Biden’s Supreme Court commission may weigh a range of potential changes beyond expanding seats.

Gun Rights
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan is eager to discuss issues like trade, the supply chain for technologies and the nuclear threat from North Korea.
Pool photo by Yuichi Yamazaki

President Biden will welcome Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan to the White House on Friday, using the first visit by a foreign leader during his presidency to underscore the importance of America’s allies as the United States confronts an increasingly aggressive China.

Mr. Suga will meet with Mr. Biden and top aides in the afternoon, and the two leaders will hold a joint news conference.

For the president, the meeting with the Japanese prime minister is an opportunity to press his counterpart for support in the effort to contain China’s ambitions, both economically and militarily. Mr. Biden has made it clear that he views Chinese influence around the globe as one of the key challenges of his time in office.

“Our approach to China and our shared coordination and cooperation on that front will be part of the discussion,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Thursday. “These relationships have a range of areas of cooperation. It’s an opportunity to discuss those issues in person, and I would anticipate that China will be a part of the discussions.”

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For Mr. Suga — who was a senior aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for nearly a decade before assuming the top job last year after Mr. Abe resigned — being the first foreign leader to visit with Mr. Biden is a sought-after honor. He is eager to discuss issues such as trade, the supply chain for technologies like semiconductors and the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Climate change is also expected to be high on the agenda. Next week, Mr. Biden is hosting a virtual summit meeting of 40 world leaders aimed at bolstering global ambition to reduce planet-warming pollution. The Biden administration has also been pressing the Japanese government to stand with the United States in announcing new greenhouse gas emissions pledges.

Mr. Suga has already set a goal for Japan to be carbon neutral by 2050. The Biden administration, however, has been seeking promises for what the country will do this decade.

According to two administration officials, the administration has prodded the Japanese government to cut emissions in half from 2013 levels by the end of the decade, and it is hoping to see an announcement on Friday that Japan will end government funding for the development of coal plants overseas.

Ms. Psaki declined to say whether the two leaders would make a climate change announcement on Friday. But she did say that the subject was likely to come up soon, as Mr. Biden makes further announcements in advance of the summit meeting next week.

“For those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week,” she said. “It will be a busy week or two on the climate front.”

But how to confront China will probably overshadow everything else at the meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Suga. After four years in which President Donald J. Trump engaged in a raucous relationship with Beijing — threatening tariffs one day, fawning over China’s leader the next — Mr. Biden has made clear that he views the country as the United States’ most significant adversary.

The question for both leaders on Friday will be what Japan and the United States can do to respond to economic, human rights and military provocations that threaten to destabilize the entire region.

Mourners gathered March 21 at the Gold Spa to pray for the victims of a shooting in Atlanta.
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The United States, emerging from pandemic lockdowns, has stumbled back into the maelstrom of mass gun killings and the malaise of federal inaction.

On Thursday night, eight people were killed after a gunman opened fire inside a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis, less than a month after mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder — and near the anniversary of another atrocity.

“Today, while we mourn with Indianapolis, we also remember the 32 students and educators shot and killed 14 years ago today at Virginia Tech,” officials at the gun control group founded by the former Representative Gabrielle Giffords wrote on Twitter early Friday. “No major federal gun law has been passed since then.”

But there are signs, albeit modest and tentative ones, that things might be changing.

President Biden, under intense pressure from Ms. Giffords’s group and other advocates, is moving ahead with several narrow executive actions, and there are new negotiations on Capitol Hill for an expansion of background checks — aided by the financial collapse of the National Rifle Association,

Among the most consequential actions so far is a personnel move: Mr. Biden has tapped David Chipman, a former federal law enforcement official, to be the new head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a battered and bullied agency tasked with enforcing existing federal gun laws and executive actions.

Over the years, N.R.A.-allied lawmakers have handcuffed the A.T.F. with the tightest restrictions imposed on any federal law enforcement agency, even banning the bureau from making gun tracing records searchable by computer.

The agency has been without a full-time director for much of the last 25 years because N.R.A.-allied senators have quashed nominations, by Republican and Democratic administrations, arguing that a strong agency leader threatens the Second Amendment.

Mr. Chipman is an unapologetic proponent of expanding background checks, again banning assault weapons and unshackling A.T.F. inspectors — so his nomination is expected to provoke a particularly acrimonious partisan battle.

But White House officials are hopeful he can garner as many as 52 votes given the current disgust over the recent shootings. Senator Joe Manchin III, the most conservative Democrat on guns, has expressed tentative support, and two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, are open to the pick, according to Senate Republican aides with knowledge of their thinking.

Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both of Connecticut, have been reaching out to Republicans in hopes of passing a narrower background check bill than the universal-checks measure passed by House Democrats earlier this year. Background checks are extremely popular in national polls.

After the shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Mr. Biden’s domestic policy adviser, Susan Rice, and her small staff were given authority over the issue. But the most powerful internal proponent of gun control is turning out to be Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, whose support for Mr. Chipman was a critical factor in his nomination, according to several people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The West Wing is investing a lot of political capital to push for Mr. Chipman out of necessity: Revitalizing the bureau is one of the few areas where the executive branch can exert direct control over guns without new laws or new rules.

Mr. Biden, adopting a tone of disgust and frustration, unveiled two relatively modest executive actions last week — a 60-day review of homemade, unregistered “ghost guns” likely to lead to a ban, and the elimination of arm braces used to turn pistols into short-barreled rifles, a proposal rejected by the Trump administration.

Samaria Rice, with her daughter Tajai, at the site where her 12-year-old son, Tamir, was killed by the police in 2014. 
Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times

The family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed in 2014 by the Cleveland police, has asked Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to reopen the Justice Department’s investigation into the shooting, which was closed in December after the department said it could not charge the officers.

“The election of President Biden, your appointment, and your commitment to the rule of law, racial justice, and police reform give Tamir’s family hope that the chance for accountability is not lost forever,” lawyers representing Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, wrote in a letter to Mr. Garland on Friday. “We write on their behalf to request that you reopen this investigation and convene a grand jury to consider charges against the police officers who killed Tamir.”

Tamir Rice’s killing was one of several flash points in the long national debate over race and policing that reached a breaking point last summer, after video circulated of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black motorist, for more than nine minutes before Mr. Floyd died.

The request to reopen the inquiry into Tamir’s shooting comes against the backdrop of Officer Chauvin’s ongoing murder trial, the recent fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb, and newly released police body camera footage of an officer in Chicago shooting a 13-year-old boy after he discarded a gun and seemed to be raising his hands.

The request to Mr. Garland also comes after he and Mr. Biden have vowed to use the powers of the federal government to fight racial injustice, with a focus on discriminatory policing practices.

The Justice Department has opened investigations into the police killings of Mr. Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Louisville woman who was shot in her bed by the police. But it would be highly unusual for the department to reopen an investigation that it had already closed.

Immediately after Tamir’s shooting, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the shooter, Police Officer Timothy Loehmann. But some prosecutors felt it would be challenging to prove that the officer had intentionally violated the child’s civil rights. The pellet gun the boy had been playing with looked real and a 911 dispatcher had not relayed that Tamir was possibly a juvenile holding a toy. Officer Loehmann shot him immediately upon arriving.

But in 2017, career prosecutors had asked to convene a grand jury to gather evidence that Officer Loehmann and his partner had given false statements about whether the boy had been given warnings to put his hands up, possibly allowing prosecutors to bring an obstruction of justice case.

That request was denied by department officials in the Trump administration and all but closed, though Tamir’s family was never told. The issue was brought to light in October when The New York Times reported that a whistle-blower told the Justice Department’s inspector general that officials mishandled the case. Former Attorney General William P. Barr officially closed the case in December, after officials concluded that the video footage of the shooting was too grainy to be conclusive.

“I’m asking D.O.J. to reopen the investigation into my son’s case; we need an indictment and conviction for Tamir’s death,” Ms. Rice said in a statement on Friday.

President Biden’s commission will research what changes, if any, should be made to the Supreme Court.
Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden’s commission to evaluate proposed overhauls to the Supreme Court is planning to tackle potential changes that range far beyond the hotly disputed proposal to expand the number of justices, according to people familiar with the matter.

Named last week, the 36-member, ideologically diverse commission is expected to meet on Friday for a private and informal planning session. The agenda, the people said, is a proposal to divide into five working groups to develop research for the entire body to analyze on a broad range of issues, like imposing term limits or mandatory retirement ages.

Other areas include proposals to limit the court’s ability to strike down acts of Congress, to require it to hear more types of appeals to reverse the falling number of cases it resolves each year, and to limit its ability to resolve important matters without first hearing arguments and receiving full briefings.

The meeting is private and has not been announced, but it and the draft road map were described by multiple people familiar with the commission who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Their account makes clear that the panel’s intellectual ambitions go beyond the notion of expanding the court — or “packing” it.

A spokesman for the White House declined to comment.

The meeting is not expected to include significant discussion of issues. By law, the commission will conduct its substantive work in public, including disclosing the materials it uses for discussions, hearing from witnesses and debating edits to an analytical report it is supposed to deliver by 180 days after its first public meeting, likely to be in May.

Mr. Biden decided to create the commission to defuse the thorny political question of whether to endorse adding seats to the Supreme Court. Some liberal activists called for that step after Republican power plays in 2016 and 2020 that yielded a 6-to-3 conservative advantage on the court.

The president has expressed skepticism about the wisdom of expanding the court, and the idea is moot for now: An expansion bill could be blocked by a filibuster in the Senate, and Democrats lack sufficient support in their own caucus to abolish the tactic. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she would not bring up a bill introduced by some Democrats this week that would expand the court to 13 justices.

 President Biden campaigning for the Democratic Senate candidates early this year in Atlanta.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden, who eked out a 12,000-vote victory in Georgia, received a small but potentially important boost from the state’s conservative areas if at least one local Democrat was running in a down-ballot race, according to a new study by Run for Something, an organization dedicated to recruiting and supporting liberal candidates. That finding extended even to the state’s reddest districts.

The phenomenon appeared to hold nationally. Mr. Biden performed 0.3 percent to 1.5 percent better last year in conservative state legislative districts where Democrats put forward challengers than in districts where Republicans ran unopposed, the study found.

The analysis was carried out using available precinct-level data in eight states — Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Kansas and New York — and controlling for factors like education to create a comparison between contested and uncontested districts.

The study showed a reverse coattails effect: It was lower-level candidates running in nearly hopeless situations — red districts that Democrats had traditionally considered no-win, low-to-no-investment territory — who helped the national or statewide figures atop the ballot, instead of down-ballot candidates benefiting from a popular national candidate of the same party.

“The whole theory behind it is that these candidates are supercharged organizers,” said Ross Morales Rocketto, a co-founder of Run for Something. “They are folks in their community having one-on-one conversations with voters in ways that statewide campaigns can’t do.”

“Treasury is working tirelessly to address efforts by foreign economies to artificially manipulate their currency values that put American workers at an unfair disadvantage,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

The Treasury Department said on Friday that it was putting Vietnam, Switzerland and Taiwan on notice over their currency practices but stopped short of labeling them currency manipulators.

The report, which Treasury submits to Congress twice a year, aims to hold the United States’ top trading partners accountable if they try to gain an unfair advantage in commerce between nations through practices such as devaluing their currencies. The announcement came in the Treasury Department’s first foreign exchange report under Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.

A currency manipulation label requires partners to enter into negotiations with the United States and the International Monetary Fund to address the situation. The Treasury Department said that Switzerland, Vietnam and Taiwan did not meet the manipulation criteria.

The Trump administration had labeled Vietnam and Switzerland as manipulators in its final report in 2020. The Biden administration’s report undid those designations, citing insufficient evidence.

Instead, the department said it would continue “enhanced engagement” with Vietnam and Switzerland and begin such talks with Taiwan, which includes urging the trading partners to address undervaluation of their currencies.

“Treasury is working tirelessly to address efforts by foreign economies to artificially manipulate their currency values that put American workers at an unfair disadvantage,” Ms. Yellen said in a statement.

Taiwan is the United States’ 10th largest trading partner in 2019, according to the United States trade representative. Vietnam is the 13th largest, and Switzerland is 16th.

The Treasury Department did not label China as a currency manipulator, instead urging it to improve transparency over its foreign exchange practices.

Treasury kept China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand on its currency monitoring list, and added Ireland and Mexico.

A border wall construction site in the San Bernardino Valley in Arizona, where work stopped after President Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office. 
Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

After battling for years against the Trump administration’s plan to seize some of their family’s land in South Texas to build a border wall, the Cavazos siblings believed the inauguration of President Biden would bring a successful end to their fight.

Mr. Biden had campaigned against the wall, promised a plan to resolve the legal wrangling with property owners and halted construction on his first day in office.

“When he first became president, he said no more wall,” said Jose Alfredo Cavazos, who owns the land along the Rio Grande. “A godsend, I said to myself. He’s going to help us.”

But on Tuesday, with the Biden administration having missed a self-imposed deadline for sorting out the tangled legal situation, a federal judge granted “immediate possession” of a portion of the family’s land to the government.

“It appears President Biden did not keep his word,” said Baudilia Cavazos Rodriguez, 68, Mr. Alfredo Cavazos’ sister.

The action appeared to be a result of a bureaucratic failure rather than any kind of policy choice, and so far it appears to be the only case of private land being taken since Mr. Biden took office. But more than 140 other landowners in South Texas are still facing lawsuits initiated by former President Donald J. Trump and are waiting to see if they will face the same fate.

The White House referred questions about the judge’s decision to the Justice Department, which in turn cited a court filing in which the Biden administration said it could stop seeking the land after finishing a review of the Trump administration’s border wall policies. That review was supposed to be completed within 60 days but is now weeks overdue.

Abdullah Hasan, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, attributed the delay to the complexities created by the various lawsuits filed against the Trump administration for redirecting billions of dollars from the Defense Department and waiving environmental laws to speed construction of the wall.

“Under those circumstances, federal agencies are continuing to develop a plan to submit to the president soon,” Mr. Hasan said.

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