👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
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1/ Joe Manchin panned a proposed billionaire income tax to help pay for the social safety net and climate change bill, which is expected to cost about $1.75 trillion. Manchin called the plan “convoluted,” saying he didn’t like “targeting different people” with higher taxes just because they’re wealthy. Instead, Manchin floated a 15% “patriotic tax” on corporations. The billionaire tax idea gained traction after Kyrsten Sinema blocked conventional tax rate increases for corporations and individuals. Sinema had reportedly supported the proposed tax on the 700 people in the U.S. with more than $1 billion in assets. Together, Manchin and Sinema’s objections have injected uncertainty into Biden’s domestic agenda and halved what had been a $3.5 trillion package. (New York Times / Bloomberg / Politico / Associated Press / Axios / ABC News)
2/ Senate Democrats dropped paid family and medical leave from Biden’s Build Back Better spending package. The plan initially included 12 weeks of paid family leave, which lawmakers later considered reducing to four weeks to overcome opposition from Joe Manchin, who said he didn’t want to create a new entitlement program. When asked about the provision, Manchin replied: “I just can’t do it.” Plans to bolster Medicare and Medicaid benefits have also been scaled back due to opposition from Manchin and industry groups. Manchin has reportedly soured on Medicare vouchers to help cover annual dental costs. (Bloomberg / Washington Post / NBC News / CNN / Wall Street Journal)
3/ Biden – again – refused to exert executive privilege over documents that Trump has tried to keep away from the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. White House counsel Dana Remus informed National Archivist David Ferriero that Biden “has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States […] Accordingly, President Biden does not uphold the former president’s assertion of privilege.” The National Archives is set to begin turning over records to the House on Nov. 12. Trump previously tried to assert privilege on more than 40 documents and sued to attempt to block the House from accessing them. The committee is also expected to subpoena John Eastman, the lawyer who outlined a scheme for overturning the election results in two memos, which served as the basis of an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4 between Eastman, Trump, and Pence. Recently, however, Eastman has claimed he wrote the memos at the request of “somebody in the legal team” whose name he could not recall. Separately, at least five former Trump administration staffers have voluntarily spoken with the House committee. (CNN / Washington Post / CBS News)
4/ The FDA’s independent panel of vaccine experts voted to recommend that the agency issue an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer Covid-19 shot for children ages 5-11. The FDA is expected to grant emergency approval for the shots and then pass the issue to the CDC for review, which has the final say. (NPR / Politico / CNBC)
5/ Deborah Birx, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator under Trump, testified that the Trump administration could have prevented more than 130,000 American deaths during the early stages of the pandemic. Birx told the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that the Trump administration had “gotten somewhat complacent through the campaign season,” became “distracted” by the election, and then ignored recommendations to curb the pandemic. “I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining […] and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30% less to 40% less range,” Birx said. When asked if Trump “did everything he could to try to mitigate the spread of the virus and save lives during the pandemic,” Birx responded, “No.” Birx also criticized Scott Atlas, who joined the White House as a special government employee in August 2020 after appearances on Fox News in which he decried fears about Covid-19 and advocated for some Americans to be deliberately infected with the coronavirus in order to reach “herd immunity.” (New York Times / Axios / Washington Post / Politico)
6/ The U.S. issued its first passport with an “X” gender marker as part of an effort to implement gender-inclusive policies. The State Department said it expects to offer the “X” designation to more people early next year after it finishes system and form updates. The U.S. special diplomatic envoy for LGBTQ rights said the decision brings government documents in line with the “lived reality” for nonbinary, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people. (Associated Press / CNN)
7/ A Wisconsin judge ruled that the three men Kyle Rittenhouse shot during a protest against police brutality can’t be called “victims” during the trial. Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder said using the describing the men shot by Rittenhouse, including two who died, as “victim” would be loaded with prejudice. Schroeder, however, allowed the men to be referred to as rioters, looters or arsonists if the teenager’s defense team has evidence to support the characterizations. (USA Today / NBC News)
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