Supreme court to hear new challenge to Biden’s student debt relief plan – live

Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and her under-secretary for nuclear security Jill Hruby are expected to announce “a major scientific breakthrough” on Tuesday, the Financial Times reports, which will probably be the success of an experiment to get more energy out of a fusion reaction than was put in.

While the FT’s article has three unnamed sources confirming that such a development did occur, the department tried to discourage the paper from getting ahead of its formal announcement.

“Initial diagnostic data suggests another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility. However, the exact yield is still being determined and we can’t confirm that it is over the threshold at this time,” the department told the paper.

“That analysis is in process, so publishing the information … before that process is complete would be inaccurate.”

Key events

Last publicly owned Confederate monument comes down in Richmond

The Hill reports that the last publicly owned Confederate monument in Richmond, Virginia, has come down on Monday.

The move completes a process initiated in 2020 in the state’s capital city to take down statues glorifying the slave states of the Confederacy.

It adds: “Workers operating cranes lifted up a statue of A.P. Hill — a Confederate general in the Northern Virginia army who was a trusted associate of Gen. Robert E. Lee — and placed it on a flatbed truck.

The statue will now head to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. Hill’s memorial had towered over a busy intersection in the city near a school for more than 130 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia applauded the statue’s removal.

“Let’s not forget: Removing symbols of racism is only one of the first steps to dismantling racist systems,” the organization tweeted.”

Greene says January 6 remarks a ‘sarcastic joke’

Rightwing lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene has released a statement defending her comments on the January 6 insurrection as a “sarcastic joke” and saying Democrats and the White House “continue to accuse me of something I had nothing to do with”.

“The White House needs to learn how sarcasm works. My comments were making fun of Joe Biden and the Democrats, who have continuously made me a political target since January 6th,” Greene said.

The Republican House representative from Georgia sparked fury over the weekend by saying that if she and former Donald Trump White House adviser Steven Bannon had been in charge of the attack on the Capitol, the crowd would have won, and attendees “would’ve been armed”. Greene said the condemnation that followed, including from a spokesman for the Biden administration, put her at risk.

“Every day, I receive violent threats against my life simply because Democrats and the media have lied and smeared my character for the past two years. This includes threats resulting in actual arrests with criminal charges and threats against my home in an attempt to have me killed,” Greene said.

She went on to reiterate a number of the far-right conspiracies theories that have been her hallmark ever since arriving in Congress last year. Here’s the rest of Greene’s statement:

The only time Democrats “support” the 2A is when armed Antifa larpers want to defend perverts at drag queen story time or when leftist Hollywood celebs and politicians are protected by armed bodyguards.

Rather than trying to weaponize a sarcastic joke I made, they should be going after people like Yoel Roth who silenced a sitting President and allowed child pornography to run rampant on Twitter.

I will never back down from my support of the Second Amendment. And I will never allow the White House, Democrats, or the media to continue to accuse me of something I had nothing to do with.

Tim Scott to run for Republican nomination in 2024?

With Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign firmly on the ropes just a month after his announcement, a whole host of other Republican names are now being mentioned as contenders for the party nomination.

Perhaps none are as fascinating as Tim Scott, a Black Republican senator from South Carolina. Scott is a firm conservative, close to Trump but also admired by many other sections of the party, especially as it digests its woeful underperformance in the recent midterm elections.

Politico takes an in-depth look here.

But here is a key taster:

“His Republican colleagues are buzzing about his massive reelection victory this year, rising national profile, substantial fundraising hauls and cross-country travels for other candidates. And they’re happy to talk him up.

The South Carolinian carved out a unique lane in the GOP, well-liked by mainstream leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell but never publicly at odds with Trump world, even when he’s offered halted criticism of the former president. And as the only Black Republican senator, he’d offer his party a compelling chance to build on its long-running effort to boost diverse candidate recruitment by further appealing to Democratic-leaning constituencies.”

New polling released by CNN in the wake of the midterms shows Americans remain as divided as ever when it comes to their views of the country’s leadership.

The poll conducted by SSRS finds 51% of respondents say they have more confidence in the new Republican majority in the House, against the 49% that are more faithful to Joe Biden. However, they expect the new GOP majority to improve the federal budget situation by an 11-point margin, according to the poll.

Splits are deeper when it comes to other issues, the survey indicates:

Americans are more closely divided on the effect the GOP majority will have on inflation (37% positive, 33% negative), gun policies (39% positive, 41% negative) and tax policies (34% positive, 38% negative). And they tend to expect a harmful impact on immigration laws (32% positive, 41% negative) and the level of cooperation within the federal government (23% positive, 43% negative).

Americans are generally downbeat when it come to both parties’ leaders, although they do tend to support members of their own team:

While 53% of US adults hold an unfavorable opinion of outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and just 33% have a favorable one, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents express positive views by a roughly 3 to 1 margin (63% favorable, 20% unfavorable). Far fewer Americans have formed an opinion of incoming House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (64% have either not heard of him or have yet to form an opinion), but Democratic-aligned views are generally positive (33% favorable, 5% unfavorable among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents). Views of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is vying to become speaker, tilt negative among the full public, 36% unfavorable to 19% favorable, with nearly half unsure how they feel about him. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, there’s been a shift toward the positive since this summer: 39% now have a favorable view and 16% unfavorable, compared with 19% favorable and 28% unfavorable in CNN’s polling this summer.

Both parties like to accuse the other of being extreme, and the survey indicates the sentiment is widespread among the public – though the GOP is viewed as more extreme overall:

Half of Americans currently say the GOP’s views and policies are too extreme, rather than generally mainstream, while 44% call the Democratic Party too extreme – both numbers are little changed since last summer.

The day so far

The supreme court has agreed to hear a second challenge to Joe Biden’s plan to relieve some federal student loan debt, which remains on hold. Meanwhile, the science world is preparing for tomorrow’s big announcement from the energy department, which is reportedly the success of an experiment that produced more energy from a fusion reaction than was put in.

Here’s what else has happened so far today:

  • A federal judge has officially nixed the special master’s review of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, which slowed down the investigation into whether Donald Trump unlawfully retained government secrets.

  • The January 6 committee is continuing to mull how many criminal referrals to send to the justice department as a result of its investigation.

  • The White House condemned rightwing lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene after she made comments asserting her prowess at organizing insurrections.

The US government’s trade regulator is weighing whether to OK the merger of two of the country’s largest supermarket chains, even as workers fret it could lead to mass layoffs, Michael Sainato reports:

Thousands of workers at two of America’s biggest supermarkets are warning of potential mass layoffs as the giant firms push for a merger.

Kroger, the second largest grocery chain in the US, and Albertsons, the fourth largest, are pushing for a merger through the Federal Trade Commission, which is reviewing the proposal.

Local unions representing over 100,000 Albertsons and Kroger workers strongly oppose the merger because of its likely impact on competition, prices for consumers, and job cuts that will result as scores of stores are divested.

During US Senate panel hearings, Kroger’s chief executive, Rodney McMullen, claimed no employees would be laid off, but said the company planned to place 100 to 350 stores into a spin-off company. Albertsons announced it would pay shareholders about $4bn in special dividends as part of the merger agreement, and spend $24.6bn to acquire Kroger, with expectations to close the deal by early 2024 if approved by federal regulators.

“A win for our customers, a win for our associates, and a win for the communities,” McMullen has said in support of the merger. McMullen’s salary of $18m in total compensation is 679 times that of the median worker at Kroger.

But many grocery workers who witnessed the 2014 and 2015 merger between Albertsons and Safeway saw similar promises made and then broken by corporate executives.

Joe Biden is under pressure from media organizations and others to drop the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Eric Lichtblau reports:

The Biden administration has been saying all the right things lately about respecting a free and vigorous press, after four years of relentless media-bashing and legal assaults under Donald Trump.

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has even put in place expanded protections for journalists this fall, saying that “a free and independent press is vital to the functioning of our democracy”.

But the biggest test of Biden’s commitment remains imprisoned in a jail cell in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been held since 2019 while facing prosecution in the United States under the Espionage Act, a century-old statute that has never been used before for publishing classified information.

The January 6 committee’s mandate expires at the end of the year, and it still needs to release its report into the insurrection and decide whether to make formal criminal referrals to the justice department.

The committee’s chair Bennie Thompson has said to expect the report’s release on 21 December, while NBC News today has details of where lawmakers are in their deliberations of who to refer to prosecutors for potential charges:

What’s the latest with the J6 cmte?

The cmte met Sunday night and two sources tell NBC that while progress was made the committee has yet to make a final decision on criminal referrals to the Department of Justice or other federal agencies

W/ @ryanobles

— Haley Talbot (@haleytalbotnbc) December 12, 2022

The committee is weighing the scope of the potential referrals and just how many targets they plan to include. It is expected that former President Donald Trump is among those who could be referred, but there are several other names the committee is considering.

— Haley Talbot (@haleytalbotnbc) December 12, 2022

The committee is weighing the political, symbolic and legal weight the referrals would offer, mindful that how the DOJ or any other agency may respond to their request could set a precedent for Congressional referrals in the future.

— Haley Talbot (@haleytalbotnbc) December 12, 2022

Supreme court to hear another challenge to Biden loan forgiveness plan

The supreme court has agreed to take up a second challenge to Joe Biden’s plan to cancel as much as $20,000 in federal student loans, Bloomberg reports:

NEW: Supreme Court expands review of Biden student-loan relief plan, will also hear case involving two borrowers who say they were unfairly excluded from full scope of program. Argument set for late Feb or early March.

— Greg Stohr (@GregStohr) December 12, 2022

Announced in August, the plan has been on hold after Republicans in six states sued, saying the White House had exceeded its authority. The supreme court has also agreed to hear that case, likely sometime between late February and early March.

The pressure is rising in Congress as it faces a Friday deadline to pass a spending agreement or risk a government shutdown.

Neither Democrats or Republicans want to see the government run out of funding, and it’s likely they’ll pass a bill to keep it open, but probably only for another week. The intention there is to buy time to seek an agreement on an omnibus spending bill, which will be filled with both Democratic and Republican priorities, and likely be enough to keep the government running for another year.

For Democrats, such a deal would be one last show of force by their unified Congress, before the Republicans take over the House of Representatives at the start of next year. But getting a deal done will require extensive negotiations, and almost certainly the votes of at least some Republicans in the Senate.

In a sign of how things are going, Democratic senator Brian Schatz said prospects an omnibus bill would pass are improving:

I am increasingly optimistic that we can land an omnibus spending bill.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) December 12, 2022

Greene’s comments have not been well received by Joe Biden’s White House.

Spokesman Andrew Bates responded angrily, according to CBS News. Here’s what he had to say:

It “goes against our fundamental values as a country for a Member of Congress to wish that the carnage of January 6th had been even worse, and to boast that she would have succeeded in an armed insurrection against the United States government. This violent rhetoric is a slap in the face to the Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police, the National Guard, and the families who lost loved ones as a result of the attack on the Capitol. All leaders have a responsibility to condemn these dangerous, abhorrent remarks and stand up for our Constitution and the rule of law.”

Over the weekend, one of Donald Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress appeared to make the case to be put in charge of the next insurrection, the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington reports:

The far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has bragged that had she and the former Donald Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon been in charge of organizing the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the violent crowd would have won, and everyone in it “would’ve been armed”.

The notorious provocateur made her comments about the deadly January 6 attack during a speech to a gala of the New York Young Republicans Club on Park Avenue in Manhattan on Saturday night. Hatewatch monitored the event on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Greene, who entered the US House as a newly elected representative from Georgia last year, said: “January 6 happened, and next thing you know, I organized the whole thing, along with Steve Bannon here. And I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”

She went on: “See that’s the whole joke, isn’t it? They say that whole thing was planned and I’m like, are you kidding me? A bunch of conservatives, second amendment supporters, went in the Capitol without guns, and they think that we organized that? I don’t think so.”

In blow to Trump, Mar-a-Lago document review officially ends

A federal judge has formally ended Donald Trump’s effort to have a court-appointed official review documents taken by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago, which had slowed progress of the investigation into whether he illegally held on to government secrets after leaving the White House, Bloomberg reports:

The ruling by Judge Aileen Cannon, who had originally granted the former president’s request to appoint a special master in the case, came after an appeals court ruled she never should have made that decision.

The end of the special master review came after Trump’s legal team decided not to appeal the matter to the supreme court, where the former president has been on a losing streak lately. Trump had requested the appointment of a special master after federal agents searched his south Florida property in August, arguing a review was necessary to keep prosecutors from using documents covered by executive or attorney-client privilege in their investigation. Critics claimed the special master process only served to frustrate the federal inquiry into whether the former president unlawfully took secret materials with him after leaving the White House last year.

Bernie Sanders may be a fellow independent, but he says he’s ready to take on Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema over her decision last week to leave the Democratic party, the Guardian’s Ramon Antonio Vargas reports:

The popular progressive US senator Bernie Sanders would consider supporting any Democrat who might mount a challenge against his chamber colleague Kyrsten Sinema after she recently left the party and declared herself an independent like him, arguing that she has “helped sabotage” some of Congress’s most important legislation.

Sanders’s comments on Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union added to the chorus of detractors against the Arizona lawmaker who has undermined the agenda of the Joe Biden White House and other progressives, including by voting down raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and reforming the Senate filibuster so that voting rights legislation can pass.

The independent from Vermont who votes in line with Democratic interests told the show host, Dana Bash, that the leftwing party’s members in Arizona were “not all that enthusiastic about somebody who helped sabotage some of the most important legislation that protects the interests of working families and voting rights and so forth”.

Shifting for a minute from our potentially fusion-powered future to matters that are surprisingly not in the past, Maya Yang reports that a new winner has emerged in a Massachusetts local race after all ballots cast in the 8 November election were counted again:

A recount in a political race in Massachusetts has flipped a state house of representatives election from Republican to Democrat by a single vote.

Democrat Kristin Kassner won against her Republican opponent and five-term incumbent Lenny Mirra earlier this week after a recount that shrank the candidates’ narrow vote deficit to one. The candidates were all vying for a seat based in the North Shore area, which is a coastal region between Boston and New Hampshire.

Before the recount, Mirra led Kassner by 10 votes out of over 23,000 ballots that were cast in that region during the 8 November midterm election.

The 10-vote deficit was within the legal threshold of a recount. On 30 November, the Massachusetts secretary of state, Bill Galvin, ordered hand recounts in a general area where Mirra held a slim advantage.

After officials recounted the votes in question Thursday, the results emerged as 11,763 to 11,762.

Kassner was ahead by the slightest of margins.

Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and her under-secretary for nuclear security Jill Hruby are expected to announce “a major scientific breakthrough” on Tuesday, the Financial Times reports, which will probably be the success of an experiment to get more energy out of a fusion reaction than was put in.

While the FT’s article has three unnamed sources confirming that such a development did occur, the department tried to discourage the paper from getting ahead of its formal announcement.

“Initial diagnostic data suggests another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility. However, the exact yield is still being determined and we can’t confirm that it is over the threshold at this time,” the department told the paper.

“That analysis is in process, so publishing the information … before that process is complete would be inaccurate.”

US lab reportedly makes fusion breakthrough in boost to Biden’s clean energy agenda

Good morning, US politics readers. The price of gasoline and other energy sources are always a liability for American presidents, and Joe Biden is no exception. But what if those no longer mattered? That’s the promise from a breakthrough in fusion power made by American scientists, who managed to get more energy out of a reaction than they put in, the Financial Times reported over the weekend. The government hasn’t announced the experiment’s results yet and it will probably be years, if not decades, for fusion to become a major part of the electrical grid. Nonetheless, the breakthrough will likely be welcome news for a White House keen to tout its dedication to promoting carbon-free energy sources.

Here’s what else is going on today:

  • Congress is up against a Friday deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown, one of a host of year-end legislative priorities the Democratic majority is trying to get through before Republicans take the House next year.

  • Biden’s lone public event will be a visit to a Marine Corps Toys for Tots event at a military base just across the river from Washington held at 12:40 pm eastern time.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will be joined by national security adviser Jake Sullivan at her briefing today, at 3 pm eastern time.

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