemic jobless benefit, funding for the Postal Service, and aid to renters facing eviction.

Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a call earlier this week that she’s hopeful a deal could be reached this week, but doesn’t know if it’s possible, according to a Democratic aide who was granted anonymity to describe the private discussion.

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a lead negotiator for President Trump, said afterward that “we continue to make a little bit of progress” and that the administration is not insistent on a small-bore approach centered on extending the supplemental unemployment benefit and leaving other items for later. A GOP move to advance a slimmed-down relief package has been a recent point of conflict, with Democrats insisting there must be a comprehensive deal.

“We’re open to a bigger package if we can reach an agreement,” Mnuchin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nurse saves three infants from hospital destroyed in Beirut blast

“I followed the smoke until I reached the port of Beirut,” he told CNN Arabic, explaining that “professional intuition” took him to Al Roum hospital, in the Ashrafieh district. The area has been left devastated by the blast.

What he saw there was remarkable. “I was amazed when I saw the nurse holding three newborns,” Jawich said. “I noticed the nurse’s calm, which contrasted the surrounding atmosphere just one meter away.” Several dead and injured people lay nearby, he said.

“However, the nurse looked like she possessed a hidden force that gave her self-control and the ability to save those children. People stand out amidst these violent and dark and evil circumstances and this nurse was up to the task,” he said.

Jawich said the nurse told him later that evening that she was in the maternity ward when the blast hit. She said she had been knocked unconscious, and when she came around “found herself carrying these three children,” he told CNN Arabic.

Not everyone in the hospital was so lucky. George Saad, emergency preparedness and disaster manager for the hospital, told CNN that 12 patients, two visitors and four nurses died in the incident yesterday, while two remain in critical condition. Some 80% of the hospital had been damaged, along with 50% of its equipment, he said.

Saad told CNN that the babies and their mothers have been transferred to other hospitals.

It’s still not exactly clear what led to the explosion that wiped out entire streets across the seaside capital. The blast has been linked to a large supply of confiscated and potentially unsecured explosive material, stored in a warehouse at the city’s port, close to populated areas.

As world leaders and international organizations offer assistance, local officials are also launching an investigation into the blast.

Beirut’s hospitals were quickly inundated, with doctors conducting triage as dozens flooded into emergency rooms. The emergency section of one major hospital, the American University of Beirut Medical Center, reached capacity. Four other hospitals are out of service after sustaining damage in the explosion, according to Lebanon’s health minister.

Mehsen Mekhtfe reported from Beirut, Ghazal Salah, Dareen al Omari and Caroline Faraj reported from Dubai and Amy Woodyatt wrote from London. Helen Regan, Tamara Qiblawi, Ghazi Balkiz and Ben Wedeman contributed reporting.

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Tennessee Republicans, Once Moderate and Genteel, Turn Toxic in the Trump Era

But for some in the state, such denunciations, along with Mr. Hagerty’s ceaseless promotion of Mr. Trump’s endorsement, have only served to highlight how unnatural a mouthpiece he can seem for Trumpism. “It just reads as kind of a campaign tactic — not a lot of heart and soul in it,” said Tom Ingram, a former chief of staff for Mr. Alexander. “Those of us who know him know he’s not an ultraconservative, he’s not a firebrand.”

Mr. Sethi — an Indian-American, Harvard-educated orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center — is hoping his own appeals to Mr. Trump’s agenda appear more convincing. In an interview, Mr. Sethi, 42, said he applauded the president’s ideas for “meaningful immigration reform,” including building a wall along the Mexican border, and he praised his performance during the pandemic, adding that, as a physician, his main advice to the president would be to fire Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading expert on infectious diseases.

And while Mr. Sethi offers masks at his events, he said he did not believe it was the role of the government to mandate that people wear them.

He also proudly highlighted the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s efforts to force him out of the race. “When I started talking to these folks in the early spring of 2019,” he said, “it was all flowers and candy, and they were saying, ‘Oh, it’s great, you should run.’ But as I got more serious, they put up these roadblocks.”

A spokesman for the committee disputed that the group ever encouraged Mr. Sethi to drop out of the race.

Mr. Sethi also said prominent lawmakers “basically called me and threatened” to blacklist him with major donors, and reminded him that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, had already made his choice in Mr. Hagerty.

“I couldn’t care less about what Senate leadership thinks about me,” Mr. Sethi said.

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Biden will no longer deliver convention speech in Milwaukee

Biden will now deliver his keynote speech in his home state of Delaware, according to the press release.

The DNC cited a desire to avoid endangering the health of the city of Milwaukee and the wide range of workers who would arrive for the convention amid the pandemic.

“We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement. “That’s the kind of steady and responsible leadership America deserves. And that’s the leadership Joe Biden will bring to the White House.”

The convention will kick off on Aug. 17 and run until Aug. 20, with programming from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET each night.

The announcement comes on the same day that President Donald Trump floated the idea of delivering his acceptance speech at the White House. The GOP’s convention plans have also been scuppered by coronavirus. The party attempted to shift in-person events from Charlotte to Jacksonville, Fla. before canceling the change over health concerns.