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Three Key Provisions in the Huge Spending Bill the Senate Just Passed

The package is more than 4,000 pages long. Here are a few highlights.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gives a thumbs-up after the Senate passed the bill on Thursday.

The Senate passed a massive spending bill on Thursday, funding the government through September 2023. The $1.7 trillion package, which passed 68–29, must now pass the House of Representatives and then be signed into law by President Joe Biden. Congress is under a major time crunch to get it done, with the 2022 budget expiring Friday and the winter holiday weekend looming.

Although the bill left out several popular provisions, here are three major measures it does include.

1. Aid for Ukraine

The bill includes $45 billion in humanitarian, economic, and security aid for Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s nearly yearlong invasion. The funds will help arm and equip Ukrainian forces, as well as support an increase of U.S. troops in Eastern Europe and the defense capabilities of NATO allies. The money will also help replenish Defense Department weapons stockpiles, which are being used to supply Kyiv’s military.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Washington on Wednesday, his first trip overseas since the war began, and called Congress to pass the aid provision for his country. He urged lawmakers to see the funds not as “charity” but as “an investment in … global security and democracy.”

The provision also comes a day after Biden formally announced an additional $1.8 billion in aid to Ukraine, including a Patriot missile system.

2. Increased protections for pregnant workers

The package includes two bills aimed at increasing protections for pregnant and nursing people in the workplace, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP Act.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to provide accommodations for pregnant workers, such as more frequent bathroom breaks, the option to sit down during shifts, and permission to carry a water bottle around.

The PUMP Act requires workers be given the extra break time necessary to pump breast milk.

Advocates hailed the two measures, having argued that thousands of people lose their jobs each year because of the lack of accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding employees.

3. Safeguards against another January 6

The package includes two provisions that will help prevent another attack like the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act reaffirms that the vice president has a purely ceremonial role in certifying the Electoral College votes and cannot overturn the election results, as President Trump urged Vice President Pence to do.

The bill, which has bipartisan support in both chambers, also raises the minimum number of lawmakers required for an objection to the results to move forward.

The second provision increases U.S. attorneys’ budget by $212.1 million for a total of $2.63 billion in 2023. The House Appropriations Committee explained the funds were necessary “to further support prosecutions related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and domestic terrorism cases.”

The FBI has arrested about 900 people connected to the insurrection but could charge a total of about 3,000 people when all is said and done.

Kyrsten Sinema’s Bonkers, Possibly Unethical List of Demands for Staffers

They allegedly have to buy her groceries and always have a room-temperature bottle of water at the ready.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema

As if being a Capitol Hill staffer wasn’t notoriously thankless enough, those who work in Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s office must abide by an over-the-top list of dos and don’ts, The Daily Beast reported Thursday.

Sinema is already deeply unpopular both in Washington and at home in Arizona. Her recent decision to switch her party affiliation to independent from Democrat has further ruffled feathers on the Hill. The Beast’s report is unlikely to do her any more favors.

Citing a 37-page internal memo and anonymous former staffers, The Beast wrote that Sinema’s exacting demands “appear to go right up to the line of what Senate ethics rules allow, if not over.” Aides allegedly are required to buy Sinema’s groceries (don’t worry, she pays them back) and be on hand at her apartment to let maintenance workers inside. If true, those tasks are direct violations of Senate ethics rules, which state that staff are not supposed to perform “personal or other non-official activities” on behalf of their bosses.

Aides also are allegedly required always to have a bottle of room-temperature water handy for the senator, who is apparently always hungry and thirsty because of her intensive athletic regimen. That regimen seems to take up the bulk of her time: The memo shows Sinema trains every day and is unreachable during that time. Races are scheduled into her calendar, and she requires an hour-long massage and two 45-minute physical therapy sessions each week. Actual senatorial duties, such as meeting with constituents, lobbyists, or donors, are confined to specific time blocks each week, and never after work hours.

Sinema’s office has denied the memo, which is several years old.

Since coming to Capitol Hill, Sinema has undergone an ideological 180-degree turn, seemingly jettisoning the progressive beliefs she previously espoused. She is notoriously private, rarely answering journalists’ questions. After she announced she was switching parties, the Arizona state Democratic Party accused her of failing to stand up for her constituents in key areas such as voting rights and holding major corporations accountable.

Who Is Sean McElwee, the Progressive Buddy of Sam Bankman-Fried?

The “Abolish ICE” activist and founder of Data for Progress allegedly helped steer donations for the FTX head toward pro-crypto candidates.

Sean McElwee
Video screenshot/NowThisNews

By now, we’ve all heard of Sam Bankman-Fried, the erstwhile head of failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX who faces charges of fraud, money laundering, and illegal political campaign contributions. But who is Sean McElwee, his equally scandal-ridden adviser and ally?

McElwee, a former TNR contributor, was once hailed as a progressive wunderkind. He started the viral “Abolish ICE” movement on Twitter and in 2018 founded the progressive think tank Data for Progress, which focused on influencing public policy through polling data.

His personal influence grew rapidly, as well. McElwee regularly hosted parties in New York and Washington that were attended by younger politicos as well as established lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. President Biden’s administration began working regularly with Data for Progress.

Over the past couple years, McElwee and Bankman-Fried grew close. Bankman-Fried set up a super PAC aimed at supporting Democrats who focused on pandemic preparedness, and he hired Data for Progress to do polling.

But in reality, New York magazine reported on Thursday, many of the Democrats Bankman-Fried backed were pro-crypto. “This was not just about directing donations to candidates,” Max Berger, a progressive strategist and former McElwee ally, told the magazine. “This was about Sean running a political strategy designed to shield crypto from government oversight so that crypto billionaires could continue to rip off working people.”

Around the time of FTX’s collapse in November, McElwee suddenly began negotiating his exit from Data for Progress. The think tank’s advisory board reportedly pushed him out over allegations that he was betting on election outcomes, raising questions about a conflict of interest with the group’s polling—“whether McElwee was cooking DFP’s polls to affect races and cash in,” as Politico put it.

A month later, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York unsealed eight counts against Bankman-Fried. Seven were for financial crimes, but the eighth accused him of a straw-donor scheme, meaning he got other people to donate his money to candidates and committees of his choice. “In the race to figure out who might have helped SBF make straw donations, McElwee’s name was at the top of the list,” Politico reported, adding that one Data for Progress employee, the lead analyst, “made nearly $31,000 in donations, which a source at DFP said was more than a quarter of his salary.”

Zelenskiy Calls Russia What Washington Won’t: A “Terrorist” State

The Ukrainian president made a point of repeating the word at the White House and in a speech to Congress.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a choice word for Russia and its invasion of his country: “terrorist.”

In his first trip overseas since the war began in February, Zelenskiy visited Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Joe Biden and address a joint meeting of Congress. During that speech, and in a joint press conference with Biden, he repeatedly referred to Russia’s actions as terrorism.

Zelenskiy hailed the announcement of a new aid package for Ukraine, including a Patriot missile system. “This is a very important step to create secure airspace for Ukraine,” he said at the White House press conference. “That’s the only way we [will] be able to deprive the terrorist country and their terror attack to strike our energy sector and our infrastructure.”

“There can’t be any just peace in the war that was imposed on us by … these inhumans,” he added.

Later that evening, while addressing Congress, Zelenskiy said Russia “enjoys being a terrorist state,” adding, “Let the terrorist state be held responsible for its terror and aggression.”

Biden has been adamant that he will not officially designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. He has said that doing so would cause more harm than good.

An official terrorist designation would unleash a massive array of sanctions that would hurt not only Russia’s economy but also anyone doing legitimate business in the country. Russia is enough a part of the global economy that a U.S. terrorist designation could cause damage around the world.

The Biden administration has also said that the designation would be redundant because of the biting sanctions already imposed on Moscow.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned in July that if Biden did not designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, Congress would. But that has not come to pass, and Republicans are set to take over the House in a few weeks—likely under the leadership of Representative Kevin McCarthy, who has said that his party won’t write a “blank check” for Ukraine.

Looks Like George Santos Lied About His Jewish Heritage Too

A new report says the incoming New York congressman isn’t Jewish and his family didn’t flee persecution during World War II like he claims.

New York Representative-elect George Santos

You know who won’t be lighting the third candle on the menorah tonight? Scandal-ridden Representative-elect George Santos, because it appears he’s not Jewish—despite repeated claims to the contrary.

A bombshell New York Times report charged Monday that the New York Republican had fabricated the bulk of his résumé. Now it seems he has also made up details about his Jewish heritage.

On his campaign website, Santos states that his grandparents were Jews who fled persecution twice, first in Ukraine and then again in Belgium as the Nazis rose to power. They settled in Brazil, where his mother, Fatima (a common name among Portuguese-speaking Catholic populations) Devolder, was born.

But the Jewish news outlet the Forward has now accused Santos of lying about that. The Forward said that Santos’s maternal grandparents were born in Brazil, well before the Nazis came to power in Europe, citing genealogy websites, a 1958 local newspaper article, and church records from 1928. (Santos has said that his father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish.)

Neither of his maternal grandparents have Brazilian immigration cards from the 1930s or 1940s, and their names do not appear in databases of European Jewish refugees.

The Forward also spoke to a man who says he is a distant Dutch cousin of Santos. The cousin had set up a family tree on one of the genealogy websites and said their family has neither Jewish nor Ukrainian roots.

Santos’s mother, who died in 2016, made no reference to Judaism on her Facebook page but regularly shared Catholic-themed posts and images of Jesus.

The Republican Jewish Coalition said it had reached out to Santos about the allegations and demanded a public explanation.

House Republicans have remained silent on the accusations Santos lied about his background, likely because they will need every vote they can get when they take control of the chamber by just a few seats.

Democrats have condemned him but stopped short of demanding he resign. It is not yet known if the House Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics will investigate him. Fellow New York Representative-elect Daniel Goldman called Wednesday for the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the FBI to investigate Santos.

The only thing Santos definitely hasn’t made up seems to be his declaration of victory after the midterms. As details about his background continue to emerge, his win is growing even more humiliating for the New York Democratic Party, which suffered major losses in November and apparently failed to do a basic background check on Santos.

Republicans Are Turning on Mitch McConnell Over His Support for Ukraine

Of all the reasons to hate Mitch McConnell ...

Mitch McConnell walking through the halls of Congress. He is legit sulking in this photo.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Republicans have begun to turn on Senator Mitch McConnell over his support for Ukraine.

The Senate minority leader on Tuesday reiterated his support for Kyiv as it fends off Russia’s invasion. He also urged Congress to pass the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill, which includes $45 billion in new emergency funds for Ukraine.

“Providing assistance for the Ukrainians to defeat the Russians, that’s the number one priority for the United States right now, according to most Republicans,” McConnell told reporters. “That’s sort of how we see the challenges confronting the country at the moment.”

Republicans went off on McConnell’s words.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene accused McConnell of forgetting about constituents struggling under inflation, while Representative Chip Roy argued that the additional funds to Ukraine were too much and shared a Breitbart article criticizing McConnell.

Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe suggested sending McConnell to Ukraine, and former Newsmax and OANN correspondent Emerald Robinson said the senator was being deferential to “the Swamp.” Conservative news outlet The Federalist ran an article headlined, “GOP Can’t Be Successful Until Mitch McConnell Is Gone.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy, who is seeking to be the next House speaker, has already indicated Republicans will sharply cut back on Ukraine aid once they take control of the chamber.

There are many reasons to dislike McConnell, such his continued enabling of former President Donald Trump, his refusal to take a firm stance on the January 6 insurrection, and his opposition to basic human rights. But his continued support for Ukraine—a sovereign nation trying to fend off an unprovoked attack on its democracy and independence—should not make that list.

Three Things to Know About the Patriot Missile System Biden Plans to Send Ukraine

The United States is set to send a Patriot missile system to Ukraine, a major escalation in U.S. support for the country.

Peter Mueller/Bundeswehr/Getty Images

The United States will send $1.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including a Patriot missile system, the White House confirmed.

President Joe Biden is expected to formally announce the package on Wednesday in a joint press conference with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The Patriot system includes a missile battery and precision-guided bombs for Ukraine’s fighter jets. Here are three things you should know about why the Patriot missiles are important.

1. What is the Patriot missile system?

The Patriot is a surface-to-air guided missile system capable of targeting aircraft, shorter-range ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. The entire Patriot system includes radar, a control station, computers, and generators. It requires about 90 soldiers to operate and maintain, although only three are actually needed to fire it. The Patriot battery is a launching system that can be mounted on a truck and includes up to eight launchers, each of which can hold four missiles.

It’s not clear when the Patriot will arrive on the front lines, because U.S. soldiers will have to train Ukrainian forces on how to use the missile system. The training is expected to take place in Germany and could take several weeks, according to the AP.

2. This marks a major escalation in U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked its Western allies to send more advanced weaponry to help it fend off Russian attacks. The Patriot is the most advanced surface-to-air missile system that the West has sent Ukraine to date.

Russia has already warned that sending the Patriot to Ukraine would be considered a provocation, opening up the missile system and any crew accompanying it as fair targets for Russian troops.

But the Biden administration is clear it does not want to escalate conflict with Russia. A senior administration official, speaking anonymously, told reporters Tuesday night that Biden wants to “lean forward and be robust in our support for Ukraine … but we are not seeking to engage in a direct war with Russia.”

3. Will this turn the tide of the war?

Unfortunately, the Patriot is unlikely to deliver a decisive victory to Ukraine. Despite its high-tech status and military benefits, it does have its shortcomings.

A former senior military official, speaking anonymously, told the AP that the Patriot system is highly symbolic and will be useful against short-range ballistic missiles, but it won’t immediately turn things around.

The Patriot system has a long firing range but limited scope. Usually, Patriots are deployed in a group, but Ukraine is only receiving one. That means the Patriot will be able to protect a military base or part of a city, but it won’t be able to defend an entire city such as Kyiv, which has been under heavy aerial attacks targeting the capital’s energy grid.

The system would be able to detect and destroy certain ballistic missiles and aircraft, should Moscow launch such an attack on Kyiv, but Russia has lately favored smaller (and cheaper) drones. Using a Patriot missile to take down drones would be neither cost-effective nor efficient.

The IRS Wasn’t Auditing Trump’s “Extremely Complex” Taxes After All

Donald Trump repeatedly claimed he couldn’t release his tax records while he was president because he was under audit. But a new House report says that wasn’t really true.

Donald Trump stands in front of five large U.S. flags, wearing a suit and holding seeral red caps in his left hand. He looks like he is yelling at the camera, or perhaps a crowd not shown in the photo.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The IRS did not audit Donald Trump’s taxes until two years into his presidency, despite his adamant claims to the contrary, the House Ways and Means Committee revealed.

The Democratic-led committee has been trying to get Trump’s tax returns for three years, after he refused to release them during the 2016 presidential election, which is not required but is precedent. Trump repeatedly insisted during the course of his presidency that he couldn’t release them because his taxes were under audit and also far too complicated for the general public to understand.

In 2017, then–White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s tax returns couldn’t be released because “the president’s taxes, no matter who the president is, actually immediately go under audit after being filed.”

Turns out that wasn’t really true.

The House Ways and Means Committee obtained six years’ worth of the former president’s tax returns in late November, despite Trump’s repeated efforts to prevent that from happening. The Ways and Means Committee met behind closed doors Tuesday and voted along party lines to release the documents. They warned, though, it could be several days before the documents are ready for release.

The committee revealed that the IRS failed to audit Trump until 2019, despite a program that makes auditing sitting presidents mandatory. Those audits are not yet completed, according to the committee.

Trump’s tax returns also show he paid $0 in taxes in 2020.

“Actually I paid tax,” he insisted in September 2020. “And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns are—it’s under audit. They’ve been under audit for a long time. The IRS does not treat me well.”

The House committee has reviewed six years of tax returns, primarily from Trump’s time in office. The documents include his personal tax information and that of several of his businesses.

Trump has fought long and hard to prevent the release of his tax returns, raising questions about why he would do so.

He seems to be fighting a multifront war, and it is not going super well. The January 6 investigative committee on Monday unanimously recommended the Justice Department pursue criminal charges against Trump for his role in the insurrection.

His Trump Organization was also found guilty of tax fraud and related crimes, and Trump himself is also under investigation by the FBI for taking classified documents to Mar-a-Lago.

Congress Leaves Afghan Refugees Out of Year-End Deal

Tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees could be forced to leave the U.S. next year after being cut out Congress’s new spending compromise.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
A mother and her son walk through the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, which has been redesigned to temporarily house Afghan nationals, in August.

Although the omnibus package of bills to fund the government expands the number of special immigrant visas to Afghan allies still trapped in Afghanistan, it does not address the plight faced by tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees settled in the United States: They do not currently have a pathway to permanent residency, and their eligibility to remain in the country expires in August 2023.

Veterans’ groups and human rights organizations had been hoping that the Afghan Adjustment Act would be included in the omnibus. The bipartisan bill would have provided additional vetting for Afghans already in the U.S.—a priority for Republicans—and then offered a path to permanent residency. However, the bill was dropped from the omnibus that was released Monday night, in large part due to opposition from GOP Senator Chuck Grassley, who worried that vetting requirements were insufficiently stringent. When I asked Senator Chris Coons of Delaware on Tuesday why the measure had been dropped from the omnibus,  he succinctly replied: “Ask Chuck Grassley.” Coons had spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation in the Senate.

“I’m hopeful that in the next Congress, we can take this up and move it quickly,” Coons told reporters on Tuesday. “I am hearing from Afghans in Delaware regularly that this harms their ability to find employment, find housing, get access to health care, [and] really fully engage in life in the United States. And I think we’re at risk of not honoring those who served alongside us for 20 years.”

Advocates are pressing for the Afghan Adjustment Act to be added to the omnibus as an amendment, but it’s unclear if that could receive sufficient support from Republicans. Meanwhile on Tuesday the Taliban announced that all women are now banned from attending universities in Afghanistan.

Biden: The Iran Nuclear Deal Is “Dead”

President Joe Biden made the comments to a group of activists in November, as seen in a newly resurfaced video. But administration officials are confirming what he said: The U.S. is not interested in a deal right now.

Joe Biden
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Biden administration isn’t interested in a nuclear deal with Iran, at least for now.

A newly resurfaced video shows President Joe Biden declaring the Iran nuclear deal “dead,” though he hedges and says the United States won’t formally announce it. The video was shared on Twitter by an Iranian software engineer living in the United States, who said that it was originally captured in California on November 4.

Biden is asked by a member of the crowd to admit that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, is dead: “Can you just announce that?”

“No,” Biden responds, adding that he couldn’t do so for “a lot of reasons.”

But after that initial denial, the president appears to change his message and goes on to admit, “It is dead, but we’re not gonna announce it.”

“We just don’t want deals with the mullahs,” the person in the crowd says. “They don’t represent us. They’re not our government.”

“Oh I know they don’t represent you,” Biden says, “but they’ll have a nuclear weapon that they represent.”

Thanks to the video’s brevity, Biden’s statements aren’t entirely clear, but Axios got an administration official to confirm the core aspects: that Biden’s administration is  not currently interested in a nuclear deal with Iran.

The JCPOA is not our focus right now. It’s not on the agenda,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios.

“We don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon,” the spokesperson added, referring to Iran’s brutal crackdown on protesters and its support for Russia in its war on Ukraine. “Our focus is on practical ways to confront them in these areas.”

In October, U.S. envoy for Iran Robert Malley also said that the administration is “not going to waste time” on trying to revive the nuclear deal. The Biden administration has voiced support for the protesters in Iran, and last week the U.S. played a large role in kicking Iran off the U.N. women’s rights commission.

The video of Biden comes at a sensitive time, as EU and Iranian officials on Tuesday met in Jordan to discuss reviving nuclear negotiations.

Iran is also in the midst of a three-day economic shutdown, which is set to end Wednesday evening. Daily protests have rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini in police custody in September. The Iranian government has cracked down on these protests with brute force. Since Amini’s death, more than 500 other Iranians have been killed, including nearly 70 children, and more than 18,000 arrested, according to figures from the Human Rights Activists News Agency.

Iranian protesters have called for an end to the Islamic Republic—and for the West to stop saving its murderers. A nuclear deal with Iran would involve some sort of sanctions relief, as it did last time around, and is seen by many as extending a lifeline to the regime at a particularly precarious time.