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Monday, June 27, 2022

Should The Justice Department Prosecute Trump?

Tale of the Tape: Mike Pence On U.S. ‘Moral Decay’

This is how Trump supporters reacted to seeing parts of Jan. 6 hearing

Water: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Opinion | Monkeypox Could Exploit a Big Weakness in Sexual Health Care - The New York Times

Monkeypox Could Exploit a Big Weakness in Sexual Health Care


Dado Ruvic/Reuters

By Jay K. Varma

"Dr. Varma is a professor at Weill Cornell Medical School. He is a physician and an epidemiologist focused on large-scale responses to infectious diseases.

Monkeypox infections are spreading rapidly in many countries, and the United States has, yet again, been caught flat-footed when confronted with another virus. Many problems with the Covid-19 response by the United States are being repeated: limited access to testing, contact tracing, vaccination and isolation support, and scant data from public health officials about how and where people are being infected. With infections currently concentrated among men who have sex with men, monkeypox has also exposed another critical vulnerability in the U.S. public health system: limited sexual health services in many parts of the country. That will make it more difficult to know how many monkeypox cases there are and to stop the virus from spreading.

The general public needs to demand that elected officials recognize the urgency of having a strong national strategy and budget focused on sexual health. By making sexual health a routine part of wellness and by funding it sufficiently, we can lower the barrier to essential services and protect everyone from emerging health threats, such as monkeypox.

Monkeypox is caused by a virus similar to smallpox, and many outbreaks were thought to begin with human contact with infected animals in central and western African countries. The virus often causes several days of flulike symptoms, followed by a skin rash.

Since May 2022, monkeypox cases have been reported in many states in the United States and in Europe, primarily associated with men who have sex with men. Public health investigations strongly suggest that infections are spreading during sexual contact, likely from an uninfected person’s skin touching an infected person’s skin in the genital or anal areas. While there is some debate among epidemiologists about whether to call monkeypox “sexually transmitted” versus “sexually transmissible,” it is reasonable to consider that sex is one activity that transmits infection, similar to other infections that are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during sex, like herpes, syphilis and the human papillomavirus. While no deaths have been reported in the United States, more widespread infections will result in some people experiencing severe complications, such as damage to the brain, eyes and lungs. Infections may also be more severe in people with H.I.V., which is more common in men who have sex with men in the United States.

Many cases of monkeypox during the recent outbreak in Europe and the United States have been detected at clinics dedicated to treatment of sexually transmitted infections. But there are reasons to believe the United States is missing many more cases than have been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that it does not know how some U.S. patients acquired the virus, suggesting that there are likely people spreading infection not yet diagnosed. The C.D.C. has also reported at least two different variants of monkeypox in the United States, suggesting more than one outbreak at the same time. And my personal experience has shown that young men who have sex with men are likely being misdiagnosed when they go to emergency departments.

Why are cases being missed? One reason is that the United States lacks a sufficient number of clinics that specialize in sexual health, including family planning, sexual dysfunction, gender-affirming services, and S.T.I.s. Historically, most of these clinics have been affiliated with local health departments with public funding.

The clinics have several advantages over primary care or urgent care centers. Patients often perceive them as more welcoming, because they can ensure anonymity, have staff members well versed in gay men’s health, often charge no or minimal out-of-pocket fees and may provide rapid screening options and vaccines particularly important to sexually-active teens and adults. They also have clinicians who have expertise in accurately differentiating one S.T.I. infection from another and providing treatment to patients and their exposed sex partners. Widespread availability of sexual health clinics lowers the barrier for people to get screened, seek care for any symptoms and get vaccines when available.

Controlling epidemics of S.T.I.s depends on prompt diagnosis and effective treatment of infected people and their contacts. Yet government funding for diagnosis, treatment and contact tracing has been declining. In the 2010s, many health departments reduced hours at sexual health clinics, and prevention programs were further disrupted starting in 2020 because of Covid-19. In part because of these reduced health services, S.T.I.s have been rising for years, and the C.D.C. estimated that, on any given day in 2018, one in five Americans had one of these infections. Rates are particularly high in people 15 to 24 years old and men who have sex with men.

Other experts and I fear that monkeypox will exploit this vulnerability and become a permanently entrenched S.T.I. in the United States, as has happened with syphilis and H.I.V. Initial skin changes in this outbreak often appear innocuous and can occur in locations that are easy to miss, such as inside the anus. Nevertheless, these lesions are highly contagious and can even contaminate surfaces or materials such as towels, which can spread infection to other people. The skin changes can also mimic those of other infections, such as herpes, molluscum or syphilis, so monkeypox can be easily misdiagnosed by someone not expert in evaluating S.T.I.s.

As we know from other S.T.I.s, patients who have genital or anal symptoms that they believe are associated with sex may be reluctant to see a primary care physician in part out of fear that their diagnosis will be documented in their medical record and jeopardize their health insurance (if they have insurance). The current absence of easily accessible clinics that offer monkeypox testing will make it more likely that infections will go undiagnosed early and continue to spread. And the dynamics of some sexual networks among men who have sex with men — in which men with multiple sexual partners have sex with men who also have multiple partners — are likely to contribute to ongoing monkeypox transmission in this population.

Federal and state governments should immediately begin large-scale campaigns to educate health care providers of all types about monkeypox. Public health officials cannot assume that doctors will simply know when to test for it and how to navigate the process of swabbing a skin lesion and getting it to a specialized lab.

Public health agencies need to dramatically increase collaborations with community groups and hookup apps, party promoters and travel companies that specialize in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men to promote self-screening for skin changes. Some gay men are quite comfortable taking and sharing photos of their penis and anus while flirting; encourage them to do it for their health as well. The federal government also should authorize state health departments to use unspent Covid-19 funds to support S.T.I. supplies, equipment and staff for expanded hours and outreach at sexual health clinics, as well as contact tracing and support for isolating infected persons.

Monkeypox is unlikely to affect as many Americans as Covid-19. Nevertheless, an important lesson of the past decade of Covid-19, Ebola and Zika epidemics is that unchecked transmission means a virus will not stay limited to any one subset of the population and will lead to unpredictable health complications. Strengthening sexual health services now can serve the dual purpose of stemming the monkeypox outbreak and the ongoing one of S.T.I.s.

Jay Varma is a professor at Weill Cornell Medical School. He is an epidemiologist focused on large-scale responses to infectious diseases.

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."

Opinion | Monkeypox Could Exploit a Big Weakness in Sexual Health Care - The New York Times

Democrats seize on abortion ruling in midterms as Republicans tread carefully

Democrats seize on abortion ruling in midterms as Republicans tread carefully

“The contrasting reactions reflect the broader midterm calculations of each party ahead of the November elections

Abortion rights advocates demonstrate near the Supreme Court building over the weekend. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Democrats across the country are seizing on the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, with state and federal candidates seeking to turn anger about the decision into support at the ballot box, even as Republicans aim to keep attention on rising prices and crime less than five months before the midterms.

Led by President Biden, who declared Friday that “Roe is on the ballot” and “personal freedoms are on the ballot,” Democrats on the front lines of the fight to keep the party’s slim congressional majorities have cast their campaigns as key parts of a larger battle to restore abortion rights and prevent the rollback of other liberties. Democratic candidates for governor, attorney general and offices at the state level, where abortion laws will now be fully determined, pledged to put the issue at the forefront of their campaigns.

“We are facing a watershed moment for our constitutional rights,” said Cheri Beasley, the Democratic Senate nominee in North Carolina, a key battleground and a state that could draw more women seeking abortions from nearby states barring the procedure. Speaking on Friday at a park in the capital of Raleigh, Beasley warned, “I hope you all know that this doesn’t end this, that the threats don’t stop here.” She urged supporters, “This November let us run, not walk, to the polls.”

Republicans have largely praised the ruling, but some suggested different matters, such as the economic challenges confronting Americans, should take precedence, while others cheered the power of states and lawmakers to decide the future of abortion laws, amounting to a wider range of responses than Democrats, more united in their anger, have offered.

Roe doesn’t change settled law, and it won’t distract voters from unaffordable prices, rising crime or the border crisis,” said Adam Laxalt, the Republican Senate nominee in Nevada, which has a state law legalizing abortion.

The contrasting reactions reflect the broader midterm calculations of each party. Democrats trying to overcome Biden’s low approval ratings as well as high gas prices and violent crime have been searching for ways to shift the focus to other issues and give voters second thoughts about replacing them with Republicans. Republican leaders, who have long felt well-positioned to make gains, are wary of refocusing on topics that could diminish their advantage.

While it is unclear whether the ruling will change the contours of the midterms, the Friday decision that overturned the constitutional right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago has added a new element to some of the biggest races across the country.

More than a dozen states have trigger laws that automatically ban most abortions and more could ban the procedure soon due to previously blocked laws that could take effect, including Georgia and Ohio, where there are Senate races that have generated interest from leaders in both parties.

“This is insanity. Ohio has traditionally been a centrist state,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic Senate nominee in the Buckeye State. He said the issue will be important in his campaign: “This level of extremism is not going to play in Ohio.”

Lawmakers like Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and more spoke on June 26 about the overturning of Roe. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

While Ohio does not have a trigger law to automatically ban most abortions, shortly after the decision Friday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) filed a motion to lift a stay on a 2019 state law that banned abortions after about six weeks. Yost later wrote on Twitter that the injunction had been removed, though liberal groups are still fighting his move.

Ryan also sought to tether the debate over abortion to the cornerstone themes of his campaign: “We built a campaign around issues like freedom, economic freedom, good middle class jobs and wages, and making sure we rebuild the middle class. This is an issue of freedom as well,” Ryan said.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman sought to sum up the decision confronting voters this way in a statement: “If there were any doubts left about what’s at stake in this race, it became crystal clear today. The right to an abortion will be on the ballot this November in Pennsylvania.”

Democratic Rep. Val Demings, running to unseat Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, said she has traveled the state and at every campaign stop someone has asked her about Roe. “I do think going back and treating women and girls like second class citizens or property, I think that matters a hell of a lot to men and women in Florida,” Demings said in an interview on Friday night.

Senate Democrats saw a significant spike in grass-roots fundraising immediately following the Supreme Court ruling, making for the best day of online fundraising to date this cycle, said an aide to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal fundraising trends.

Biden on Friday urged voters to elect more members of Congress so that abortion rights can be codified in federal law. But unless that happens, abortion laws will be decided by each state, giving greater significance to races there this year.

In Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is up for reelection in a swing state, renewed her call for the state court to clarify the status of a 1931 law banning abortion and said she will “fight like hell” to preserve reproductive rights.

Some Democratic candidates for attorney general pledged that they would not prosecute those seeking or preforming abortions. “This will be the number one issue in my campaign,” said Kris Mayes, a Democrat running for attorney general in Arizona.

Democratic strategists argued that such a massive change in the legal landscape will trigger a drumbeat of news coverage as states adapt, keeping the issue front of mind for a sustained period. Some argued it could help the party improve its standing among women, including those in the suburbs who grew frustrated with Democrats over pandemic school closures. “If you are in a close race this will be a game changer,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster working in several midterm campaigns.

But Republican strategists predicted that the fundamental contours of the election haven’t changed. “The universal issue is the concern over the economy, and that is going to drive the election more than any other issue as much as the Democrats are trying to prevent that from happening,” said John Brabender, a veteran Republican operative.

Republicans in tough races issued a raft of statements in the aftermath of the decision, largely praising it but also downplaying the impact in the near term. “The court’s ruling correctly empowers the people’s representatives in each state to decide how best to protect unborn lives,” said Rep. Ted Budd, the Republican Senate nominee in North Carolina, in a statement.

Republicans in some places have injected a populist message in their response to the decision. J.D. Vance, the Republican Senate nominee against Ryan in Ohio, said in a statement that the decision marks a “new phase” in the antiabortion movement where easing the financial burden of raising a family moves to the forefront. “We will continue the fight to ensure that every young mother has the resources they need to bring new life into the world,” Vance said.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz pivoted to the importance of supporting young families. “As we lift up life, we must focus on the needs of mothers and children, for whom this decision can be the greatest gift of all,” Oz said in a statement.

Like other Republicans in swing states, Oz downplayed any immediate changes that will be brought by the decision. “I am relieved that protecting the lives of America’s unborn children will once again be decided by the people through their elected representatives,” he said.

In 2019, Oz voiced concerns on “The Breakfast Club” radio program about a near-total ban on abortion in Alabama and said that while he did not want family members to have an abortion, he also did not “want to interfere with everyone else’s stuff.” He faced criticism in the Republican primary over his past remarks.

In the past few days, Democrats have moved quickly to remind voters what Republican candidates have recently said on abortion. In Georgia, the Democratic Party tweeted a video of Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker being asked if he supported any exceptions to an abortion ban. “There is no exception in my mind,” he told reporters in May ahead of his Republican primary. “Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life.”

A Republican Georgia operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the fraught issue, acknowledged that the decision could help Democrats but said, “the thing that keeps me optimistic is Democrats are going to overreact.”

Sunday, June 26, 2022

'3 Supreme Court Justices Lied Under Oath' - Liz Plank | Zerlina.

Opinion | The Radical Reign of Clarence Thomas - The New York Times

The Radical Reign of Clarence Thomas

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

"WASHINGTON — “What is happening here?” a distraught Nancy Pelosi said on Friday.

It’s a good question and I can answer it, because I was there at the start of the corrosive chain of events that led to women losing control of their own bodies. I saw how America went from a beacon of modernity to a benighted outlier.

Over the last three decades, I have witnessed a dismal saga of opportunism, fanaticism, mendacity, concupiscence, hypocrisy and cowardice. This is a story about men gaining power by trading away something that meant little to them compared with their own stature: the rights of women.

It started innocently enough on a beautiful summer day in Kennebunkport, with the ocean sparkling and a lunch of crab meat salad and English muffins.

I was covering the first President Bush’s nomination of a 43-year-old U.S. appeals court judge for the D.C. Circuit to take the seat of retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall. Clarence Thomas, standing in front of a weather-beaten shingled cottage, looked uneasy as Bush defended his conservative choice.

The warnings were clear even then. Democratic Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio threatened to investigate Judge Thomas’s record on abortion, saying, “I will not support yet another Reagan-Bush Supreme Court nominee who remains silent on a woman’s right to choose and then ascends to the court to weaken that right.”

Thomas was a far cry from the liberal lion and civil rights hero Marshall. He opposed affirmative action, even though it contributed to his rise, and he was championed by anti-abortion activists, who were confident that he would weaken a woman’s right to choose.

H.W. and his father were New England Episcopalians with a proud history of supporting Planned Parenthood. Prescott Bush had been an early supporter in the ’40s and once served as a treasurer of a fund-raising campaign. As a Texas congressman, H.W. was christened “Rubbers” by his colleagues because he was such a cheerleader for family planning in the United States and around the world.

But when Bush joined Ronald Reagan on the ticket in 1980, he adopted Reagan’s more restrictive position. The right remained suspicious of Bush, though, and hoping to bring it around for his re-election, he appointed the ultraconservative Thomas. He also wanted to appeal to Black voters, still angry at the Willie Horton ugliness that had helped propel him to the White House.

Women’s rights had to take a back seat to re-election.

Three months later, Anita Hill told her story to Congress about her boss, Thomas, tormenting her with unwanted attention and dirty talk about the pornographic films he liked to watch. Joe Biden was the chairman of those Senate hearings.

He let Hill be viciously ripped apart by Republicans and then abruptly ended the hearings, canceling the appearance of her two corroborating witnesses. Many senators on the committee — composed entirely of white men — privately thought it was an office romance gone wrong. Poor guy, they said among themselves, no point in letting his life be ruined by someone they thought, with absolutely no evidence, was a vengeful ex. Hill was smeared as a perjuring erotomaniac, and Biden, wasting a Democratic Senate majority, allowed a liar, a pervert and a sexual harasser to be elevated to a lifetime seat on the court.

Women’s rights had to take a back seat to Biden’s desire to foster bipartisanship with his conservative colleagues. And with Thomas, those conservatives got the justice of their dreams, the first in a line of right-wing radicals.

When Donald Trump came along, trailing a history of lurid sexual transgressions, the family-values Republicans and religious right didn’t care. They knew he was the one who could bring them to Valhalla on the Supreme Court.

Mitch McConnell and his Federalist Society minions used Trump as the host body. After wrecking the rules to keep Merrick Garland off the court, McConnell jammed through Amy Coney Barrett. Trump, who had once been a pro-choice, Nancy-and-Hillary-and-Chuck loving Democrat, was happy to flip to gain the fervor of an anti-abortion base.

Women’s rights had to take a back seat to Trump’s ego and ambition and McConnell’s desire for a conservative court that would pull back the reach of the government, denying protections to Americans who need or value them. They pushed through three conservative justices — one had to defend himself against sexual assault charges and one was in a weird “Handmaid’s Tale”-style sect — and that was checkmate for Roe.

Neil Gorsuch and another Trump appointee, Brett Kavanaugh, are now facing accusations from senators that they dissembled to get on the court and played down their intentions to throw out Roe. “I am a don’t-rock-the-boat kind of judge,” Kavanaugh told Susan Collins, according to The Times’s Carl Hulse.

Thomas’s concurring opinion to the fanatical Samuel Alito’s majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade chillingly warned that he would apply the same rationale to contraception, same-sex marriage and same-sex consensual relations.

Back when Thomas’s nomination ran into resistance, the Bush administration sold him as a sterling example of a Black man who had pulled himself up from rough beginnings. That day in Kennebunkport, Thomas talked about being raised by his grandparents, sharecroppers from rural Georgia.

But on the court he has been cruel, pushing opinions that would grind down the poor and underprivileged.

While his wife ran around helping Trump with his coup, Thomas was the senior firebrand in a coup of extremists on the court. They yanked power away from John Roberts and are defying the majority will in this country in ways that are terrifying.

On Thursday, in the middle of an epidemic of mass shootings, with Congress finally getting a mild victory on gun control, Thomas opened the door to more guns on the street. He wrote the majority opinion overturning a New York law limiting the right to carry a handgun in public, throwing out a requirement over a century old.

In another ruling this past week, the justices chipped away at the First Amendment’s separation between church and state, a foundation of the Republic. And next, they will get around to removing environmental protections and guttingthe government’s ability to regulate and restrict business rights.

The court is out of control. We feel powerless to do anything about it. Clarence Thomas, of all people, has helped lead us to where we are, with unaccountable extremists dictating how we live. And that is revolting."

Opinion | The Radical Reign of Clarence Thomas - The New York Times

How to Discipline a Rogue Supreme Court

Jamelle Bouie

“How to Discipline a Rogue Supreme Court

Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

You're reading the Jamelle Bouie newsletter, for Times subscribers only.  Historical context for present-day events.

The Supreme Court does not exist above the constitutional system.

It can shape the constitutional order, it can say what the Constitution means, but it cannot shield itself from the power of the other branches. The Supreme Court can be checked and the Supreme Court can be balanced.

It is tempting, in the immediate wake of the court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, to say that there’s nothing to be done about the reactionary majority on the court. But that’s just not true. The Constitution provides a number of paths by which Congress can restrain and discipline a rogue court.

It can impeach and remove justices. It can increase or decrease the size of the court itself (at its inception, the Supreme Court had only six members). It can strip the court of its jurisdiction over certain issues or it can weaken its power of judicial review by requiring a supermajority of justices to sign off on any decision that overturns a law. Congress can also rebuke the court with legislation that simply cancels the decision in question.

In the face of a reckless, reactionary and power-hungry court, Congress has options. The problem is politics. Despite the arrogance of the current Supreme Court — despite its almost total lack of democratic legitimacy — there is little to no appetite within the Democratic Party for a fight over the nature of the court and its place in our constitutional system. For many Democrats, President Roosevelt’s attempt to expand the size of the court is less a triumph than a cautionary tale — a testament to the limits of presidential leadership and presidential power.

But Roosevelt did eventually get a Supreme Court that allowed most of the New Deal to stand. The threat worked. The court was humbled.

It will take time to build the kind of power and consensus needed to make significant changes to the court. But even the work of amassing that power and putting that consensus together can stand as a credible threat to a Supreme Court that has acted, under conservative control, as if it stands above the constitutional system, unaccountable to anyone other than itself.

The power to check the Supreme Court is there, in the Constitution. The task now is to seize it.


Now Reading

Mark Joseph Stern on the Supreme Court’s next targets in Slate magazine.

Jia Tolentino on the end of Roe v. Wade in The New Yorker.

Patricia Cline Cohen on the bad history behind Justice Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health in The Washington Post.

Yvette Borja on the new “mask-off” era of the Supreme Court at Balls and Strikes.

Cristian Farias on the fall of Roe and the rise of the Republican Court in Vanity Fair.


Feedback If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to your friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com. You can follow me on Twitter (@jbouie), Instagram and TikTok.


Photo of the Week

Jamelle Bouie

I was in Farmville, Va., recently and took a few pictures of its main street, which has a lot of interesting and colorful buildings. This is one of them.

Now Eating: One-Pot Turmeric Coconut Rice With Greens

A typical meal in my home consists of some kind of fish prepared simply along with some kind of rice pilaf, like this one. My only real advice is to use more lime juice and more herbs than this calls for. If you want to add a whole bunch of chopped cilantro, you should add a whole bunch of chopped cilantro. Recipe comes from NYT Cooking.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups long-grain rice, such as jasmine or basmati

  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

  • 1 tablespoon white or black sesame seeds

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 medium bunch kale, spinach or Swiss chard

  • 1 lime

Directions

Rinse rice until water runs clear. Drain and set aside.

In a medium pot or Dutch oven, toast the coconut and sesame seeds over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. (Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning.) Transfer to a small bowl. Wipe out the pot.

In the same pot, melt the coconut oil over medium-low. Add the scallion whites, turmeric and ½ teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, until aromatic and lightly toasted, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice, coconut milk, saffron (if using), and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Fill the empty can of coconut milk with water and add it to the pot. Give the mixture a good stir to separate any lumps and bring to a boil over medium-high.

Once boiling, cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

As rice cooks, remove and discard the tough stems of the leafy greens, if needed, and cut or tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. When the rice has cooked for 10 minutes, arrange the greens on top of the rice in an even layer and season well with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook until the rice is tender, 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, 5 minutes.

As rice rests, zest the lime and cut it into 4 wedges. Add ½ teaspoon zest to the coconut-sesame mixture, along with the scallion greens. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Gently stir the greens into the rice using a spatula or fork, season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls. Sprinkle the coconut mixture on top and serve with a lime wedge for squeezing over.”

Biden Signs Gun Bill Into Law, Ending Years of Stalemate

Biden Signs Gun Bill Into Law, Ending Years of Stalemate

“The bill is the most significant gun measure to clear Congress in nearly three decades, though it falls short of more restrictive gun control proposals that Democrats favor.

President Biden signed into law the bipartisan gun bill before leaving for Europe. “God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives,” he said.
T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Sign Up for On Politics, for Times subscribers only.  A Times reader’s guide to the political news in Washington and across the nation.

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Saturday signed into law a bipartisan gun bill intended to prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms and increase investments in the nation’s mental health system, ending nearly three decades of gridlock in Washington over how to address gun violence in the United States.

Final passage of the legislation in Congress came one month after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead, a horror that galvanized a bipartisan group of lawmakers to strike a narrow compromise.

“God willing,” Mr. Biden said as he put his pen down on Saturday morning, “it’s going to save a lot of lives.”

The president acknowledged that the legislation fell far short of the sweeping measures he had pushed for, but he said it included some long-sought priorities.

“When it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential,” Mr. Biden said.

For lawmakers, advocates and survivors of gun violence, the law is the culmination of decades of work, building on repeated failed efforts to overcome Republican opposition and overhaul the nation’s gun laws in response to mass shootings across the country. But the law’s enactment came the same week that the Supreme Court struck down a New York law limiting where gun owners could carry a firearm outside the home, citing the Second Amendment.

The passage of the gun bill also provided Mr. Biden with a legislative accomplishment just before he headed to Europe for a pair of summits that will focus primarily on Ukraine. On Saturday, the president also signed a bill extending free meals and other food assistance for children.

The gun legislation will expand the background check system for prospective gun buyers under the age of 21, giving authorities up to 10 business days to examine juvenile and mental health records. It sets aside millions of dollars so states can fund intervention programs, such as mental health and drug courts, and carry out so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from any person found by a judge to be too dangerous to possess them.

It pours more federal money into mental health resources in communities and schools across the country, and it sets aside millions for school safety. The legislation also toughens laws against the trafficking of guns and straw purchasing, the practice of buying a gun on behalf of someone barred from purchasing one. And for the first time, it includes serious or recent dating partners in a ban on domestic abusers buying firearms, tightening what is known as the boyfriend loophole.

“I think the whole country was yearning for something real to happen after the terrible tragedies,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said in an interview this past week. Before the Texas shooting, he had spent time in Buffalo, counseling grieving families after a racist attack at a supermarket left 10 Black people dead.

Mr. Biden said he would host both families affected by gun violence and the lawmakers who helped craft the measure at an event at the White House in July, after the Fourth of July recess, and suggested the compromise was a sign that more bipartisan efforts were possible.

“Their message to us was: Do something,” Mr. Biden said of the families of gun violence victims. “How many times have you heard that? Just do something. For God’s sake, just do something.”

“Well, today, we did,” the president added.

For Mr. Biden and others, the compromise reflected decades of work on gun safety legislation. After 20 children were shot and killed in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, Mr. Biden, the vice president at the time, was tasked by President Barack Obama with drafting a list of executive actions on guns. Mr. Biden also called on lawmakers to expand background checks, but an effort to pass that measure and other gun control provisions failed in the Senate.

After the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Mr. Biden called for reinstating a ban on assault weapons — a restriction he helped pass as a senator that was in effect for a decade before it expired in 2004.

Most of the congressional efforts on guns have been stymied in recent years by Republican opposition, as the party has largely united to block new gun control measures and prevent that legislation from reaching the 60-vote threshold needed for most bills to advance in the Senate. As lawmakers reeled from the images that came out of the Texas shooting, however, party leaders offered their tacit blessing to a small coalition of senators eager to strike a compromise.

During four weeks of intense negotiations over the legislation, Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, both Democrats, joined Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, both Republicans, to strike a deal.

But even as Mr. Biden used a rare evening address this month to call on Congress to take sweeping action, such as banning assault weapons and prohibiting the sale of semiautomatic rifles to people under 21, senators focused on measures that could secure enough Republican support to allow for passage in the Senate.

They set aside calls for a federal red flag law, instead agreeing to $750 million in federal grant funding to help states carry out those laws and fund crisis intervention programs. Lawmakers also agreed to allow the enhanced background checks for younger buyers to expire after a decade and let their successors debate extending it, a tactic that led the assault weapons ban to end in 2004.

And while lawmakers and activists have long fought to close the boyfriend loophole, negotiators also agreed that first-time misdemeanor offenders could regain their ability to purchase a firearm after five years as long as they did not commit any other violent offense. (The ban previously applied only to domestic abusers who had lived with, been married to or had a child with the victim.)

“I have to say that this bill doesn’t do everything we would like to do,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech on Friday. But, she added, “It is a necessary step to honor our solemn duty as lawmakers to protect and defend the American people.”

Ultimately, 15 Senate Republicans supported the measure, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. Fourteen House Republicans voted for it. A majority of congressional Republicans, backed by the National Rifle Association, opposed it as too broad, even as Mr. McConnell and Mr. Cornyn acknowledged voters’ desire for action and emphasized their success in narrowing Democratic ambitions.

Many of the supportive Republicans, particularly in the Senate, are not set to face voters this year. But having been flooded with pleas to take action, those who backed the measure appeared largely unmoved by opposition from both gun rights groups and their own colleagues.

“I know that the discussion is overwhelmingly about the politics of it, and frankly, to quote a famous movie, I don’t give a damn,” said Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, recalling that he had supported raising the minimum age to buy an assault weapon before it became clear it was a nonstarter for most Republicans. 

“The highest priority, by far, by far is trying to reduce the shootings of children in America, particularly the mass shootings,” he added. “This bill, I believe, will help in that regard. Will it stop them? Of course not, but will it make a difference? I believe so. And for me, that’s enough.”