President Biden on Thursday took a modest set of steps to address what he called an “epidemic” of gun violence, acknowledging that “much more needs to be done” and pressing Congress to take more aggressive action by closing background check loopholes, banning assault weapons and stripping gun manufacturers of protection from lawsuits.
“We’ve got a long way to go, it seems like we always have a long way to go,” Mr. Biden said, acknowledging the limitations of measures he can implement without Congress. “Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment.”
Mr. Biden said the Justice Department would issue a proposed rule to curb the proliferation of so-called ghost guns — kits that allow a gun to be assembled from pieces with no serial numbers. The intention of the rule would be to require that the components in the kits have serial numbers that would allow them to be traced and for the weapons to be legally classified as firearms, with the buyers subjected to background checks.
“I want to see these kits treated as firearms under the gun control act,” Mr. Biden said.
Ghost guns, experts said, have become particularly appealing to criminal organizations and right wing extremists who want untraceable firearms that do not require any background checks. They are often tied to shootings in states like California, which have instituted strict gun laws.
Mr. Biden also said he would require that when a device marketed as a stabilizing brace transforms a pistol into a short-barrel rifle, that weapon is subject to the requirements of the National Firearms Act. The gunman in the Boulder, Colo., shooting last month used a pistol with an arm brace, making it more stable and accurate, he said.
Mr. Biden said the Justice Department would also publish model “red flag” legislation for states. The measure would allow police officers and family members to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from people who may present a danger to themselves or others.
While Mr. Biden cannot pass national red flag legislation without Congress, officials said the goal of the guidance was to make it easier for states that want to adopt it to do so now. The department also plans to release a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking, which it has not done since 2000.
“Red flag laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he wanted to see a national law.
Outside of mass shootings, gun violence remains the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 15 and 34, Mr. Biden said in his remarks, noting that additional funding he has proposed for community violence programs can save lives.
The initiatives announced Thursday do not match in scope his commitment to the issue over the course of his career, particularly his time as a senator. In 1993, Mr. Biden played a key role in the passage of the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. A year later, he helped authorize a 10-year ban on assault weapons.
Mr. Biden acknowledged there is only so much he can do without Congress. “This is just a start,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
The House passed two gun control bills last month, but they are languishing in the Senate in the face of the chamber’s 60-vote threshold for passing most legislation, which requires the support of at least 10 Republicans. Mr. Biden called on the Senate to take action.
Mr. Biden also announced his nomination of David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau has not had a permanent director since 2015.
While Mr. Chipman’s selection came as welcome news to gun control groups, few nominees put forward by Mr. Biden have faced steeper odds of confirmation in the Senate. Still, his allies think he may be able to win narrow approval given the anguish over recent shootings.
In 2006, lawmakers allied with the National Rifle Association enacted a provision making the position of A.T.F. director, which had previously been a political appointment, subject to Senate confirmation. As a result, only one director, Obama nominee B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed over the last 15 years.
In recent years, parts of the National Mall in Washington have been used to temporarily memorialize fallen American soldiers and those who have died from the coronavirus. Next week, a square block will be cordoned off to recognize the roughly 40,000 Americans who die annually in gun violence.
The gun violence prevention organization led by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was critically injured in a 2011 mass shooting, will on Monday evening place 38,000 silk white roses in 4,000 vases across from the Capitol. (An earlier version of this briefing item, using information from the gun violence prevention group, misstated when the memorial would be installed.)
The installation, set to occupy the square block of the National Mall lawn between Third and Fourth Streets, is designed by Doug Landry, a longtime Democratic advance man who created the coronavirus memorial that was on display during President Biden’s inauguration. Ms. Giffords is expected to visit the site on Wednesday with a delegation of advocates and members of Congress. It will be open to the public next Thursday.
“Our installation is a poignant reminder of the tragedy and trauma that gun violence inflicts on our nation,” said Peter Ambler, the executive director of the Giffords organization. “Each flower confronts us with the human cost of political failure — tens of thousands of people not here to pursue their hopes and dreams, families and communities gutted by the worst kind of loss. We will gather at the Gun Violence Memorial to mourn victims of gun violence and inspire the courage to act to address this national nightmare.”
The Giffords art installation will be the largest commemoration of gun violence victims in Washington since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut thrust the issue to the forefront of national politics.
While the House has recently passed gun control legislation including a requirement for universal background checks, there is little prospect of a divided Senate advancing the proposals. Mr. Biden on Thursday announced executive actions that included increased federal regulations on homemade firearms and named David Chipman, a Giffords adviser, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia became an outcast in his own party after infuriating former President Donald J. Trump by resisting his demands to overturn the state’s election results. He spent weeks fending off attacks from fellow Republicans and right-wing media, and Mr. Trump vowed to retaliate by sending a hard-right loyalist to oppose him in the primary next year.
But the sweeping new voting bill Mr. Kemp signed two weeks ago has provided him a lifeline. The bill severely curtails the ability to vote in Georgia, particularly for people of color. Mr. Kemp has seized on it as a political opportunity, defending the law as one that expands voting access, condemning those who criticize it and conflating the criticism with so-called cancel culture.
It’s an argument he believes may restore him to the good graces of Georgia Republicans after being publicly derided by Mr. Trump, a predicament that has proved fatal to the career aspirations of other ambitious conservatives.
“He knows that this is a real opportunity and he can’t blow it, because I don’t think he gets another layup like this again anytime soon,” said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer whom Mr. Trump made ambassador to Luxembourg, and is also a close ally of Mr. Kemp.
Since signing the bill into law on March 25, Mr. Kemp has done roughly 50 interviews, 14 with Fox News, promoting the new restrictions with messaging that aligns with Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that the election was rigged against him.
Mr. Kemp’s argument is designed to pump adrenaline into the conservative vein, by focusing on two of the most animating topics of the political right: election mechanics and an ominous portrayal of the Democratic left.
“They folded like a wet dishrag to the cancel culture,” he said, responding to businesses that publicly objected to the legislation, in an interview on Fox Business on Tuesday. “Americans and Georgians should be scared. I mean, what event are they going to come after next?”
If he manages a political reversal of fortune, Mr. Kemp would be the most prominent Republican to find a way to overcome Mr. Trump’s campaign of retribution, and perhaps would provide an early test of the former president’s ability to impose his will on the party’s electoral future.
But whether Mr. Kemp will be able to make amends with Mr. Trump remains unclear. Late Tuesday, the former president signaled how difficult it would be to win him over, releasing a statement slamming Mr. Kemp and Georgia Republicans for not going far enough to restrict voting access in the new law.
“Kemp also caved to the radical left-wing woke mob who threatened to call him racist if he got rid of weekend voting,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, he kept it, and they still call him racist!”
Representative Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican and avid supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, declared on Thursday that he was entering the 2022 race for governor of New York, hoping to emerge as his party’s challenger to embattled Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“The bottom line is this: To save New York, Andrew Cuomo’s gotta go,” Mr. Zeldin, a staunch conservative who represents parts of Long Island, said in a news release.
Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, is in the midst of the greatest crisis of his political life, facing investigations and accusations of sexual harassment. Many of the state’s Democratic leaders have asked Mr. Cuomo to resign, and whether he will ultimately run for re-election next year is an open question.
But any Republican, especially one closely tied to Mr. Trump, would have an uphill battle in a statewide contest in New York. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since 2002, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one.
Mr. Zeldin’s comments on Thursday previewed how he would seek to position himself in a heavily Democratic state.
“With one-party Democrat rule in New York City and Albany, the light that once shone as a beacon of what America can be has gone dark,” he said.
Mr. Zeldin will be one of at least three declared or potential Republican candidates interested in running for governor who will appear in Albany, N.Y., on April 19 to meet with Republican county leaders to lobby for their support.
Others include Rob Astorino, the party’s 2014 nominee for governor, and Andrew Giuliani, the son of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.
A former local official in Florida who faces an array of federal charges, including a sex trafficking count, is expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks, a prosecutor and a defense lawyer said on Thursday, in an indication that the defendant could cooperate as a key witness against Representative Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation.
A plea by the former elected official, Joel Greenberg, could significantly strengthen the Justice Department’s hand as it investigates Mr. Gaetz and others who met Mr. Greenberg through Florida Republican politics and are being scrutinized on potential sex trafficking violations.
Mr. Greenberg met women through a website that connects people who are willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and allowances, then introduced them to Mr. Gaetz, who along with Mr. Greenberg had sex with them, people familiar with the matter have said.
The prosecutor, Roger Handberg, made the disclosure about the expected plea deal at a status hearing at the federal courthouse in Orlando, as did Mr. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller.
Mr. Greenberg had been scheduled to go on trial in June, but both sides set a May 15 deadline for a plea deal. If they do not reach an agreement, the case would go to trial, they agreed.
Neither Mr. Handberg nor Mr. Scheller said whether Mr. Greenberg would agree to cooperate with the government’s open investigation. Mr. Greenberg, 36, is likely to face 12 years in prison and legal experts said that if Mr. Greenberg had any hope of reducing that sentence, he would have to cooperate with the Justice Department.
Mr. Greenberg did not appear in court on Thursday. He was sent to jail in March for violating the terms of his bail. He was indicted last year on a count of sex trafficking a 17-year-old in 2017.
Around the time of the indictment, the Justice Department began investigating Mr. Gaetz’s ties to the same girl. Mr. Gaetz, who gained a national profile in recent years as a prominent supporter of President Donald J. Trump, has denied that he paid for sex.
The Biden administration on Thursday added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to a U.S. blacklist over national security concerns, a move that curbs their access to American technology.
The Commerce Department said that the seven entities were at odds with U.S. foreign policy or national security interests. The department said the entities were “involved with building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) programs.”
“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many — perhaps almost all — modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” the commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, said in a statement. “The Department of Commerce will use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging U.S. technologies to support these destabilizing military modernization efforts.”
The announcement is an early step by the new administration as it calibrates its approach to China under President Biden, and it comes three weeks after top officials from the two countries gathered in Anchorage for a tense meeting.
The move by the Commerce Department builds on efforts by the Trump administration to restrict certain Chinese companies’ access to American technology.
In its move on Thursday, the department added the seven Chinese entities to what is known as the entity list, which bars them from purchasing American technology or products without special permission. The seven entities are Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics, the National Supercomputing Center Jinan, the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen, the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou.
An expansive bill introducing a rash of new restrictions to voting passed a key committee in the Texas Legislature on Thursday, clearing the way for a full House vote in the coming weeks.
The bill, which passed by party-line vote, would make it a felony for a local election official to proactively mail absentee ballot applications and grants more authority and autonomy to partisan poll watchers. It also significantly expands the criminal punishment for voting-related offenses, adds new requirements and threats of criminal prosecution for those who provide assistance to voters, and prohibits local election officials from making changes without authorization from the state.
The Texas bill is part of a broad push by Republican legislators across the country to impose new voting restrictions in the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr. in November. Late last month, Georgia passed a sweeping bill that imposed new limits on voting access and expanded the legislature’s authority over state elections.
Already home to some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, the Texas Legislature has dedicated part of its spring session to working toward another round of new laws limiting access to voting in the state.
Though Mr. Trump carried Texas by more than 630,000 votes in November, Republican lawmakers have cited the former president’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election as a reason for their effort, claiming the new bills are intended to restore confidence in elections.
Earlier this month, the Texas Senate passed its own omnibus bill that, among other provisions, sets new limits on early voting hours, bans drive-through voting, imposes strict limits on election machine distribution and bars election officials from promoting absentee voting, even to voters who are eligible.
Taken together, the bills will have a greater impact on the state’s major cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio — rapidly growing areas that are home to a largely Democratic base.
The effort to further restrict voting in Texas has drawn widespread public criticism from civil rights groups, local business leaders, Democrats and some major corporations with their headquarters in Texas. The chief executive of Dell Technologies, the computing company, issued a statement this month criticizing the House bill, known as H.B. 6.
Agree. Free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy. Those rights – especially for women, communities of color – have been hard-earned. Governments should ensure citizens have their voices heard. HB6 does the opposite, and we are opposed to it. https://t.co/srLRfGxgZF
— Michael Dell (@MichaelDell) April 1, 2021
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, criticized the corporate response to the bill in a news conference on Wednesday, and defended the effort, saying the State Senate bill that passed this month “is not voter suppression, it’s voter security.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, seldom says anything he does not mean to say, and seldom apologizes for something he says.
But Mr. McConnell is walking back his sharp rebuke of companies and sports leagues that have come out publicly against a new law that restricts access to voting in Georgia and similar bills in other states.
“My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” he said on Tuesday in Louisville. People close to him insisted this was not a mistake, but a pointed warning delivered with classic, tight-lipped zip.
Nonetheless, by Wednesday, in Paducah, Ky., Mr. McConnell reversed course and conceded that he had gone too far.
“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday,” he said at an event where he insisted that corporate executives were misinformed and acting on distorted portrayals of the Georgia law provided by no less a figure than President Biden.
“They are certainly entitled to be involved in politics,” he added. “So my complaint about the C.E.O.s: Read the damn bill.”
Mr. McConnell’s critics say the episode illustrates his declining powers as a leader of his party, and his waning status as supervillain to Democrats. “He is suddenly powerless and flailing,” said Brian Fallon, a former top Democratic aide in the Senate.
That is wishful thinking, his allies insist.
This misstep aside, it should be no surprise that Mr. McConnell, who has built his political image on fighting campaign finance restrictions, is embracing a role as the No. 1 foe of a voting rights expansion bill being pushed by Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats.
In meetings with colleagues, speeches and media appearances, he has been blistering the wide-ranging plan, which he views as an existential threat to his party’s future, one he claims is based on a “big lie” that Republicans in Georgia and other states are employing racist tactics reminiscent of the Jim Crow era to limit voting.
The phrase — the same one Democrats have used to describe former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election — suggests that Mr. McConnell is planning a full-scale effort to define the voting rights bill as corrupt and a blatant power grab.
“Our challenge, of course, is they are going to make this about race somehow, they are going to make this about turnout somehow,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview. “It is about neither. It is about a partisan effort to rewrite the rules in a way they think benefits them.”
As Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, many experts and administration officials say that if anything can tip the global power struggle between China and the United States into an actual military conflict, it is Taiwan.
In recent days, Beijing has menaced the nation by flying 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all.
Under a longstanding — and famously convoluted — policy derived from America’s “one China” stance that supports Taiwan without recognizing it as independent, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to defend it from a Chinese attack.
American officials warn that China is growing more capable of invading Taiwan, a democracy of nearly 24 million people situated off the coast of mainland China, whose status has obsessed Beijing since Chinese nationalists retreated and formed a government there after the country’s 1949 Communist revolution.
Experts are questioning whether the United States should make a more specific commitment to the island’s defense. The debate reflects the core foreign policy challenge seizing the Biden administration as it re-evaluates tenets of American strategy for a new and more dangerous phase of competition with China.
In remarks that raised eyebrows last month, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, the military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, described what he sees as a risk that China could try to reclaim Taiwan by force within the next six years.
The United States has long avoided saying how it would respond to such an attack, instead focusing on maintaining a careful balance intended both to avoid provoking Beijing or emboldening Taiwan into a formal declaration of independence that could lead to a Chinese invasion. But some say it is time to warn explicitly that an invasion of Taiwan would mean a costly fight with the United States.
“I think there’s been a shift in peoples’ thinking,” said Richard N. Haass, a former director of policy planning at the State Department under President George W. Bush and now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Haass helped prompt a conversation on the subject last year after publishing an essay in September in Foreign Affairs magazine with his colleague David Sacks.
“The time has come,” Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks wrote, “for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan.”
The idea is gaining traction, including on Capitol Hill, where Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, has introduced a bill that would authorize the president to take military action to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack — making America’s intentions ambiguous no more.
The contamination of as many as 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine has hobbled the military’s ability to vaccinate its overseas troops and their families, Defense Department officials said on Thursday.
“The recent event that caused the loss of about 15 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has affected the D.O.D. allocations,” said Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director, Defense Health Agency, using initials for the Department of Defense.
He noted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been an important option for overseas use because it did not require the cold storage needed for the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, which has been widely used by the military domestically.
It is not clear why the military was counting on those vaccine doses to inoculate overseas personnel, when the plant where they were made had yet to win approval from the Food and Drug Administration to start shipping them. The Biden administration does not count doses that have not been released.
“We targeted the overseas community for our J. & J. vaccine supply, so we’re actively exploring other means to offset this temporary shortage,” General Place said.
Workers at a plant in Baltimore manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines — one for Johnson & Johnson and another for AstraZeneca — accidentally conflated ingredients, forcing the destruction of as many as 15 million doses and prompting regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.
The Biden administration has tried to play down the incident, saying the error would not hinder its goal of having enough shots for every American adult by summer.
The military was scheduled to receive just over one percent of all United States vaccine doses, and has already vaccinated hundreds of thousands of people. A significant percentage of service members, however, have refused to take the vaccine.
Complaints have surfaced that troops overseas, their eligible family members and military contractors have struggled to get shots. Officials said Thursday that 14 percent of the doses the military received for domestic personnel were reassigned to overseas locations, noting that service members overseas had fewer options for getting a shot than those at home do.
Uniformed personnel overseas are now vaccinated at rates between 10 percent and 15 percent higher than in the continental United States, but this may be because many received shots before deploying. Precisely how many service members, family members and contractors have been vaccinated was not clear Thursday, and rates vary by service branch. For example, in the Navy, roughly half of eligible personnel have gotten at least one vaccine dose; in the Air Force it is 35 percent.
“If you’re a service member stationed overseas or a family member likewise stationed overseas, and you haven’t received a vaccine, and you don’t know when you’ll be able to, these numbers mean nothing,” General Place said. “And it’s understandably frustrating.”
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key moderate Democrat, on Wednesday reaffirmed his vow to protect the filibuster in the evenly divided Senate and suggested reluctance to his party repeatedly using a fast-track budget process to advance legislation without Republican votes.
Mr. Manchin has long been one of the most stalwart defenders of the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate in the upper chamber, even as it threatens to derail key elements of President Biden’s agenda. Despite previously toying with possible reforms to the procedural hurdle, he has repeatedly swatted away queries about what could drive him to vote to outright abolish the filibuster, even as Democrats have gamed out various scenarios in which he might relent.
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, Mr. Manchin vowed that there was “no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” and he urged party leaders to compromise on legislation instead of trying to work around Republican opposition. Ten Republicans are currently needed to join all Democrats in a 50-50 Senate to pass major pieces of legislation through the regular process.
The comments took on added significance after a key Senate official on Monday issued guidance that could allow Democrats to pursue the fast-track budget reconciliation process at least one more time before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, after they used it to pass Mr. Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law without any Republican votes.
“We will not solve our nation’s problems in one Congress if we seek only partisan solutions,” Mr. Manchin wrote. “Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs.”
Pressure has mounted for Democrats to further push the boundaries of what a majority party can do unilaterally when in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, in order to deliver on a series of campaign promises. While Democrats do not yet have the votes to abolish the filibuster, they have explored other avenues to ensure Mr. Biden’s agenda becomes law.
In recent days, that has included expanding the frequency of reconciliation, which allows certain budgetary legislation to clear both chambers on a simple majority vote. While Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, appears to have agreed with the Democratic argument that they can use the process multiple times in one fiscal year, it remains unclear how and when they might employ those possible opportunities, and for what.
While Mr. Manchin did not outright refuse to support another use of the fast-track reconciliation process, he challenged both parties to work together and compromise on critical pieces of legislation, including infrastructure and tax changes. Any use of reconciliation would require Mr. Manchin — and virtually every congressional Democrat — to remain united behind the legislation.
“Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues,” Mr. Manchin wrote. “Republicans, however, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats.”
While many questions remain about how Democrats could potentially use another chance at reconciliation, both Mr. Biden and congressional leaders insist they want to work with Republicans to reach compromises, particularly on the sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure proposal the White House just unveiled.
“There are things we’re working on together — some of which we’ve passed and some we will pass,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. He suggested a group of 10 Republican senators who sought to compromise on his pandemic relief plan did not do enough to jump start negotiations with their initial $618 billion plan. “If they come forward with a plan that did the bulk of it and it was a billion — three or four, two or three — that allowed me to have pieces of all that was in there, I would have been prepared to compromise, but they didn’t,” he added.
The group of 10 Republican senators later issued a joint statement Wednesday evening arguing that the proposal had been “a first offer to the White House designed to open bipartisan negotiations” that instead had been dismissed “as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy.”