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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

House votes to approve waiver for defense secretary nominee

Retired General Lloyd Austin testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his conformation hearing to be the next secretary of defense in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
Retired General Lloyd Austin testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his conformation hearing to be the next secretary of defense in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The House voted Thursday to approve a waiver for retired General Lloyd Austin to serve as defense secretary, clearing a vital hurdle ahead of his expected Senate confirmation.

Austin needs both chambers of Congress to vote to waive the rule requiring defense secretaries to be out of uniform for at least seven years before assuming leadership at the Pentagon. Austin retired as a four-star general in 2016.

The 326-78 vote in the House comes after several House Democrats, as well as an official House Republican policy group, came out in opposition to the waiver. They argued that it would endanger the tradition of civilian leadership at the Pentagon to usher a second recently retired general into the position so soon after General Jim Mattis, who served as former president Donald Trump’s first defense secretary.

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House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, despite his initial uneasiness with the waiver, emerged as one of Austin’s strongest champions Thursday, appealing to his colleagues to back the waiver to make sure Austin takes office as soon as possible.

“He deserves this waiver, and our country deserves a fully confirmed secretary of defense as soon as we can get that done,” Smith said on the House floor just before the vote.

The Senate is expected to follow the House’s lead and approve the waiver.

Washington Post

McCarthy denies his vote was intended to overturn election

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy was among the House Republicans who voted earlier this month to reject the electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, states won by Joe Biden. He was also among the 126 Republicans who signed onto an amicus brief last month in a lawsuit that would have invalidated the results from four states that Biden won.

But at a news conference Thursday, the top House Republican argued that he did not vote to “overturn” Biden’s win.

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“What I voted on wasn’t to overturn an election, because it wouldn’t. It would not overturn it,” McCarthy, a California Republican, told reporters.

While Biden would have won the White House even without the electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona, the amicus brief McCarthy signed onto would have invalidated the results from enough states to hand victory to President Trump.

For more than a month after the election, McCarthy also repeatedly voiced support for Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud and declined to call Biden president-elect — even when then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans congratulated Biden after the electoral college made his victory official in mid-December.

In defending his actions Thursday, McCarthy argued that the amicus brief he had signed onto was posing “a constitutional question”: “Did the [state] legislature actually move through to make any changes” to the way the election was conducted amid the coronavirus pandemic?

The Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit, which notably targeted only four states that Biden won.

Washington Post

Facebook passes on decision on Trump suspension

OAKLAND, Calif. — Facebook is passing the buck for its indefinite suspension of former president Donald Trump to a quasi-independent oversight board, setting up a major test of the recently established panel.

The social media giant said Thursday that it believes it made the right decision to suspend Trump after he incited his supporters to storm the US Capitol in a deadly assault on Jan. 6. But it said it’s referring the matter to the oversight board for what it called an “independent judgment” on upholding the decision.

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Facebook’s panel is intended to rule on thorny content issues, such as when posts constitute hate speech — or if the decision to ban a world leader was the right one. It is empowered to make binding rulings — that is, ones that can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg — on whether posts or ads violate the company’s rules. Any other findings will be considered “guidance” by Facebook. The board does not set Facebook policies or decide if the company is doing enough to enforce them in the first place.

Twitter, by contrast, permanently banned Trump from its platform. CEO Jack Dorsey defended his company’s Trump ban in a philosophical Twitter thread last week, saying that resulting risk to public safety created an “extraordinary and untenable circumstance” for the company.

Associated Press

Kerry presses for faster work on fossil fuels curb

US climate envoy John Kerry on Thursday lamented “wasted years” under the Trump administration to slow climate change and urged faster work to curb fossil fuel emissions.

Kerry spoke remotely to an Italian business conference in his first international climate address under President Biden.

Biden, in his first hours in office Wednesday, signed an executive order returning the United States to the Paris climate accord. It reversed the withdrawal by former president Donald Trump, who ridiculed the science of human-caused climate change.

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Biden’s administration is getting back into the battle to cut climate-damaging coal, gas, and oil emissions with “humility, because we know that the federal government of the United States, until yesterday, walked away from the table for four wasted years when we could’ve been helping to meet the challenge,” Kerry told the European forum in his prepared remarks.

Biden’s order starts a roughly 30-day process of getting the United States back into the nearly 200-country UN climate treaty. Countries in the accord commit to setting goals to cut climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions and to monitor and report their emissions.

Biden has put Kerry, secretary of state under President Barack Obama, in charge of climate and national security issues.

Preventing the worst of global warming would require $1 trillion in annual investment globally through 2030, Kerry told Thursday’s gathering — moving five times faster than currently to phase out dirty-burning coal, 22 times faster to electric vehicles, and six times faster to ramp up solar, wind and other renewable power.

Associated Press

Another bank closes Trump’s accounts

Another one of former president Donald Trump’s banks said Thursday that it is closing his accounts, as Trump returns to a business hammered by COVID-19 and the backlash to Trump’s role in the deadly attack on the Capitol.

“We no longer have any depository relationship with him,” Bank United said Thursday. The bank declined to give a reason for its decision.

The Florida-based bank had held some of Trump’s money since at least 2015, according to the former president’s financial disclosures. At the end of 2020, Trump said he had two money market accounts at Bank United, containing between $5.1 million and $25.2 million combined. The financial disclosure forms allowed Trump to list his assets in ranges, rather than exact dollar amounts.

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Since the Jan. 6 attack, a number of key partners, vendors, and customers have cut ties with Trump’s company. That list now includes three of the four banks that held Trump’s largest deposits: Signature Bank and Professional Bank announced their decisions earlier this month. The fourth, Capital One Bank, has declined comment, saying it does not discuss current or former customer relationships.

In addition, Trump has lost two real-estate brokers, an e-commerce vendor, a chance to host the 2022 PGA Championship. New York City also said it would end the Trump Organization’s contracts to run a carousel, two ice rinks, and a golf course in city parks.

Washington Post