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Cheney’s spot on Jan. 6 select committee reignites rift within Republicans



The bipartisan credibility of the Democratic-led Jan. 6 investigation now rests on the shoulders of Liz Cheney. And that burden could cost her even more dearly with the GOP.

Cheney reignited her lonely war with her party Wednesday by siding with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to reject two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the select committee investigating the violent Capitol attack by supporters of Donald Trump.

Democrats cheered Pelosi’s veto of two of their most ruthless political antagonists, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.). But Pelosi’s move — and more so Cheney’s endorsement of the strategy — enraged the GOP across the spectrum, igniting a wave of fury aimed squarely at the Wyoming Republican.

”Is she a Republican?” freshman Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) quipped of Cheney. Nehls was one of five Republicans tapped by McCarthy to serve on the select panel.

The former No. 3 House Republican didn’t stop at supporting Pelosi’s move, standing before a bank of cameras on the Capitol steps Wednesday afternoon to torch McCarthy and reiterate her commitment to the select committee investigation of the violent riot.

Cheney’s decision to move ahead as the sole Republican on the panel further solidifies her exceptional status within the Capitol, a notorious and increasingly isolated figure in a GOP conference that emphasizes Trumpism above most else. For several of her Republican colleagues, Cheney has now committed a sin even more grave than her relentless criticism of the former president: publicly standing with Pelosi.

Some Republicans even raised the idea of Cheney facing consequences for her decision to stay involved with the panel, though they didn’t wade into the topic of what those should be.

“For her to stay on is not right. And she ought to have some consequences for that,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.). “She should probably just go and switch parties and be a Democrat. She’s gonna violate everything. She’s not in a leadership position so she has got some freedom, but this is so blatant.”

Norman predicted that GOP leadership would try to talk to Cheney about the matter and, if she refuses to meet with them, House Republicans should hold a vote on her future among them. “As far as any consequences for her, [it] ought to go to the conference — let us vote on it as a group,” Norman added.

McCarthy has indicated it may be untenable for Cheney to keep her committee assignments if she remains on the select panel, telling reporters at the beginning of the month that he didn’t know when “someone would go get their committee assignments from the speaker and expect them to have them from the conference as well.” The GOP leader did not respond to a question Wednesday on whether he would seek to strip Cheney’s assignments.

Cheney, for her part, is unfazed by the criticism from her fellow Republicans following Pelosi’s decision to block Banks and Jordan from the investigative panel.

“We must have this select committee investigation,” Cheney told reporters, calling it “our only option left” after Senate Republicans blocked an independent, bipartisan commission on the attack. “We cannot allow those voices who are attempting to prevent the American people from getting the truth to prevail.”

Democrats are unlikely to back down from their blockade of Banks and Jordan, meaning Cheney could be the sole Republican to serve on the committee when it holds its first hearing next Tuesday with members of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department who responded to the Jan. 6 insurrection. To Pelosi’s party, permitting two Republican members known for pugnacious partisanship would effectively doom the select panel’s credibility even if they accepted McCarthy’s entire slate.

On that score, Cheney agreed, calling recent rhetoric from McCarthy, Banks and Jordan “disgraceful.”

Jordan “may well be a material witness to events that led to” the Jan. 6 riot by Trump supporters, she said, while Banks had “disqualified himself” because of his comments “demonstrating that he is not taking this seriously.” She flamed McCarthy as well, adding that her conference’s leader has “at every opportunity attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened” during the insurrection.

The defiant Cheney, who was ousted as House GOP conference chair in May over her repeated public criticisms of Trump, is arguably more important to many Democrats than any of their own members on the select panel.

Having Cheney on the dais allows Democrats to deflect GOP criticisms that they’re engaging in a partisan witch hunt focused solely on Trump. In Cheney, Democrats can say there is a Republican in the room for the investigation — and one of the most traditionally conservative members of her party at that.

Pelosi called Cheney before she made her announcement about vetoing McCarthy’s picks, informing the Wyoming Republican of her plans and gauging her opinion on the move, according to multiple Democrats familiar with the conversation.

“We have Republicans on the committee,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), one of the members tapped by Pelosi to serve on the committee. “We have Rep. Cheney. We have a bipartisan committee right now, and the appointments belong to Speaker Pelosi.”

“This is a bipartisan committee that is going to seek the truth, and there is nothing partisan about that,” added Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), another panel member.

While Republicans are hammering Pelosi for leading a partisan inquiry, McCarthy and other members of GOP leadership informally whipped against a bipartisan agreement to form a nonpartisan 9/11-style commission to dig into the insurrection.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) struck a deal with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), whom Pelosi later appointed as chair of the select panel, only to find that leadership was undercutting his work. Despite that effort, 35 House Republicans in May voted to support a nonpartisan commission. The proposal later fell to a Senate GOP filibuster.

But even some of the GOP’s most ardent backers of an independent Jan. 6 commission are criticizing Pelosi’s decision.

Katko said Wednesday that he backed McCarthy’s threat to fully boycott the select panel unless Pelosi backtracked on her veto: “I think it’s a logical response to what Pelosi did, and it’s further indication that this is going to be a completely political exercise.”

Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), who voted to impeach Trump alongside Katko and Cheney, said Pelosi’s decision “shreds any tiny bit of credibility that this committee had.”

Just two Republicans supported the Democratic-led measure to establish a select committee: Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), another vocal Trump critic.

Banks had been prepared to participate in the select panel as top Republican, telling POLITICO in an interview he discussed logistical matters related to the investigation with Thompson on Tuesday afternoon but got no answers. Thompson’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the call.

Republicans are now promising their own Jan. 6 inquiry. Yet some Democrats said Republicans missed their chance at participation in the select panel when they opposed the independent commission.

“Anyone who voted against that effort to have a bipartisan commission modeled after the 9/11 Commission … really lost their opportunity to criticize whatever efforts we now must take, with that option off the table,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) told POLITICO.

Still, Pelosi’s decision sparked private fears among some vulnerable Democrats that it could encourage McCarthy to boot members off of committees in the next Congress if his party retakes the House.

Pelosi shrugged off the blowback from Republicans: “Perhaps you mistake me for someone who would care about that.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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VA sets vaccine requirement for frontline health care workers



The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday it will require front-facing health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the fall, the first federal agency to mandate inoculations.

The mandate includes physicians, dentists, nurses, physician assistants and other frontline medical staff at VA facilities across the country. These employees will have eight weeks to become fully vaccinated.

The rule is “the best way to keep Veterans safe,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a news release announcing the move.

“Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19.”

Roughly 115,000 employees will fall under the VA’s mandate, according to the New York Times, which first reported the decision.

“I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” the secretary told the Times.

The Biden administration has been grappling with how best to push up vaccination rates, which have stagnated in parts of the country despite a surge in cases tied to the highly contagious Delta variant.

Thus far the White House has been wary of top-down approaches, preferring instead to encourage local governments and private businesses to set their own rules around vaccinations.

The VA said four employees have died in recent weeks because of Covid. All of the workers were unvaccinated and at least three died because of the Delta variant. In addition, an outbreak occurred at the VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third of its kind during the pandemic.

Last week the NFL said that teams experiencing an outbreak among unvaccinated players could be forced to forfeit games, placing a multimillion-dollar financial incentive on teams and their players to get vaccinated.

Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio separately announced that all municipal employees will have to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid-19 testing. That rule goes into effect citywide on Sept. 13, though it kicks in earlier for public health workers and staff in congregate living facilities.

Similarly, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that all state employees and health care workers will be required to be vaccinated or face regular testing.

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Cheney-McCarthy war of words heats up over Jan. 6 investigation



Liz Cheney is already taking public heat from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — and dishing it back — over her Democratic appointment to the select panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The relationship between McCarthy and Cheney has steadily deteriorated throughout the year, with an apparent peak coming when the California Republican helped oust Cheney from the House GOP’s No. 3 leadership spot. But tension is spiking again now that Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger — Donald Trump’s two most vocal GOP critics in Congress — are serving on the select panel thanks to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. McCarthy dubbed Cheney and Kinzinger “Pelosi Republicans” on Monday.

Cheney, as she walked into a prep session meeting with her fellow committee members shortly after McCarthy’s remark, told reporters she found it “pretty childish.”

“We’ve got serious business here. We have important work to do,” she added.

The back-and-forth comes after a series of clashes last week following Pelosi’s veto of two of McCarthy’s GOP picks to serve on the Jan. 6 investigation: Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of them avid Trump defenders. The move prompted McCarthy to withdraw all of his appointees to the select committee in protest, describing the investigation as a partisan effort designed to hurt Trump and the party ahead of next year’s midterms. Republicans, however, largely opposed a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission earlier this year.

Cheney was part of Pelosi’s initial wave of names tapped to serve on the panel that will examine the deadly events of Jan. 6, when Trump supporters breached the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt certification of the ex-president’s election loss, forcing lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to flee.

Following the GOP boycott, Pelosi on Sunday named Kinzinger to the Jan. 6 committee, giving Democrats two House Republican members who they say boost their panel’s bipartisan credibility.

Kinzinger, wearing a tie patterned with elephants, also called McCarthy’s comments “childish” during a break in the select panel prep session.

“He can call me whatever names he wants,” Kinzinger said, adding that the bottom line is “I’m a Republican.”

Still, McCarthy’s jab signals a remarkable shift from earlier this year. Cheney once served as his leadership partner before her frequent Trump criticisms prompted her colleagues and fellow leaders to eject the Wyoming Republican from a role that is responsible for the conference’s messaging.

These days, some of Cheney and Kinzinger’s fellow Republicans are openly speculating about their future in the House GOP conference. Asked whether the duo should face sanctions from their party for accepting Pelosi’s appointment to the inquiry, McCarthy said only that “we’ll see.”

But Kinzinger shrugged off the subtle threat on Monday: “If the conference decides” to punish him and Cheney, he said, it “says more about them than it does about us.”

Kinzinger also didn’t rule out calling his fellow Republican members to testify before the select panel, saying it was “important” to hear from them if they had relevant information. Discussions are still ongoing about the scope of Republican staff for the inquiry, he added, but he lauded former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) as a model for those hires.

No matter how actively McCarthy tries to tether Cheney and Kinzinger to Pelosi, who frequently appears in GOP attack ads, they both have strong conservative voting records to counter his attacks. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer noted as much, while arguing Monday that Cheney and Kinzinger are “real Republicans.”

“If anybody looks at the voting records of Mr. Kinzinger and Ms. Cheney, they will know that they haven’t voted with Speaker Pelosi except on the most bipartisan of bills,” Hoyer said. “These are people who come from conservative Republican districts who have represented Republican values. The difference is, and this is the key, they both believe in the truth. That ought not to be a partisan issue.”

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.


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Bipartisan infrastructure talks in dire state ahead of pivotal week



The bipartisan infrastructure negotiations entered their darkest phase in more than a month on Monday, with the parties openly feuding over policy and former President Donald Trump urging Republicans to drop the effort altogether.

Democrats and the White House on Sunday night offered a proposal to Republicans proposing a deal on highway and public transit funding, as well as several other unresolved areas. That offer was intended to address all outstanding disputes — and was immediately rejected by Republicans.

The GOP sent out a list of areas where that Democratic offer broke from previous agreements among the bipartisan senators writing the bill on Monday afternoon, the latest in a running list of bleak sign for the talks ahead of another pivotal week of negotiations in the Senate.

The comprehensive offer “we received from the White House and [Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer was discouraging since it attempts to reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to,” said a GOP source familiar with the negotiations. “If this is going to be successful, the White House will need to show more flexibility as Republicans have done and listen to the members of the group that produced this framework.”

Two additional sources close to the talks, one in each party, confirmed the dire state of negotiations on a signature priority of President Joe Biden. Each blamed the other side for reopening debate on items once considered settled.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she is “confident” an agreement can be reached. But many struck a more dour tone in private. And Democrats said the frantic past few days was kicked off by Republicans rejecting an increase in IRS enforcement to pay for the bill.

“It takes a lot of chutzpah for Republicans to make accusations about keeping words when the biggest hole blown in the [financing] was made by them reneging on their agreement about enforcing the law on wealthy tax cheats,” said a Democrat familiar with the negotiations.

The talks seem in danger of collapse given the public acrimony and finger-pointing on Monday, after a fruitless weekend of discussions. The group of 10 senators leading the talks will huddle again on Monday evening, in an attempt to rescue the fragile negotiations.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers hoped to reach a final agreement by early this week after a vote to advance undrafted legislation failed last week. But that appears unlikely, with several issues outstanding. Among the biggest sticking points is transit, but broadband has also become a point of contention. The bill’s finances are also viewed as shaky.

A Democratic source familiar with the bipartisan discussions said that Democrats’ counteroffer included accepting the GOP proposal for highways in exchange for the Democratic proposal on transit. But Republicans dispute that characterization. A GOP source familiar with the negotiations said the choice isn’t binary and that the GOP offer on transit “was met with silence for three days.”

Funding for water infrastructure also remains unresolved, according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks, who accused Republicans of backing away from the original agreement. That source said that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) had reneged on a deal and “proposed something completely unworkable.”

A spokesperson for Romney called that “laughably false” and said Schumer is seeking $15 billion more than a previous agreement.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) both raised concerns about the funding last week, with Carper suggesting he would have a hard time supporting the package unless certain funding conditions were met. The snafu illustrates the tricky challenge the group of rank-and-file senators led by Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has in navigating around committee chairs.

As bipartisan negotiators aim to finalize an agreement, Trump said that Senate Republicans “are being absolutely savaged by Democrats on the so-called ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure bill’” and urged them to wait until they take back the Senate in 2022 to “regain a strong negotiating stance.” Trump tried unsuccessfully to cut a deal with Democrats on infrastructure, sidelining negotiations once his impeachment investigation began.

Although the bipartisan group and the White House announced an agreement last month on a bipartisan framework, translating it into legislative text is proving difficult. Schumer wants to pass the bipartisan bill and begin the process for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package before the Senate leaves for the August recess.

Eleven Senate Republicans wrote Schumer last week to tell him they’d be ready to move forward as soon as Monday, provided the bill was mostly completed and its finances were in order. Neither condition was met as of midday, with senators convening late in the afternoon.


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