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The United States carries out retaliatory airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran-backed militias.

Neera Tanden during her confirmation hearing to be director of the Office of Management and Budget this month.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

On Wednesday night, Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, went on television to proclaim that the Biden administration was still “fighting our guts out” to get Neera Tanden confirmed as the head of the Office of Management and Budget.

It was a fight that Mr. Klain and others in the West Wing had not expected to have to wage.

President Biden raised eyebrows in some policy circles when he nominated Ms. Tanden last year, while two Senate seats in Georgia — and Senate control — were still undecided. Once Democrats won those elections, many in the administration saw Ms. Tanden as a strong pick to serve as budget director, both because of her wide experience in a range of policy areas and because of her personal story of being raised by an immigrant single mother who relied on food stamps and other government support at times in Ms. Tanden’s childhood.

Mr. Klain had pushed hard for the selection of Ms. Tanden, a longtime friend, even while some other aides worried that picking her would create a distraction and require the White House to expend political capital best used to pass the $1.9 trillion economic aid package that is Mr. Biden’s first major legislative push.

White House officials believed the back-of-the-envelope math looked good for Ms. Tanden’s confirmation, even accounting for the concerns about her being seen as partisan and belligerent in social media posts — thousands of which she deleted after Mr. Biden’s victory in November.

Mr. Klain and other administration officials appear to have misjudged the salience of what one senator called “mean” social media posts after four years of Twitter screeds by former President Donald J. Trump, which Republican lawmakers often let pass without comment.

That lack of preparation became clear last week when Senator Joe Manchin III, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, said he would oppose Ms. Tanden’s confirmation given her past public comments.

Democrats close to the administration said Ms. Tanden had been expecting a level of Republican support similar to Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, who was confirmed with six Republicans joining 50 Democrats in backing him.

But by Thursday afternoon, the fight to confirm Ms. Tanden had come down to whether Mr. Biden’s team could scrounge up a single Republican to support her nomination.

After Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he would not vote to confirm Ms. Tanden, only one option was left on the table: Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska.

Ms. Murkowski could still vote to confirm Ms. Tanden, but for now the senator is staying mum.

With no overarching concerns over Ms. Tanden’s nomination, the White House focused its time and energy instead on preparing two appointees it had assessed to be its most vulnerable cabinet members: Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Mr. Biden’s nominee for interior secretary; and Xavier Becerra, his nominee for secretary of health and human services.

Republican opposition to Ms. Tanden blossomed after Mr. Manchin said he would not support her. Some White House officials viewed those “no” votes as an opportunistic pile-on intended to kill her chances.

Allies of Mr. Biden involved in the process said Mr. Klain — a veteran of political fights, including the 2000 presidential recount in Florida — knew Ms. Tanden’s nomination would be somewhat contentious. But he and others did not expect her tweets to make her more contentious than other potential nominees.

Progressives like Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, for example, were staging protests over the possibility of Bruce Reed, Mr. Biden’s former chief of staff, leading the budget department before the nomination went to Ms. Tanden. White House officials assumed nominees for other posts would face more opposition from Republicans.

On Thursday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that “The president nominated Neera Tanden because she is qualified, because she is experienced, because she has a record of working with people who agree and disagree with her.”

“We’re continuing to fight for her confirmation,” she said.

Democrats suffered a critical defeat in their bid to preserve President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package on Thursday after the Senate’s top rule enforcer said a plan to increase the federal minimum wage could not advance as part of it, effectively knocking out a crucial piece of his plan backed by progressives.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, told senators and staff that the provision, which would gradually increase the wage to $15 an hour by 2025, violated the strict budgetary rules that limit what can be included in the package, two aides said on Thursday. The aides disclosed the ruling on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on it.

The House is expected to vote on the $1.9 trillion package as early as Friday, with the wage increase included, and it was not clear whether the decision would alter their plans. But it gave Republicans grounds to jettison the provision when the Senate considers the stimulus measure shortly after under a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation, which shields it from a filibuster, allowing it to pass without Republican support.

Democrats are working to win enactment of the pandemic aid package before mid-March, when federal unemployment benefits begin to lapse. Doing so through reconciliation ensures speed, but it also comes with stringent rules that aim to prevent the process from being abused for policy initiatives that have no direct effect on the federal budget.




Rand Paul Lashes Out At Rachel Levine About ‘Genital Mutilation’

Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s assistant secretary of health nominee, stands to be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate. At a hearing on Thursday, Senator Rand Paul asked Dr. Levine about her stance on “genital mutilation” and minors.

“Most genital mutilation is not typically performed by force, but as W.H.O. notes, that by social convention, social norm, the social pressure to conform, to do what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones to prevent their biological development of their secondary sexual characteristics. Dr. Levine, you have supported both allowing minors to be given hormone blockers to prevent them from going through puberty, as well as surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia. Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” “Well, Senator, thank you for your interest in this question, transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office, and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender —” “I’m alarmed that poor kids with no parents who are homeless and distraught, you would just go through this and allow that to happen to a minor.” “I would certainly be pleased to come to your office and talk with you and your staff about the standards of care and the complexity of this field.”

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Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s assistant secretary of health nominee, stands to be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate. At a hearing on Thursday, Senator Rand Paul asked Dr. Levine about her stance on “genital mutilation” and minors.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Caroline Brehman

A culture war over transgender rights erupted on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as a Republican senator attacked President Biden’s nominee to a top health post, and two members of the House — one the mother of a transgender daughter — sparred over legislation that would extend civil rights protections to L.G.B.T.Q. people.

The nominee, Dr. Rachel Levine, a former Pennsylvania health secretary and Mr. Biden’s pick to be assistant secretary of health, stands to be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate, and her nomination has been cheered by advocates for transgender rights.

But Dr. Levine’s confirmation hearing briefly turned combative on Thursday, when Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, opened his questioning with a tirade about “genital mutilation” and a demand to know whether the nominee supported gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for minors. (An earlier version of this post misstated the day of the hearing.)

“You’re willing to let a minor take things that prevent their puberty, and you think they get that back?” Mr. Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, said at one point. “You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard — you think she’s going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone?”

Dr. Levine replied that, “Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” that she would be happy to discuss with him.

The clash exposed the deep shift Washington is undergoing as Mr. Biden settles into office, undoing the policies of his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, who worked aggressively to undermine transgender rights. Mr. Biden, by contrast, is seeking to make his administration more welcoming to L.G.B.T.Q. people.

Mr. Biden has repealed Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. L.G.B.T.Q. references are now commonplace, and visitors to the White House website are now asked whether they want to provide their pronouns when they fill out a contact form: she/her, he/him or they/them.

And the Senate hearing unfolded on a day when the House passed the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.

In emotional remarks in support of the bill on Thursday, Representative Marie Newman, Democrat of Illinois, said she was fighting to advance the legislation to ensure that people like her daughter, who is transgender, would no longer face discrimination. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the first-term Republican from Georgia who is known for spreading false and bigoted conspiracy theories and has a history of online trolling, responded on Twitter, calling Ms. Newman’s daughter “your biological son” and saying that she did not “belong in my daughters’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams.”

The ugly attack on a fellow lawmaker’s child came after Ms. Newman posted video of herself putting up a transgender pride flag outside her office on Capitol Hill so Ms. Greene, her office neighbor, would have to “look at it every time she opens her door.” In response, Ms. Greene put up a poster of her own in the hallway outside that bore the phrase: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE.”

Also on Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, weighed in, lashing out at Mr. Paul and Ms. Taylor Greene — though not by name — during a news conference with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California in support of the equality bill.

“Their attacks on trans people and the transgender community are just mean, mean and show a complete lack of understanding, a complete lack of empathy,” Mr. Schumer said, adding, “Their despicable comments just make my blood boil with anger. If I didn’t have a mask, you could see my teeth gritting.”

Since Mr. Biden nominated her, Dr. Levine has been subject to attacks on social media and from conservative news outlets that have asserted, without evidence, that she has advocated gender reassignment surgery for minors, which is generally not done in the United States.

Dr. Levine, a pediatrician who previously focused on eating disorders and adolescent mental health, was also the liaison for the L.G.B.T.Q. community for the Office of Diversity at the Penn State College of Medicine.

Her detractors have seized on a 2017 speech she gave describing hormone therapy as a standard of care for transgender youth, and also on a tweet she posted in January 2020 about a study showing that transgender youth with access to puberty blocking drugs are at decreased risk of suicide.

“This study is important because it’s the first to show this specific association,” Dr. Levine wrote.

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike in eastern Syria against structures belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for recent attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.

The strikes were authorized by President Biden in response to the recent attacks in Iraq and to continuing threats to American and coalition personnel, said John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, who spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III in California.

A rocket attack on the airport in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil this month killed a civilian contractor with the American-led military coalition and wounded six others, including a U.S. service member and four American contractors.

American officials said the military response was essentially a tiny demonstration strike: one bomb dropped on a small cluster of buildings on the Syria-Iraq border used to transit militia in and out of the country.

The strike was just over the border in Syria to avoid diplomatic blowback to the Iraqi government. The Pentagon offered up several larger groups of targets but Mr. Biden approved the smallest option, American officials said.

The American airstrikes on Thursday “specifically destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militia troops, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mr. Kirby said.

“This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” Mr. Kirby said. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.”

Jennifer M. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling Energy Department.
Credit…Pool photo by Graeme Jennings

The Senate confirmed Jennifer M. Granholm to be energy secretary on Thursday, positioning the former governor of Michigan to play a key role in President Biden’s plans to confront climate change.

Ms. Granholm, a longtime champion of renewable energy development, was confirmed by a vote of 64 to 35, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. She will be the second woman to lead the Department of Energy, after Hazel R. O’Leary, who served under President Bill Clinton.

Ms. Granholm will oversee an agency that plays a leading role in researching and developing new energy technologies, such as advanced wind turbines or methods to capture carbon dioxide from industrial facilities before the gas reaches the atmosphere. Energy experts have said innovations like these could prove critical for slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Granholm sought to allay fears by lawmakers that transitioning the United States away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources would devastate the nation’s economy. She pointed to her experience as Michigan’s governor during the 2009 recession, when the state invested heavily in electric vehicle technology and worker retraining programs amid efforts to rescue an ailing auto industry that had long focused on building gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

“I understand what it’s like to look into the eyes of men and women who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Ms. Granholm said. But clean energy, she added, “is a sector that every single state can benefit from.”

Ms. Granholm could face challenges in managing the sprawling federal agency. Only about one-fifth of the Energy Department’s $35 billion annual budget is devoted to energy programs. The rest goes toward maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal, cleaning up environmental messes from the Cold War and conducting scientific research in areas like high-energy physics at the department’s network of 17 national laboratories.

Neera Tanden, President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, aimed many of the tweets at issue at senators who control the fate of her nomination.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Neera Tanden, you might have heard, has a Twitter problem.

Ms. Tanden, President Biden’s choice to run the Office of Management and Budget, has a yearslong trail of problematic tweets, many aimed at certain key senators who control the increasingly precarious fate of her nomination.

A procession of these senators — Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and the Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah — have indicated that they are unlikely to support Ms. Tanden, in part because of the “divisive” and “overly partisan” nature of her tweets.

There has been much talk of double standards, opportunism, hypocrisy and all of the things that make politicians rather easy to call out.

“Maybe it’s me, but some of this Republican outrage feels a little manufactured,” said Erik Smith, a longtime Democratic media strategist.

The political question of “problematic tweets” has been dominated in recent years by a certain former president who tweeted a lot — at least until last month when he was sent packing from the White House and by Twitter.

During President Donald J. Trump’s time in office, Republicans on Capitol Hill mastered the Kabuki of ducking questions about his latest inflammatory tweet, usually by claiming they “didn’t see the tweet” or were “not going to comment on every one of the president’s tweets” or were “late for lunch, sorry, got to run.”

Around Washington, Ms. Tanden has been a well-known and outspoken liberal for decades. She was a top policy aide to Hillary Clinton, worked in the Obama administration, and has generally been a left-leaning fixture in any number of Washington green rooms, book parties and advisory boards. Any of Ms. Tanden’s nearly 380,000 followers would attest that she is unapologetically partisan.

As technology evolves, so do the Washington rules of the road. In the past, potential job candidates could be derailed by various “indiscretions,” “past statements” or certain things that they might have said “in the heat of the moment.” All of which is basically Twitter in a nutshell.




House Approves Sweeping L.G.B.T.Q. Equality Legislation

The House narrowly passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Today, the House will take up and pass for the second time, the Equality Act, H.R. 5, and we are really excited to have the incredible support of President Biden and his commitment to make the Equality Act the law of the land. Every American deserves respect and dignity. And it’s important that the Equality Act become law because it will once and for all ensure that L.G.B.T.Q. Americans can live lives free of discrimination and in particular it amends the existing civil rights architecture and adds sexual orientation and gender identity to employment, education, housing, credit, jury service, public accommodations and federal funding. It’s a fully inclusive civil rights law that will once and for all make discrimination illegal in this country.” “This legislation is personal for me. Just six years ago, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, like my daughter, won the legal right to marry who they love. The Equality Act would make sure she can continue living her life with her wife, with the security and dignity of knowing she won’t face basic discrimination because of who she.”

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The House narrowly passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

A divided House on Thursday narrowly passed a sprawling bill that would extend civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but the measure faced an uphill battle to enactment, with Republicans almost uniformly opposed.

The legislation, passed 224 to 206, almost entirely along party lines, stands little chance of drawing enough Republican support in the Senate to advance, at least in its current form. It was the second time the Democratic-led House had passed the measure, known as the Equality Act, which seeks to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add explicit bans on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in both public and private spaces.

“In most states, L.G.B.T.Q. people can be discriminated against because of who they are, or who they love,” said Representative David Cicilline, an openly gay Democrat from Rhode Island and the lead sponsor. “It is past time for that to change.”

In a landmark decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 civil rights law protects gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination, and that the language of the law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act builds on that ruling, and would expand the scope of civil rights protections beyond workers to consumers at businesses including restaurants, taxi services, gas stations and shelters.

It would also water down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 1993 law at the heart of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case that set a high bar for governments to enact laws that “substantially burden” an individual’s freedom to exercise religious beliefs. Those protections have been cited by, for example, bakers or photographers who object to serving same-sex weddings. Those seeking to challenge portions of the Equality Act could not do so under RFRA, according to the legislation.

The House first passed the legislation in 2019, but the Republican-controlled Senate at the time refused to take it up. Upon taking office, President Biden encouraged the Democratic-controlled Congress to “swiftly pass” the bill, calling it a “critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality.”

But 10 Republicans would need to join Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass legislation under normal Senate procedures, a level of support its proponents are unlikely to muster, unless substantial changes are made.




Capitol Police Were Unprepared for Scale of ‘Mob Mentality,’ Chief Says

Yogananda D. Pittman, acting chief of the Capitol Police, told a House panel on Thursday that officers were unprepared for the scale of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and were uncertain of when to use lethal force.

The department was not ignorant of intelligence indicating an attack of the size and scale we encountered on the 6th. There was no such intelligence. Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol. The department also did not ignore intelligence that we had, which indicated an elevated risk of violence from extremist groups — to the contrary, we heightened our security posture. There’s evidence that some of those who stormed the Capitol were organized. But there’s also evidence that a large number were everyday Americans who took on a mob mentality because they were angry and desperate. It is the conduct of this latter group that the department was not prepared for. The department did face some operational challenges that we are addressing. For example, the Capitol lockdown was not properly executed. Some of the officers were unsure of when to use lethal force, our radio communications to officers were not as robust and we are ensuring that our incident command system protocols are adhered to going forward. And re-implementing training in those respective areas. We are addressing those operational challenges, but I want to make clear that these measures alone would not have stopped the threat we faced. To stop a mob of tens of thousands requires more than a police force, it requires physical infrastructure or a regiment of soldiers.

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Yogananda D. Pittman, acting chief of the Capitol Police, told a House panel on Thursday that officers were unprepared for the scale of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and were uncertain of when to use lethal force.CreditCredit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

The acting chief of the Capitol Police warned lawmakers on Thursday that extremist groups that carried out the Jan. 6 riot want to blow up the Capitol and kill lawmakers around President Biden’s first formal address to Congress, calling for security measures deployed after the deadly attack to remain for several more weeks.

“We have no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed,” the acting chief, Yogananda D. Pittman, told a House Appropriations subcommittee. “We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan. 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible, with a direct nexus to the State of the Union.”

Extremist groups and militia members were among the hundreds of pro-Trump rioters who attacked the Capitol last month in an attempt to stop the certification of Mr. Biden’s victory and keep President Donald J. Trump in power. The violent rampage caused injuries to nearly 140 police officers and left five people dead.

Afterward, tens of thousands of National Guard troops were sent to the Capitol, which is now fortified on all sides with tall fences topped with razor wire.

Chief Pittman said the extremist groups still want to send a “symbolic message to the nation.” She added that the crowd of Trump supporters grew to more than 10,000 that day, and about 800 entered the Capitol building. Congressional leaders have yet to set a date for Mr. Biden’s speech to a joint session of the House and the Senate.

“We think it’s prudent Capitol Police maintain its robust security posture,” Chief Pittman said.

The increased security procedures put in place after the mob attack to protect lawmakers and staff members are costing taxpayers about $2 million a week, said Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, the top Republican on the subcommittee.

Capitol officials have said the total cost of the attack and its security response is likely to exceed $30 million.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, announced on Wednesday that he would support President Biden’s nominee for interior secretary, a move widely regarded as sealing her nomination.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

There is another Joe in town, with the power to give big Joe the jitters.

Senator Joe Manchin III, a genial but calculating West Virginia Democrat who has managed to survive in a deep-red state, is emerging as the legislative keystone of his party’s fragile 50-seat majority.

Being the chamber’s most conservative Democrat endows him with the same power held by Vice President Kamala Harris — the ability to cast tiebreaking votes in the chamber. Without Mr. Manchin’s support, Democrats will often fall short of the 51 total votes, including Ms. Harris, needed to pass anything.

Mr. Manchin — who crossed the aisle last year to endorse Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who shares his centrism and who once threatened to retire unless Democrats compromised on a budget — has never been shy about using his leverage.

And he has never had nearly so much.

Take Wednesday. His thumbs-up for a Biden cabinet appointee, Deb Haaland for interior secretary, was regarded as sealing her nomination. On the flip side, his announcement last week that he would oppose Neera Tanden, the president’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, has rendered that confirmation increasingly unlikely.

These were mere warm-ups for a bigger test. Party leaders are confident that Mr. Manchin will support the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that President Biden has made his top priority — but increasingly, they are asking what he might demand in return.

Mr. Manchin has already said he plans to oppose Mr. Biden’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a stance also taken by Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a centrist who has shown less inclination to challenge party leaders.

With such positions, Mr. Manchin, a former governor, embodies the polyglot political personality of a state that delivered huge majorities for former President Donald J. Trump but has a deeply ingrained history of trade unionism and support of federal aid programs.

The state’s current governor, Jim Justice, a Democrat who flipped to the Republican Party to back Mr. Trump, has a similar independent streak: He supports Mr. Biden’s plan and urged his adopted party to “go big.”

Senator Charles Schumer, the majority leader, has long believed Mr. Manchin’s loyalty on big votes entitled him to buck party orthodoxies. But Mr. Biden’s margin of error is small and Mr. Schumer on Tuesday made a broad pitch for party unity when asked about Mr. Manchin.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer are not the only ones with small margins.

Mr. Manchin is up for re-election in 2024. He last won his state by just three points, and cannot afford to lose even a small percentage of Black voters and progressives in population centers like Morgantown and Charleston. White House officials know this, and Ms. Harris made a conspicuous appearance on one of the state’s biggest television stations to push the stimulus last month, much to Mr. Manchin’s annoyance.

Mr. Biden can also take consolation in the fact that there is only one Mr. Manchin.

While President Obama entered office in 2009 with a bigger Senate majority, he also had to appease a half-dozen conservative Democrats, like the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee at the time, Max Baucus, who viewed themselves as legislative barons to be courted, not corralled.

President Donald J. Trump last year at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Starting on Friday, a medley of conservative politicians, commentators and activists will descend on Orlando, Fla., for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC. In years past, the event has been a reliable barometer for the base of the Republican Party, clarifying how its most devout members define the institution and what they want it to look like in the future.

For party leaders, those questions have become especially urgent in the aftermath of former President Donald J. Trump’s election loss in November. The party has hardened over the past four years into one animated by rage, grievance and, above all, fealty to Mr. Trump. The days ahead will help illuminate whether it’s likely to stay that way.

Mr. Trump is scheduled to speak at 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, but his presence will be felt throughout the event. On Friday, panelists including Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who has enthusiastically backed Mr. Trump’s claims of election fraud, will gather for a segment called “Protecting Elections: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence.” That theme picks up again on Sunday morning, when speakers will discuss what they call the “Failed States” of Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada — states President Biden won.

With so many segments anchored in the 2020 election, the conference appears to be less about mapping the party’s future than relitigating its past. The list of speakers, however, hints at who hopes to be the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida will deliver the kickoff address on Friday at 9 a.m. Other potential 2024 candidates on the speaker list include Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rick Scott of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota will anchor the lineup on Saturday.

But who isn’t speaking at CPAC this year is as telling as who is.

The most notable absence is former Vice President Mike Pence, who has kept a low profile since Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters called for his execution.

Also missing from the list is former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who served under Mr. Trump as ambassador to the United Nations and whose absence may signal an attempt to occupy a more moderate lane in the party in the years ahead.

Harvard University in 2src18. A group of plaintiffs led by a conservative legal strategist accuses the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans.
Credit…Tristan Spinski for The New York Times

A group claiming that Harvard’s admissions systematically discriminates against Asian-Americans asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to hear their case, betting that the conservative majority — bolstered by three justices appointed during the Trump administration — will see it as a chance to abolish race as a criterion for college admissions everywhere in the country.

The petition portrays Harvard as a worthy object of scrutiny because its admissions system has served as a “model” cited in other Supreme Court cases.

“It isn’t just any university,” the petition says. “It’s Harvard. Harvard has been at the center of the controversy over ethnic and race-based admissions for nearly a century.”

It asks the high court to reverse a lower court decisions in support of Harvard, and to overturn Supreme Court precedent, specifically in Grutter v. Bollinger, involving the University of Michigan law school. That 2003 decision upheld the “narrowly tailored” consideration of race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.

The petition says Grutter used the Harvard model as its “North Star,” and the rules laid down by the decision are so “amorphous,” “Delphic” and “obscure,” that it has allowed bias and racial stereotyping against “disfavored minorities,” like Asian-Americans, to creep into the process.

“Harvard’s mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is appalling,” the brief says. “Harvard penalizes them because, according to the admissions office, they lack leadership and confidence and are less likable and kind.”

In a statement Thursday, Harvard said it “will continue to vigorously defend the right of Harvard College, and every other college and university in the nation, to seek the educational benefits that come from bringing together a diverse group of students.”

The plaintiff group, Students for Fair Admissions, is led by Edward Blum, a conservative legal strategist, but not a lawyer, who has a track record of taking cases involving race to the Supreme Court. It includes several Asian-American students rejected by Harvard who would transfer there if they could, the petition says.

Mr. Blum was the architect of Shelby County v. Holder, winning a 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively gutted a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that some civil rights advocates say unleashed new voter suppression laws. He also recruited Abigail Fisher, the white plaintiff in a discrimination case against the University of Texas; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the university in 2016.

But since then, the composition of the Supreme Court has changed with the addition of three conservative justices — Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — nominated by former President Donald J. Trump.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken listened as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada spoke during a virtual meeting with President Biden on Tuesday.
Credit…Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken plans to take virtual “trips” to Mexico and Canada on Friday, an effort to continue diplomacy in as normal a fashion as possible at a time when the coronavirus has shut down most foreign travel.

Mr. Blinken will first “visit” Mexico, the State Department announced in a statement on Thursday, where he will meet with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard and Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier to discuss issues like trade, migration and climate change. Mr. Blinken and Mr. Ebrard will also pay a joint virtual visit to the Del Norte border entry point to discuss management of the southern U.S. border.

The digital facsimile of travel is an innovative, if potentially awkward, effort by the State Department to compensate for Mr. Blinken’s inability for now to take physical trips amid the pandemic, a frustrating condition for a newly installed diplomat determined to rebuild U.S. alliances after the Trump era.

“We’re trying to make it resemble, as closely as we can, a physical trip,” said Ned Price, a State Department spokesman.

Mr. Blinken has been vaccinated, but State Department officials say that given the size of his overseas entourage, and potential risks to people who might gather for his visits in host countries, he is not expected to take a physical trip before late March at the earliest.

Later on Friday, Mr. Blinken will meet with Canadian officials, according to the State Department, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, as well as a group of Canadian students.

Mr. Blinken’s meeting with the students, visit to the border, and “meet and greets” with embassy employees are intended to replicate the sort of interactions with host countries outside of government ministries that enrich diplomatic travel but have become dangerous because of the virus.

Mr. Blinken joined President Biden on Tuesday for a virtual meeting with Mr. Trudeau, who was broadcast onto a large video screen about 20 feet away from his American hosts, and then appeared on another screen alongside Mr. Biden, standing at a podium, for press statements.

As Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, put it in a briefing for reporters Thursday: “This is the new world we live in.”

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