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    America Is Breaking Our Hearts

    Gail Collins: Bret, I have a lot to ask you about government spending and deficits and … all that stuff. But first, we really need to talk about all the recent mass shootings and what to do about them, right?Bret Stephens: In Britain or Germany these sorts of mass shootings are, at most, once-every-other-year events. Over here, hardly a day goes by without something like this happening. And the horror doesn’t just lie in the carnage. It’s that we’ve become accustomed to it. Dostoyevsky wrote, “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!” That’s the state of our nation.Gail: I wondered whether I should even bring the matter up yet again. But we can’t just give up and shrug in silence.Bret: You know I’m in favor of repealing the Second Amendment, not for the sake of banning guns but for making it much harder for just anyone to own them. Otherwise, in a country with more firearms than people, I doubt that ordinary gun control can make a real difference. Your thoughts?Gail: Do love the fact that I converse with a conservative who wants to repeal the Second Amendment. Sign me up.Bret: Don’t get your hopes up that I’m speaking for other conservatives.Gail: It may seem crazy in the face of all this carnage, but I’ve always wondered if we could change the argument to gun pride — that people shouldn’t be allowed to own guns until they prove they can shoot. Just hit a reasonably sized target. Obviously you don’t need a good aim to fire an assault rifle into a church or movie theater, but if we could just come to a consensus on requiring competence, that might be a first step toward rational firearm regulations.Bret: I would design the test differently. Start with a 100-question test on gun use, safety and legal requirements, with a passing grade of 90. Next, a psychological fitness test, conducted in person by trained personnel. Then heavy liability insurance requirements for gun store owners. Oh, and a drug test for purchasers. Anything to hinder disturbed young men, who are most frequently the culprits in the worst of these mass shootings, from getting their hands on rapid-fire weapons.After that, gun owners can boast to their friends that not only can they shoot, but also that they’re smart, sane, solvent and sober. But you wanted to discuss … government spending.Gail: That’s the issue of the moment, right? Congress has to do something about raising the debt ceiling or the economy will collapse somewhere down the line. Or at least that’s the theory.Republicans want to tie the raising of said ceiling to major league cuts in spending. No matter how much Kevin McCarthy swears that won’t involve cuts to Social Security or Medicare, it’s almost impossible to imagine they aren’t on the table. What’s your recommendation?Bret: Well, the Republicans’ current strategy has all the intelligence of Foghorn Leghorn, the Looney Tunes rooster: They’re trying to play a game of chicken with the Biden administration when, deep down, they know they’re the ones who are going to chicken out. It would be economically destructive and politically suicidal to let the federal government default on its debt. So we will probably go through this terrifying charade until a handful of swing-district Republicans break ranks and vote with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.Gail: I do like that last scenario you mentioned. But don’t you think the bottom line is problematic, too? If Congress cuts spending to balance the budget as some Republicans have suggested, it could mean big cuts to very popular programs like Social Security and Medicare.Bret: Other than trying to find ways to slow the rate of spending growth, I can’t imagine there would be cuts to either program. They’re popular with Republican voters, too, after all. And there’s no way anything is going to happen except on a bipartisan basis. Any suggestions for fixes that don’t involve large tax increases?Gail: Well, some people may regard this as a tax increase, but I want to propose some tax fairness. For some reason, Social Security payroll taxation stops at about $160,000. So a person making a million dollars a year doesn’t pay anything on about $840,000.Let’s get rid of that ceiling, Bret. What do you say?Bret: I wouldn’t object to raising the cap provided Democrats would be willing to push up the retirement age by four or five years. As for Medicare reform, my guess is it will never happen. Instead, I’m betting that in 20 years we’re going to have a terrible but “free” single-payer system for part of the population and an excellent but expensive universe of private providers. As for actual budget cuts, maybe we could end stupid subsidies like the one for ethanol production. But that one is way too popular with farm-state Republicans.Different subject, Gail: Memphis.Gail: Bret, I spent a lot of my early career — way back in the ’70s — hanging out with the chief of police in New Haven, Ed Morrone, who was just so smart. He told my husband Dan, who was a police reporter then, that the most important job of a cop was “to keep people who hate one another apart.”Bret: Oh, it’s like figuring out the seating arrangement at Thanksgiving. Sorry, go on.Gail: In those days, that made so much sense. But in Memphis, the people doing the hating were the police themselves, who apparently got mad because a driver they had targeted for some reason made them run until they were out of breath and then started crying for his mother while they began beating him up.Now we have a dead young man, a bereaved family and a city in turmoil. Every well-run law enforcement organization in the country is going to have to cope with a new level of suspicion. Those cops have ruined their own reputations, deeply wounded community relations, and I am confident they’re going to pay for their terrible misdeeds after criminal trials.Your thoughts?Bret: I was moved by Tyre Nichols’s mom, RowVaughn Wells, when she said she’d pray for the police officers who killed her son, along with their families. It’s a spirit of compassion and dignity the city desperately needs now.Gail: Not just the city, the whole country.Bret: That said, I’m also reluctant to draw sweeping conclusions, either about this case or from it. Memphis has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country, and the city desperately needs competent and effective policing. Police brutality obviously remains a serious challenge throughout the country. But so do reports of de-policing, in which cops retreat to their precinct stations because they don’t want to be out on their beats, or the equally dangerous trend of demoralized and demonized police departments that have led to serious staffing shortages across the country.Gail, at the end of our conversation last week — sometime after I’d committed the mortal sin of endorsing gas over electric stoves — we promised readers that we would discuss who, among Democrats, would be the best candidate to face Ron DeSantis should he become the G.O.P.’s presidential nominee. Give me some names.Gail: Well gee, I was looking forward to another discussion about kitchen stoves, but OK.Bret: Of all the ways I’ve irritated our readers over the years, who knew that my ignorance of induction cooktops would be the worst?Gail: We both wish Joe Biden would retire and open the door for someone younger, but it sure doesn’t look likely. If he runs, Governor DeSantis, who’s 44, would be a daily reminder that Biden is in his 80s.Bret: If it gets to that, Biden had better hope that Donald Trump brings back Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party to split the conservative vote. Because otherwise, President DeSantis it shall be.Gail: Age isn’t a problem for most of the Democrats who’d be likely to succeed Biden as nominee. And there’s a raft of promising possibilities people are talking about — a half-dozen governors, several senators and a couple of members of Biden’s administration.Some of the names I like hearing are Senator Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, and Josh Shapiro, the newly ensconced governor of Pennsylvania. Kamala Harris, you will note, is not on my list.Bret: I noticed.Gail: The public needs a chance to look all these people over in a serious, long-term way. Which would happen if Biden announced he isn’t running again. Please, Mr. President …Bret: One other strong contender I’d like to mention: Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary and former governor of Rhode Island. She would be the best candidate in a general election because of her strong centrist appeal — and the best president, too. And people ought to start keeping an eye on Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland, even though it is probably much too soon for him — or Josh Shapiro, for that matter — to start considering a presidential bid.Gail: Yeah, I guess it’s only fair that people who get elected governor should put in a year or two before they start running for higher office.Bret: Before we go, Gail, I was saddened to read about Victor Navasky’s death this month at 90. I probably disagree with 99 percent of what gets published in The Nation, the magazine he led for so many years. But he was a happy warrior for his causes, wrongheaded as some of them were (like championing the innocence of Alger Hiss). But I’ll take a cheerful opponent over a sour fellow-traveler any day.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    For 2024 Democratic Convention, Finalist Cities Include Atlanta, Chicago and New York

    Atlanta, Chicago and New York are finalists, and local Democrats are eager to bend President Biden’s ear to host what would be his formal nomination event.When Mayor Eric Adams of New York runs into White House officials, promoting his city to host the Democratic National Convention is often among his top three agenda items.When Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois rode with President Biden in his motorcade last spring, he pressed the case for Chicago’s convention bid. And days before Mr. Biden landed in Atlanta this month, Mayor Andre Dickens was likewise plotting his pitch to the president.The battle over where Democrats should host their presidential convention in 2024 has been unfolding for months in some of the country’s largest Democratic-run cities. It is at once an opaque insider’s game and a spirited debate over Democratic messaging and symbolism, shaped by regional rivalries, whispered disparagement of competitors and high-powered public jockeying.“There’s sort of a baseline of stuff that matters,” said Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a former Democratic National Committee finance chair, pointing to issues like security and hotel capacity. “You then sort of step back and you ask yourself, ‘Does this city fit who we are as a party?’”Atlanta, Chicago and New York remain in contention and have advanced toward the endgame of the process, hashing out potential nuts-and-bolts terms with the D.N.C., according to two people with direct knowledge of the bidding process. Of those three cities, Atlanta and Chicago have often been seen as leading contenders, but in many ways, the final decision will be a matter of Mr. Biden’s preference. Atlanta is the only one of those cities to be located in a presidential battleground state.Houston, which also submitted a bid, is no longer being considered, a D.N.C. official confirmed. Mayor Sylvester Turner also said in an interview on Thursday that he had been informed that his city was out of the running.For the 2020 Democratic convention, the host city was announced in March 2019, and Democrats involved expect a similar spring time frame this year, but caution the process is unpredictable.Mr. Biden, 80, has said he intends to run again, but he has yet to officially announce a re-election campaign. If he is again his party’s standard-bearer, the convention would be his first real one as a presidential nominee. The 2020 event was a nearly entirely virtual affair, after the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of major in-person appearances in Milwaukee.Eyeing the next convention, boosters for various cities are building alliances with governors, senators, mayors and business leaders from their regions as they press their cases to Democratic officials and to the public.“Midwestern Democrats know how to win big and get things done,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, endorsing the bid from nearby Illinois.Politics Across the United StatesFrom the halls of government to the campaign trail, here’s a look at the political landscape in America.2023’s Most Unusual Race: The election for a swing seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court carries bigger policy stakes than any other contest in America this year.Anti-Transgender Push: Republican state lawmakers are pushing more sweeping anti-transgender bills than ever before, including bans on transition care for young adults up to 26.G.O.P. Power Struggle: In rural Pennsylvania, a fight between three warring factions is a microcosm of the national struggle for control over the Republican Party.A Key Senate Contest: Representative Ruben Gallego, a progressive Democrat, said that he would run for the Senate in 2024 in a potential face-off with Senator Kyrsten Sinema.“My heart’s with New York,” Mr. Murphy said. “It’s got all the infrastructure that the party needs. It’s historically a bastion of Democratic support.”“The Democratic Party’s future on a national level is tied to success in the South,” declared former Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, who is working to secure support for Atlanta from other Southern officials.A mural on Dekalb Avenue in Atlanta. Some opposed to Atlanta’s selection note its location in a state where abortion access is strictly limited.Nicole Craine for The New York TimesGeorgia undeniably holds political significance for Mr. Biden. The state, once reliably Republican, flipped for him in 2020, and then cemented the Democratic Senate majority.“As the cradle of the civil rights movement, Georgia’s place in history and our national story ideally suit the Peach State to host the convention,” said Jon Ossoff, one of Georgia’s two Democratic senators.Reflecting Mr. Biden’s preferences, a key committee at the D.N.C. has recommended that Georgia host an early presidential primary, although the state faces logistical hurdles in doing so. On a call last year with Nevada Democrats in which he discussed the primary calendar, Mr. Biden also mentioned Georgia, according to two people on the call.“He was talking about Georgia, we need to put some emphasis there,” said Representative Dina Titus, Democrat of Nevada.The White House declined to comment for this article.The primary calendar lineup is separate from the convention decision. The latter is shaped as much by factors like hotel availability, union friendliness, transportation options, fund-raising ability from the various host committees and security considerations as it is by political calculations..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.Mr. Dickens, the Atlanta mayor, said he had solicited the help of a number of prominent Southern Democrats to make the case for bringing the convention to his city, including former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, now a White House senior adviser; Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a close Biden ally; and a number of mayors across the region.Mr. Dickens and Ms. Bottoms sat in the front pew at Ebenezer Baptist Church on the Sunday before Martin Luther King’s Birthday, when Mr. Biden visited the congregation.Mayor Andre Dickens of Atlanta, center, with Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Mr. Biden on the tarmac in Atlanta this month.Oliver Contreras for The New York TimesHe was greeted by a wave of pro-Atlanta convention messaging: A full-page advertisement for the city to host the convention ran in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Several city leaders jostled for face time. Mr. Dickens said he aimed to include the convention “somewhere in the first three sentences” of his conversation with Mr. Biden when he greeted him.Some union leaders across the country have begun weighing in — for Chicago or New York but against Atlanta. They maintain that it would be insulting to hold the Democratic convention in a state that is hostile to unions and in a city with very few unionized hotels.“A lot of delegates to the D.N.C. don’t want to have to stay farther out or compromise their values” because a city has just a few union hotels, said Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, who has made his case to party leaders.Last week, eight prominent labor leaders, including Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, signed a letter to Mr. Biden encouraging him to host the convention in New York, a place to “demonstrate pro-worker principles.”The convention does not have to use unionized hotels and convention workers, though it is encouraged.Asked about criticisms of Georgia, Mr. Dickens replied, “Why wouldn’t you take the mantra of, ‘Let’s bring our brand of government and politics to the South?’ And you can then influence things.”Advocates for Chicago — which is currently in the midst of a tumultuous mayor’s race — and of New York argue that a Democratic convention should be held in a place that unambiguously embraces Democratic values.“We’re perhaps the most pro-choice state in the country, we have protected L.G.B.T.Q. rights, we have protected civil rights,” Mr. Pritzker said in an interview last year. In a follow-up statement this week, he pointed to other recent liberal achievements including “common-sense legislation to end gun violence.”Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker pressed the case for Chicago with President Joe Biden last spring.Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York TimesHe has noted that the city often hosts large-scale events, the state reflects the nation’s diversity — and that summertime in Chicago, along Lake Michigan, is “phenomenal,” an implicit contrast with the heat and humidity in Atlanta, and the pungent summer smells of New York City. He also highlighted the city’s Midwestern location, in a critical battleground region, though Illinois itself is strongly Democratic.Nearby mayors and governors, including Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, are supporting Chicago, as is Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. The Republican National Convention in 2024 is already scheduled for Milwaukee.“We do not win national elections without the Midwest, and so I think it’s important for us to show up here,” said Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison, Wis.But some Chicago-skeptical Democrats quietly point out that the city is closely associated with a different Democratic president — Barack Obama — and argue that the only splashy convention Mr. Biden would ever get should be in a place that could be made to feel distinctly his own.New York is not competitive in presidential elections, but advocates insist that no city can match the nation’s largest in easily absorbing thousands of convention-goers.In an interview, Mayor Adams emphasized New York’s event infrastructure and cast the racially diverse, liberal city as a place that showcases “all the values that we look for in the Democratic Party.” (Democrats in the state, however, had a deeply disappointing midterm election.)“When you do an examination of all the things that a good convention looks like, it says New York,” Mr. Adams proclaimed. “It reeks with New York.”He described the city as a walkable cultural capital, a place where spouses of attendees, too, would be entertained — “A happy family is a good experience for the convention.”Madison Square Garden hosted the 2004 Republican National Convention. Mayor Eric Adams has played up the city’s transportation system and experienced security apparatus.Hiroko Masuike/The New York TimesNew York’s prominent political backers include the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer; Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader; and the Clintons. Other cities are home to major Democratic donors — including Mr. Pritzker himself — but New York is an especially significant fund-raising center.Then there was Houston, a 2020 convention finalist in an electoral vote-rich state Democrats dream of flipping. In an interview Thursday morning, Mr. Turner, the mayor, urged his party to be more “forward-thinking in terms of, how do you expand the map?”“At some point,” he said, “Democrats are going to have to invest in its future rather than just trying to lock in what it currently has.”Jonathan Weisman More

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    Biden Hammers Republicans on the Economy, With Eye on 2024

    The president has found a welcome foil in a new conservative House majority and its tax and spending plans, sharpening a potential re-election message.WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday assailed House Republicans over their tax and spending plans, including potential changes to popular retirement programs, ahead of what is likely to be a run for re-election.In a speech in Springfield, Va., Mr. Biden sought to reframe the economic narrative away from the rapid price increases that have dogged much of his first two years in office and toward his stewardship of an economy that has churned out steady growth and strong job gains.Mr. Biden, speaking to members of a steamfitters union, sought to take credit for the strength of the labor market, moderating inflation and news from the Commerce Department on Thursday morning that the economy had grown at an annualized pace of 2.9 percent at the end of last year. In contrast, he cast House Republicans and their economic policy proposals as roadblocks to continued improvement.“At the time I was sworn in, the pandemic was raging and the economy was reeling,” Mr. Biden said before ticking through the actions he had taken to aid the recovery. Those included $1.9 trillion in pandemic and economic aid; a bipartisan bill to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure; and a sweeping industrial policy bill to spur domestic investment in advanced manufacturing sectors like semiconductors and speed research and development to seed new industries.Republicans have accused the Biden administration of fanning inflation by funneling too much federal money into the economy, and have called for deep spending cuts and other fiscal changes.Mr. Biden denounced those proposals, including a plan to replace federal income taxes with a national sales tax, curb safety net spending and risk a government default by refusing to raise the federal borrowing limit without deep spending cuts. Why, he asked, “would the Americans give up the progress we’ve made for the chaos they’re suggesting?”Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans have not yet released a detailed or unified economic agenda.Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times“I will not let anyone use the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip,” Mr. Biden said, reiterating his refusal to negotiate over raising the debt limit. “The United States of America — we pay our debts.”But the president also sought to reach out to working-class voters — in places like his native Scranton, Pa. — who have increasingly voted for Republicans in recent elections. Mr. Biden said those voters had been left behind by American economic policy in recent years, and he tried to woo them back by promising that his policies would continue to bring high-paying manufacturing jobs that do not require a college degree to people who feel “invisible” in the economy.“They remember, in my old neighborhoods, why the jobs went away,” Mr. Biden said, vowing that under his policies “nobody’s left behind.”The Biden PresidencyHere’s where the president stands as the third year of his term begins.State of the Union: President Biden will deliver his second State of the Union speech on Feb. 7, at a time when he faces an aggressive House controlled by Republicans and a special counsel investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information.Chief of Staff: Mr. Biden plans to name Jeffrey D. Zients, his former coronavirus response coordinator, as his next chief of staff. Mr. Zients will replace Ron Klain, who has run the White House since the president took office two years ago.Voting Rights: A year after promising a voting rights overhaul in a fiery speech, Mr. Biden delivered a more muted message at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.The speech built on a pattern for Mr. Biden, who has found the new and narrow Republican majority to be both a political threat and an opportunity.Republicans in the chamber have begun a series of investigations into Mr. Biden, his family and his administration. They have also demanded deep cuts in federal spending in exchange for raising the borrowing limit, a position that risks an economic catastrophe given the huge sums of money that the United States borrows to pay for its financial obligations.The president has refused to tie any spending cuts to raising the debt limit and has called on Congress to increase the $31.4 trillion cap so the nation can continue paying its bills and avoid a federal default..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.But Mr. Biden, who is facing a divided Congress for the first time in his presidency, is increasingly acting as if the newly empowered conservatives have given him a political opening on economic policy. As he prepares for a likely re-election bid in 2024, he is seizing on the least popular proposals floated by House members to cast himself as a champion of the working class, retirees and economic progress.Mr. Biden’s speech on Thursday waded deep into policy details, including the acreage of western timber burned in fires linked to climate change, the global breakdown of advanced chip production and the average salary of new manufacturing jobs, as he recounted his legislative accomplishments.House Republicans have not yet released a detailed or unified economic agenda, and they have not made a clear set of demands for raising the debt limit, though they largely agree that Mr. Biden must accept significant spending curbs.But members and factions of the Republican conference have pushed for votes on a variety of proposals that have little support among voters, including raising the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare and replacing the federal income tax with a national sales tax.Mr. Biden has sought to brand the entire Republican Party with those proposals, even though it is not clear if the measures have majority support in the conference or will ever come to a vote. Former President Donald J. Trump, who has already announced his 2024 bid for the White House, has urged Republicans not to touch the safety-net programs. Other party leaders have urged Republicans not to rule out those cuts. “We should not draw lines in the sand or dismiss any option out of hand, but instead seriously discuss the trade-offs of proposals,” Senator Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, wrote in an opinion piece for Fox News, in which he called for Mr. Biden to negotiate over raising the debt limit.Representative Kevin Hern, Republican of Oklahoma, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, told a tax conference in Washington this week that there are “lots of problems” with the plan to replace the income tax with a so-called fair tax on consumption. Those include incentives for policymakers to allow prices to rise rapidly in the economy in order to generate more revenue from the sales tax, he noted.“Let’s just say it’s going to be very interesting,” Mr. Hern said at the D.C. Bar Taxation Community’s annual tax conference. “I haven’t found a Ways and Means member that’s for it.”Despite those internal disagreements, Mr. Biden has been happy to pick and choose unpopular Republican ideas and frame them as the true contrast to his economic agenda. He has pointedly refused to cut safety-net programs and threatened to veto such efforts.“The president is building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, and protecting Social Security and Medicare,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters this week. “Republicans want to cut Social Security, want to cut Medicare — programs Americans have earned, have paid in — and impose a 30 percent national sales tax that will increase taxes on working families. That is what they have said they want to do, and that is clearly their plan.”The focus on Republicans has allowed Mr. Biden to divert the economic conversation from inflation, which hit 40-year highs last year but receded in the past several months, though it remains above historical norms. On Thursday, he chided Republicans for a vote to reduce funding for I.R.S. enforcement against wealthy tax cheats — a move the Congressional Budget Office says would add to the budget deficit, and which Mr. Biden cast as inflationary.“They campaigned on inflation,” Mr. Biden said. “They didn’t say if elected, they planned to make it worse.”Progressive groups see an opportunity for Mr. Biden to score political points and define the economic issue before the 2024 campaign begins in earnest. That is in part because polls suggest Americans have little appetite for Social Security or Medicare cuts, and have far less focus on the national debt than House Republicans do.“It is a political gift,” said Lindsay Owens, the executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, a liberal nonprofit in Washington. More

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    Barr Pressed Durham to Find Flaws in the Trump-Russia Investigation

    The review by John Durham at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it failed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry.WASHINGTON — It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.Egged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.Mr. Barr, Mr. Durham and Ms. Dannehy declined to comment. The current and former officials who discussed the investigation all spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal, political and intelligence sensitivities surrounding the topic.A year into the Durham inquiry, Mr. Barr declared that the attempt “to get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016 “cannot be, and it will not be, a tit-for-tat exercise. We are not going to lower the standards just to achieve a result.”But Robert Luskin, a criminal defense lawyer and former Justice Department prosecutor who represented two witnesses Mr. Durham interviewed, said that he had a hard time squaring Mr. Durham’s prior reputation as an independent-minded straight shooter with his end-of-career conduct as Mr. Barr’s special counsel.“This stuff has my head spinning,” Mr. Luskin said. “When did these guys drink the Kool-Aid, and who served it to them?”Attorney General William P. Barr took office in 2019 with suspicions about the origins of the Russia investigation.Doug Mills/The New York TimesAn Odd CoupleA month after Mr. Barr was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ended the Russia investigation and turned in his report without charging any Trump associates with engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow over its covert operation to help Mr. Trump win the 2016 election.Mr. Trump would repeatedly portray the Mueller report as having found “no collusion with Russia.” The reality was more complex. In fact, the report detailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” and it established both how Moscow had worked to help Mr. Trump win and how his campaign had expected to benefit from the foreign interference.That spring, Mr. Barr assigned Mr. Durham to scour the origins of the Russia investigation for wrongdoing, telling Fox News that he wanted to know if “officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in deciding to pursue the investigation. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate, and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.While attorneys general overseeing politically sensitive inquiries tend to keep their distance from the investigators, Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together, people familiar with their work said.In some ways, they were an odd match. Taciturn and media-averse, the goateed Mr. Durham had spent more than three decades as a prosecutor before Mr. Trump appointed him the U.S. attorney for Connecticut. Administrations of both parties had assigned him to investigate potential official wrongdoing, like allegations of corrupt ties between mafia informants and F.B.I. agents, and the C.I.A.’s torture of terrorism detainees and destruction of evidence.By contrast, the vocal and domineering Mr. Barr has never prosecuted a case and is known for using his law enforcement platform to opine on culture-war issues and politics. He had effectively auditioned to be Mr. Trump’s attorney general by asserting to a New York Times reporter that there was more basis to investigate Mrs. Clinton than Mr. Trump’s “so-called ‘collusion’” with Russia, and by writing a memo suggesting a way to shield Mr. Trump from scrutiny for obstruction of justice.But the two shared a worldview: They are both Catholic conservatives and Republicans, born two months apart in 1950. As a career federal prosecutor, Mr. Durham already revered the office of the attorney general, people who know him say. And as he was drawn into Mr. Barr’s personal orbit, Mr. Durham came to embrace that particular attorney general’s intense feelings about the Russia investigation.President Donald J. Trump openly suggested that Mr. Durham should charge his adversaries with crimes.Doug Mills/The New York Times‘The Thinnest of Suspicions’At the time Mr. Barr was confirmed, he told aides that he already suspected that intelligence abuses played a role in igniting the Russia investigation — and that unearthing any wrongdoing would be a priority.In May 2019, soon after giving Mr. Durham his assignment, Mr. Barr summoned the head of the National Security Agency, Paul M. Nakasone, to his office. In front of several aides, Mr. Barr demanded that the N.S.A. cooperate with the Durham inquiry.Referring to the C.I.A. and British spies, Mr. Barr also said he suspected that the N.S.A.’s “friends” had helped instigate the Russia investigation by targeting the Trump campaign, aides briefed on the meeting said. And repeating a sexual vulgarity, he warned that if the N.S.A. wronged him by not doing all it could to help Mr. Durham, Mr. Barr would do the same to the agency.Mr. Barr’s insistence about what he had surmised bewildered intelligence officials. But Mr. Durham spent his first months looking for any evidence that the origin of the Russia investigation involved an intelligence operation targeting the Trump campaign.Mr. Durham’s team spent long hours combing the C.I.A.’s files but found no way to support the allegation. Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham traveled abroad together to press British and Italian officials to reveal everything their agencies had gleaned about the Trump campaign and relayed to the United States, but both allied governments denied they had done any such thing. Top British intelligence officials expressed indignation to their U.S. counterparts about the accusation, three former U.S. officials said.Mr. Durham and Mr. Barr had not yet given up when a new problem arose: In early December, the Justice Department’s independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, completed his own report on the origins of the Russia investigation.The inspector general revealed errors and omissions in wiretap applications targeting a former Trump campaign adviser and determined that an F.B.I. lawyer had doctored an email in a way that kept one of those problems from coming to light. (Mr. Durham’s team later negotiated a guilty plea by that lawyer.)But the broader findings contradicted Mr. Trump’s accusations and the rationale for Mr. Durham’s inquiry. Mr. Horowitz found no evidence that F.B.I. actions were politically motivated. And he concluded that the investigation’s basis — an Australian diplomat’s tip that a Trump campaign adviser had seemed to disclose advance knowledge that Russia would release hacked Democratic emails — had been sufficient to lawfully open it.Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, found no evidence that the F.B.I.’s actions in opening the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were politically motivated.Anna Moneymaker/The New York TimesThe week before Mr. Horowitz released the report, he and aides came to Mr. Durham’s offices — nondescript suites on two floors of a building in northeast Washington — to go over it.Mr. Durham lobbied Mr. Horowitz to drop his finding that the diplomat’s tip had been sufficient for the F.B.I. to open its “full” counterintelligence investigation, arguing that it was enough at most for a “preliminary” inquiry, according to officials. But Mr. Horowitz did not change his mind.That weekend, Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham decided to weigh in publicly to shape the narrative on their terms.Minutes before the inspector general’s report went online, Mr. Barr issued a statement contradicting Mr. Horowitz’s major finding, declaring that the F.B.I. opened the investigation “on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient.” He would later tell Fox News that the investigation began “without any basis,” as if the diplomat’s tip never happened.Mr. Trump also weighed in, telling reporters that the details of the inspector general’s report were “far worse than anything I would have even imagined,” adding: “I look forward to the Durham report, which is coming out in the not-too-distant future. It’s got its own information, which is this information plus, plus, plus.”And the Justice Department sent reporters a statement from Mr. Durham that clashed with both Justice Department principles about not discussing ongoing investigations and his personal reputation as particularly tight-lipped. He said he disagreed with Mr. Horowitz’s conclusions about the Russia investigation’s origins, citing his own access to more information and “evidence collected to date.”But as Mr. Durham’s inquiry proceeded, he never presented any evidence contradicting Mr. Horowitz’s factual findings about the basis on which F.B.I. officials opened the investigation.By summer 2020, it was clear that the hunt for evidence supporting Mr. Barr’s hunch about intelligence abuses had failed. But he waited until after the 2020 election to publicly concede that there had turned out to be no sign of “foreign government activity” and that the C.I.A. had “stayed in its lane” after all.Mr. Barr later wrote that his relationship with Mr. Trump eroded because his “failure to deliver scalps in time for the election.”Anna Moneymaker for The New York TimesAn Awkward TipOn one of Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham’s trips to Europe, according to people familiar with the matter, Italian officials — while denying any role in setting off the Russia investigation — unexpectedly offered a potentially explosive tip linking Mr. Trump to certain suspected financial crimes.Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham decided that the tip was too serious and credible to ignore. But rather than assign it to another prosecutor, Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham investigate the matter himself — giving him criminal prosecution powers for the first time — even though the possible wrongdoing by Mr. Trump did not fall squarely within Mr. Durham’s assignment to scrutinize the origins of the Russia inquiry, the people said.Mr. Durham never filed charges, and it remains unclear what level of an investigation it was, what steps he took, what he learned and whether anyone at the White House ever found out. The extraordinary fact that Mr. Durham opened a criminal investigation that included scrutinizing Mr. Trump has remained secret..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.Learn more about our process.But in October 2019, a garbled echo became public. The Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.By the spring and summer of 2020, with Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign in full swing, the Durham investigation’s “failure to deliver scalps in time for the election” began to erode Mr. Barr’s relationship with Mr. Trump, Mr. Barr wrote in his memoir.Mr. Trump was stoking a belief among his supporters that Mr. Durham might charge former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. That proved too much for Mr. Barr, who in May 2020 clarified that “our concern of potential criminality is focused on others.”Even so, in August, Mr. Trump lashed out in a Fox interview, asserting that Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden, along with top F.B.I. and intelligence officials, had been caught in “the single biggest political crime in the history of our country” and the only thing stopping charges would be if Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham wanted to be “politically correct.”Against that backdrop, Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham did not shut down their inquiry when the search for intelligence abuses hit a dead end. With the inspector general’s inquiry complete, they turned to a new rationale: a hunt for a basis to accuse the Clinton campaign of conspiring to defraud the government by manufacturing the suspicions that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia, along with scrutinizing what the F.B.I. and intelligence officials knew about the Clinton campaign’s actions.Mr. Durham also developed an indirect method to impute political bias to law enforcement officials: comparing the Justice Department’s aggressive response to suspicions of links between Mr. Trump and Russia with its more cautious and skeptical reaction to various Clinton-related suspicions.He examined an investigation into the Clinton Foundation’s finances in which the F.B.I.’s repeated requests for a subpoena were denied. He also scrutinized how the F.B.I. gave Mrs. Clinton a “defensive briefing” about suspicions that a foreign government might be trying to influence her campaign through donations, but did not inform Mr. Trump about suspicions that Russia might be conspiring with people associated with his campaign.The Durham inquiry looked for evidence that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign had conspired to frame Donald J. Trump.Doug mills/The New York TimesDubious IntelligenceDuring the Russia investigation, the F.B.I. used claims from what turned out to be a dubious source, the Steele dossier — opposition research indirectly funded by the Clinton campaign — in its botched applications to wiretap a former Trump campaign aide.The Durham investigation did something with parallels to that incident.In Mr. Durham’s case, the dubious sources were memos, whose credibility the intelligence community doubted, written by Russian intelligence analysts and discussing purported conversations involving American victims of Russian hacking, according to people familiar with the matter.The memos were part of a trove provided to the C.I.A. by a Dutch spy agency, which had infiltrated the servers of its Russian counterpart. The memos were said to make demonstrably inconsistent, inaccurate or exaggerated claims, and some U.S. analysts believed Russia may have deliberately seeded them with disinformation.Mr. Durham wanted to use the memos, which included descriptions of Americans discussing a purported plan by Mrs. Clinton to attack Mr. Trump by linking him to Russia’s hacking and releasing in 2016 of Democratic emails, to pursue the theory that the Clinton campaign conspired to frame Mr. Trump. And in doing so, Mr. Durham sought to use the memos as justification to get access to the private communications of an American citizen.One purported hacking victim identified in the memos was Leonard Benardo, the executive vice president of the Open Society Foundations, a pro-democracy organization whose Hungarian-born founder, Mr. Soros, has been vilified by the far right.In 2017, The Washington Post reported that the Russian memos included a claim that Mr. Benardo and a Democratic member of Congress, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, had discussed how Loretta E. Lynch, the Obama-era attorney general, had supposedly promised to keep the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails from going too far.But Mr. Benardo and Ms. Wasserman Schultz said they had never even met, let alone communicated about Mrs. Clinton’s emails.Mr. Durham set out to prove that the memos described real conversations, according to people familiar with the matter. He sent a prosecutor on his team, Andrew DeFilippis, to ask Judge Beryl A. Howell, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in Washington, for an order allowing them to seize information about Mr. Benardo’s emails.But Judge Howell decided that the Russian memo was too weak a basis to intrude on Mr. Benardo’s privacy, they said. Mr. Durham then personally appeared before her and urged her to reconsider, but she again ruled against him.Rather than dropping the idea, Mr. Durham sidestepped Judge Howell’s ruling by invoking grand-jury power to demand documents and testimony directly from Mr. Soros’s foundation and Mr. Benardo about his emails, the people said. (It is unclear whether Mr. Durham served them with a subpoena or instead threatened to do so if they did not cooperate.)Rather than fighting in court, the foundation and Mr. Benardo quietly complied, according to people familiar with the matter. But for Mr. Durham, the result appears to have been another dead end.In a statement provided to The Times by Mr. Soros’s foundation, Mr. Benardo reiterated that he never met or corresponded with Ms. Wasserman Schultz, and said that “if such documentation exists, it’s of course made up.”Nora R. Dannehy in 2009. A longtime aide to Mr. Durham, Ms. Dannehy resigned from his team in 2020 after disputes with him over prosecutorial ethics.Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesInternal StrifeAs the focus of the Durham investigation shifted, cracks formed inside the team. Mr. Durham’s deputy, Ms. Dannehy, a longtime close colleague, increasingly argued with him in front of other prosecutors and F.B.I. agents about legal ethics.Ms. Dannehy had independent standing as a respected prosecutor. In 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned her to investigate whether to charge senior Bush administration officials with crimes related to a scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys; she decided in 2010 that no charges were warranted.Now, Ms. Dannehy complained to Mr. Durham about how Mr. Barr kept hinting darkly in public about the direction of their investigation. In April 2020, for example, he suggested to Fox News that officials could be prosecuted, saying that “the evidence shows that we are not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness. There is something far more troubling here.”Ms. Dannehy urged Mr. Durham to ask the attorney general to adhere to Justice Department policy and not discuss the investigation publicly. But Mr. Durham proved unwilling to challenge him.The strains grew when Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to go after Mr. Benardo’s emails. Ms. Dannehy opposed that tactic and told colleagues that Mr. Durham had taken that step without telling her.By summer 2020, with Election Day approaching, Mr. Barr pressed Mr. Durham to draft a potential interim report centered on the Clinton campaign and F.B.I. gullibility or willful blindness.On Sept. 10, 2020, Ms. Dannehy discovered that other members of the team had written a draft report that Mr. Durham had not told her about, according to people briefed on their ensuing argument.Ms. Dannehy erupted, according to people familiar with the matter. She told Mr. Durham that no report should be issued before the investigation was complete and especially not just before an election — and denounced the draft for taking disputed information at face value. She sent colleagues a memo detailing those concerns and resigned.Cracks formed in Mr. Durham’s team as the scope of his investigation shifted. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated PressTwo people close to Mr. Barr said he had pressed for the draft to evaluate what a report on preliminary findings would look like and what evidence would need to be declassified. But they insisted that he intended any release to come during the summer or after the Nov. 3 election — not soon before Election Day.In any case, in late September 2020, about two weeks after Ms. Dannehy quit, someone leaked to a Fox Business personality that Mr. Durham would not issue any interim report, disappointing Trump supporters hoping for a pre-Election Day bombshell.Stymied by the decision not to issue an interim Durham report, John Ratcliffe, Mr. Trump’s national intelligence director, tried another way to inject some of the same information into the campaign.Over the objections of Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, Mr. Ratcliffe declassified nearly 1,000 pages of intelligence material before the election for Mr. Durham to use. Notably, in that fight, Mr. Barr sided with Ms. Haspel on one matter that is said to be particularly sensitive and that remained classified, according to two people familiar with the dispute.Mr. Ratcliffe also disclosed in a letter to a senator that “Russian intelligence analysis” claimed that on July 26, 2016, Mrs. Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal tying Mr. Trump to Russia.The letter acknowledged that officials did “not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.” But it did not mention that there were many reasons that suspicions about the Trump campaign were arising in that period — like the diplomat’s tip, Mr. Trump’s flattery of President Vladimir V. Putin, his hiring of advisers with links to Russia, his financial ties to Russia and his call for Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton.The disclosure infuriated Dutch intelligence officials, who had provided the memos under strictest confidence.Mr. Durham accused Michael Sussmann of lying in a meeting with an F.B.I. official. He was acquitted.Samuel Corum for The New York Times‘Fanning the Flames’Late in the summer of 2021, Mr. Durham prepared to indict Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who had represented Democrats in their dealings with the F.B.I. about Russia’s hacking of their emails. Two prosecutors on Mr. Durham’s team — Anthony Scarpelli and Neeraj N. Patel — objected, according to people familiar with the matter.Five years earlier, Mr. Sussmann had relayed a tip to the bureau about odd internet data that a group of data scientists contended could reflect hidden communications between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank of Russia. The F.B.I., which by then had already launched its Russia investigation, briefly looked at the allegation but dismissed it.Mr. Durham accused Mr. Sussmann of lying to an F.B.I. official by saying he was not conveying the tip for a client; the prosecutor maintained Mr. Sussmann was there in part for the Clinton campaign.Mr. Scarpelli and Mr. Patel argued to Mr. Durham that the evidence was too thin to charge Mr. Sussmann and that such a case would not normally be prosecuted, people familiar with the matter said. Given the intense scrutiny it would receive, they also warned that an acquittal would undermine public faith in their investigation and federal law enforcement.When Mr. Durham did not change course, Mr. Scarpelli quit in protest, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Patel left soon after to take a different job. Both declined to comment.The charge against Mr. Sussmann was narrow, but the Durham team used it to make public large amounts of information insinuating what Mr. Durham never charged: that Clinton campaign associates conspired to gin up an F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Trump based on a knowingly false allegation.Trial testimony, however, showed that while Mrs. Clinton and her campaign manager hoped Mr. Sussmann would persuade reporters to write articles about Alfa Bank, they did not want him to take the information to the F.B.I. And prosecutors presented no evidence that he or campaign officials had believed the data scientists’ complex theory was false.After Mr. Sussmann’s acquittal, Mr. Barr, by then out of office for more than a year, suggested that using the courts to advance a politically charged narrative was a goal in itself. Mr. Durham “accomplished something far more important” than a conviction, Mr. Barr told Fox News, asserting that the case had “crystallized the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching as a dirty trick the whole Russiagate collusion narrative and fanning the flames of it.”And he predicted that a subsequent trial, concerning a Russia analyst who was a researcher for the Steele dossier, would also “get the story out” and “further amplify these themes and the role the F.B.I. leadership played in this, which is increasingly looking fishy and inexplicable.”Mr. Durham’s prosecution of Igor Danchenko, a Russia analyst who was a researcher for the Steele dossier, ended in acquittal.Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThat case involved Igor Danchenko, who had told the F.B.I. that the dossier exaggerated the credibility of gossip and speculation. Mr. Durham charged him with lying about two sources. He was acquitted, too.The two failed cases are likely to be Mr. Durham’s last courtroom acts as a prosecutor. Bringing demonstrably weak cases stood in contrast to how he once talked about his prosecutorial philosophy.James Farmer, a retired prosecutor who worked with Mr. Durham on several major investigations, recalled him as a neutral actor who said that if there were nothing to charge, they would not strain to prosecute. “That’s what I heard, time and again,” Mr. Farmer said.Delivering the closing arguments in the Danchenko trial, Mr. Durham defended his investigation to the jury, denying that his appointment by Mr. Barr had been tainted by politics.He asserted that Mr. Mueller had concluded “there’s no evidence of collusion here or conspiracy” — a formulation that echoed Mr. Trump’s distortion of the Russia investigation’s complex findings — and added: “Is it the wrong question to ask, well, then how did this get started? Respectfully, that’s not the case.”The judge interrupted him: “You should finish up, Mr. Durham.”William K. Rashbaum More

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    Ron Klain Expected to Step Down as Biden’s White House Chief of Staff

    Mr. Klain’s departure would mark a rare moment of high-level turnover in an administration that has been remarkably stable through two years of crises and political battles.WASHINGTON — Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff who has steered President Biden’s administration through two years of triumphs and setbacks, is expected to step down in coming weeks in the most significant changing of the guard since Mr. Biden took office two years ago.Mr. Klain has been telling colleagues privately since the November midterm elections that after a grueling, nonstop stretch at Mr. Biden’s side going back to the 2020 campaign, he is ready to move on, according to senior administration officials, and a search for a replacement has been underway.The officials, who discussed internal matters on condition of anonymity, would not say whether a successor has already been picked or when the decision would be announced, but indicated that it would come at some point after the president outlined his agenda for the coming year in his State of the Union address on Feb. 7. Mr. Klain likely would stay around for a transition period to help the next chief settle into the corner office that has been his command post for many crises and legislative battles.His resignation would be a striking moment of turnover at the top of an administration that has been relatively stable through the first half of Mr. Biden’s term, and Mr. Klain takes pride that he has lasted longer than any other Democratic president’s first chief of staff in more than half a century. But with Mr. Biden expected to announce by spring that he is running for re-election, advisers predict more moves as some aides shift from the White House to the campaign.The departure would also come at a time when the White House faces a widening array of political and legal threats from a newly appointed special counsel investigating the improper handling of classified documents and a flurry of other inquiries by the newly installed Republican majority in the House. The next chief of staff will be charged with managing the defense of Mr. Biden’s White House and any counterattack as the 2024 election approaches.Among the possible choices to replace Mr. Klain mentioned by senior officials are Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh; former Gov. Jack A. Markell of Delaware, now serving as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden; Steven J. Ricchetti, the counselor to the president; Jeffrey D. Zients, the administration’s former coronavirus response coordinator; Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser; and Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture.Neither Mr. Klain nor any of those named as possible candidates to succeed him had any immediate comment on Saturday in response to messages. Ms. Dunn has flatly ruled out taking the job in conversations with colleagues.Mr. Klain has been a singularly important figure in Mr. Biden’s administration. Having worked for Mr. Biden off and on for more than three decades, Mr. Klain channels the president as few others can, admirers say. He is seen as so influential that Republicans derisively call him a virtual prime minister and Democrats blame him when they are disappointed in a decision.For all the crossfire, Mr. Klain helped rack up an impressive string of legislative victories, including a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure program, the largest investment in combating climate change in history and measures to expand benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, lower prescription drug costs for seniors, spur development in the semiconductor industry and create a minimum 15 percent tax rate for major corporations.Mr. Klain also helped oversee the distribution of vaccines that have curbed if not ended the Covid-19 pandemic and the enactment of a plan to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars of student loan debt for millions of Americans. And he set the tone for the White House message to the world through an active Twitter account that he used to promote victories and jab critics.On Friday, for instance, he chided Republicans for their approach to federal spending. “How extreme is the House GOP plan to cut Social Security and Medicare?” he wrote. “So extreme that even Donald Trump is saying, ‘Hey, that’s too extreme for me!’”He also reflected on the second anniversary of Mr. Biden’s inauguration. “Two hard years,” Mr. Klain wrote. “So much to be done. But so much progress.”At the same time, Mr. Klain has presided over a rash of troubles that have drained public support for Mr. Biden. While unemployment has remained near record lows and job creation was robust, inflation reached its highest rate in 40 years, gas prices shot up to an all-time high, economic growth stalled for a time and illegal immigration at the southwestern border surged to record levels..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.Likely as a result, Mr. Biden’s approval rating has been mired in the low 40 percent range for more than a year. But Mr. Klain is preparing to leave at a moment when gas prices have come back down, inflation is falling and Mr. Biden’s political standing appears to have recovered somewhat after better-than-expected midterm elections.“He is a truly unique chief of staff,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies administration personnel. Mr. Klain’s broad experience in multiple administrations as well as on Capitol Hill, his reputation for managing tough political challenges and his long history with Mr. Biden made him the most important figure in the White House besides the president.“Finding a successor who encompasses all of those skills will not be easy and may well be impossible,” Ms. Tenpas said. “They are headed into a re-election campaign that also increases Ron’s value in that he has campaign experience and political skills. In addition, the chief of staff’s Capitol Hill experience could come in handy as they confront divided government.”By this point in his presidency, Donald J. Trump was already on his third chief of staff and his third national security adviser and had lost more than half of his original 15 cabinet secretaries. By contrast, none of Mr. Biden’s statutory cabinet members have left. In fact, even Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, who some had speculated might step down after the midterm elections, recently told Mr. Biden that she would stay.Ms. Tenpas calculates Mr. Biden’s turnover in his most important positions at 40 percent in the first two years, far lower than the 66 percent turnover in the same period under Mr. Trump, although higher than other recent presidents, like Barack Obama, who saw just 24 percent in his first two years.Still, few of those who left were at the senior-most level or part of the president’s inner circle, which has remained broadly intact. Mr. Biden’s overall turnover rate is higher than it would have been otherwise in part because of turmoil in Vice President Kamala Harris’s office, where staff members have come and gone with more frequency.Other departures are anticipated, possibly after the president’s State of the Union address, scheduled for Feb. 7. Brian Deese, the president’s national economic adviser, is expected to leave later this year, while Cecilia Rouse is expected to leave her post as chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers to return to Princeton University.Mr. Klain, 61, who grew up in Indiana, graduated from Georgetown and earned a law degree from Harvard, has now served under three presidents and brought more White House experience to his post than perhaps any of his predecessors. He was associate counsel to President Bill Clinton, counselor to Attorney General Janet Reno and then chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. A central figure in Mr. Gore’s futile fight to win the election recount in Florida in 2000, Mr. Klain was later played by Kevin Spacey in the 2008 HBO film “Recount.”Mr. Klain also worked for Mr. Biden’s Senate office and served as Mr. Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president before becoming Mr. Obama’s Ebola response coordinator. Altogether, he served under nine previous White House chiefs of staff. “I have worked for more White House chiefs of staff than any other White House chief of staff,” Mr. Klain once boasted.In 2015, Mr. Klain enlisted with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign without waiting until Mr. Biden announced he was not running, an act that was seen as a betrayal by some in Biden world. In an email later made public, Mr. Klain even lamented that he was “dead to them,” meaning Mr. Biden’s circle. But several current and former Biden advisers said it is a testament to Mr. Klain’s strategic value that he worked his way back into the good graces of not only the president but also his wife, Jill Biden.Mr. Klain has long been open that he expected to leave at the two-year mark, especially since the midterm elections. He told Chris Whipple, author of “The Fight of His Life,” a new book on Mr. Biden’s presidency published last Tuesday, that he was readying to depart at that point and predicted that his successor could be a woman, without naming her.Officials said in recent days that it was not at all certain it will be a woman after all, however. But after the rough and tumble of his tenure, Mr. Klain took the midterm results as validation. “Maybe,” he wrote Mr. Whipple in an email at 1:16 a.m. on election night, “we don’t suck as much as people thought.” More

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    Biden’s Classified Documents Scandal Is Really Bad for 2024

    Remember the iconic image of a smiling Joe Biden in his 1967 Corvette Stingray? It conjured charming Uncle Joe, a retro-cool guy who’d been around the track and knew how to handle it.Four months after President Biden called Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents “irresponsible,” that vintage car — parked at the president’s home in Delaware next to his own boxes containing classified material — has been transformed into a shiny symbol of hypocrisy. If you went into a G.O.P. whataboutism lab and asked for a perfect gaffe, you’d come out with the president snapping last week to a Fox News reporter, “My Corvette is in a locked garage.”Well, the storage room at Mar-a-Lago is locked, too.Just two weeks ago, Democrats were chortling over chaos in the G.O.P., convinced that far-right Republican control of the House would help them in 2024. Then they experienced the exquisite torture that comes with the slow release of politically damaging information, in this case the acknowledgment of classified documents found in Mr. Biden’s former offices and Wilmington home. Now he’s fully in the barrel — targeted by powerful congressional committees, aggressive reporters looking for scoops and a methodical new special counsel, Robert Hur, to match Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating Mr. Trump.The optical equivalence between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden is phony, of course. Mr. Trump is a grifter who appears to have intentionally taken hundreds of classified documents, bragging that he kept the folders marked “classified” or “confidential” as “‘cool’ keepsakes.” He said of his stash of classified documents, according to several advisers, “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” and seemingly defied a subpoena to return the documents, thereby exposing him to possible prosecution for obstruction of justice. Mr. Biden, by contrast, was sloppy and slow to search for and disclose the existence of about 20 stray classified documents but is fully cooperating with authorities.Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, this distinction cannot easily survive the miasma of congressional and special counsel subpoenas, relentless questions from reporters and fresh allegations of impropriety that signal the arrival of a new episodic political drama. Many voters with better things to do with their time than parse the nuances of presidential record keeping may casually conclude that both men are careless, lying politicians.On one level, the classified documents imbroglio is just an acrimonious prelude to the 2024 campaign, a story that will surface, disappear, then surface again with tiresome predictability. But Mr. Biden’s new problems run deeper than that. They represent both a challenge to his core political brand of honor and decency and the start of a more intense, potentially combative period of scrutiny for a president poised to seek re-election. All of which suggests that we may look back on January of 2023 as the end of a relatively brief era in American political life — a period, for all its turmoil, when two Democratic presidents avoided being enmeshed in the grinding machinery of scandal that has otherwise characterized Washington for half a century.All 10 American presidencies since 1973 have faced investigation by a special counsel or independent prosecutor, except one: Barack Obama’s. For eight years, Mr. Obama and his vice president and other high-ranking officials were seen as figures of unusual rectitude, and the impression of integrity returned when Mr. Biden took office after four years of wall-to-wall corruption. But now this sharp ethical contrast with Mr. Trump has been dulled. That complicates the president’s expected re-election campaign — and could even short-circuit it.Most Democrats still think Mr. Biden is honest, and they view his accomplishments on the economy, climate, infrastructure and defending democracy as far more significant than this lapse. But it’s hard to exaggerate the level of Democratic exasperation with him for squandering a huge political advantage on the Mar-a-Lago story and for muddying what may have been the best chance to convict Mr. Trump on federal charges. Mr. Biden’s more serious problem may be with independents, whom he carried by nine points in 2020. Unforced errors can take a toll with them. Even as the classified documents story eventually fades — it will most likely not be a first-tier issue next year — swing voters may see him in a harsher light.To understand why, it’s necessary to look back more than a dozen years. From the first moments of Mr. Obama’s presidency, Republicans attacked him for everything from having been born in Kenya (a racist lie pushed by Mr. Trump, among others) to wearing tan suits. Even when it distracted Mr. Obama, he brushed it all off his shoulders.That’s because the Obama-Biden administration set an exceptionally high ethical standard and usually met it. Mr. Obama’s scandal-less White House liked to keep things “tight,” as he put it — sometimes too tight. If any appointee stepped out of line, the response was often to fire first and ask questions later, as Shirley Sherrod, a Black official at the Agriculture Department, learned in 2010 after Fox News aired a highly edited tape taken from a right-wing website that made it seem she had delivered a racist speech to the N.A.A.C.P. Ms. Sherrod’s remarks were in fact taken badly out of context, but by the time this was recognized, she had already been dismissed. (The agency subsequently offered to rehire her.)Essentially all Obama-era “scandals” collapsed under scrutiny or never touched his White House. Oceans of ink were spilled chronicling the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel company that received loan guarantees from the Energy Department. But no improper conduct was ever established, and the overall loan guarantee program actually turned a profit for the government. Likewise, a poorly planned and ill-fated sting at the U.S.-Mexico border called Operation Fast and Furious brought inconclusive congressional hearings and a contempt citation for Attorney General Eric Holder but did not tarnish Mr. Obama.Mr. Biden’s vulnerabilities are closer to home. His allies are reportedly claiming the story will blow over because it’s just D.C. noise, but that was not Hillary Clinton’s experience with her emails and server. In the same way that the grueling Benghazi hearings from 2014 through 2016 softened Mrs. Clinton up for later attacks, the Biden documents story may give new life to unproven allegations about his connections to unsavory Chinese executives in business with members of his family. Did foreign nationals have access to the mishandled classified documents? That’s highly unlikely. But Republican lawmakers will use Democratic charges about security breaches at Mar-a-Lago as an excuse to open outlandish lines of inquiry.And the G.O.P. now has subpoena power to delve into red-meat targets like the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop and any communications on it that involved the current president. James Comer, the new chair of the House Oversight Committee, will almost certainly haul Hunter Biden and his uncle James Biden, the president’s brother, before the committee to testify about their suspiciously lucrative deals with foreign firms and the way their business intersected disastrously with Hunter Biden’s squalid personal life.To navigate the coming storm, Joe Biden needs to up his political game — no small feat for a man of his age — and avoid becoming his own worst enemy. First, he will have to keep his famous temper out of public view. If Uncle Joe morphs into Testy Joe, over his son or his handling of classified documents or anything else, his problems will worsen. Beyond an improving economy and a successful conclusion to the war in Ukraine, the best medicine for his political ailments would be a surprising legislative victory. In the new Congress, 18 House Republicans represent districts that Mr. Biden carried in 2020. If Mr. Biden can persuade just a handful of them to vote against defaulting on the national debt and sending the global economy into a depression — a harder task than it sounds because of all-but-inevitable right-wing primary challenges — he’ll get credit for averting a major economic crisis.But even if Mr. Biden puts wins on the board, survives venomous Republican lawmakers and gets off with a slap on the wrist in the special counsel’s report, the classified documents story has likely stripped him of a precious political asset with some independents and Democrats: the benefit of the doubt. The general feeling that Mr. Biden — like Mr. Obama — is clean and scandal-free has been replaced by the normal Washington assumption of some level of guilt.Republicans are ferocious attack dogs, especially when they have something to chew on. And Mr. Biden, a better president than candidate, has never had the nimbleness necessary for good defense. When he first ran for president in 1988, he was forced to withdraw amid minor charges of plagiarism that a more dexterous politician might have survived. Over the years, his skills on the stump deteriorated. He performed poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2020 and recovered in South Carolina and won the nomination only because Democrats concluded en masse that he was the best candidate to beat Mr. Trump.That remains the prevailing assumption inside the Democratic Party: He did it before and can do it again. But it’s not clear that rank-and-file voters agree. Last year a New York Times/Siena College poll showed nearly two-thirds of Democrats didn’t want Mr. Biden to run. While his standing improved after the midterms, he’s down in the first polls released since the documents story broke.The president is now an elderly swimmer in a sea of sharks. And some of them may even be Democrats. It’s not hard to envision an ambitious primary challenger arguing, more in sorrow than in anger, that he or she supports most of the Biden record but elections are about the future and the party needs a more vigorous candidate. (Mr. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term.) Democratic leaders will be shocked and appalled by the upstart’s temerity in spoiling the party’s impressive unity. But New Hampshire is full of anti-establishment independents, and basically the entire state is furious with Mr. Biden for proposing to bump its primary to the second week of the schedule. He could easily lose or be weakened there, opening the door for other Democrats. Which ones? That’s what primaries are for.In the meantime, the president isn’t looking good in polls pitting him against Republicans in hypothetical 2024 matchups. Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump have been running about even, a depressing finding for Democrats. And if the G.O.P. nominates a younger candidate like Ron DeSantis, Mr. Biden could be the octogenarian underdog in the general election.Imagine instead that the president takes a leaf from Nancy Pelosi and decides not to run. Mr. Comer and the clownish members of his committee would probably end up training most of their fire on Democrats not named Biden. Democrats would “turn the page,” as Mr. Obama recommended in 2008, to a crop of fresher candidates, probably governors, who contrast better with Mr. Trump and would have good odds of beating a younger Republican. And the smiling old gentleman in the Corvette — his shortcomings forgotten and his family protected — would assume his proper place as a bridge between political generations and arguably the most accomplished one-term president in American history.Jonathan Alter, a longtime political journalist, writes the newsletter Old Goats and has written books on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Biden Against the Wounded Extremists

    I’ve covered four presidents since joining The Times in 2003. Year after year (except during the Trump years) I go into the White House. The rooms are pretty much the same. The immaculate formality is the same. But the culture of each administration is quite different. The culture is set by the president.The phrase that comes to mind in describing the culture of the Biden White House is the assumption of power. Biden and his team do not see America as some beleaguered, declining superpower. They proceed on the premise that America is in as strong a position as ever to lead the world.Biden’s cheerful confidence is an unappreciated national asset. As American power has come to be underestimated, especially since the election of Donald Trump, a man like Biden, who has been underestimated pretty much his whole life, is in a decent position to help Americans regain confidence in their country and its government.At the moment. Biden is facing several significant headwinds — political, economic, foreign, domestic. I’d describe this administration’s methodology across these different challenges as incremental pressure and steady progress.Last year was awash in examples of this, as Biden did nothing less than help tame the world. He passed major legislation and led the Democrats to a surprisingly successful midterm election. He organized a global coalition to support Ukraine and set Vladimir Putin back on his heels. He took a series of measures to push back against Chinese hegemony, including sweeping semiconductor export controls.Before these events, the momentum seemed to be with Biden’s adversaries in each of these cases. Now the momentum is with Biden and his friends.This year he will face off against the same extremists. But they are weak in crucial ways. The fractured House Republicans are controlled by their wackiest wing. Putin continues to fail in Ukraine. Xi Jinping is beset by numerous crises, from Covid to demographic decline to the economy. Biden will have to manage these wounded adversaries to make sure they don’t lash out in extremis, doing something crazy to disrupt the world.Republican craziness could manifest itself during the looming debt ceiling crisis. A wing of Republican fiscal terrorists could make such outrageous demands that the United States is unable to fulfill its financial obligations. Biden will probably have to work with Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer in the Senate to come up with a plausible debt ceiling compromise. Then he’ll have to cajole or pressure a group of vulnerable and reasonable House Republicans, some in districts Biden won, to break with their party, so that the compromise can get through the lower chamber.Putin’s craziness could manifest as a doubling down on his Ukraine adventure or even the still existing threat of nuclear weapons. The core problem for Putin is that he has no easy way out, short of withdrawal and humiliation. He could try to win the war the traditional Russian way, by throwing masses of men into the quagmire. But suppose that doesn’t work out. All he’s got left is nukes. What does Putin do then?Xi’s craziness could manifest as ever more aggressive moves in his region and beyond, including an invasion of Taiwan. Xi has helped raise millions to middle-class status, but suppose he can’t fulfill the expectations that middle-class status generates? His authoritarian nationalism has provoked the United States to erect trade barriers and impose export controls. Growing levels of American corporate investment can no longer be assumed. How does Xi respond to the hostile environment he has created?The United States, democracy and liberalism are now winning, and the problems of authoritarianism, domestic and international, are exposed. But Biden is going to have to thread a series of needles to be sure the wounded extremists don’t take the world down with them.The stress of this situation doesn’t seem to be weighing heavily on Biden and his team.I’d describe this administration’s methodology with this phrase: steady and incremental pressure. When Putin first invaded Ukraine, the U.S. was wary of acknowledging the ways in which it was militarily aiding the defenders. But it has steadily ramped up the pressure, moving from offering Ukraine Stinger antiaircraft missiles to providing Patriot air defense systems and armored fighting vehicles. Now, my colleagues report, the Biden administration is thinking of helping the Ukrainians go after Russian sanctuaries in Crimea.The Biden administration does not seem to be trying to decouple the American and Chinese economies. A healthy Chinese economy is in America’s interest for the sake of global stability. But the Biden administration has continued to ramp up the pressure on China’s nationalist tendencies, trying to stall Chinese development in, say, computing, biotech and biomanufacturing.Biden’s pressure on the Republicans follows the same incremental and steady pattern. Many of the infrastructure projects that were funded by recent legislation are now getting underway. You can look forward to seeing the president at event after event, like the one he did with Mitch McConnell in Covington, Ky., to tout new funding for the Brent Spence Bridge.The goal is to show the American people that government does work and that Biden himself deserves re-election. Biden’s going to go after G.O.P. extremism, but he hopes to make his own competence the center of his election argument.Bill Clinton’s administration was forever associated with the word “triangulation” — moving beyond left and right. The word to associate with Biden should be “calibration” — this much pressure but not too much. It’s a tricky business. We’ll see if it works out.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    China Returns to Davos With Clear Message: We’re Open for Business

    Emerging from coronavirus lockdown to a world changed by the war in Ukraine, China sought to convey reassurance about its economic health.DAVOS, Switzerland — China ventured back on to the global stage Tuesday, sending a delegation to the World Economic Forum to assure foreign investors that after three years in which the pandemic cut off their country from the world, life was back to normal.But the Chinese faced a wary audience at the annual event, attesting to both the dramatically changed geopolitical landscape after Russia’s war on Ukraine, as well as two data points that highlighted a worrisome shift in China’s own fortunes.Hours before a senior Chinese official, Liu He, spoke to this elite economic gathering in an Alpine ski resort, the government announced that China’s population shrank in 2022 for the first time in 61 years. A short time earlier, it confirmed that economic growth had slowed to 3 percent, well below the trend of the past decade.Against that backdrop, Mr. Liu sought to reassure his audience that China was still a good place to do business. “If we work hard enough, we are confident that growth will most likely return to its normal trend, and the Chinese economy will make a significant improvement in 2023,” he said.Mr. Liu, a well-traveled vice premier who is one of China’s most recognizable faces in the West, insisted that the Covid crisis was “steadying,” seven weeks after the government abruptly abandoned its policy of quarantines and lockdowns. China had passed the peak of infections, he said, and had sufficient hospital beds, doctors and nurses, and medicine to treat the millions who are sick.A clinic waiting room in Beijing in December. The Chinese government announced a broad rollback of its zero Covid rules earlier that month.Gilles Sabrie for The New York TimesHe did not mention the 60,000 fatalities linked to the coronavirus since the lockdowns were lifted, a huge spike in the official death toll that China announced three days ago.Mr. Liu’s mild words and modest tone were in stark contrast to those of his boss, President Xi Jinping, who came to Davos in 2017 to claim the mantle of global economic leadership in a world shaken up by the election of Donald J. Trump in the United States and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.Since then, the United States and Europe have united to support Ukraine against Russia, leaving the Russians isolated with the Chinese among their few friends. Russia’s revanchist campaign has raised questions among Europeans about whether China might have similar designs on Taiwan, and escalated security concerns among the world’s democracies.Mr. Liu steered clear of political issues like the war in Ukraine or China’s tensions with the Biden administration. But he did say, “We have to abandon the Cold War mentality,” echoing a frequent Chinese criticism of the United States for attempting to contain China’s influence around the world.But it is China’s demographics and economic growth that are raising the biggest questions among businesspeople. The decline in population lays bare the country’s falling birthrate, a trend that experts said was exacerbated by the pandemic and will threaten its growth over the long term. The 3 percent growth rate, the second weakest since 1976, reflects the stifling effect of the government’s Covid policy.“The Chinese are worried, and they should be,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a professor of Asia studies at Georgetown University. “The entire international business community is way more negative about China over the long-term. A lot of people are asking, ‘Have we reached peak China?’”Children playing in the village square after school in Xiasha Village in Shenzhen, China, in November. China’s population has begun to shrink, the government announced on Tuesday.Qilai Shen for The New York TimesProfessor Medeiros, who served as a China adviser in the Obama administration, said, “For the past 20 years, China has benefited from both geoeconomic gravity and geopolitical momentum, but in the last year it has rapidly lost both.”The signposts of China’s economic weakness are everywhere: the government announced on Friday that exports fell 9.9 percent in December relative to a year earlier. “China has an export slowdown, construction is in crisis, and the local governments are running out of money,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University. “China needs the world: to boost its economy, to accompany the return to more normalcy.”Mr. Liu laid out a familiar set of economic policies, from upholding the rule of law to pursuing “innovation-driven development.” He insisted that China was still attractive to foreign investors, who he said were integral to China’s plan to achieve the government’s goal of “common prosperity.”Lianyungang port in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. The government announced on Friday that exports fell 9.9 percent in December relative to a year earlier.Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“China’s national reality dictates that opening up to the world is a must, not an expediency,” Mr. Liu said. “We must open up wider and make it work better. We oppose unilateralism and protectionism.”But China’s delegation was a reminder of how the government has sidelined some of its own best-known entrepreneurs as it has reined in powerful technology companies. Jack Ma, a co-founder of the Alibaba Group, used to be one of the biggest celebrities at the World Economic Forum, holding court in a chalet on the outskirts of Davos. Now shunted out of power, Mr. Ma is absent from Davos.Instead, China sent less well-known executives from Ant Group, an affiliate of the Alibaba Group, as well as officials from China Energy Group and China Petrochemical Group. Unlike other countries, notably India and Saudi Arabia, which plastered buildings in Davos with advertisements for foreign investment, China has been low-key, holding meetings at the posh Belvedere Hotel.After his speech, Mr. Liu, who has a command of English and holds a graduate degree from Harvard, met privately with business executives. Some expected him to be more candid in that session about the challenges China has faced.Mr. Liu did not meet top American officials in Davos, though he will meet Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Zurich on Wednesday. Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary who is at the conference, said he welcomed China’s return. “China’s in the world economy,” he said. “We need to engage with them.”Mr. Liu speaking on Tuesday.Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThough Mr. Liu, 70, has a significant international profile — having led trade negotiations with the Trump administration — China experts noted that he is not in Mr. Xi’s innermost circle. He is also no longer a member of the Chinese government’s ruling Politburo, though analysts said he retained the trust of Mr. Xi.When he spoke at Davos in 2018, Mr. Liu’s speech was among the best attended of the conference. This year, however, about a quarter of the hall emptied before Mr. Liu spoke, after having been packed for a speech by Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission.The difference in crowd sizes reflected the reshuffled priorities of the West, now focused on exhibiting unity against Russian aggression.Ms. von der Leyen, who celebrated that solidarity in her remarks, did not exactly warm up the audience for Mr. Liu. She accused the Chinese government, in its drive to dominate the clean-energy industries of the future, of unfairly subsidizing its companies at the expense of Europe and the United States.“Climate change needs a global approach,” she said in a chiding tone, “but it needs to be a fair approach.”Mark Landler More