The Daily 202: Merrick Garland calls for policing the police

Merrick Garland yesterday told senators considering his confirmation as attorney general the Justice Department will police the police, not defund them, if he gets the job. But he did echo one proposal from the racial justice movement: A shift to having mental health professionals, instead of armed officers, respond to some standoffs.

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, one of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republicans, asked Garland whether he would support the “defund” calls if he becomes the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. 

President Biden has said he does not support defunding the police and neither do I,” Garland answered. “We saw how difficult the lives of police officers were in the body-cam videos we saw when they were defending the Capitol.”

It was unclear whether Garland’s reference to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection was a jab at Hawley, subject of a viral photograph from that day in which he gave an encouraging fist-pump to protestors outside Congress hours before he voted to overthrow Biden’s election, as the rioters themselves sought to do. The senator gave no sign that he saw it as such.

There’s no single agreed-upon definition of “defund the police,” a movement that gained velocity last year after a Minneapolis police officer pinned George Floyd’s neck under his knee, killing him.

Some progressive Democrats at the federal, state, and local level argue that cutting law enforcement funds must be central to the response to systemic racism that results in disproportionate deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police. But Biden has charted a more middle-of-the-road path ever since the Democratic presidential primary and his Cabinet picks mostly reflect his outlook.

Biden has argued for shifting some of the money spent on police to other agencies. One goal would be for a mental health-care worker, not an armed officer, to go speak to a troubled citizen, potentially reducing the likelihood that the encounter would end in a deadly shooting.

That seemed to be what Garland, who is all but certain to be confirmed by a bipartisan Senate majority, supports.

The issue could come up again today in his second of two days of confirmation hearings.

“I do believe and President Biden believes in in giving resources to police departments to help them reform and gain the trust of their communities,” he told the committee. “We do need to put resources into alternative ways of confronting some actors, particularly those who are mentally ill and those who are suicidal, so that police officers don’t have to do a job that they’re not trained for and that, from what I understand, they do not want to do.”

To defund or not to defund has become fraught in Democratic politics.

Former president Barack Obama faced a heated backlash in December 2020 when he faulted it as a political message.

“You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” Obama told Snapchat political journalist Peter Hamby. “Do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) fired back on Twitter:

Garland indicated he was inclined to police the police notably through “consent decrees,” court-approved agreements between local law enforcement and the Justice Department. The Trump administration, which frequently celebrated its close ties to police, essentially abandoned the practice.

The Justice Department, Garland said, has “the authority and the responsibility to investigate patterns or practices of law enforcement entities’ conduct that violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

And “the statute further provides that if the department finds this pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct, that it can seek equitable remedies from the court” Garland continued. “And one of the kinds of equitable remedies, which has proven effective in the past, are consent decrees. So where they are necessary to assure accountability, it’s very important that we use that tool.”

On another front, Garland committed to helping the congressional investigation into former president Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, under which large numbers of parents were separated from young children.

“I think that the policy was shameful,” he said.

“I can’t imagine anything worse than tearing parents from their children. And we will provide all the cooperation that we possibly can.”

“We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved,” Garland said, adding later, “We also have to have a focus on what is happening all over the country and on where this could spread, and where this came from.”

Notably, though, Garland seemed skeptical of bipartisan calls for legislation granting the Justice Department more power to hunt down domestic extremists. He pointed back to his successful supervision of the prosecution against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, author of the worst domestic terrorist attack in modern times.

The first thing we have to do before we look for new tools is figure out whether the tools we have are sufficient,” he said. “I want to have to determine whether the law, which are quite capable and which were capable of the charges against McVeigh and (accused co-conspirator Terry Nichols) and many other terrorist over the years.”

“And then I’d be interested in speaking with you and other members of the committee about what other additions might be made,” Garland said. “But I’ve first got to know whether anything more is necessary.”

What’s happening now

BREAKING: The Biden administration is preparing to sanction Russia for the SolarWinds hack and the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The administration is casting the SolarWinds operation, which hacked government agencies and private companies, as “indiscriminate” and potentially “disruptive,” Ellen Nakashima reports. This would allow officials to claim  the Russian hacking was not equivalent to the kind of espionage the U.S. also conducts, and to sanction those responsible for the operation. The punishment for the hacks is intended to be part of broader measures aimed at holding Moscow accountable for other actions, such as its use of a banned chemical weapon against Navalny.

It’s a big day on Capitol Hill again, where lawmakers will begin to try and officially sort out what happened during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The riot was a pivotal moment in American political history, with a pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol to try to prevent the lawful election of Biden through the certification of electors. It also sparked a second impeachment trial of Trump (he was, of course, acquitted), and a stunning walk-back by many Republican elected officials who won’t pan Trump’s assertion the election was stolen and that Biden won legitimately.

The hearing will provide the first formal accounting from some of the people in charge of the security response to the violence a whopping 48 days later.

  • This is the first time the American public had a chance to directly hear from former House sergeant-at-arms Paul D. Irving and former Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael C. Stenger, who resigned in the immediate aftermath of the riot. Irving denied concerns the “optics” of deploying soldiers to the Capitol led him to initially turn down Sund’s request to call in the National Guard. 
  • Irving’s prepared statement contradicted the accounts of both Sund and a friend of Irving’s, who said his concerns about how members of Congress would react to the presence of troops factored into his decision. He did not explicitly deny making the remark, but emphasized that his decisions were based on security assessments.
  • Stenger called for a review of how law enforcement agencies coordinate in the D.C. area. Stenger’s statement, however, did not address why the National Guard was not deployed to the scene sooner, nor did it include a timeline of his own actions leading up to Jan. 6.
  • It’s also the first time we heard directly from former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund, who also resigned. In his opening remarks, he blamed the intelligence community for failing to foresee the attack.
  • Remember, Sund talked to our Carol D. Leonnig in an exclusive interview and said he “was growing increasingly worried” in the day’s before the attack and asked House and Senate officials for help bringing in the National Guard. He told Carol that he was turned down.
  • Acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III is also on the hot seat. In his prepared statement, Contee said the riot “exposed weaknesses in the security of the most secure city in the country.” As a result, he said, “federal police forces in D.C. will be reexamining their security protocols given the risks of both foreign and domestic terrorism.”
  • Senators heard first from an unadvertised witness, Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, an Army veteran who described in harrowing personal terms being called in before her Jan.6 shift began and finding the Capitol overrun by rioters. She described how colleagues pulled her arm free when it got pinned between rioters and a railing. “It would have been broken,” she said. Rioters sprayed gas at Capitol Police, Mendoza said. “I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day.”
  • Sund revealed an FBI warning of potential violence reached Capitol Police the evening before the attack, but it was never passed along to leadership. “I actually just in the last 24 hours, was informed by the department that they actually had received that report,” Sund said. “It was received by … the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is a task force with the FBI. They received it the evening of the 5th, reviewed it and then forwarded over to an official at the intelligence division over at U.S. Capitol Police headquarters.” Sund said it went no further up the chain. He did not see it, neither did the House and Senate sergeants-of-arms.
  • Contee recalled Sund “literally pleading” for help from the National Guard as the attack unfolded. “In response to that, there was not an immediate yes,” Contee said when Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) asked about the slow response from the Guard. Contee said Army representatives asked, “What was the plan for the National Guard?” and expressed concern about “the optics, how does this look with boots on the ground at the Capitol.” 

The Post’s Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian explain how the hearing “could also become a battleground for competing narratives over what prompted the riot and who was responsible for it.”

  • “… questions are likely to include what role House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) played in reviewing or approving plans for Capitol security ahead of the attack.”
  • “Irving reported to Pelosi, and Stenger reported to McConnell, who was majority leader at the time of the riot. Both men sit on the Capitol Police Board, a secretive four-member body overseeing congressional security matters that also includes the chief of the Capitol Police and the presidentially appointed architect of the Capitol.”

You can follow our team’s live coverage here.

And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has played down the severity of the riot and said he was “literally never afraid” that day, read lengthy excerpts from a piece in the right-wing publication The Federalist. The article claims unidentified “provocateurs” triggered a Capitol Police reaction that inflamed what had been a peaceful crowd. That runs counter to accounts from other witnesses, law-enforcement and some of the rioters themselves, who have said in court filings that Trump’s rhetoric inflamed them.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Life amid the ruins of QAnon,” by Greg Jaffe and Jose A. Del Real: “‘Any advice for dealing with a qanon parent who thinks ww3 will happen during the inauguration?’ Tyler asked last month on r/QAnonCasualties, a fast-growing Reddit group for those whose loved ones have been consumed by the bizarre and byzantine universe of baseless conspiracy theories known as QAnon. … The group offered a rough barometer of the growing turmoil. Since last summer it had grown from about 10,000 members to more than 130,000 in the days after Biden’s inauguration. … Tyler, alone in his bedroom, read many of the new posts, hoping that they would help him make sense of his mother’s beliefs. … For a while Tyler held out hope that Biden’s swearing-in would jolt his mother back into reality. … But, the ceremony in Washington seemed to make little difference at his house in Minnesota. ‘She’s waiting for March 4th now,’ he wrote. ‘What’s March 4th?’ asked one of the QAnonCasualties group members. ‘Trump’s inauguration as new world president,’ Tyler replied.”
  • “A Very Stable Genius” update: If you (inexcusably) missed it the first time around, you can now pick up the paperback edition of this gripping account of the Trump era from my colleagues Leonnig and Phil Rucker. Trump’s first impeachment may feel like it was a lifetime ago, but Carol and Phil take you back and provide more of the crazy behind-the-scenes goings-on. In new scenes, they show secret meetings in which a CIA officer sets out to make sure the public learns of the president’s possibly illegal pressure campaign including his lawyer trying to alert a team of congressional investigators without sharing classified information. You can pick it up here.

… and beyond

  • The most ambitious effort yet to reform policing may be happening in Ithaca, New York,” by GQ’s Wesley Lowery: “The mayor of Ithaca, NY will attempt the most radical reimagining of policing in the post-George Floyd era so far: abolishing the city’s police department as currently constructed and replacing it with a reimagined city agency.”
  • How progressives are building power in the Biden White House,” by the Daily Beast’s Hannah Trudo: “In order to understand just how open the lines of communication are between the progressive left and Biden, look no further than White House chief of staff Ron Klain’s call log. Klain speaks to Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) ‘quite often,’ recently talked to freshman Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), a newly minted Squad member, and has conversations with many ‘less famous’ individuals in the Democratic Party’s left wing on a regular basis.”

More on Biden’s nominees

We still don’t know where Neera Tanden’s nomination as Biden’s head of the Office of Management and Budget is headed. 

The White House is still publicly standing behind her, and all eyes are on the one Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)  some believe could break from her party and support Tanden. But it’s never a good sign when a new name is floated for the job in which you were nominated; and “senior Democratic and GOP aides privately said they expect the administration to withdraw her nomination, considering the lack of support in the Senate,” my colleagues Seung Min Kim, Annie Linskey and Jeff Stein report.

  • Tanden would be the first Biden nominee to go down in the Senate.
  • Shalanda Young, who was nominated as OMB deputy director last month, has emerged as a leading contender to replace Tanden, CNN reports. Young, who was the first Black woman to serve as staff director at the House Appropriations Committee, does not have a Twitter account or a history of public, incendiary comments, officials said. The Congressional Black Caucus is now rallying behind her, per Seung Min. 
  • This isn’t so straightforward: Tanden’s allies have criticized Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Senate Republicans for opposing her nomination despite supporting many of Trump’s divisive nominees.
  • Manchin and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who’ve both said they oppose Tanden, voted to confirm Richard Grenell, Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Germany, despite his personal tweets mocking public officials in both parties.
  • “There’s a double standard going on,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told Politico. “Her nomination is very significant for us Asian American and Pacific Islanders. I do believe that this double standard has to do with the fact that she would be a pioneer in that position.”
  • Flashback: Two months ago, Mitch Daniels, a Republican and one of George W. Bush’s OMB directors, said in a Post column that, despite Tanden’s “nastygrams,” “if we disqualify everyone who ever unleashed a smarmy or juvenile cheap shot, we’d have very few people left in Washington.” Daniels added that Republicans should save their energy for other confirmation battles, arguing the OMB “isn’t that important.”

Quote of the day

“I feel like there’s a little bit of sexism going on here,” conservative political analyst Bill Kristol said. “It just seems like these tweets sound harsher to these old guys because they’re coming from a woman.”

Rep. Deb Haaland, the first Native American nominated to lead the Interior Department, faced a Senate grilling this morning. 
  • “It is not about me,” Haaland (D-N.M.) said of her historic nomination in her opening statement, “Rather, I hope this nomination would be an inspiration for Americans — moving forward together as one nation and creating opportunities for all of us.”
  • Haaland was expected to face sharp questioning from many Republicans and some Democrats over her opposition to new oil and gas drilling on federal lands, a position she shared with Biden, Darryl Fears reports.
  • Once again, Manchin is at the center of what happens here. He chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and remains undecided on whether he will vote to confirm Haaland. Ranking Republican John Barrasso (Wyo.) has signaled his opposition.
  • Both of them strongly supported Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt, Trump’s nominees to run the department. Zinke was forced to resign over numerous ethics investigations while Bernhardt faced repeated questions about his lobbying ties to companies that worked closely with Interior officials.
  • Haaland’s supporters say she’s facing a level of criticism beyond the normal D.C. rhetoric because of her background. “It makes you wonder if she would get this treatment if she wasn’t a person of color, if she wasn’t Indian and if she wasn’t a woman,” Montana state Sen. Shane Morigeau (D), a member of the Salish and Kootenai tribes, told Politico.
Xavier Becerra, the first Latino nominated to lead the Health and Human Services department, also testified before the Senate this morning.  
  • Republicans have mobilized to tank Becerra’s nomination, zeroing in on his work advancing the Affordable Care Act. In a letter Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and 10 other Senate Republicans voiced “grave concerns” about his nomination.
  • In his testimony before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Becerra focused on his work on health policy during the 24 years he served in the House, as well as on his actions as California attorney general to create a health-care rights and access unit, Paige Winfield Cunningham reports in today’s The Health 202. Becerra will testify before the Finance Committee tomorrow.
  • The three pivotal Senate Republicans Collins, Murkowski and Romney all sit on the HELP Committee. Becerra, per NBC News, has already met with all three of them.

The first 100 days

The Senate parliamentarian is expected to issue a decision soon on whether Democrats can add a minimum wage hike to their $1.9 trillion relief package. 
  • Because of the Byrd Rule, when a bill is passed through budget reconciliation, any policy that is not genuinely considered to be related to the budget can be removed by the Senate parliamentarian. The current parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, will meet with Democrats and Republicans tomorrow to hear their cases, Politico reports. Her decision will likely follow soon after.
  • Cunningham had an instructive profile on MacDonough when her services were used to evaluate changes to the ACA.
Dozens of migrant teens were bused to the first migrant child facility opened under the Biden administration. 
  • The emergency facility will hold up to 700 children ages 13 to 17, Silvia Foster-Frau reports. Officials said the camp is needed because facilities for migrant children cut their capacity by nearly half due to the pandemic even as the number of unaccompanied children at the border inched up. Immigration lawyers, however, question why the administration would choose to reopen a Trump-era facility that was the source of protests and controversy.
  • At the 66-acre site in Carrizo Springs, Tex., beige trailers encircle a giant white dining tent, a soccer field and a basketball court. A legal services trailer has “Bienvenidos,” or welcome, on a banner on its roof. There are trailers for classrooms, a barber shop, and a hair salon.
Biden got high marks for his covid-19 response. 
  • Sixty-seven percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the virus, according to a new Gallup poll. A majority of Americans 56 percent also approve of Biden’s overall performance so far.

Today in history

Hot on the left

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo confronted American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp over his false claims of election fraud and his decision to invite Trump to speak at CPAC this weekend. When asked why CPAC would “tacitly endorse [Trump’s] election farce” by giving him a platform, Schlapp falsely claimed some jurisdictions did not follow election laws. “You had me on the show and you’re telling me that saying there was widespread illegal voting is false,” Schlapp said. “And I’m trying to explain to you that, for instance, what they did in the state of Georgia when they had an illegal consent decree to not verify the signatures of mail-in ballots. … That means you have no security on the ballot that was mailed out without unsolicited vast mail-in ballots.” To which Cuomo replied, “It’s a boogeyman argument. There is no proof of rampant fraud. Nobody is saying the process is perfect. You lost.”

Hot on the right

This year’s CPAC theme is “America Uncanceled,” but the conference just canceled a speaker. While conservatives aim to take a stand against “cancel culture” in this weekend’s gathering, CPAC uninvited a speaker over their “expressed reprehensible views.” While the conference didn’t name an individual in its tweet announcing the cancelation, earlier in the day the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America reported that Young Pharaoh, a speaker was listed in the conference schedule, had a history of antisemitic claims. 

History’s deadliest pandemics, visualized

This week in Washington

Biden will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau virtually today. He will also meet virtually with Black essential workers. 

In closing

And now you can watch NASA’s Perseverance rover land on Mars – in HD:

On Feb. 18, NASA successfully landed the Perseverance rover on Mars. Here is a live video of the landing. (NASA)

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