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Biden’s A.T.F. Pick Reiterates Support for AR-15 Restrictions
David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, announced his support for a proposed ban on AR-15-style rifles during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.
“The leadership positions I held at A.T.F. grounded me in what it will take to improve bureau operations and morale. I’ve supervised agents in the field multiple times. I use that experience to develop new approaches to combat homicides committed with firearms impacting communities across the United States. While at A.T.F. headquarters during the Bush administration, I was responsible for all A.T.F. field policies and procedures. I later oversaw all firearms programs and foreign offices for the entire bureau. These experiences, hard won over the course of decades, will serve as my guide if I’m confirmed to lead the A.T.F. The bureau has excelled at investigating crimes since the days of Eliot Ness. My leadership mission will be to sharpen A.T.F.’s focus while striving to prevent more violent crimes from occurring in the first place.” “The AR-15 is one of, if not the most popular rifle in America. It’s not a machine gun, it’s a rifle. Your public position is that you want to ban AR-15s, is that correct?” “With respect to the AR-15, I support a ban as has been presented in a Senate bill and supported by the president. The AR-15 is a gun I was issued on A.T.F. SWAT team. And it’s a particularly lethal weapon, and regulating it as other particularly lethal weapons, I have advocated for. As A.T.F. director, if I’m confirmed, I would simply enforce the laws on the books. And right now, there is no such ban on those guns.”
David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, announced his support for a proposed ban on AR-15-style rifles during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.CreditCredit…Al Drago for The New York Times
David Chipman, President Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, faced withering Republican criticism during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday over his history of scathing comments about gun ownership.
Mr. Chipman, a two-decade veteran of the A.T.F. who has advised gun control groups, was chosen in part because of his willingness to bluntly confront an industry that has handcuffed the agency, which enforces gun laws.
But his comments — including an interview last year in which he jokingly likened the frenzied buying of guns during the coronavirus pandemic to a zombie apocalypse — were the subject of repeated questions by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Many see putting a committed gun control proponent like David Chipman in charge of A.T.F. is like putting a tobacco executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services, or antifa in charge of the Portland Police Department,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the ranking member of the committee.
As the hearing got underway, news alerts of a fatal shooting in San Jose, Calif., began pinging on lawmakers’ phones. “It is not lost on me that there is another mass shooting,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota.
The National Rifle Association has mounted a coordinated campaign against Mr. Chipman’s nomination, citing his promises to regulate automatic weapons and his support of universal background checks.
The organization has effectively exercised veto power over the appointment of stable leadership at the A.T.F., blocking several potential directors, including a conservative police union official tapped by President Donald J. Trump. The gun lobby has also led a decades-long campaign to hobble the A.T.F. by fighting funding increases and efforts to modernize its paper-based system of tracking firearms.
Republicans said Mr. Chipman’s penchant for provocation made him an unacceptable choice, hoping to scuttle his nomination just as a history of inflammatory Twitter posts doomed the nomination of Neera Tanden, Mr. Biden’s first choice to run his budget office.
Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, grilled Mr. Chipman for saying in jest in an interview last year that some first-time gun buyers were preparing “for end times scenarios and zombie apocalypses.”
Mr. Chipman, who appeared to try to avoid a back-and-forth with Republicans, said those remarks had been “self-deprecating.” He also deflected questions about his advocacy of progressive policy by saying that he viewed himself as “a cop.”
A few minutes later, after Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, criticized him for calling for restrictions on AR-15-style rifles, Mr. Chipman thanked the senator for “offering me a Dr Pepper” during a private meeting the day before.
Mr. Biden chose Mr. Chipman after a lobbying campaign by gun safety organizations, led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In recent years, Mr. Chipman has worked with groups run by Ms. Giffords and Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, who also pressed for his selection.
The White House was initially reluctant to nominate someone who would provoke such intense opposition, but Mr. Biden decided that he needed to take a chance after the mass killings in Atlanta and Boulder, White House officials said.
White House officials believe that Mr. Chipman has just enough votes — 50 to 52, by their estimate — to overcome near-unanimous opposition by Republicans.
Two critical Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have told Democratic leaders that they are likely to vote for him, provided the hearings go well. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, have not ruled out supporting him.
U.S. to ‘Redouble’ Efforts Into Coronavirus Origin Investigation
The Biden administration announced that it has called on intelligence agencies to redouble their efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in China as a way to prevent future pandemics.
Today, the president asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to him in 90 days. Back in early 2020, the president called for the C.D.C. to get access to China to learn about the virus so we could fight it more effectively. Getting to the bottom of the origin of this pandemic will help us understand how to prepare for the next pandemic, and the next one. As we have done throughout our Covid response, we have been committed to a whole of government effort to ensure we’re doing everything to both understand and end this pandemic, and to prevent future pandemics. This is why the president is asking the U.S. intelligence community, in cooperation with other elements of our government, to redouble efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring the world closer to a definitive conclusion on the origin of the virus and deliver a report to him again in 90 days. And we will continue to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation with the needed access to get to the bottom of a virus that’s taken more than three million lives across the globe.
The Biden administration announced that it has called on intelligence agencies to redouble their efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in China as a way to prevent future pandemics.CreditCredit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press
President Biden on Wednesday ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, indicating publicly that his administration takes seriously the possibility that it was accidentally leaked from a lab, as well as the prevailing theory that it was transmitted to humans by an animal.
In a statement, Mr. Biden made clear that the agencies had not reached consensus on how the virus originated. But he directed them to “redouble their efforts” and report back in 90 days.
The president’s statement, his most public and expansive yet on the uncertainty about how the virus spread, came as top health officials renewed their appeals this week for a more rigorous investigation and an earlier report by an international team of experts faced mounting criticism for dismissing the possibility that it had accidentally escaped from a Chinese laboratory.
In the past several days, the White House had downplayed the need for an investigation led by the United States and insisted that the World Health Organization was the proper place for an international inquiry. Mr. Biden’s statement was an abrupt shift, though officials declined to be specific about the shift.
“What has changed is, he wants to give another 90 days to dig a little deeper, to double down — the I.C. to double down their efforts,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the deputy White House press secretary, referring to the intelligence community. “The W.H.O. doing their thing and the I.C., doing what they’re doing currently is not mutually exclusive.”
But Mr. Biden’s comments suggested that his government’s review of the evidence made it that much more urgent for American investigators to take the lead. In his statement, the president said he had asked his national security adviser in March to instruct intelligence officials to report on their latest analysis of the virus’s origins.
Mr. Biden said he had received their report this month before asking for “additional follow-up.” The intelligence community had “coalesced around two likely scenarios,” he said, but they had not definitively answered the question.
“Here is their current position: ‘While two elements in the I.C. leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter — each with low or moderate confidence — the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other,’” Mr. Biden said.
The calls from the president and other top American health officials were the latest in a series of White House demands in recent months that any such inquiry be free from Chinese interference. But they drew additional attention as some scientists expressed a new openness to the idea of a lab accident and the W.H.O. grappled with how to respond.
A joint W.H.O.-China inquiry whose findings were released in March dismissed as “extremely unlikely” the possibility that the virus had emerged accidentally from a laboratory.
Those suggestions that the coronavirus may have been accidentally carried out of a laboratory in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan were largely drowned out last year by scientists’ accounts of its likely path from an animal host to humans in a natural setting.
Many scientists, including those who lead American health agencies, believe that a so-called spillover event remains the most plausible explanation for the pandemic. But the joint inquiry by the W.H.O. and China did not settle the matter: The Chinese government repeatedly tried to bend the investigation to its advantage, and Chinese scientists supplied all the research data used in the final report.
Dr. Francis Collins, the National Institutes of Health director, criticized the report while testifying to Senate lawmakers on Wednesday about the agency’s budget.
“It is most likely that this is a virus that arose naturally. But we cannot exclude the possibility of some kind of a lab accident,” he said. “That’s why we’ve advocated very strongly that W.H.O. needs to go back and try again after the first phase of their investigation really satisfied nobody.”
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the genteel former Navy secretary who shed the image of a dilettante to become a leading Republican voice on military policy during 30 years in the Senate, died on Tuesday night. He was 94.
He died at his home of heart failure, according to a former staff member.
Mr. Warner may have for a time been best known nationally as the dashing sixth husband of the actress Elizabeth Taylor. Her celebrity was a draw on the campaign trail during his difficult first race for the Senate in 1978, an election he won narrowly to start his political career. The couple divorced in 1982.
In the latter stages of his congressional service, Mr. Warner was also recognized as a protector of the Senate’s traditions and was credited with trying to forge bipartisan consensus on knotty issues such as the Iraq war, judicial nominations and treatment of terror suspects.
In retrospect, the senatorial Mr. Warner — with his shock of white hair, immaculate attire and unflagging politeness — represented a vanishing breed in his party, and particularly in his home state, which has become increasingly polarized since his retirement in 2009.
He was a crossover candidate in a state where politicians in both parties had long gravitated to the center, offsetting the loss of conservative voters over the years with support from Democrats and independents.
In a statement on Wednesday, President Biden reflected on his time serving with Mr. Warner in the Senate.
“I always knew that John’s decisions were guided by his values — even when we disagreed on the policy outcomes,” the president said. “When told that if he voted in a way that was not in line with his party’s position — as he did numerous times on issues of rational gun policy, women’s rights and judicial nominees — that ‘people would say,’ his favorite rejoinder was, ‘Let ’em say it.’”
“Indeed,” Mr. Biden added, “that was his response when, in one of the great honors of my career, he crossed party lines to support me in the 2020 election.”
Mr. Warner served in the Navy briefly at the end of World War II. He then joined the Marines to fight in the Korean War, where he served as a ground aircraft maintenance officer, eventually reaching the rank of captain in the reserves.
“I’m devastated to hear of the passing of my dear friend John Warner,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia wrote on Twitter early Wednesday. “To me, he was the gold standard in Virginia. I will forever be grateful for his friendship and mentorship. I’ll miss you, John.”
The younger Mr. Warner is a Democrat, and is not related to the elder Mr. Warner.
But in a parting act of bipartisan comity, the elder Mr. Warner endorsed him when he retired from the Senate after the 2008 election.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
The mother of a Capitol Police officer who died after clashing with pro-Trump rioters on Jan. 6 lobbied Republican senators on Wednesday to drop their opposition to creating an independent commission to investigate the violent attack, warning that blocking the inquiry would be a “slap in the faces” of officers.
In an unsparing statement, Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Officer Brian D. Sicknick, said her son and his fellow officers had paid a steep price defending the Capitol from “animals” targeting Congress and deserved a thorough accounting of what had happened. She planned to press her case face-to-face on Thursday, requesting meetings with every Republican senator before the vote, when they were expected to kill the commission.
“I suggest that all congressmen and senators who are against this bill visit my son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and, while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward,” Ms. Sicknick said in the statement.
“Putting politics aside, wouldn’t they want to know the truth of what happened on Jan. 6?” she said. “If not, they do not deserve to have the jobs they were elected to do.”
The House approved the 10-person commission last week, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats in support. A handful of Republican senators — including Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have indicated that they will also vote yes when Democrats put bipartisan legislation creating the commission on the floor as early as Thursday. One or two others could join them, depending on the fate of changes Ms. Collins has proposed.
But Republican leaders are preparing to filibuster the legislation, fearing that a detailed investigation into an attack spurred on by President Donald J. Trump’s lies of a stolen election would churn up damaging revelations that could hurt their party politically.
The last-minute lobbying by Ms. Sicknick recalled an intensive push by families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to resurrect a bill to create what became the 9/11 Commission after an initial version failed in the House. Their advocacy was seen as instrumental in the eventual creation of that inquiry, which is the model for the investigation that is now under consideration.
Though it appeared unlikely to succeed, Ms. Sicknick’s efforts drew the attention of at least one prominent Republican, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Ms. Cheney voted in favor of the commission in the House days after Republicans ousted her from party leadership because she insisted on calling out Mr. Trump for his false claims that inspired the riot.
“#ImwithGladys,” Ms. Cheney wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
The medical examiner in Washington concluded that Officer Sicknick, 42, suffered multiple strokes in the hours after clashing with the rioters and died of natural causes. The Justice Department has charged two men with assault for spraying him with an unknown chemical.
About 140 officers were injured that day, and two officers responding to the Capitol assault later died by suicide.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary for the White House, held a televised briefing for the first time on Wednesday, a baptism-by-fire moment that came shortly after a mass shooting and a request from President Biden that U.S. intelligence officials delve deeper into the origins of the coronavirus.
In her first outing, Ms. Jean-Pierre was immediately pushed for specifics about why Mr. Biden had ordered a 90-day review of the latest analysis on the virus, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.
She offered none.
“Right now we’re just going to focus on the president’s announcement on the 90-day investigation,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said when asked what would happen if Chinese officials refused to cooperate with investigations.
“We will have more to share after the 90 days,” she said when asked whether the results of the investigation would be made public.
Ms. Jean-Pierre showed little interest in getting ahead of the president or the administration, a tactic that is frustrating to reporters but drew praise from members of the administration, including Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff. “History made (and a job well done),” he wrote on Twitter.
Ms. Jean-Pierre was the first Black woman in decades to address journalists on behalf of the president in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. (Judy Smith, a deputy press secretary for President George H.W. Bush, was the first Black spokeswoman to do so in 1991.)
Her appearance at the podium on Wednesday was seen both internally and externally as an audition for the White House press secretary job. Jen Psaki, the current press secretary, recently said that she intended to leave the post after about a year.
A former State Department spokeswoman, Ms. Psaki came to the job more battle-tested — and more familiar to the Washington press corps — than Ms. Jean-Pierre, who has worked on Democratic campaigns and as the chief public affairs officer at the liberal group MoveOn.
Ms. Jean-Pierre, 43, is not the heir apparent to replace Ms. Psaki; other names put forth include Symone D. Sanders, the vice president’s press secretary, and Ned Price, the State Department spokesman. But Ms. Jean-Pierre has had frequent contact with the White House press corps in recent months.
To get better acclimated to a White House where top officials tend to obsess over discipline in messaging, Ms. Jean-Pierre has delivered occasional news briefings aboard Air Force One, which is lower stakes than live television.
She is almost always in the room when Ms. Psaki holds briefings, which has allowed her to familiarize herself with reporters. And the two are friendly: Before the door to the briefing room opens, they often do a dance to shake off their nerves, Ms. Psaki said in an interview with The Times in January.
Ms. Jean-Pierre has made missteps along the way. When the White House rushed to publish an edited transcript this month, she mistakenly told reporters aboard Air Force One that the administration supported Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO. But at other times, she has impressed members of Mr. Biden’s inner circle, including when she kept cool while speaking to reporters minutes after the president tripped twice while boarding his plane.
“It’s very windy,” she told reporters. “I almost fell coming up the steps myself.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre was asked on Wednesday what it meant to her to be the second Black woman in decades to deliver a formal briefing.
“It’s a real honor to be standing here today. I appreciate the historic nature, I really do,” she said. “But I believe that being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building, is not about one person. It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people.”
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, was hurrying to a vote through the Capitol’s cavernous underground tunnel system on a recent Thursday when his phone rang. It was Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, calling for a quick briefing before an infrastructure meeting he had scheduled with a group of Republican senators.
Mr. Coons brushed off the reporters trailing him, propped his computer tablet against a railing next to the Senate subway track, and began typing away, taking notes, as he lowered his voice to share the skinny on the Republicans.
“These are Republican senators he doesn’t know,” Mr. Coons said of Mr. Buttigieg after the two hung up. “So it’s just sort of tactical advice about specific members. What are their interests? What’s the background? Do you think there’s room for progress?”
Before the end of the day, Mr. Coons’s phone would ring several more times, with various White House officials on the other end — seeking counsel, scuttlebutt and insight that President Biden needed to navigate his agenda through the Senate.
To trail Mr. Coons on Capitol Hill is to witness how he operates as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the Biden administration in Congress, a kind of consigliere trusted by both the president and the senators — many of them Republicans — whom Mr. Biden needs to succeed.
It is a far less prestigious job than the one that Mr. Coons — who interned for Mr. Biden three decades ago, became his mentee on the New Castle County Council, campaigned for him in Iowa and now holds the seat that once belonged to him — initially sought in the Biden administration, where he had hoped to serve as secretary of state. But it can demand the same kind of shuttle diplomacy and high-stakes negotiation.
Credit…Pool photo by Menahem Kahana
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took a moment on Tuesday to thank the Biden administration for its support during his country’s 11-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza — and then abruptly changed the subject, and his tone.
“We discussed many regional issues, but none is greater than Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu said, standing with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken after their meeting in Jerusalem. He pointedly added that he hoped the United States would not rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, “because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.”
The Israeli leader’s remarks lent a sour note to his welcome of Mr. Blinken. And it undoubtedly echoed in Vienna, where a fifth round of negotiations aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, a top priority of President Biden’s, opened on Tuesday.
The Gaza conflict appears to have earned Mr. Biden good will with Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli public. But the prospect of a U.S. return to the nuclear deal threatens to generate new strains between Washington and Jerusalem on a subject that poisoned relations between President Barack Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.
“The big drama looms, and that is the Iran nuclear deal,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “I think both Biden and Netanyahu realize that whatever discomfort both sides may have felt throughout this current conflict, it is small fries compared to the political friction that is looming.”
Compounding the trouble is the conflict in Gaza, which has created anger in Israel and among Republicans in Congress over Iran’s ties to Palestinian militants. Most analysts say Iran played no active role in this month’s rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, even though Tehran openly cheered them on.
Wall Street Chiefs Testify Before Senate
Executives of major banks testified to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with an emphasis on financial instability and inequality during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The purpose of today’s hearing is to show Americans their government is finally looking out for them, that we understand this economic system has betrayed millions of workers, that it holds our country back. Here’s what we want to hear from you today. What are you and the companies you run going to do, not just say, but actually do to change? We want to hear what concrete actions you’ll take to change the incentives on Wall Street to reward work instead of just rewarding wealth, to pay for and work to undo the damage that Wall Street has done and continues to do to communities of color.” “But I am concerned about increasing pressure on banks to embrace ‘wokeism’ and appease the far-left’s attacks on capitalism. And I worry that continuing down this path could lead to distorted credit allocation, activists seeking to make political change through the financial system instead of through the democratic process.” “The origins of this global crisis, unlike the last one, this is a public health crisis with severe economic consequences. And through this pandemic, Citi has shown we’re a very different bank than the one that entered the financial crisis more than a decade ago. We’re smaller, we’re safer, we’re stronger and we’re far less complex. And we have had the financial resources to support our clients and communities through this crisis.” “We’re able to help our clients and ultimately, the U.S. economy through the worst economic shock in recent history, while at the same time increasing investments in support of our teammates and our communities. For our clients, that included financial assistance for our business-as-usual work, and also helping to deliver the timely federal relief programs. We at Bank of America believe in capitalism, and it’s the best way to solve the challenges that are facing society. We operate by delivering great returns for our shareholders and delivering for society. We call that responsible growth.”
Executives of major banks testified to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with an emphasis on financial instability and inequality during the coronavirus pandemic.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
The chief executives of the six biggest American lenders testified before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, the first time the committee has summoned all the top bankers since the financial crisis of 2008. (They will also appear at the House Committee on Financial Services on Thursday, for the first time since 2019.)
At the Senate hearing, Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and the committee’s chairman, pressed the bank chiefs on a range of subjects, sending them a list of questions on topics including the riskiness of their assets, the diversity of their work forces, actions on climate change, pledges on racial equity and more. It made for a disjointed hearing as senators veered from issue to issue, trying to catch the chief executives off guard or unprepared.
Their prepared testimonies addressed the committee’s questions in varying depth and detail, while all making the case that their institutions had become healthier, safer and more law-abiding since 2008.
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase turned in a nine-page paper urging business, government and society to address inequities and “unleash the extraordinary vibrancy of the American economy.”
Jane Fraser of Citigroup prepared 11 pages (and a three-page addendum with data and tables) that noted her bank’s approach to cryptocurrencies, saying that it was “focusing resources and efforts to understand changes in the digital asset space.”
James Gorman of Morgan Stanley assembled a 20-page report with few frills that included a short introduction and responses to each question in order.
Charles Scharf of Wells Fargo and David Solomon of Goldman Sachs each submitted 15 pages heavy on environmental, social and governance issues.
Brian Moynihan of Bank of America had the most to say, with 32 pages that devoted a lot of space to the bank’s “responsible growth” principles. “We embrace our dual responsibility to drive both profits and purpose,” he wrote.