Daily Political Briefing
July 20, 2021Updated
July 20, 2021, 7:52 p.m. ET
July 20, 2021, 7:52 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, has chosen a pair of former President Donald J. Trump’s staunchest and most combative allies to be among his five picks to sit on the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, signaling he is approaching the inquiry as a partisan battle.
Mr. McCarthy and Republicans had opposed the creation of the select committee, which is to scrutinize the mob violence that delayed Congress’s formal adoption of President Biden’s victory. The 13-member panel, created on a party-line vote, will have seven Democrats and six Republicans, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and a harsh critic of Mr. Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, as one of her eight members.
The committee, which is led by Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, is scheduled to have its first meeting July 27 to hear from members of the Capitol Police and District of Columbia police force who fought off the mob. Among them are Harry Dunn, Aquilino Gonell, a sergeant, Michael Fanone, who has lobbied Republicans to support an investigation, and Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a door during the rampage.
Some of them have been outspoken about the trauma they experienced that day, but Officer Hodges has called it an honor.
“If it wasn’t my job, I would have done that for free,” he told NBC News shortly after the assault. “It was absolutely my pleasure to crush a white nationalist insurrection.”
Ms. Pelosi still must agree to the five Republicans Mr. McCarthy has selected. If he gets his way, they will be:
Representative Jim Banks of Indiana
Mr. Banks, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, will be the ranking member of the panel. He recently led several House Republicans on a trip to join Mr. Trump at an event at the southwestern border.
He voted against certifying electoral votes for Mr. Biden on Jan. 6 and against creating an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the attack.
In a statement on Tuesday, he said Ms. Pelosi had created the panel “solely to malign conservatives and to justify the left’s authoritarian agenda.”
“I will not allow this committee to be turned into a forum for condemning millions of Americans because of their political beliefs,” he added.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio
A founding member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, Mr. Jordan led the effort to discredit the Russia investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and was one of the former president’s most strident defenders during his first impeachment. Just before leaving office, Mr. Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Mr. Jordan also voted against certifying electoral votes for Mr. Biden on Jan. 6 and against creating an independent bipartisan commission.
On Tuesday, he branded the select committee “impeachment Round 3,” telling Newsmax, “This is to go after President Trump.”
Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois
Mr. Davis is the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, where he has studied Capitol security failures, and he is known as a pragmatist.
He did not join his party’s effort to invalidate electoral votes for Mr. Biden on Jan. 6, and he was one of only 35 Republicans who voted to create an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the attack.
He told the Illinois newspaper Herald & Review in January that the Capitol breach was the “second-most terrifying moment” he had experienced as a member of Congress after a shooting on a baseball field in 2017.
“It’s tragic we’ve gotten to this point in the country that people feel they can commit acts of violence because they’re inspired by politics,” he said.
Representative Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota
Mr. Armstrong is a former criminal defense lawyer who earned praise from Mr. Trump for his defense during the former president’s first impeachment trial.
He did not object to electoral votes for Mr. Biden on Jan. 6, but he voted against the creation of an independent bipartisan inquiry.
Mr. Armstrong, who was in the House balcony during the attack, has condemned conspiracy theories about the riot and praised the Capitol Police for their response.
Representative Troy Nehls of Texas
A former sheriff, Mr. Nehls was among the lawmakers who assisted the Capitol Police in barricading the door to the House floor during the Jan. 6 attack. Hours later, he joined most Republicans in voting against counting electoral votes for Mr. Biden. He also opposed forming an independent bipartisan commission.
“I was proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Capitol police barricading entrance to our sacred House chamber, while trying to calm the situation talking to protestors,” Mr. Nehls wrote on Twitter on Jan. 6. “What I’m witnessing is a disgrace. We’re better than this. Violence is NEVER the answer. Law and order!”
The White House said on Tuesday that it would nominate Jonathan Kanter to be the top antitrust official at the Justice Department, a move that would add another longtime critic of Big Tech and corporate concentration to a powerful regulatory position.
President Biden’s plan to appoint Mr. Kanter, an antitrust lawyer who has made a career out of representing rivals of American tech giants like Google and Facebook, signals how strongly his administration is siding with the growing field of lawmakers, researchers and regulators who say Silicon Valley has obtained outsize power over the way Americans speak with one another, buy products online and consume news.
Mr. Kanter, 47, is the founder of Kanter Law Group, which bills itself online as an “antitrust advocacy boutique.” He previously worked at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. His services have attracted some of the most prominent critics of Big Tech in corporate America, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Microsoft as well as upstarts like Spotify and Yelp.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Kanter will lead a division of the Justice Department that filed a lawsuit last year arguing that Google had illegally protected a monopoly over online search services. The antitrust division of the agency has also been asking questions about Apple’s business practices.
Federal scrutiny of acquisitions has expanded beyond headline-grabbing Big Tech deals to industries like consumer goods, agriculture, insurance and health care. The Justice Department has sued to block the proposed merger of Aon and Willis Towers Watson, in its first major antitrust action since Mr. Biden took office. And the F.T.C. announced in March that it was forming a group to “update” its approach to evaluating the impact of pharmaceutical deals.
Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close friend of former President Donald J. Trump and one of his top 2016 campaign fund-raisers, was indicted on Tuesday morning on federal charges of violating a federal law requiring lobbyists for foreign interests to disclose their work to the Justice Department.
Federal prosecutors and the F.B.I. have been investigating Mr. Barrack for nearly three years, focusing on whether he tried to sway Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign or his administration on behalf of Persian Gulf nations with huge stakes in United States policy.
The inquiry was overseen by prosecutors in the public integrity section of United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. In an interview two years ago, a spokesman for Mr. Barrack said he had acted as an independent intermediary between Persian Gulf leaders and the Trump campaign and administration, not on behalf of foreign officials or entities.
The indictment charged Mr. Barrack and two other men with failing to register as agents of the United Arab Emirates government. The other two men charged were Matthew Grimes, a former top executive at Mr. Barrack’s company, and Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, an Emirati businessman who is close to the U.A.E. rulers.
The seven-count indictment also accused Mr. Barrack of obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 20, 2019, interview with federal agents.
The United States conducted a drone strike against Shabab militants in Somalia on Tuesday, the first such military action against the Qaeda affiliate in East Africa since the Biden administration took office in January.
The strike was carried out by military aircraft against Shabab fighters who were attacking members of the Danab, an elite American-trained Somali commando force, near the town of Galkayo in the country’s north, said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Cindi King.
The Biden administration placed new limits on drone strikes outside active war zones when it took office on Jan. 20, to give it time to develop a permanent policy.
The strike came as the Biden administration was considering whether to reverse the U.S. military withdrawal from Somalia that took place under Mr. Trump.
An interagency review, underway for several months, has not yet been completed, a U.S. official said. But under one option being considered, a smaller number of American troops would be redeployed to military bases in southern Somalia, near the border with Kenya, where Al Shabab’s influence is strongest.
President Biden hosted a celebration with the 2021 Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on Tuesday morning at the White House, continuing a recent run of celebrations with title-winning athletes.
Once again, Tom Brady stole the show.
Mr. Biden opened the festivities, praising the Bucs for their persistence in reeling off an unbeaten run to the championship after starting the season with seven wins and five losses: “This is a team that didn’t fold, got up, dug deep,” the president said, relishing his role as a sort of cheerleader in chief. “It’s an incredible run.”
But it was Mr. Brady, the final speaker and a seven-time Super Bowl winner, who snagged the headlines with political jokes that appeared to be jabs at former President Donald J. Trump, with whom Mr. Brady has shared a long friendship.
Mr. Brady needled Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that he actually won the 2020 presidential election, which many Trump supporters still believe. The quarterback said many people did not believe the Buccaneers could win the championship last year.
“I think about 40 percent of the people still don’t think we won,” Mr. Brady said.
“I understand that,” Mr. Biden said.
The Biden administration disclosed on Tuesday previously classified details about the breadth of state-sponsored cyberattacks on American oil and gas pipelines over the past decade, as part of a warning to pipeline owners to increase the security of their systems.
From 2011 to 2013, Chinese-backed hackers targeted, and in many cases breached, nearly two dozen companies that own such pipelines, the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security said in an alert. Of 23 operators of natural gas pipelines that were subjected to a form of email fraud known as spear phishing, the agencies said 13 were successfully compromised, while three were “near misses.” The extent of intrusions into seven operators was unknown because of an absence of data.
For years, nation-backed hackers and, more recently, cybercriminals have targeted oil and gas pipelines, holding their operators hostage with ransomware, a form of malware that encrypts data until the victim pays. The ransomware attack in May on Colonial Pipeline, the operator of one of the country’s largest pipelines, was a warning sign, but officials say it was only the most visible consequence of a digital threat that has been consuming critical infrastructure for a decade.
The alert was prompted by new concerns brought to the fore by the attack on Colonial Pipeline, whose pipeline carries refined gasoline and jet fuel from Texas and up the East Coast to New York. That breach grounded nonstop flights and led to gas shortages, setting off alarms at the White House and the Energy Department, which found that the nation could have afforded only three more days of downtime before mass transit and chemical refineries came to a halt.
Mandiant, a division of the security firm FireEye, said the advisory was consistent with the Chinese-backed intrusions it had tracked on natural gas pipeline companies and other critical operators from 2011 to 2013. But the firm added one unnerving detail, noting that it “strongly” believed that in one case, Chinese hackers had gained access to the controls, which could have enabled a pipeline shutdown or potentially set off an explosion.
A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation on Tuesday that would significantly curtail presidential war-making powers, a long-shot effort that nonetheless reflected a growing interest among lawmakers to reassert congressional prerogatives on matters of war and peace.
The bill, introduced by Senators Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, seeks to claw back congressional authority by placing greater restrictions on the War Powers Resolution of 1973, a landmark law which says that presidents must win congressional approval after introducing armed forces into hostilities, or terminate them after 60 days. The proposed bill would add a provision that would automatically cut off funding for military operations that were not authorized by Congress and shorten the window of time in which presidents must end the unauthorized military operations.
In a major shift, it would also retire existing authorizations of military force — including the measures Congress approved for the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2002 — and define what amounts to “hostilities,” under the War Powers Resolution. Past administrations have narrowly construed the term to wage military operations without congressional approval.
“Let us never forget those times in history when our country was tragically led into wars that never should have been fought,” Mr. Sanders said. Many of those wars, he said, were “based on the fact that the United States Congress did not ask the important questions the American people wanted to have asked. And that process must end.”
The bill has little chance of passing, given that senators have balked at approving measures that were far narrower. But it comes as lawmakers in both parties have expressed renewed interest in moderating presidential war authorities, as voters tire of the nation’s intractable military conflicts abroad.
In the coming weeks, senators are set to debate whether to repeal the 2002 authorization of military force that Congress provided to President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. The House voted last month to revoke it.
The legislation introduced on Tuesday also seeks to reassert congressional authority over arms sales and presidential emergency powers. It would require Congress to affirmatively approve arms sales that are worth more than $14 million and contain certain destructive weapons, such as air to ground munitions. Currently, administration-approved arms sales are delivered without debate, unless Congress is able to muster a veto-proof majority in both chambers to block them.
It would also require lawmakers to proactively approve emergency declarations, which allow a president to gain access to military funding and special powers based on a determination that urgent circumstances exist. Former President Donald J. Trump used one in 2019 to tap billions of dollars that Congress had refused to provide for border wall construction, for example, and lawmakers failed to garner the votes to override it. The proposed bill would mandate that Congress approve both the declaration as well as a specified array of emergency powers that would lapse in 30 days.
“This is one of those topics in which Washington can be completely consumed with domestic politics one day, and then a switch flips, a crisis occurs, and we are completely consumed by a foreign national security emergency the next day,” Mr. Murphy said. “Better off to get this conversation started now.”
Democrats are preparing to muscle through the nomination of Tracy Stone-Manning to head the Bureau of Land Management, despite united opposition from Republicans who have branded her an “eco-terrorist” because of her involvement in a tree-spiking episode as a graduate student in the 1980s.
The vote over her nomination, scheduled for Thursday in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sets up a battle between Republicans and Democrats over an agency at the center of climate policy.
The Bureau of Land Management is an agency within the Interior Department that oversees grazing, logging and drilling on 245 million acres of public land and manages 700 million acres of mineral rights. It is responsible for balancing oil, gas and coal extraction with recreation and the protection of natural resources. It is also key to President Biden’s goal to phase out oil and gas drilling on federal lands — a plan that is being challenged by 15 states led by Republican attorneys general.
Ms. Stone-Manning, 55, has built a career in environmental policy, working as an aide to Senator Jon Tester of Montana and as chief of staff to former Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, both Democrats. She was also the head of Montana’s environment agency, where she gained a reputation as a bridge builder among environmentalists, ranchers and fossil fuel interests. She is currently the senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit conservation group.
But Republicans argue that her actions in 1989, and her account of that episode in the intervening years, make her unfit for the post. They wrote to Mr. Biden asking him to withdraw her nomination, and they plan to vote against her as a bloc in the committee.
Republicans also fought the choice of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet secretary, because of her opposition to expanded oil and gas drilling on public lands. While Ms. Haaland narrowly won confirmation, that process morphed into a proxy fight over climate policy.
A former special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration was arrested on Tuesday and charged with trespassing at the Capitol on Jan. 6 while carrying his service weapon and later lying to investigators about his actions during the riot.
Prosecutors did not accuse the former agent, Mark S. Ibrahim, of Orange County, Calif., of breaching the Capitol itself. But they said he had illegally entered restricted areas on the Capitol grounds and taken several photos of himself showing off his sidearm and D.E.A. badge. They also said that when a Justice Department investigator questioned Mr. Ibrahim two months after the riot, he lied, saying that he had gone to the Capitol to help a friend in the F.B.I.
According to court papers, Mr. Ibrahim had given notice to his bosses weeks before Jan. 6 that he intended to leave the D.E.A. Prosecutors said he was not on duty when he went to the Capitol, and Mr. Ibrahim has said he was suspended and then fired by the agency after Jan. 6.
Mr. Ibrahim arrived at the Capitol around 1 p.m. Eastern, court papers said, and took several photos of himself — some of which showed him displaying his gun and badge — in a restricted area inside police barricades. Another law enforcement officer whom Mr. Ibrahim was chatting with on a WhatsApp channel asked him if he was truly carrying his badge and service weapon in the crowd, prosecutors said.
In March, court papers said, Mr. Ibrahim gave a voluntary interview to an investigator from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, saying he had gone to the Capitol on the day of the riot to help a friend in the F.B.I. who was documenting the protest for the bureau. But prosecutors said that the friend later contradicted Mr. Ibrahim, saying he had made up the story and had in fact gone to the Capitol to promote a political podcast and cigar brand he planned to launch after leaving government service.
Several current and former police officers have been charged in connection with the Capitol attack, but Mr. Ibrahim appears to be the first federal agent to face charges.
A lawyer for Mr. Ibrahim, Darren Richie, said in a statement on Tuesday that his client had been “peaceful and docile” on Jan. 6 and “played no role in any riot.”
“This indictment results from conjecture, political pressure and a flawed attempt to paint a specific narrative through pictures taken wholly out of context,” Mr. Richie said.
Democratic state lawmakers from Texas arrived in Washington last week with plans to apply unending pressure on the Senate to pass voting rights protections that would help counteract a Republican election overhaul back home. Then a Covid-19 outbreak stalled their progress.
The entire delegation from Texas is now stuck at a Washington hotel after six members tested positive for the coronavirus, and officials from the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office who met with them have also tested positive. All are fully vaccinated, but nobody in the capital is now particularly eager to meet in person with the group, which has resorted to virtual meetings.
In the meantime, Senate Democratic leaders remain focused on passing an infrastructure package, President Biden is in a standoff with social media companies, and there is no public sign that the Texas Democrats have won over any senators who weren’t already on board with their push to pass new federal voting legislation without clearing a 60-vote Senate threshold. They have not secured meetings with any Republicans or with Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a key Democratic opponent of eliminating that threshold.
And they cannot go home to Texas for another two and a half weeks, or they will risk being arrested for leaving the state.
By staying away from the State Capitol in Austin, the representatives have denied Republicans a quorum necessary for the State House to conduct business, delaying the passage of new restrictions on voting. Those measures, along with other conservative priorities, were put forward in a special session that was called only because the Democrats walked out of the Capitol in the final hours of the regular session in May, preventing Republicans from passing a voting bill then.
Congressional negotiators and the Biden administration tried on Monday to salvage a nearly $600 billion bipartisan agreement to invest in roads, water pipes and other physical infrastructure, after Republicans rejected a key component to pay for the plan and resisted Democratic plans for an initial procedural vote on Wednesday.
Senators and administration officials are still working to hammer out the details of the deal, including how to ensure that a plan to finance it will secure 60 votes for Senate passage. White House officials expressed confidence on Monday that the agreement could be finalized. But its fate was uncertain.
Mr. Biden is pushing his economic agenda in parts. The bipartisan agreement is meant to be step one — with a much larger, Democratic bill to follow. But weeks after their announcement of a deal, the bipartisan group has not released legislative text or received external confirmation that it is fully financed. A top negotiator said over the weekend that the group jettisoned a key plan included in the deal that would have raised revenue by giving the I.R.S. more power to catch tax cheats.
Republicans have come under pressure to oppose that funding method from conservative anti-tax groups, who say it would empower auditors to harass business owners and political targets. Democrats say the increased enforcement would target large corporations and people who earn more than $400,000 — and note that improved tax enforcement has been a bipartisan goal of administrations dating back decades.
Still, on Monday evening Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, set up a procedural vote to begin moving toward debate on the bipartisan deal, even without the final text of the plan, on Wednesday. Mr. Schumer said that if senators agreed to consider infrastructure legislation, he would either bring up the bipartisan deal, should one materialize this week, or move to bring up a series of individual infrastructure bills that have already been approved on a bipartisan basis by Senate committees.
The plan was an effort to force a critical mass of Republicans to commit to advancing the deal and negotiators toward finalizing details, with Democrats eager to move the legislation forward before the Senate leaves for its August recess. Mr. Schumer said he had the support from the five main Democratic negotiators involved in the talks.
“It is not a deadline to determine every final detail of the bill,” he said. A vote of support on Wednesday, he added, would signal “the Senate is ready to begin debating and amending a bipartisan infrastructure bill.”
On Monday, Mr. Biden pushed for passage of the agreement during remarks at the White House, where he promoted his administration’s economic progress. But administration officials made clear later in the day that their patience for the finalization of the bipartisan agreement was running thin.
“We believe it’s time to move forward with this vote — with congressional action,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing. Asked what the administration’s backup plan was if the plan failed to clear the test vote, Ms. Psaki demurred.
“We’re not quite there yet,” she said. “There is a lot of good work that’s happened. Two days is a lifetime in Washington, so I don’t think we’re going to make predictions of the death of the infrastructure package.”
Republican leaders said they wanted to see legislative text before voting on a deal.
“We need to see the bill before voting to go to it. I think that’s pretty easily understood,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told reporters on Monday.
The former Guantánamo detainee Abdul Latif Nasser was reunited with his family in Casablanca after U.S. troops turned him over to Moroccan state custody, his lawyers said Tuesday.
U.S. troops airlifted Mr. Nasser, 56, from Guantánamo Bay on Sunday in the first release of a detainee from the prison by the Biden administration. American and Moroccan officials had agreed to security arrangements for his return in the last days of the Obama administration, but the deal was put on hold when President Donald J. Trump halted all transfers upon taking office.
“He is ecstatic,” said Bernard E. Harcourt, a New York-based lawyer and law professor, who represented Mr. Nasser in federal court. He and his co-counsel, Thomas Anthony Durkin, spoke to Mr. Nasser by phone at his family home in Casablanca, and declared the former prisoner of more than 19 years in good spirits. He was particularly buoyed by being reunited with extended family members who had gathered for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holy day known as the Feast of Sacrifice, Mr. Harcourt added.
“He did say it was amazing for him to go home when all his family was there,” Mr. Harcourt said.
Mr. Nasser’s legal status in his home country was unclear. He was held for a time Monday in a jail near Casablanca, and Moroccan justice officials said in a statement that the police were investigating him for alleged involvement in terrorism.
The investigation was not unusual. Previous Moroccan citizens who were repatriated from Guantánamo were held for days, if not months, and some were charged with terror-related offenses.
The London-based legal and human rights advocacy firm Reprieve said in a statement that Mr. Nasser would not be doing interviews with news organizations “for the foreseeable future.” It quoted him in the statement as declaring that, although he was born on March 4, he considered himself “born again on July 19,” the day of his release from U.S. military detention.
Prompted by growing public outrage over Britney Spears’s conservatorship, two members of the House of Representatives have proposed a bill that, if passed, would create a pathway for Ms. Spears and other individuals to ask a judge to replace their private guardian or conservator.
The legislation, known as the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation Act, or the FREE Act, was introduced on Tuesday by co-sponsors Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat of Florida, and Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina.
Under the bill, individuals would have the right to ask that their private guardian or conservator, who is appointed by the judge, be replaced with a public guardian employed by the state, a family member or a private agent, which the bill argues would provide more accountability. Currently, individuals typically must prove in court that abuse or fraud has occurred in order for a guardian to be replaced. The legislation could also help remedy the dearth of data on guardianships and conservatorships in the United States.
“We want to make sure that we bring transparency and accountability to the conservatorship process,” Ms. Mace said in an interview with Mr. Crist ahead of the announcement. “The Britney Spears conservatorship, it’s a nightmare. If this can happen to her, it can happen to anybody.”
The legislation, which refers to Ms. Spears as a pop icon, was proposed as the “Free Britney” movement has gained impressive traction, including among lawmakers, after a New York Times documentary this year revealed Ms. Spears’s yearslong struggle under her conservatorship, which began in 2008 and gave her father broad control over her life and finances. In 2019, Ms. Spears told a Los Angeles judge that under the conservatorship, she felt forced to a stay at a mental health facility and to perform against her will.
The singer’s testimony last month, in which she told a judge that the conservatorship was “abusive” and that it had “traumatized” her, has increased scrutiny of such arrangements.
The bill argues that Ms. Spears’s unsuccessful petitions in court to remove her father, Jamie Spears, as conservator show that her right to due process has been violated. However, the legislation falls far short of systemic reforms many advocates have called for. It would not make it easier to end such a guardianship or conservatorship, nor would it encourage state courts, which largely oversee such arrangements, to use alternatives.
The National Center for State Courts estimated that, in 2011, there were 1.5 million active guardianships alone. (A conservator generally controls an adult’s financial affairs, while a guardian control all aspects of a person’s life. But in practice, there can be little difference between the two arrangements.) Most involve seniors or individuals with disabilities. Individual cases show how little agency an individual can have in a guardianship, but there is no data about how many have petitioned to be freed.
“Guardianship is extremely restrictive,” said Prianka Nair, co-director of the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic at Brooklyn Law School. “One thing that would be extraordinarily helpful is to have legislation that actually says guardianship should be the last measure and that courts should consider other less restrictive ways of providing decision-making support.”
Rick Black, executive director of the Center for Estate Administration Reform, a not-for-profit advocacy group, who helped to shape the bill, said that he was heartened, although the path to reform remains long.
“The FREE Act is just a start,” said Mr. Black. “But it will drive discussions to hopefully give us statistics to help quantify the issues to help introduce real reforms and prosecute those who execute these crimes.”
Mr. Crist said that the bill was designed to be narrow in order to attract bipartisan support.
“We’ve tried to be very smart and focused,” he said. “That gives us a much greater opportunity to have success.”
The bill would also fund states to assign independent caseworkers to individuals under guardianship or conservatorship to monitor for signs of abuse. States who accept the grant must then require caseworkers and guardians to provide financial disclosures, an effort aimed at preventing fraud.
A previous measure aimed at reforming guardianships, introduced in 2019, failed to move beyond the House Judiciary Committee. But with lawmakers, advocates and Ms. Spears’s supporters teaming up to promote the current legislation and boost awareness, all parties are encouraged.
“We’re all taking advantage of the momentum that the Free Britney movement has provided,” Mr. Black said.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out a Republican lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had sought to take down the proxy voting system adopted by the House of Representatives to allow for remote legislating during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a 12-page opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that courts did not have jurisdiction under the Constitution to wade into the House’s rules and procedures, and that the case should be dismissed. The action upheld an earlier decision by a Federal District Court and did not examine the merits of Republicans’ claims that the proxy voting system set up in May 2020 ran afoul of the Constitution.
“The district court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction,” Sri Srinivasan, the court’s chief judge, wrote on behalf of the panel. “The court concluded that the resolution and its implementation lie within the immunity for legislative acts conferred by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause. We agree, and we thus affirm the district court’s dismissal of the case.”
The decision was a setback for Republicans, who must now decide whether to appeal the ruling to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia or the Supreme Court, or simply drop their challenge. In a bad sign for Republicans’ chances of success, Judge Srinivasan was joined in the decision by Judges Judith W. Rogers, a nominee of President Bill Clinton, and Justin R. Walker, a nominee of President Donald J. Trump.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, did not immediately comment.
For now, the decision effectively leaves it up to the House to decide how long to leave the special pandemic procedures in place as the health threat evolves in the United States and on Capitol Hill. Democrats continue to argue that the system is necessary for safety reasons, and despite their constitutional objections, dozens of Republicans have begun casting votes by proxy, too.
Democrats celebrated the ruling but did not give any indication of how long they intended to keep proxy voting in place. The rules adopted last year require the speaker to extend the emergency authority every 45 days; the current period is set to expire in mid-August.
“This ruling upholds what the Constitution and more than 100 years of legal precedent have made clear: that the House has the ability to set its own rules,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Rules Committee, said in a statement.
He added a dig at Mr. McCarthy: “The fact that the minority leader is suing to prevent Congress from safely conducting the people’s business is unfortunate but emblematic of the way he approaches his role here.”
The House adopted special rules in May 2020, when lawmakers were scattered and stranded around the country by the raging health crisis. The changes allowed members of Congress for the first time to conduct remote committee hearings, file bills electronically and vote remotely using a proxy.
Republicans, led by Mr. McCarthy, quickly filed suit. They argued that the nation’s founders had intended for Congress to meet in person, regardless of the circumstances, and that the proxy voting system in particular violated constitutional principles. They have also promised to immediately return to normal voting procedures if they retake the majority next year.
The system has become rife with abuse. While many members using it still cite legitimate health concerns, a growing number of vaccinated lawmakers in both parties seem to view it as a useful perk, allowing them to cast votes in the House while attending political events, working in their districts or simply avoiding lengthy travel to and from Washington.