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Senate Places Hold on Biden Personnel Nominee

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(Andrew Harnik/AP)

Senator Josh Hawley placed a hold on the nomination of Kiran Ahuja for Office of Personnel Management, citing her views on critical race theory and abortion.

What We Know:

  • Ahuja is a 49-year-old attorney and a daughter of Indian immigrants. She served in the personnel department under Obama and has since been chief executive of philanthropy for nonprofit Philanthropy Northwest.
  • As head of the Office of Personnel Management, Ahuja would manage the entire federal workforce under the Biden administration. The office has a hand in the content and implementation of diversity and inclusion training. It also runs the largest employer-sponsored health program in the country.
  • Republicans have cited her stance on critical race theory and abortion rights as cause for concern. Critical race theory, recognizing that systemic racism is a part of American society and challenging those systems, has been deemed divisive and false by Republicans. Biden’s reversal of his stance on reproductive rights and the Hyde Amendment, a law that bans federal funding for abortions, has also been causing concern.
  • In Ahuja’s confirmation hearing, Hawley brought her relationship with the professor and activist Dr. Ibram Kendi into question. Her nonprofit hosted him for a speaker series in 2018, and she linked an article by him in a blog post wherein he claimed Trump’s election was an example of white supremacy. Ahuja said she could not speak to the position Kendi made, nor would she make that type of statement.
  • When asked if she considered the United States to be systematically racist, Ahuja responded, “I’m a big believer that we seek to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity. I understand and appreciate the historical challenges many individuals have experienced, based on their race and ethnicity.” Ahuja was also questioned about the Hyde Amendment because Biden supported overturning the legislation. She answered, “The Hyde Amendment is the law of the land, and I will follow the law.”
  • Despite answering all lines of questioning, Ahuja’s nomination has brought an obscure government agency into the center of a political war between Republicans and Democrats. Biden has pledged to rebuild the federal government following Trump. But, his promotion of racial equity and reproductive rights goes against Republican values.
  • Several agencies in charge of government management remain without permanent leadership six months into Biden’s presidency. Max Stier, president and chief executive of Partnership for Public Service, stated that the lack of personnel director is “slowing things down.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to step in and take additional procedural steps to advance Ahuja’s nomination. The hope is to secure her confirmation prior to the Senate’s June recess to avoid further delays within the department.

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Senate Announces Bipartisan $1 Trillion Infrastructure Deal

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(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of 10 Senators have been engaged in negotiations with President Biden to create an infrastructure bill. After negotiations ceased this Tuesday, the group announced they have a tentative plan to propose in the coming weeks.

What We Know:

  • The plan includes $579 billion in new spending, which would add up to $1.2 trillion over eight years. Senators said in a statement that the proposal would be paid for and would not include tax increases. There have been talks amongst the group of indexing the gas tax to inflation to cover the cost, but Biden’s unwillingness to raise taxes for those who make less than $400,000 a year would prove difficult.
  • Republicans are skeptical of this deal and Democrats are impatient. Many are hopeful that a bipartisan agreement will pass. In a joint statement, the group said, “We are discussing our approach with our respective colleagues, and the White House, and remain optimistic that this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support both parties and meet America’s infrastructure needs.”
  • Some Democrats are vehemently opposed to the deal as it makes no mention of clean energy or climate change. They are encouraging leadership to push through a partisan bill, which still would require ten votes on the Republican side to pass.
  • Regardless of opinion, many agree that a bill needs to pass swiftly. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is among these representatives, “I worry about time being wasted. Even if our Republican colleagues [work in] good faith, we simply do not have the time to delay.”

The uncertainty in this decision follows a few weeks of tumult in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement, “Senior White House staff and the Jobs Cabinet will work with the Senate group in the days ahead to get answers to those questions, as we also consult with other members in both the House and the Senate on the path forward.”

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Senate Confirms Zahid Quraishi as First Muslim Federal Judge in the U.S.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi as a U.S. District Judge of New Jersey, making him the first Muslim American to hold the position in U.S. history.

What We Know:

  • Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was approved by the Senate with an 81-16 vote, receiving all present Democratic votes and 34 Republican ones. He is currently a U.S. magistrate judge for the District of New Jersey, has worked as a federal prosecutor, and served two tours in Iraq.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), stated, “[Quraishi] is a man of integrity, a consummate public servant, and a trailblazer for Asian Americans and Muslim Americans across this country who dream of one day presiding over a court of their own.”

  • President Joe Biden nominated Quraishi in his first group of judicial nominations back in March. Biden focused on diversity with his group of nominees, including three African American women for the openings in the Circuit Court and the first women of color to serve as a federal judge in the District of Maryland.
  • Democrats and progressives expressed their excitement and gave their congratulations to Quraishi via social media. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) stated that Quraishi was an “excellent addition to the court,” and his confirmation is a “reflection of America’s ideal of religious freedom.” Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated that they need to expand on demographic and professional diversity, and confirming Quraishi was an example of that.

  • According to The New York Times, The Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized Quraishi’s time while in Iraq and his involvement with former President George W. Bush’s second term. They called Quraishi a “detention legal adviser” during a time when prisoner abuse in Iraq was out of hand.
  • The civil rights group also called out the judge’s involvement with ICE throughout Bush’s last two years of office. They wrote the Senate a letter begging them to take a look into Quraishi’s actions during this time and consider them before they voted. Quraishi received the Bronze Star for his time in service.

Along with confirming Quraishi, the Senate also advanced the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Jackson is at the top of the list for the Supreme Court if a vacancy appears.

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Pledges to Build Wall along Southern Border

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Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas would begin building a wall along the southern border.

What We Know:

  • Abbott announced this order and various other initiatives at the Border Security Summit on Thursday. He stated that they would be using $1 billion in state funds, and he needs the federal government’s approval for landowners and a border security task force. Abbott plans on resuming the wall initially started by former President Donald Trump at the U.S.-Mexico border. After the summit, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz claimed that Abbott’s wall idea seemed more like a “border fence” than a wall, stating, “[Abbott] said ‘fence’ two or three times.”
  • Abbott plans to build his wall on a majority of the land largely owned by federal and state governments, with a small percentage also being privately owned. Trump ran into issues with this same problem when trying to complete his wall during his presidency. Building the wall was one of Trump’s key campaign promises, and he told voters that Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico ended up not paying for any of the walls, and the U.S. spent close to $15 billion on it. Trump managed to build about 450 miles of the wall on the border that lined Arizona.
  • Abbott has criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for the border crisis, as there has been an increase of migrants crossing the border. He disagreed with Biden ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy that Trump established with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
  • This policy prevented a large increase of migrants into the U.S. because before they could cross into the country, they had to file for asylum in Mexico. In April, Biden’s administration stated that any further construction on the wall would be canceled.

“[Trump] began building the border wall and now suddenly all of that disappeared…it has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people crossing the border, but it’s not just unaccompanied minors, it’s people causing great damage and harm to the residents right here in Del Rio up and down the entire border,” said Abbott.

  • Due to the increase of migrants, Abbott has declared that the Texas Department of Public Safety will begin implementing federal and state criminal laws such as criminal trespassing, smuggling, and human trafficking. According to CNN, Abbott is also asking for the state’s Health and Human Services Commission to cease “state licensure of ‘any child care facility that shelters or detains unlawful immigrants’ under a contract with the federal government.” Abbott plans to arrest those who illegally cross the border, but local law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and mayors must be on board for it to happen.

There hasn’t been any word on if Abbott is allowed to start building a wall. However, he refuses for the state to “sit idly by as this crisis grows.” He has stated that only single adults will be arrested at the border, claiming that families will not fall under his new policy. Abbott plans on starting his new arrest policy next week.

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