Senators finish writing bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare weekend session.

Daily Political Briefing

Aug. 27, 2021, 6:48 p.m. ET

Aug. 27, 2021, 6:48 p.m. ET

Video

transcript

transcript

Senators Finish Writing Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, unveiled a 2,702-page, $1 trillion bill to improve the nation’s infrastructure after lawmakers held a rare weekend session. Democratic leaders want to vote on the bill before the August recess.

Now, the bipartisan group of senators has finished writing the text of the infrastructure bill, and in a moment I’ll take the procedural steps to make their legislative language the base of the bill here on the floor. I want to congratulate the members of the bipartisan group for their efforts. We haven’t done a large bipartisan bill of this nature in a long time. The bipartisan infrastructure bill is designed to bring our infrastructure up to date for a new century, and that is a significant achievement. I believe the Senate can quickly process relevant amendments and pass this bill in a matter of days.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, unveiled a 2,702-page, $1 trillion bill to improve the nation’s infrastructure after lawmakers held a rare weekend session. Democratic leaders want to vote on the bill before the August recess.CreditCredit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The Senate is expected to advance a $1 trillion infrastructure bill this week after lawmakers spent the weekend finalizing the sprawling measure, which would fund roads, bridges and dams as well as broadband and climate resiliency projects.

The Senate remained in Washington for an unusual weekend session, as negotiators and legislative staff haggled over last-minute changes to the 2,702-page bill. The process has been further complicated by a lack of trust between the two parties, as senior lawmakers and their staff work to help translate the agreement struck by the White House and a group of bipartisan senators.

“I know it has been difficult, and I know it has been long,” said Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and a lead negotiator, speaking on the Senate floor just before 9 p.m. “And what I’m proud to say is that is what our forefathers intended.”

The $1 trillion legislation that negotiators filed Sunday evening would provide $550 billion in new federal funds to shore up the nation’s aging public works system, on top of the expected continuation of existing federal infrastructure programs.

Lawmakers contended their legislation was fully paid for through a patchwork of financing provisions that included repurposing pandemic relief funds and strengthening tax enforcement for cryptocurrencies. (In a speech on the Senate floor that stretched past 10 p.m. on Sunday, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, raised questions about that assessment.)

The Senate agreed last week to take up the bill, even though the bill’s text had not yet been finalized.

“We haven’t done a large bipartisan bill of this nature in a long time,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, on the Senate floor on Sunday as he prepared to unveil the text. The legislation, he added, “is designed to bring our infrastructure up-to-date for a new century, and that is a significant achievement.”

Democratic leaders remain adamant that the Senate will vote on both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint before leaving Washington for a scheduled August recess. The budget measure is intended to unlock the caucus’s ability to pass an expansive economic package that will address climate change, health care and education. It is expected to pass with just Democratic votes, although key moderates in the party have signaled they may not support a final package of that size.

But the Senate cannot take up the budget blueprint until the chamber is finished working on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. That process is likely to drag into the week, as Mr. Schumer has agreed to allow for additional amendments to the legislation. It is unclear how many amendments there will be, or what changes they could cause in the legislation.

Democrats hope to begin the amendment process for the legislation as early as Monday afternoon, Mr. Schumer said, as lawmakers haggle over bipartisan amendments and the timing of votes.

“Senators on both sides expect and deserve opportunities to have a say and put their own state’s imprints on this major bill,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said. He pointedly added that “our full consideration of this bill must not be choked off by any artificial timetable that our Democratic colleagues may have penciled out for political purposes.”

Lawmakers worked over the weekend to produce a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and some of the funding will come from leftover funds from other programs. 
Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

To pay for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, lawmakers have turned to $200 billion in unused money from previous economic relief programs that Congress approved to combat the pandemic.

The proposed Senate legislation estimates that there is $53 billion in expanded jobless benefit money that can be repurposed. That’s because the economy has recovered more quickly than projections assumed and because many states discontinued their pandemic unemployment insurance payments out of concern that they were keeping people from rejoining the work force.

The bill would also claw back more than $30 billion in small business loan money and disaster relief funds that went unspent and $175 million for salaries and expenses that was dedicated to the Small Business Administration, which operated the Paycheck Protection Program.

Leftover funds from other defunct programs would also be reprogrammed. That includes $3 billion in relief funds for airline workers that was not deployed for salaries of airline workers.

And $353 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which was passed as part of the relief legislation that Congress passed in March 2020, would be rescinded if the bill is enacted.

To some fiscal watchdogs, the savings appear to be budgetary gimmicks.

Marc Goldwein of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget said that only about $50 billion of the estimated $200 billion represents real cost savings. The rest, he said, amounted to “cherry picking” numbers and claiming savings from projected costs that did not transpire.

An analysis of the legislation by the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the legislation could raise $51 billion in revenue over a decade.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its projections early this week.

The legislation includes about $110 billion in new federal funding for roads, bridges and other projects.
Credit…Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via Associated Press

Much of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation is directed toward roads and bridges: pouring billions of dollars toward an expansive backlog of needed repairs across the country, and shoring up the nation’s highways and infrastructure to withstand the toll of climate change.

The legislation, which includes about $110 billion in new federal funding for roads, bridges and other projects, also ensures the continuation of existing transportation programs, while calling for increased attention to safety and climate provisions.

The measure increases funding for programs intended to provide safe commutes for pedestrians, and creates a $350 million pilot program for projects that reduce collisions between vehicles and wildlife. The legislation also formally establishes a federal program designed to encourage children to walk or bike to school.

The program authorizes the largest amount of funding for surface transportation programs, according to a summary provided by Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Transportation experts say the funding is just a fraction of what is needed to address the nation’s backlog of needed repairs, with the latest estimate from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimating a $786 billion backlog for roads and bridges alone.

While Mr. Biden had called for $20 billion for projects designed to help reconnect Black neighborhoods and communities of color splintered or disadvantaged by past construction, the legislation includes just $1 billion, half of which is new federal funding, over five years for the program. The legislation also creates a new $2 billion grant program to expand roads, bridges and other surface transportation projects in rural areas.

The legislation seeks to boost support for tribal governments and Native communities, creating an office within the Department of Transportation specifically designed to respond to the needs of those communities. It also calls for $3 billion over five years for the Tribal Transportation Program, which is intended to address transportation projects in Native communities, and an additional $100 million over five years for bridges.

Linemen installing fiber optic internet cable in rural South Carolina in May.
Credit…Mike Belleme for The New York Times

Lawmakers have bemoaned the nation’s nagging digital divide for years, warning that gaps in broadband internet access in red and blue states alike are hurting Americans’ health, education and job prospects. The hulking bipartisan infrastructure package before the Senate this week would try to finally slam it shut.

Alongside old-fashioned public works projects like roads, bridges, and highways, senators have included $65 billion meant to connect hard-to-reach rural communities to high-speed internet and help sign up low-income city dwellers who cannot afford it. Other legal changes seek to stoke competition and transparency among service providers that could help drive down prices.

“Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern life in the United States,” the legislation states. Noting the country’s growing reliance on connectivity for tele-health, basic business transactions and remote schooling — particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic — it makes the case that it is in the government’s interest to intervene.

Official estimates vary, but most suggest that tens of millions of Americans lack reliable access to high-speed internet, many of them people of color, members of rural communities or other low-income groups. President Biden had initially proposed $100 billion to try to bring that number to zero, but he agreed to lower the overall price tag to strike a compromise with Republicans.

Both parties appear poised to walk away with substantial investments for their states and pet policies. The bulk of the money, $42 billion, would go directly toward funding service improvements in the form of grants, with at least $100 million reserved for all 50 states and another $100 million to be split between American territories. But the bill would also allocate $14 billion to convert an emergency pandemic-era program designed to give monthly subsidies to low-income Americans to pay for internet service into a permanent Affordable Connectivity Fund doling out $30 subsidies for service.

Democrats also fought to secure the inclusion of the Digital Equity Act, legislation drafted by Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, to encourage states to develop comprehensive plans to ensure access to high-speed internet is distributed equitably among traditionally underserved groups and educate them about how to access digital resources.

The bill also sets aside special funds for the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal economic development body co-chaired by Gayle Manchin, the wife of Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of the bill’s principal authors and a key Democratic swing vote.

The legislation sets $5 billion aside to upgrade America’s school buses with half of the funding going to zero-emission school buses.
Credit…Hannah Beier/Reuters

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill under consideration in the Senate includes billions of dollars dedicated to benefiting public schools and children, including funding for replacing lead pipes, upgrading school buses and making it easier for kids to walk to school.

The bill dedicates $15 billion over five years with an increasing amount of money each year — from $2.4 billion next year to $3.25 billion in fiscal year 2026 — for grants to clean up drinking water by removing lead-contaminated pipes and making other infrastructure upgrades. That includes at least $25 million per year for “small and disadvantaged communities.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have touted the effort to clean up water sources, as school systems around the country still struggle from lead-infested pipes. The crisis in Flint, Mich., over lead in the city’s water supply drew international focus on the long-term effects of lead exposure for children there. Cities with an industrial past, including Baltimore, Cincinnati and Chicago, have long histories of exposure to lead in the air, soil and water, an environmental legacy of decades of manufacturing.

Baltimore public schools, for instance, still do not let children drink from school water fountains because of the high levels of lead in the pipes there. On Fox News Sunday, Brian Deese, a senior economic adviser to President Biden, said the bill would “finally bring clean water to our schools,” and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, said the legislation would result in “less poisoning for your children in their water systems because of lead pipes.”

The legislation also sets $5 billion aside to upgrade America’s school buses to clean-energy models, such as those that run by electric charge instead of fossil fuels, giving priority to low-income, rural and Tribal school districts. Half of the funding will go to zero-emission school buses and the other half to buses that run on alternative fuels.

“Our country is going to buy 20,000 new school buses over the next couple years. Should those buses be made in China or made in America?” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, speaking in favor of the new resources. “I think they ought to be made in America.”

The bill also mandates a study of how to increase school bus safety through technological updates, such as adding cameras and better lighting to the vehicles, and aims to cut down on drivers who illegally pass school buses with the creation of a public messaging campaign.

It would also allocate at least $1 million per state to create plans for students to walk or bike safely to school from within a two-mile radius of the school building.

The $73 billion being provided to modernize the nation’s electricity grid is the single largest federal investment in power transmission in history.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

The infrastructure package has some substantial investments aimed at addressing climate change, but it is far from the transformational package that President Biden had sought.

It contains only a fraction of the money he requested for major environmental initiatives like building a network of electric vehicle charging stations and replacing the nation’s lead pipes. And the legislation extends a lifeline to natural gas and nuclear energy, provisions that have already angered House progressives.

The bill does provide $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid so that it can carry more renewable energy, the single largest federal investment in power transmission in history. And it includes billions of dollars for an array of climate resilience measures.

The compromise includes $7.5 billion to develop electric vehicle charging stations across the country, half of the $15 billion Mr. Biden requested to deliver on his campaign pledge of building 500,000 of them. And part of that money, according to the legislation, must be shared with efforts to build propane and natural gas infrastructure.

There’s another $7.5 billion for clean buses and ferries, but that is not nearly enough to electrify about 50,000 transit buses within five years, as Mr. Biden has vowed to do.

The bill would provide $15 billion for removing lead service lines across the nation, compared with the $45 billion Mr. Biden had called for and the $60 billion water sector leaders say is actually needed to get the job done.

The legislation also includes more than $300 million to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and $6 billion to support struggling nuclear reactors; it also directs the Secretary of Energy to conduct a study on job losses associated with Mr. Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Energy analysts said the measures in the package, particularly to modernize the electricity grid, will lay the groundwork for pivoting the nation off fossil fuels. But the bill includes no mechanism to immediately mandate the reduction of fossil fuel emissions, a policy that will be necessary to meeting Mr. Biden’s Paris Agreement pledge of cutting United States greenhouse gases 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“There’s a lot here that, no matter how you slice it, reflects a real fact on the ground, which is the United States is still 70-percent-odd reliant on fossil fuels in its energy mix,” said Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy Partners, a Washington-based research firm.

“This is not a transition bill,” he said. “This is an incremental bill that includes transition components.”

An Amtrak train stopped in Manhattan last year. The infrastructure bill provides $66 billion in new funding for the service.
Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

President Biden frequently mentions his fondness for Amtrak, which began in the 1970s, when he would travel home from Washington to Delaware every night to care for his two sons after his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash. Mr. Biden, who took an estimated 8,000 round trips on the line, has pledged to inject billions in rail.

Rail advocates say he is now taking steps to fulfill some of those promises.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill includes $66 billion in new funding for rail to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, along with upgrading the high-traffic Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston. It also proposes several changes to the legal mission of Amtrak, which rail experts hailed as a win for passenger rail.

The bill includes new language that would change Amtrak’s goal to “meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States” rather than achieving “a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money.” It would also add language that prioritizes service in rural areas in addition to urban ones.

“That is a really significant change because implicit in that is that we’re not trying to make Amtrak into a profit-making venture,” said Jim Mathews, the chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association. “We’re using it to create services that are needed by the taxpayers of the country.”

Amtrak has lost money since it was created in 1971 by Congress to be the nation’s rail operator. Federal subsidies and payments from states have allowed the agency to remain in service, and it has become an integral mode of transportation in the Northeast and Southern California. Its profitability has long been a source of conflict among lawmakers in Washington.

The new funding would be the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created, according to the administration. It comes as the agency tries to significantly expand its map nationwide by 2035 to provide more service outside of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

Although John Robert Smith, a former board chairman for Amtrak, said he preferred the higher level of funding for Amtrak in the House’s version of the bill, he said he was pleased to see senators make an effort to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog.

“I certainly like the funding levels in the House bill, but I do have to say that this Senate bill is still more substantial than what has ever been invested in passenger rail and the policy is good,” Mr. Smith said.

Public buses, subways and trains are also set to receive $39 billion in new funding under the bill, which would be used to repair and replace aging infrastructure and expand transit service across the country. The Biden administration said it would be the largest federal investment in public transit in history.

Still, transit experts said they were disappointed in the amount of funding after it was scaled back by $10 billion from a June proposal.

“It’s a major step in the right direction to be applauded, but losing $10 billion,” said Paul P. Skoutelas, the chief executive of the American Public Transportation Association, a lobbying group. “That could have been extraordinarily helpful to continue this effort to modernize the industry.”

Although Mr. Skoutelas said the funding was a good start, he said it would not be enough to address the swelling maintenance backlog. According to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, there is a $176 billion backlog for transit investments.

The Dixie Fire burns near Taylorsville, Calif., on Thursday.
Credit…Nic Coury for The New York Times

As the United States staggers through another year of devastating wildfires, drought, storms and other calamities, the infrastructure bill before Congress would pour major resources into a response. The measure agreed to over the weekend includes billions of dollars to better prepare the country for the effects of global warming, in what could be the largest investment in climate resilience in American history.

Much of the money would go toward activities that are already underway, but which experts say the government needs to do more of as the threats from climate change increase.

For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would get an additional $11.6 billion in construction funds for projects like flood control and river dredging. The Forest Service would get billions of dollars to remove flammable vegetation from the lands it manages, in efforts to make wildfires less damaging.

Other funding would go toward new approaches. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would get $492 million to map and forecast inland and coastal flooding, including “next-generation water modeling activities.” NOAA would also get $50 million to predict, model and forecast wildfires.

The Department of Transportation would give states money to move highways out of flood-prone areas. The Environmental Protection Agency would pay for communities to relocate drinking water infrastructure at risk from flooding or other extreme weather.

It’s not just infrastructure that would be relocated. The bill would provide $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for climate resilience and adaptation for tribal nations, which have been disproportionately hurt by climate change. More than half of that money, $130 million, would go toward “community relocation” — moving groups of Indigenous Americans away from vulnerable areas.

In other cases, the bill seeks to protect the most vulnerable Americans not by moving them, but by ensuring they get a larger share of federal money.

The legislation includes $3.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reduce damage from flooding. It specifically gives FEMA the authority to award some of that money to areas with high scores on the “social vulnerability index” — a gauge that reflects poverty levels, the share of racial minorities and other measures.

The cryptocurrency industry had raised alarm about language in the infrastructure bill that would have subjected it to greater scrutiny from the I.R.S.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

A last-minute lobbying push by the cryptocurrency industry to change language in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was finalized over the weekend succeeded in scaling back some of the scrutiny that participants in the sector will face from the I.R.S.

The final legislative text included some changes to alleviate concerns of the cryptocurrency industry, which expressed alarm last week about new requirements that would define most of the participants in the sector as brokers and force them to turn over information to the I.R.S. The provision was projected to raise $28 billion over a decade.

After receiving pushback from cryptocurrency lobbyists, lawmakers revised that section of the bill to “clarify” the definition of a broker rather than expand upon it.

The legislation also removed language that explicitly targeted “any decentralized exchange or peer-to-peer marketplace.” It replaced that with a broader definition that characterizes brokers as anyone “responsible for regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets on behalf of another person.”

The cryptocurrency industry has been adamant that the tougher tax enforcement should not apply to miners, or creators, of digital money, or the “node operators” that keep the software behind transactions moving.

Lobbyists were continuing to press senators for greater clarity to ensure that those parts of the nascent sector would be excluded from the law. They believe that they have assurances from top lawmakers, such as Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, about the intent of the law, but they are still seeking similar assurances from the Treasury Department, which will have broad discretion to implement the law if it is passed and signed by President Biden.

Video

transcript

transcript

Biden Administration Pushes States to Prevent Eviction Crisis

White House officials called on state governments to extend local moratoriums on evictions and accelerate the distribution of billions in rental aid, to soften the impact of the federal moratorium’s expiration on Saturday.

Given the rising urgency of the spread of the Delta variant, the president has asked all of us, including the C.D.C., to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we can have to prevent evictions. To date, the C.D.C. director and her team have been unable to find legal authority, even for a more targeted eviction moratorium that would focus just on counties with higher rates of Covid spread. One of the things that he is requesting today is that state and local governments extend or pass eviction moratoriums to cover the next two months. Right now, one out of three renters who are behind in the rent are actually protected beyond the federal eviction moratorium by extended state and local evictions moratoriums. The president is asking that all governors and mayors follow suit. This president is asking that his departments that provide mortgage backed lending extend whatever eviction moratoriums they have the power to extend. So that covers U.S.D.A. and V.A. and H.U.D. He is asking that U.S.D.A, V.A. and H.U.D., and the Treasury Department as well, make clear that those who benefit from government-backed mortgages or even tax relief related to housing should not seek evictions without first seeking emergency rental assistance funding. We are going to do an all agency review to make sure that we understand any potential reason why state and local governments are not getting funds out. The president is clear: If some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively, there’s no reason every state and locality can’t. There is simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate the Emergency Rental Assistance Fund.

Video player loading
White House officials called on state governments to extend local moratoriums on evictions and accelerate the distribution of billions in rental aid, to soften the impact of the federal moratorium’s expiration on Saturday.CreditCredit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

With the federal moratorium on evictions having expired over the weekend, the White House on Monday sought to limit the impact, demanding that states speed up disbursement of billions in bottled-up rental aid, while pleading with local governments to immediately enact their own extensions.

President Biden — under fire for refusing to extend the freeze and eager to prove he was taking some action — announced a series of limited moves Monday afternoon aimed at slowing evictions, directing federal agencies to consider targeted moratoriums for tenants in federally subsidized housing and asking state judges to slow-walk eviction proceedings.

The moratorium, imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall, lapsed on Saturday after a frenzied, failed effort on Capitol Hill to extend the freeze through the end of the year, putting hundreds of thousands of tenants at risk of losing shelter.

“There is just a lot of fear out there right now,” said Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, which has been working with tenants and landlords to tap a $47 billion fund allocated by Congress to pay off back rent accrued during the pandemic.

Legal aid groups and other tenants’ organizations have reported a massive flood of phone calls and emails from renters panicked by the end of the eviction freeze, which occurred at midnight on Saturday.

On Monday, administration officials made it clear they could only do so much, blaming states for the fact that the $47 billion Emergency Rental Assistance program intended to avoid such a crisis has disbursed only $3 billion — or just 7 percent of the total.

“We expect these numbers to grow, but it will not be enough to meet the need, unless every state and locality accelerates funds to tenants,” Gene Sperling, who is overseeing pandemic relief efforts for Mr. Biden, told reporters at the White House.

“There is no place to hide for any state or locality failing to accelerate their emergency rental assistance funds,” he said.

But many Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called on Mr. Biden to reconsider his decision not to act unilaterally, and have expressed anger at the White House for giving them only two days to ram through legislation to extend the freeze.

“People were promised something — help — and that has not happened,” said Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, who has been sleeping on the steps of the Capitol to protest the end of the moratorium. “It is unbelievable. It is shocking. It is unconscionable. It is cruel. We can’t be sitting on our hands when people are suffering.”

On Thursday, Biden administration officials punted the issue to congressional Democrats, claiming that a recent Supreme Court ruling made it nearly impossible to order an extension without jeopardizing the right of the executive branch to implement similar emergency policies during future public health crises.

Since then, Biden administration officials have worked the phones, appealing to the states to stop, or even slow, landlords from evicting renters until the balky funding pipeline — which has been plagued by delays — is functional.

Over the weekend Mr. Biden called Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director and the official with the authority to extend the freeze, to explore the possibility of limiting an extension to areas hit especially hard by the Delta variant, but was told that was not possible.

“Everybody” in the West Wing wanted to extend the moratorium, Mr. Sperling said in an interview. “But what was clear from the legal analysis was that we had already litigated this issue all the way to the Supreme Court.”

In a related move, the Treasury Department on Monday issued guidance for how states can spend up to $10 billion in financial assistance to people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.

The money can be doled out to borrowers who have fallen behind on mortgage payments, according to the guidance, but also to people who have taken out loans to buy mobile homes to live in, or who acquired a home in a contract for deed relationship — a loan financed by the seller of the property.

President Donald J. Trump has fought for years to keep his tax information secret.
Credit…Cooper Neill for The New York Times

Former President Donald J. Trump plans to fight the release of his tax returns to Congress, a lawyer for Mr. Trump said on Monday.

The comments from the lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, came days after a legal opinion was issued by the Justice Department that said that the Treasury Department must turn over six years of the former president’s tax returns to congressional investigators.

Mr. Fischetti on Monday called the opinion “absolutely ridiculous” and said that he expected the legal battle over the release of the returns to go on for months.

“We’re going to fight this tooth and nail,” he said.

The opinion, which the Treasury said that it would comply with, opened the possibility that the returns, which Mr. Trump has fought for years to keep secret, could be released to Congress. But even if the returns are handed over to Congress, Mr. Trump’s tax information may not become public immediately or at all.

In 2019, the Treasury Department asked the Department of Justice for guidance on whether it was allowed to comply with a request for the returns from the House Ways and Means Committee. Lawyers at the Justice Department found then that the Treasury was justified in not turning over the returns.

Mr. Fischetti argued Monday that the Justice Department had reversed that position without any new information having come to light.

Judge Trevor McFadden, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who is overseeing the dispute, asked lawyers for the House committee and for Mr. Trump to appear before him on Wednesday, when he is expected to lay out a timeline for written arguments.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at a Senate subcommittee meeting in May.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina announced on Monday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and that his symptoms have been mild, which he attributed to having received the vaccine.

“I am very glad I was vaccinated because without vaccination I am certain I would not feel as well as I do now,” Mr. Graham, a Republican, wrote on Twitter. “My symptoms would be far worse.”

Mr. Graham said he would go into quarantine for 10 days.

With the Delta variant continuing to spread aggressively across parts of the country, infections in vaccinated people have become more common, though they are still rare among the vaccinated population.

Experts say the vaccines currently in use in the United States provide strong protection from serious illness and death, even in cases of infections with the Delta variant. More than 97 percent of people who have been hospitalized recently for Covid-19 have been unvaccinated.

Breakthrough cases were reported last week both on Capitol Hill and in the White House. At least six Texas Democrats, a White House aide and an aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported testing positive despite having been vaccinated.

A number of Republicans in Congress, particularly in the House, have not received a shot and have resisted wearing masks and other mitigation measures. But Mr. Graham has urged supporters to get vaccinated and has spoken out against disinformation related to the virus.

The announcement from Mr. Graham raised concerns that other colleagues of his in the Senate may have been exposed through recent contact with Mr. Graham.

Mr. Graham’s office confirmed that he attended a gathering of senators on Saturday aboard “Almost Heaven,” a houseboat belonging to Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. A photograph circulated over the weekend showed senators socializing on the boat as it navigated the waters around Washington.

“There was no celebration,” Mr. Manchin, who tested negative on Monday, told reporters of the gathering. “We were just trying to keep people together. We do everything in a bipartisan way.”

At least half a dozen other senators confirmed they were on board, including Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber.

Mr. Thune’s spokesman, Ryan Wrasse, said that his boss was vaccinated and had tested negative on Monday afternoon. Other senators were awaiting results but showed up to cast votes on the Senate floor.

The news of Mr. Graham’s positive test — and the possibility that more of his colleagues may have been exposed — threw a new element of unpredictability into a week that was already expected to be a momentous one on Capitol Hill as the Senate pushes toward voting on a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Mr. Graham has been a supporter of the bill, and if he remains absent long enough, his illness could cost a Republican vote on final passage. But if others become sick or are forced to quarantine, party leaders may have to cancel meetings, delay votes or adjourn the Senate altogether, as they did during similar episodes in 2020.

Already on Monday, Democrats made an in-person leadership meeting virtual instead. But Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, told reporters he believed the infrastructure debate would move forward as planned.

Afghans who said they had worked as interpreters appealed to the United States for help during a demonstration in Kabul in June.
Credit…Mariam Zuhaib/Associated Press

The State Department is offering potential refugee status to new categories of Afghans who assisted the United States during the war in Afghanistan, including those who worked for news media and nongovernmental organizations.

The department said in an announcement on Monday that the action was meant to protect Afghans “who may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation,” but who were not eligible for a special immigrant visa program that has begun to resettle thousands of Afghans and their family members.

Video

transcript

transcript

State Dept. Increases Refugee Visas for Some Afghans

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the State Department would expand its potential refugee status to new categories of Afghans who assisted the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan.

As you know, the Special Immigrant Visa program is defined carefully by statute, and we know that there are Afghans who don’t qualify, but who helped us and deserve our help. Some may not have the qualifying employment for the Special Immigrant Visa. For example, they worked for a project funded by the U.S. government, but not for the government itself. Some may not have met the minimum time and service requirement, for example, employees who began working for us more recently, and some were employed by American media organizations or N.G.O.s doing vital work to support democratic progress in Afghanistan. So today, the State Department is announcing a new resettlement program for Afghans who assisted the United States, but who do not qualify for Special Immigrant Visas. We’ve created a Priority 2 or P-2 designation, granting access to the U.S. refugee admissions program for many of these Afghans and their family members. A great deal of hard work has gone into this already, but even more lies ahead. There is a significant diplomatic, logistical and bureaucratic challenge. We take our responsibility to our Afghan partners deeply seriously. We know the American people do as well. We have a long history in the United States welcoming refugees into our country, and helping them resettle into new homes and new communities is the work of a huge network of state and local governments, N.G.O.s, faith-based groups, advocacy groups, tens of thousands of volunteers. It’s a powerful demonstration of American friendship and generosity.

Video player loading
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that the State Department would expand its potential refugee status to new categories of Afghans who assisted the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan.

The White House has been under heavy pressure to protect Afghans who worked with the U.S. military over the past 20 years and who may be in danger from Taliban reprisals as the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. As the Taliban make territorial gains around the country, Biden administration officials and prominent members of Congress have grown increasingly concerned about the threat to Afghans with ties to the United States.

The first planeload of more than 200 Afghan interpreters, drivers and others who aided the U.S. military arrived last week in the Washington area for resettlement as part of a government initiative under two congressionally devised special visa programs.

Congress created the Special Immigrant Visa program to give refuge to Afghans and Iraqis who helped the U.S. military. But the State Department’s action on Monday reflects concern that the program still leaves vulnerable many Afghans with U.S. ties.

Last month, a coalition of news media organizations — including The New York Times, along with The Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, Fox News and several others — sent letters to President Biden and congressional leaders asking them to take more steps to protect Afghans who had worked as reporters, translators and support staff for U.S. outlets working in Afghanistan.

The letters noted that the Special Immigrant Visa program “does not reach those Afghans who have served U.S. news organizations. Yet they and their families face the same threat of retaliation from the Taliban, which views the American press as a legitimate target.”

The Taliban have “long conducted a campaign of threatening and killing journalists,” the letter pointed out, estimating that about 1,000 Afghans faced danger as a result of their journalistic affiliations.

Nina Turner, a progressive former state senator, is trying to hold back Shontel Brown, who has support from more establishment-friendly figures, in the Democratic primary for a House seat in the Cleveland area.
Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Two primary contests on Tuesday for open House seats in Ohio are poised to act as a stress test for both Democrats and Republicans, offering early hints about whether party leaders are aligned with their voters ahead of the midterm elections next year.

In the Cleveland area, two Democrats are locked in an increasingly embittered and expensive clash that has become a flash point in the larger struggle between the party’s activist left flank and its leadership in Washington. The early favorite to win, Nina Turner, is now trying to hold back Shontel Brown, the preferred candidate of more establishment-friendly politicians and allied outside groups.

Ms. Turner, a former state senator who built a national following as a surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns, has been buoyed by support from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and other leaders in the progressive movement. But Ms. Brown, a local Democratic Party official, has benefited from the help of Hillary Clinton, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and others in party leadership roles.

About two hours to the south, near Columbus, a dense field of Republicans is vying to upset the preferred candidate of former President Donald J. Trump, an energy lobbyist named Mike Carey who was largely unknown until Mr. Trump endorsed him in early June and all but ensured that he would be the front-runner.

But the crowded competition — more than 10 candidates are running for the Republican nomination in the solidly right-leaning district — means that the race is fluid, especially considering that special elections typically draw low turnout.

If Mr. Trump’s candidate does not prevail, a loss would be seen as another sign that his blessing is not the political golden ticket that he and his allies insist it is.