President Biden met on Wednesday with Republican and Democratic leaders from both houses of Congress for the first time since taking office, but the discussion appeared to make only modest progress toward resolving disagreements on Mr. Biden’s proposals to spend $4 trillion on infrastructure and families.
The closed-door meeting at the White House included Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader; Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader; and their counterparts in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended.
As the group assembled in the Oval Office, Mr. Biden told reporters that he hoped to find common ground on infrastructure spending. He joked that he would like to just “snap my fingers” to achieve that goal despite fierce Republican opposition to his plans.
“The bottom line here is we’re going to see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to talk a lot about infrastructure.”
After the 90-minute meeting ended, the Republican leaders said it had been productive. But both Mr. McConnell and Mr. McCarthy said they remained unwilling to consider any of the tax increases that Mr. Biden has suggested to pay for the spending.
“You won’t find any Republicans going to go raise taxes,” Mr. McCarthy said, referring to Mr. Biden’s desire to increase taxes on wealthy Americans that were lowered in the 2017 tax bill. “I think it’s the worst thing to do in this economy.”
He and Mr. McConnell also said that their membership remained at odds with the president about how to define infrastructure spending. Republicans have balked at Mr. Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would increase spending on home health aides, colleges and broadband as well as more traditional infrastructure targets like roads and bridges. And that is separate from the $1.8 trillion the administration has requested for the American Families Plan, which seeks to expand access to education, reduce the cost of child care and support women in the work force.
“We first have to start with a definition of what is infrastructure,” Mr. McCarthy said. “That’s not home health. That’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband.”
Mr. McConnell told reporters that he hoped Senate committees would handle the president’s proposals through the normal legislative process, which could increase the chances of a deal. Returning to the Capitol, Democratic leaders framed the meeting as a modest sign of progress.
“It took us a few steps forward,” Ms. Pelosi said. Her Senate counterpart, Mr. Schumer, said that the two parties would “try hard” to get an agreement and called the meeting a “first step.”
But both sides remain dug in on key parts of the president’s proposals, and it is unclear whether they can agree to break the infrastructure plan up into two bills: one narrower, bipartisan measure and a larger jobs and tax bill.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that Mr. Biden would not accept “inaction” or legislation that would raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 per year.
“Those are not areas where he is going to move,” Ms. Psaki said.
In remarks on the Senate floor before the meeting, Mr. McConnell gave no indication that he expected a major reconciliation with the Democratic president, who Mr. McConnell asserted had veered toward far-left liberalism after campaigning on bipartisanship.
And in a campaign text to supporters shortly after the meeting, Mr. McCarthy sought to raise money by saying, “I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he’s STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people.”
Zach Montague contributed reporting.
In a remarkable display of loyalty to Donald J. Trump, Republicans moved quickly to purge Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from House leadership on Wednesday, voting to oust their No. 3 for repudiating the former president’s election lies and holding him responsible for the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
The action, orchestrated by party leaders, came by voice vote during a raucous closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that lasted just 15 minutes. Ms. Cheney made a defiant final speech rather than fight the ouster, warning that Republicans would follow Mr. Trump to their “destruction” by silencing dissent and refusing to reject the myth of a stolen election. She drew boos from her colleagues.
Ms. Cheney urged her colleagues not to “let the former president drag us backward,” according to a person familiar with the private comments.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office,” Ms. Cheney told reporters afterward.
Republican leaders, who portrayed Ms. Cheney’s removal as a way to unify the party, declined to allow members to register a position on it. When Representative Tom Reed of New York, a moderate who has announced his retirement from Congress, rose to ask whether a recorded vote was allowed, he was told no. Mr. McCarthy had told his colleagues that a voice vote was important to show “unity,” and that it was time to “move forward” and look toward winning back the House, according to a person familiar with the remarks.
When the time came, the ayes loudly drowned out the noes. The ouster was so swift that some Republicans were still trickling in to take their seats when Ms. Cheney strode up the center aisle to make her way to a bank of microphones and reporters waiting outside.
The action came the day after Ms. Cheney had delivered a broadside on the House floor against Mr. Trump and the party leaders working to oust her, accusing them of being complicit in undermining the democratic system by repeating his false claims that the 2020 election results were fraudulent.
“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” she said.
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, who helped lead the charge against Ms. Cheney, said his case boiled down to a simple idea: “Can’t have a conference chair who recites Democrat talking points.”
“It’s time to focus on stopping the Democrats and save the country,” he said.
Mr. Trump weighed in Wednesday morning with multiple statements attacking Ms. Cheney and cheering her removal, including one calling her “a poor leader, a major Democrat talking point, a warmonger, and a person with absolutely no personality or heart.”
As a replacement for Ms. Cheney, Republican leaders have united behind Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, a onetime moderate whose loyalty to Mr. Trump and backing of his false claims of election fraud have earned her broad support from the party’s rank and file.
Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, circulated a broadside on Tuesday accusing Ms. Stefanik of being insufficiently conservative and said top Republicans were making a mistake by rushing to elevate her. On Wednesday, he appeared to entertain running against her.
“She should have an opponent,” Mr. Roy said.
A vote to elevate Ms. Stefanik to the No. 3 post is expected on Friday. If she succeeds, the top three House Republican leadership posts will be held by lawmakers who voted not to certify President Biden’s victory in January.
President Biden said that he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “for a while” amid escalating fighting between Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday and asserted his “unwavering support” for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
“My hope is that we will see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later,” Mr. Biden said in response to questions from reporters.
According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Mr. Biden “condemned” the rocket attacks on Israel and added that the United States’ position is that Jerusalem be “a place of peace.”
Mr. Biden also said that his administration’s national security and defense officials have been and would stay “in constant contact” with their counterparts in the Middle East. The White House added that, during the phone call, Mr. Biden updated Mr. Netanyahu on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with Palestinian officials and other nations in the Middle East.
The call between the two leaders came on the same day that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke over the phone with Mr. Netanyahu. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s self-defense in a phone conversation with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, suggested on Wednesday that members of his party recognized that President Biden had been legitimately elected, four months after he and 146 other Republicans voted to overturn the election results.
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters after meeting with Mr. Biden and congressional leaders at the White House to discuss infrastructure spending. “I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today. So from that point of view, I don’t think that’s a problem.”
In reality, numerous Republican lawmakers continue to question the legitimacy of the presidential election, in lock step with former President Donald J. Trump. Hours before Mr. McCarthy made his comments, he joined other House Republicans in voting to oust Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership position for repudiating the former president’s election lies and denouncing the lawmakers who encouraged them.
Ms. Cheney’s likely replacement, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, recently claimed that election officials had engaged in “unprecedented, unconstitutional overreach” last year and expressed support for a Republican-led audit of the 2020 election results in Arizona, part of a continued effort to cast doubt on Mr. Biden’s victory there.
Other congressional Republicans, including Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, have also endorsed the Arizona audit, and the lie that the election was stolen has fueled a barrage of restrictive voting bills across the country.
In January, 147 Republican lawmakers voted against certifying Mr. Biden’s victory. When asked point-blank whether they believed Mr. Biden won the election legitimately, they rarely give a straight answer. And the few who have spoken out against efforts to delegitimize the election, or who have publicly criticized Mr. Trump’s actions related to the election — such as Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Representative Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio — have been rebuked.
Addressing her fellow Republicans before they voted to oust her Wednesday morning, Ms. Cheney said that they should not “let the former president drag us backward,” and that if they wanted a leader who would “enable and spread his destructive lies,” they should vote to remove her.
They responded with jeers.
Mysterious episodes that caused brain injuries in spies, diplomats, soldiers and other U.S. personnel overseas starting five years ago have now affected more than 130 people, far more than previously known, according to current and former officials.
The number of cases within the C.I.A., the State Department, the Defense Department and other agencies has spurred broad concern in the Biden administration, which has tried to more thoroughly review other incidents amid concern over a spate of them in recent months.
The episodes first drew attention when diplomats and C.I.A. officers working in Havana in 2016 reported feeling vertigo, nausea and headaches. Initially, the publicly confirmed cases were concentrated in China and Cuba and numbered about 60, not including a group of injured C.I.A. officers whose size is not public.
But since December, at least three C.I.A. officers have reported serious health effects from episodes overseas. One occurred within the past two weeks, and in another case from 2019 that had not previously been reported, officials suspect that a military officer serving overseas may have been targeted while he was with his 2-year-old son.
The New York Times interviewed 20 current and former government officials who have worked on the issue or have been briefed on the episodes, and determined that the Biden administration is trying to strike a careful balance between showing officials that it is taking the issue seriously and keeping panic from spreading, either inside the government or among the public.
But the administration has not determined who or what is responsible for the episodes, or even whether they constitute attacks. And while the severity of the brain injuries has ranged widely, some victims have had chronic symptoms and pain, suggesting potentially permanent brain damage.
A senior American diplomat is headed to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to urge de-escalation and to bring calm,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday amid mounting violence.
Speaking at the State Department in Washington, Mr. Blinken repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs the Gaza Strip.
“There is, first, a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets, in fact, targeting civilians, and Israel’s response, defending itself,” Mr. Blinken said.
But he also said Israel “has an extra burden” to try to prevent civilian deaths, noting that Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli strikes.
“Whenever we see civilian casualties and, particularly, when we see children caught in the crossfire, losing their lives, that has a powerful impact,” said Mr. Blinken, sounding anguished. He added: “The Palestinian people have the right to safety and security, and we have to, I think, all work in that direction.”
Mr. Blinken said he was deploying Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides in coming days. Mr. Amr was expected to depart Washington later Wednesday for the region.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III also offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s right to self-defense during a conversation earlier Wednesday with Israel’s defense chief, Benny Gantz.
A readout of their talk, issued by John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Mr. Austin had condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas, and urged calm among all parties, but did not mention the matter of casualties among Palestinian civilians.
President Biden took office this year with little interest in pursuing an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement, given the failure by previous presidents from both parties to foster a lasting accord. But the latest outbreak of violence has prompted growing calls from within the Democratic Party for Mr. Biden to play a more active role.
The Biden administration has endorsed of a two-state solution but, experts said, has made little effort to push the parties toward one.
“The problem with the Middle East,” said Martin S. Indyk, a special envoy for Israel-Palestinian negotiations during the Obama administration, “is that you can try to turn your back on it, but it won’t turn its back on you.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Blinken repeated anew that the United States remains committed to a two-state solution. “This violence takes us further away from that goal,” he said.
Mr. Blinken later said he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to reinforce his message. “It’s vital now to de-escalate,” Mr. Blinken said on Twitter.
I spoke with @IsraeliPM today about the ongoing situation in Israel including rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip targeting Israeli civilians. Israel has the right to defend itself. Palestinians need to be able to live in safety and security. It’s vital now to deescalate.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 12, 2021
Michael Crowley contributed reporting.
Christopher C. Miller, who was the acting defense secretary when rioters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, testified before Congress on Wednesday that he had worried that sending troops to the complex would contribute to perceptions of a “military coup” under President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Miller said he stood by his written testimony that Mr. Trump had “encouraged” the violent mob that overran the Capitol, but told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the former president’s words on Jan. 6 were not the only factor in the violence.
“It was bad,” Mr. Miller said of the siege. “It was an assault on the Capitol and an assault on the Constitution.”
His comments were part of a lengthy defense of the Pentagon’s actions during the largest attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.
Mr. Miller tried to portray his reluctance to authorize more military force as a responsible action to respect the rights of protesters, and he told lawmakers that Mr. Trump had not stood in the way of calling in the National Guard.
But he also testified that Mr. Trump had not called him during the assault. Instead, Mr. Miller said he had spoken with Vice President Mike Pence, who is not in the chain of command and was in the Capitol as it was under siege.
Fear of the appearance of a coup was not an explanation given by the Pentagon in the days after the riot. District of Columbia officials, the former chief of the Capitol Police and Maryland’s Republican governor have all said that they called for the National Guard to be deployed for hours before the Pentagon gave approval.
Several Democrats harshly criticized Mr. Miller for what they characterized as his slow deployment of the Guard. Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, asked if he “froze” during the attack.
“You were AWOL, Mr. Secretary,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said, using the military term for absent without leave. “Sir, you partially own this mayhem.”
Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, asked Mr. Miller if he would apologize for his “incompetence.”
“I stand by every decision I made on Jan. 6,” Mr. Miller said.
During the hearing, Democrats also pressed Mr. Miller and Jeffrey A. Rosen, the former acting attorney general, on what they called a “stark contrast” between how aggressively the Justice and Defense Departments had responded to Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and to the pro-Trump mob’s attack on the Capitol.
“The failures of Jan. 6 go beyond the craven lies and provocations of one man,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the committee chairwoman, said in her opening statement. “The federal government was unprepared for this insurrection, even though it was planned in plain sight on social media for the world to see. And despite all the military and law enforcement resources our government can call upon in a crisis, security collapsed in the face of the mob, and reinforcements were delayed for hours as the Capitol was overrun.”
Mr. Rosen, under questioning, testified that there was “no evidence” of widespread fraud that could have affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, countering Mr. Trump’s false claims. But he declined to answer questions that he described as violations of attorney-client privilege, including whether Mr. Trump had urged him to try to overturn the results of the election.
Much of the hearing turned into a back-and-forth on the merits of Congress authorizing a commission to examine the events of Jan. 6, similar to one that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
Republicans, including Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the top G.O.P. member on the committee, have argued that the commission should investigate violence by left-wing groups.
“Congress must examine both the Jan. 6 attack and the violence we witnessed last summer to prevent it from happening,” Mr. Comer said in his opening statement.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas told senators on Wednesday that the greatest domestic threat facing the United States came from what they both called “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”
“Specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” Mr. Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The cabinet secretaries’ comments reflected a dramatic shift in tone from the Trump administration, which deliberately downplayed the threat from white supremacists and similar groups, in part to elevate the profile of what former President Donald J. Trump described as violent threats from radical left-wing groups.
Last year, a former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence branch filed a whistle-blower complaint in which he accused the department of blocking a report about the threat of violent extremism and described white supremacists as having been “exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent targeted attacks in recent years.”
Mr. Mayorkas told senators on Wednesday, “The department is taking a new approach to addressing domestic violent extremism, both internally and externally.”
As Mr. Garland and Mr. Mayorkas testified before the Appropriations Committee, former members of the Trump administration told the House Oversight Committee that Mr. Trump’s false claims to have won the 2020 election had fueled the domestic terrorism threat, a point many Republican lawmakers have rejected. Earlier on Wednesday, House Republicans ousted Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership position for publicly pushing back on Mr. Trump’s claims, in the latest sign of Mr. Trump’s continued hold on the party.
While the Justice and Homeland Security Departments have long been involved in countering violent extremism inside the country, Biden administration officials have said the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the Capitol showed an urgent need to focus more on domestic extremism.
Senate Republicans did not share that focus on Wednesday and instead grilled Mr. Garland and Mr. Mayorkas on border security issues.
The top Republican on the committee, Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, said that Democrats were politicizing the issue by describing violent domestic extremists as coming from the far right. He equated the Capitol riot to the protests against police violence last summer, and asked Mr. Garland why the Justice Department seemed to be prioritizing pursuing the perpetrators of the Jan. 6 attack over those who looted shops and attacked law enforcement during racial justice protests.
Mr. Garland said that “if there has to be a hard hierarchy of things that we prioritize,” the Jan. 6 attack would be at the top because it most threated democracy.
“I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” Mr. Garland said, calling it “an attempt to interfere with the fundamental element of our democracy, a peaceful transfer of power.”
“That does not mean that we don’t focus on other threats and that we don’t focus on other crimes,” he said.
The Justice Department is leading the investigation into the Jan. 6 riot and has arrested more than 430 people across the country, Mr. Garland said. Prosecutors have begun informally negotiating plea deals, while some defendants have been fighting the charges.
Both Mr. Garland and Mr. Mayorkas said that the threat of domestic extremism had significantly changed because of online communications, particularly via encrypted apps, and the proliferation of increasingly lethal weaponry.
When Joe Biden won the presidency, hopes rose that he might be the rare Democrat who could finally crack the code of Mitch McConnell and find bipartisan common ground based on their shared past as Senate deal makers.
Nearly five months into President Biden’s tenure, those aspirations have yet to materialize, and Mr. McConnell, the Republican leader, made plain last week that he had little interest in nurturing them, declaring himself to be “100 percent focused” on stopping Mr. Biden’s agenda.
With the top four congressional leaders scheduled on Wednesday to gather for the first time with Mr. Biden at the White House, Mr. McConnell’s stance has only underscored the obstacles ahead. The senator has intensified his attacks on Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda. His office accuses the president of mixing “centrist words, liberal actions.”
Mr. McConnell made his “100 percent” remark — a comment that was quickly compared to his 2010 declaration that he was determined to make Barack Obama a one-term president — last week during a trip back home to Kentucky.
Mr. McConnell quickly sought to walk back last week’s comment, claiming that it had been taken out of context, but the narrative was set.
With attempts to reach bipartisan deals on infrastructure, police conduct, safety net programs and more entering a critical phase, Mr. McConnell and Mr. Biden couldn’t be further apart, indicating that if the White House is to successfully reach across the aisle for agreements, it is much more likely to be with a small group of Republicans absent Mr. McConnell and most of the rest of his members.
“We have a good personal relationship, but I will not be supporting the kind of things they are doing so far,” Mr. McConnell said of Mr. Biden in a recent interview.
Privately, White House officials argue that Mr. McConnell’s position will help Democrats justify using procedural tools to force through legislation without Republican votes should that become necessary, as most expect it will.
They believe that Mr. McConnell’s rigid defiance sets up a winning contrast for Mr. Biden as he continues to profess openness to working with Republicans. If such bipartisanship proves impossible, the officials argue, Democrats need only to point to the minority leader’s own words to explain why.
The Biden administration and House Democrats have reached a tentative deal to allow President Donald J. Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, to testify before Congress about Mr. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia inquiry, according to a court filing late Tuesday.
The deal appears likely to avert a definitive court precedent that would draw a clear line in ambiguous areas: the scope and limits of Congress’s constitutional power to compel testimony for its oversight responsibilities, and a president’s constitutional power to keep conversations with a White House lawyer secret.
An appeals court had been set to hear arguments in the case next week, but lawyers for the Justice Department, which has been defending Mr. McGahn since 2019 against a House subpoena seeking to compel his testimony, and for the House of Representatives, asked the court in a joint letter to drop that plan. What to do about the subpoena case, which President Biden inherited from the Trump administration, has been a rare point of institutional disagreement among Democrats in the two branches.
Lawyers in the Biden White House have been hesitant about establishing a precedent that Republicans might someday use to force them to testify about their own internal matters. House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been determined to push forward after frustration that the Trump administration’s uncompromising approach and litigation strategy ran out the clock, preventing any testimony by Mr. McGahn before the 2020 presidential election.
The two sides had been negotiating for several months, leading to delays in the appeals court case. The filing was terse and offered no details about the deal, including what limits, if any, there would be — like whether Mr. McGahn would testify in public and the scope of what lawmakers could ask him to disclose.
But the filing also flagged a potential wild card: “Former President Trump, who is not a party to this case, is not a party to the agreement in principle regarding an accommodation,” it said.
That leaves open the question of whether Mr. Trump could try to intervene to block Mr. McGahn from testifying by asserting executive privilege. Such an attempt would raise novel questions about the extent to which a former president may assert the privilege when the incumbent president declines to do so.