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Biden is set to speak on the end of the war in Afghanistan as the Taliban gains ground.

Daily Political Briefing

July 8, 2021, 11:13 a.m. ET

July 8, 2021, 11:13 a.m. ET

Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

President Biden will deliver remarks Thursday afternoon about the future of Afghanistan, his first formal address on the country since American troops pulled out of the last remaining U.S. military base there last week, effectively ending U.S. military operations after two decades of war.

The departure of American troops has been accompanied by reports of increasingly dire situations on the ground as local government forces crumble before the Taliban, which is gaining territory as it nears Kabul, the capital. In the span of just over two months, the Taliban have managed to seize at least 150 of Afghanistan’s 421 districts.

Questioned on Friday about the risks of the accelerated pullout to the stability of the Afghan government, Mr. Biden said: “Look, we were in that war for 20 years. Twenty years.” He added, “The Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the air force they have.”

But pressed to elaborate, the president cut the reporter off, saying, “I want to talk about happy things.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks on Thursday will follow a morning meeting where his national security team will update him on the progress of the withdrawal. Vice President Kamala Harris is also expected to attend.

In an interview on Fox News on Wednesday, John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that the Biden administration continued to “push for a negotiated peaceful, political settlement,” while adding that the Pentagon still had the ability to support Afghan forces even without a formal presence in the country.

“We are all concerned about the security situation the ground,” Mr. Kirby said. “There’s no question about that.”

Mr. Biden announced in April that the military would complete its withdrawal of the 3,500 troops left in Afghanistan by Sept. 11. The pullout went faster than many had expected. On Friday, the U.S. exit from Bagram Air Base, a central hub, effectively ended major military operations, but the White House authorized the Pentagon to slow the final stages of the withdrawal.

Only 650 troops are expected to remain in the country to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and Kabul International Airport. But officials have said that the Pentagon would be authorized, at least through September, to move 300 additional troops into Afghanistan if needed for security or emergencies, like the possible evacuation of the American Embassy, a growing concern amid the deteriorating security in the country.

Air support for the Afghan forces and overhead surveillance can also be flown in from American bases in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea. But it is unclear how long the United States will maintain that type of support.

As the Taliban consolidates power in Afghanistan, the threat to American allies who remain in the country grows. Senior officials have said that the Biden administration is preparing to relocate thousands of Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who worked with American forces to other countries in an effort to keep them safe while they apply for entry to the United States.

In his speech, Mr. Biden is expected to touch on plans for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, an issue that came up last week when Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, visited the White House. The Biden administration has committed $266 million in humanitarian aid and $3.3 billion in security assistance. It has also pledged three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and oxygen supplies, as efforts to address the latest wave of the coronavirus have been hampered by fighting in the area.

Pool photo by Melina Mara

The nation’s intelligence agencies are looking for ways to increase their expertise in a range of scientific disciplines as they struggle to answer unexplained questions — about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, unidentified phenomenon observed by Navy pilots, and mysterious health ailments affecting spies and diplomats around the world.

Traditional spycraft has failed to make significant progress on those high-profile inquiries, and many officials have grown convinced that they require a better marriage of intelligence gathering and scientific examination.

The White House has given the intelligence community until later this summer to report the results of a deep dive into the origins of the coronavirus. It has pledged to make progress on determining the cause of ailments known as Havana syndrome. And a preliminary inquiry into unidentified flying objects failed to explain almost any of the encounters, prompting intelligence officials to promise a follow-up in the next three months.

To bolster the role of scientific expertise, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence brought an experienced epidemiologist from the State Department’s intelligence and research division to serve on the National Intelligence Council, according to intelligence and other government officials. The office has also created two national intelligence manager posts, one to look at climate change and the other to examine disruptive technology.

The National Security Council, working with the C.I.A. and the director of national intelligence, has established a pair of outside panels to study Havana syndrome, whose symptoms include dizziness, fatigue and sudden memory loss. Outside scientists with security clearances will be able to view classified intelligence.

The work reflects “a broader priority on science and technology,” a White House official said.

A worker installed a new copper water service line at a home in Denver in June.
Brittany Peterson/Associated Press

President Biden and his team have entered a “do more with less” phase of his economic agenda, dictated by the political realities of a closely divided Congress.

The bipartisan compromise on an infrastructure package that Mr. Biden struck with centrist senators last month spends only about 40 percent of what Mr. Biden initially proposed for broadband, electric vehicles and water infrastructure in the American Jobs Plan he unveiled in March.

But White House officials insist that the bipartisan deal would still accomplish all of the president’s goals, including replacing every lead drinking pipe in America and connecting every home to high-speed internet. In a speech on Wednesday, Mr. Biden gave no hint that he was scaling back his ambitions.

“It’s time that we have to think bigger and we have to act bolder,” Mr. Biden said at a community college in suburban Chicago, his latest stop in a tour to rally support for his agenda. “This is going to be an American century.”

Biden aides say they have found creative ways to stretch federal dollars, often by leveraging private investment, in order to maintain the president’s top goals for his economic program. But they have had to scrap other targets as a result, and Mr. Biden is now barreling toward another round of potentially difficult compromises, this time forced by moderates in his own party, over the second half of his agenda, known as the American Families Plan.

The negotiations ahead will pose a challenge to the expansive vision Mr. Biden laid out to overhaul the American economy, with new and costly government interventions to lift advanced industries and train and support the workers of the future. His objective in the weeks to come will be to pack as much of that agenda as possible into a pair of bills that are unlikely to spend as much as he wants, with his economic legacy hanging on the choices he and congressional leaders make.

Mr. Biden has repeatedly said he had to make difficult choices on physical infrastructure and settle for a deal that falls well short of his ambitions. Administration officials say Mr. Biden will continue to prioritize large and unifying national goals, including the extension of an enlarged tax credit for parents, the creation of America’s first federally funded paid leave program for workers and a government guarantee of four additional years of public education via preschool and community college.

“The president is fully committed to delivering on the full ambition of the jobs plan and the families plan,” Brian Deese, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview.

“But,” Mr. Deese added, “I think the president has made clear that he understands the nature of the legislative process — that he understands that at the end of the day, nobody’s going to get everything that they want.”

  • Initial claims for state jobless benefits rose slightly last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

  • The weekly figure was about 370,000, up 3,000 from the previous week. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 99,000, down 15,000 from the week before. The figures are not seasonally adjusted. (On a seasonally adjusted basis, state claims totaled 373,000, an increase of 2,000.)

  • New state claims remain high by historical standards but are one-third the level recorded in early January. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as businesses return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

  • More than 20 states have recently discontinued some or all federal pandemic unemployment benefits — including a $300 supplement to other benefits — even though they are funded through September. Officials in those states said the payments were keeping people from seeking work.

  • The Labor Department’s employment report for June showed that the economy had 6.8 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. A separate report found 9.2 million job openings at the end of May as businesses that had closed or cut back during the pandemic raced to hire employees to meet the reviving demand.

  • But there is a substantial amount of turnover, with far more workers quitting their jobs than are being laid off — a sign that many are jumping to positions that pay even slightly more.

Tony Podesta built one of the highest-grossing lobbying firms in Washington over his three decade career. Then it all came crashing down.
Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The collapse of Tony Podesta’s $42-million-a-year lobbying and public relations firm in 2017 amid a federal investigation shook K Street and rendered him toxic — a rare Democratic victim of the Trump-era scandals.

But that was only the beginning of his troubles.

Mr. Podesta, long an outsized character in the influence industry and Democratic fund-raising, turned to his enormous collection of modern art for solace and income. But when the pandemic sent the art market reeling, he sold the penthouse condo in Washington he had been using to show and sell his collection, and secured a loan from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for struggling small businesses.

Discussions about consulting gigs and a return to a fund-raising circuit that had turned its back on him were halted by a combination of his declining income, pandemic restrictions and an infection from knee surgery that left him hooked to an intravenous antibiotic drip for months.

To top it off, he said, his email accounts and website were frozen after Chinese cyberthieves launched a wide-ranging phishing campaign using one of his domain names.

Now Mr. Podesta is exploring a return to a landscape he once dominated.

The reception he gets could help answer some questions about life in Washington after Mr. Trump. Did the backlash to the open access-peddling and corporate influence of the Trump era result in brighter lines between corporate lobbying, fund-raising and governing? Or has the capital simply returned to the clubby culture in which lobbyist fund-raisers like Mr. Podesta held sway?

Early indicators are mixed.

Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Amazon has argued that her views against Big Tech should disqualify her from participating in actions against the company.
Pool photo by Graeme Jennings

Last week, Amazon fired a pre-emptive shot at the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, using a common line of attack on policymakers who held strong opinions in the past: trying to disqualify them for alleged bias.

Ms. Khan made her name with a forceful view on Amazon and antitrust, arguing that the sprawling tech giant showed how competition law was “unequipped” for the digital age. This, among other things, disqualifies Ms. Khan from participating in F.T.C. actions against Amazon, the company said. Amazon is a subject of the F.T.C.’s inquiry into Big Tech’s acquisitions of smaller rivals, and the agency is separately reviewing its proposed purchase of MGM.

So, the DealBook newsletter asks, does Amazon have a chance?

Disqualifying a commissioner isn’t easy. At her Senate confirmation hearing, Ms. Khan rejected the idea of a blanket disqualification from Big Tech investigations, saying she would consider such requests on a case-by-case basis and consult with F.T.C. counsel. Simply voicing opinions critical of companies is rarely cause for recusal, and most disqualification attempts fail.

  • Impartial “does not mean uninformed, unthinking, or inarticulate,” explained a federal appeals court in 1980, reversing the disqualification of an F.T.C. commissioner.

  • In 2010, Intel’s attempt to disqualify a commissioner who had previously been its antitrust counsel failed because the F.T.C. said his previous work bore no “substantial relationship” to the review at issue.

  • In 2012, a prospective commissioner who had worked for Google promised senators that he would recuse himself from Google-related cases for two years to avoid the appearance of impropriety. That is a point Amazon stressed in its motion — that the appearance of fairness matters, too.

Amazon’s filing may be “a warning shot,” said Bruce Hoffman, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb and the former director of the F.T.C.’s competition bureau. Because it isn’t attached to a case and aims to recuse Ms. Khan broadly, it essentially serves as a notice to the agency. It could be Amazon’s way of saying, “if you participate, this could haunt you,” he said.

Commissioners are chosen for their policy views, as well as their expertise, so many would be disqualified if having opinions was disqualifying, said the antitrust law scholar Eleanor Fox, Ms. Khan’s former colleague at Columbia. Asked whether Amazon’s motion would succeed in blocking Ms. Khan, she replied: “Oh, I don’t think so.”

President Biden drives an all-electric Ford F-150 in May. He is considering proposals to force automakers to shift to electric vehicles.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden’s goal of cutting pollution by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 would require a radical transformation of the nation’s economy away from fossil fuels, including a rapid shift by American drivers from internal combustion engines of the last century to zero-emissions electric vehicles.

To help meet that goal, the Biden administration is starting to write stringent auto pollution rules that could cut emissions deeply and force carmakers to increase sales of electric vehicles, according to four people familiar with the plan. That’s in addition to plans to restore tailpipe emissions standards to roughly the level set by President Barack Obama, Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times.

The risk for automakers is whether consumers will purchase electric vehicles that are generally more expensive and logistically challenging, because the nation lacks a network of electric-vehicle charging stations.

If Congress approves hundreds of billions of dollars for construction of charging stations as well as tax incentives for both buyers and makers of electric cars and trucks, Mr. Biden would most likely be able to secure industry support for more stringent rules that would result in more electric vehicles on the road. Currently, only about 2 percent of vehicles sold in the United States are electric.

But if a final infrastructure package includes little or no spending on electric vehicles, a tougher tailpipe rule would likely face opposition from automakers, who would be forced to build and try to sell costly electric cars.

Mr. Biden announced in late June that he had reached a deal with a bipartisan group of senators on an infrastructure package that would include about $7 billion of spending to build electric vehicle charging stations.

But that is barely a fraction of the $174 billion that Mr. Biden wants to spend on vehicle electrification in a second infrastructure bill this fall, which Democrats hope will include robust provisions to fund 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and generous tax rebates for purchasers of electric vehicles. Neither bill is guaranteed to pass in the closely divided Congress.

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces possible extradition from Britain to the United States.
Peter Nicholls/Reuters

If a British court permits the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face criminal charges in the United States, the Biden administration has pledged that it will not hold him under the most austere conditions reserved for high-security prisoners and that, if he is convicted, it will let him serve his sentence in his native Australia.

Those assurances were disclosed on Wednesday as part of a British High Court ruling in London. The court accepted the United States government’s appeal of a ruling that had denied its extradition request for Mr. Assange — who was indicted during the Trump administration — on the grounds that American prison conditions for the highest-security inmates were inhumane.

The new ruling was not made public in its entirety. But in an email, the Crown Prosecution Service press office provided a summary showing that the High Court had accepted three of five grounds for appeal submitted by the United States and disclosing the promises the Biden administration had made.

A lower-court judge, Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, had held in January that “the mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States” given American prison conditions. The summary of the decision to accept the appeal said that the United States had “provided the United Kingdom with a package of assurances which are responsive to the district judge’s specific findings in this case.”

Specifically, it said, Mr. Assange would not be subjected to measures that curtail a prisoner’s contact with the outside world and can amount to solitary confinement, and would not be imprisoned at the supermax prison in Florence, Colo., unless he later did something “that meets the test” for imposing such harsh steps.

“The United States has also provided an assurance that the United States will consent to Mr. Assange being transferred to Australia to serve any custodial sentence imposed on him,” the summary said.

No hearing date has been set. The Crown Prosecution Service and the United States Justice Department declined to comment.

In a statement, Stella Moris, Mr. Assange’s fiancée, urged the Biden administration to instead drop the extradition request and abandon the charges, which she portrayed as a threat to First Amendment press freedoms.

“I am appealing directly to the Biden government to do the right thing, even at this late stage,” she said. “This case should not be dragged out for a moment longer. End this prosecution, protect free speech and let Julian come home to his family.”

The case against Mr. Assange is complex and developed over the course of three indictments secured by prosecutors during the Trump administration. It centers on his 2010 publication of diplomatic and military files leaked by Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst — not on his publication during the 2016 election of Democratic emails stolen by Russia.

Prosecutors have made two sets of accusations. One is that Mr. Assange participated in a criminal hacking conspiracy, both by offering to help Ms. Manning mask her tracks on a secure computer network and by engaging in a broader effort to encourage hackers to obtain secret material and send it to WikiLeaks. The other is that his soliciting and publishing information the government had deemed secret violated the Espionage Act.

While hacking is not a journalistic act, the second set of charges has alarmed press-freedom advocates because it could establish a precedent that such journalistic-style activities may be treated as a crime in the United States — a separate question from whether Mr. Assange himself counts as a journalist.

In January, Judge Baraitser rejected the Trump administration’s extradition request on the grounds that Mr. Assange might be driven to suicide by American prison conditions. On Jan. 19, in one of its last acts, the Trump administration filed an appeal of that ruling. Soon after taking office, the Biden administration pressed forward.

Elian Peltier contributed reporting from London.

William J. Walker, the House Sergeant at Arms, said federal officials could “expeditiously reinstall the temporary fencing should conditions warrant.”
Erin Scott for The New York Times

Six months after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in a deadly riot, the security fence constructed to fortify the complex in its aftermath is coming down.

William J. Walker, the House Sergeant at Arms, told members of Congress on Wednesday that the Capitol Police Board had endorsed police leaders’ recommendation to remove the fence, which became a potent symbol of the violence of the Jan. 6 assault, and workers would begin doing so as early as Friday.

In an email, Mr. Walker said the step was possible because of improved security conditions on Capitol Hill, which were the result of “enhanced coordination” between the Capitol Police, District of Columbia authorities and “neighboring state and federal law enforcement partners.”

The process is expected to take no more than three days, Mr. Walker wrote. It will do away with a structure that became a physical manifestation of the consequences of the Capitol riot, which sowed chaos and fear in Washington, a city that prides itself on providing open access to the buildings that house the country’s democratic institutions.

In the immediate wake of the attack, Capitol Hill resembled a war zone, with a wide perimeter of razor wire-topped fencing patrolled by National Guard troops dressed in camouflage fatigues.

In the weeks afterward, lawmakers in both parties began agitating to scale back the security measures, complaining about the financial costs, the lack of public access to the building and the optics of closing off the Capitol. The National Guard left the complex in May.

The House approved a $1.9 billion emergency security spending bill in May that included $520 million to reimburse the National Guard, but that legislation has stalled in the Senate.

Mr. Walker said Capitol Police would continue to monitor threats and added that the Architect of the Capitol, the agency in charge of maintaining the structure, would “expeditiously reinstall the temporary fencing should conditions warrant.”

Other building restrictions, such as bans on tours for members of the public, will remain in place, Mr. Walker said.

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