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Live Updates: Biden Urges Action on Gun Control


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Biden Pleads for Stricter Gun Laws in National Address

While addressing the nation on Tuesday after a shooting at a grocery store in Colorado, President Biden made a plea for stricter gun laws across the country.

Ten lives have been lost, and more families have been shattered by gun violence in the state of Colorado. And Jill and I are devastated, and the feeling, I just can’t imagine how the families are feeling. The victims, whose futures were stolen from them, from their families, from their loved ones, who now have to struggle to go on and try to make sense of what’s happened. While we’re still waiting for more information regarding the shooter, his motive, the weapons he used, the guns, the magazines, the weapons, the modifications that apparently have taken place to those weapons that are involved here — I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that’ll save the lives in the future and to urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act. We can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again. I got that done when I was a senator, it passed it was the law for the longest time. And it brought down these mass killings. We should do it again.

While addressing the nation on Tuesday after a shooting at a grocery store in Colorado, President Biden made a plea for stricter gun laws across the country.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden said Tuesday that he was “devastated” by the killing of 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., and called on Congress not to “wait another minute” in enacting legislation to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“This is not and should not be a partisan issue — it is an American issue,” a somber Mr. Biden said in brief remarks delivered in the State Dining Room at the White House. “We have to act.”

Mr. Biden would not comment on the details of the attack on Monday but said he had spoken to Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, and would continue his consultations during a flight to Columbus, Ohio, in the afternoon.

“Jill and I are devastated. The feeling — I just can’t imagine how the families are feeling,” he said, at times struggling to find the right words.

Mr. Biden then left for a trip to promote his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, hoping to keep the focus on the benefits of the stimulus and promoting the 11th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. While he is in Ohio, President Biden is also scheduled to meet with Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, to discuss coronavirus vaccinations and other matters related to the pandemic.

The attack in Colorado, in which a gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, came less than a week after another gunman murdered eight people in Atlanta. The back-to-back killings amounted to a return of mass casualty shootings that had seemed, for a time, to be suppressed by pandemic lockdowns.

Mr. Biden noted that he had to draft a proclamation on Monday to keep — not lower — the White House flags to half-staff, because they had already been lowered to honor the victims in Atlanta.

“Another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma,” he said.

Earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking at an event in Washington, praised the “heroism” of Eric Talley, an officer killed while responding to the shooting.

Mr. Biden also praised the officer’s efforts and offered his condolences to his “close, close family” of seven children.

“When he pinned on that badge yesterday morning he didn’t know what the day would bring. I want everybody to think about this,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden has had a long, and at times frustrating, history of pushing gun control proposals. He was tasked with coming up with a legislative package of gun control measures by President Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook killings of 2012 but the effort resulted in no significant legislative action, and Mr. Obama was forced to enact a handful of relatively modest reform through executive actions.

Mr. Biden had not made gun control a legislative priority during the first weeks of his presidency, but his tone on Wednesday seemed to signal a shift.

He called on the Senate to quickly pass two House bills, passed earlier this year and first introduced after the 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, that extend background checks to private sellers and extend the time limit to conduct checks on purchasers.

Mr. Biden said it was wrong “to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, later told reporters aboard Air Force One that the recent shooting did not change Mr. Biden’s position on overhauling the filibuster.

“He, of course, believes that we should work with Democrats and Republicans to get work done for the American people, including common-sense gun safety measures,” Ms. Psaki said. “He’s also open to hearing ideas. He is not going to allow for obstruction to get work done for the American people. But his preference and priority is working with members of both parties.”

Senator Tammy Duckworth said she told the White House that she would be voting “no” on every non-“diversity” nominee before the Senate until she felt President Biden’s team was taking the right steps.
Credit…Brandon Bell for The New York Times

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, said on Tuesday that she would refuse to vote for any of President Biden’s nominees “other than diversity nominees” until the White House addressed what she called an unacceptable dearth of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in top administration posts.

Her ultimatum came as Mr. Biden faces mounting pressure on the issue amid a growing tide of racism toward Asian-Americans during the pandemic, culminating in last week’s deadly shootings in Atlanta.

Ms. Duckworth and Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said they used a private video meeting on Monday night with other Senate Democrats to tell Mr. Biden’s top advisers, including the deputy chief of staff, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, that the scarcity of Asian-American cabinet-level officials was “not acceptable” and needed to be promptly addressed. The pair are the only two Asian-American members of the Senate.

Ms. Duckworth said she followed up Tuesday morning to inform the White House she was “a no on everything other than the diversity candidates” who came before the Senate until she felt Mr. Biden’s team was taking the right steps, beginning with the president’s nominee for under secretary of defense for policy. With the Senate divided evenly between the two parties, her opposition could create considerable pressure to find an agreement.

“I’ve been talking to them for months,” Ms. Duckworth said in an interview. “They are still not aggressive, so I am not going to be voting for any nominee from the White House other than diversity nominees. I’ll be a ‘no’ on everyone until they figure that out.”

Open disputes between Mr. Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill have been relatively rare in his first months on the job. But prominent Asian-American lawmakers who have been quietly agitating around nominations and appointments for months, signaled they were done giving the White House the benefit of the doubt.

During the meeting Monday night, Ms. Duckworth said that Ms. O’Malley Dillon pointed out that Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was from India, and Katherine Tai, the top American trade envoy who is of Chinese descent, were Asian-American. The White House considers both women to be part of the Cabinet, though they do not lead executive departments.

Ms. Duckworth, who is Thai American, called the invocation of Ms. Harris to placate her concerns “insulting.”

“That is not something you would say to the Black Caucus — ‘Well you have Kamala, we’re not going to put any more African Americans in the Cabinet because you have Kamala,’” she said to reporters on Tuesday.

“Why would you say it to AAPI?” she added, referring to Asian-American and Pacific Islander.

Ms. Duckworth added that for months she had given the White House names of possible Asian-American nominees “who never even got a phone call.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Axios first reported details of the Monday exchange.

Ms. Hirono was less pointed in her criticism, but said on Tuesday that she shared Ms. Duckworth’s “frustration.” They are two of only eight Asian-Americans ever to serve in the Senate, including Ms. Harris.

“I realize that we have Katherine Tai, but I don’t think trade representative is what the community understands as a cabinet-level,” she said.

Ms. Hirono, who is Japanese American, said she had also pressed the White House to more regularly poll Asian-American and Pacific Islanders as a group when gauging support for policy proposals, like they would Black Americans, women and other groups.

Dr. Vivek Murthy will resume as surgeon general at a critical moment, as the president tries to steer the nation out of the worst public health crisis in a century.
Credit…Pool photo by Caroline Brehman

Dr. Vivek Murthy, who helped found several health-related advocacy groups and later tackled the opioid epidemic and e-cigarettes as surgeon general during the Obama administration, was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday to reprise that role for President Biden.

The vote, 57 to 43, was a much smoother ride for Dr. Murthy than the first time he was confirmed, in 2014, when Republicans cast Dr. Murthy as a politically connected supporter of President Barack Obama’s who would use his position to push for stricter gun control. The fight dragged on for months, leaving the country without a top doctor for more than a year.

When President Donald J. Trump was elected, Dr. Murthy was asked to resign. He refused and was fired, his wife, Alice Chen, said at the time.

Dr. Murthy will return as surgeon general at a critical moment, as the president tries to steer the nation out of the worst public health crisis in a century while expanding access to health care for millions of Americans. During his confirmation hearing, he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that he would make ending the coronavirus pandemic his highest priority.

Dr. Murthy, 43, helped found Doctors for Obama, a group that worked to elect Mr. Obama and now works to expand health care access for Americans. It now goes by Doctors for America.

As an undergraduate at Harvard University, he helped found two nonprofits, one focusing on H.I.V./AIDS education in the United States and India, and another to train women as community health workers in rural India.

A son of Indian immigrants and the first person of Indian descent to hold the surgeon general’s post, Dr. Murthy, 43, was born in England and grew up mostly in Miami, watching his parents in their own medical practice. He invoked them during his confirmation hearing.

“I have tried,” Dr. Murthy said, “to live by the lessons they embodied: that we have an obligation to help each other whenever we can, to alleviate suffering wherever we find it, and to give back to this country that made their lives and my life and the lives of my children possible.”

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Biden Extends Obamacare Enrollment Period to Aug. 15

President Biden said on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, that Americans who need health insurance would have until Aug. 15 to sign up through Healthcare.gov.

Eleven years ago today, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, a historic achievement that would not have been possible but for the vision and determination of one of the most successful presidents in recent American history, Barack Obama. If you enroll in Obamacare, you’re going to save an average of $50 a month, $600 a year by the reduction in payments. For millions who are out of work and have no coverage, thanks to this law, there’s an Obamacare plan that most folks can get with $0 premiums. We’re also making it easy, easier to sign up for Obamacare. We’ve opened Healthcare.gov for special enrollments on Feb. 15. In the first two weeks alone, more than 200,000 Americans gained coverage. Today, I’m pleased to announce we’ve extended that period to run through Aug. 15. With the American Rescue Plan, and the Affordable Care Act, millions of families will be able to sleep a little more soundly at night because they don’t have to worry about losing everything if they get sick.

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President Biden said on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, that Americans who need health insurance would have until Aug. 15 to sign up through Healthcare.gov.CreditCredit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Americans who need health insurance will now have even longer to select a health plan for the rest of the year. The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it would extend enrollment for Obamacare plans sold on Healthcare.gov until Aug. 15, from a May deadline.

The change was announced on the 11th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, the law that established the markets where individuals could buy their own health insurance, and made plans available to shoppers regardless of pre-existing health conditions, among many other provisions.

“We have a duty not just to protect it but to make it better and keep becoming a nation where health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few,” President Biden said at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University on Tuesday.

The stimulus bill signed this month expanded subsidies that help people buy such coverage, lowering the price of a typical plan to zero dollars for low-income families and offering financial assistance for the first time to households higher on the income scale. But it is taking time for the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the new provisions, and so far it has decided not to make the changes automatic. That means that even people who currently get coverage on the exchanges will need to go back to request new benefits. The extended enrollment period will give them more time to do that.

“Every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care — especially as we fight back against the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services. His statement encouraged uninsured Americans to sign up and current Obamacare customers to review new discounts.

The administration also announced that sign-ups for special subsidies for Americans who receive unemployment insurance this year will start July 1. Congress established a system for them to receive zero-premium health plans all year, but carrying out that provision quickly has proved complicated.

Enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans for most Americans is typically limited to a six-week period each year, as a means of encouraging people to enroll when they are healthy. But the Biden administration had already opened a second enrollment period this year, arguing that the pandemic and its economic effects presented an emergency that justified expanding options for coverage. The original special enrollment period had been set to expire in mid-May.

The changes apply in the 36 states that use the federal Healthcare.gov platform to manage their insurance marketplaces. But several states that run their own marketplaces have also extended their enrollment periods.

Mr. Biden, who wore a black mask throughout his speech in Ohio, said the extension would also benefit minority communities that “historically have gone without insurance at higher rates” and have been disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Millions of families will be able to sleep a little more soundly at night,” the president said, “because they don’t have to worry about losing everything if they get sick.”

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Senate Debates Efforts to Stop Gun Violence

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded action on Tuesday to overhaul gun laws, after two mass shootings in a week. But the hearing quickly divided along partisan lines, with Republicans resisting new measures.

“I could ask for a moment of silence for the mass shooting in Boulder last night, and after that is completed, I could ask for a moment of silence for the shooting in Atlanta six days ago. And after a minute, I could ask for a moment of silence for the 29 mass shootings that occurred this month in the United States. But in addition to a moment of silence, I would like to ask for a moment of action. Prayer leaders have their important place in this, but we are Senate leaders. What are we doing?” “Like many Americans, I cherish my right to bear arms in the dialogue about gun control. We rarely consider how many Americans are united in their advocacy and enjoyment of this right.” “America awoke today to another nightmare. Stunning, shocking, savage, but unsurprising. Inaction has made this horror completely predictable. Inaction by this Congress makes us complicit.” “And every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater. Where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders.”

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Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded action on Tuesday to overhaul gun laws, after two mass shootings in a week. But the hearing quickly divided along partisan lines, with Republicans resisting new measures.CreditCredit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Senators quickly splintered along partisan lines over gun control measures on Tuesday as Democrats demanded action in the wake of two mass shootings in the past week and Republicans denounced their calls, highlighting the political divide that has fueled a decades-long cycle of inaction on gun violence.

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that was scheduled before shootings in Atlanta and Boulder that left at least 18 people dead, Democrats argued that the latest carnage left Congress no choice but to enact stricter policies. They lamented the grim pattern of anguish and outrage followed by partisanship and paralysis had become the norm following mass shootings.

“In addition to a moment of silence, I would like to ask for a moment of action,” said Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and the chairman of the committee. “A moment of real caring. A moment when we don’t allow others to do what we need to do. Prayer leaders have their important place in this, but we are Senate leaders. What are we doing?”

Even before the recent shootings, Democrats had already begun advancing stricter gun control measures that face long odds in the 50-50 Senate. House Democrats passed two bills this month aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks for gun buyers, by applying them to all gun buyers and extending the time the F.B.I. has to vet those flagged by the national instant check system.

But the twin pieces of legislation passed in the House have been deemed too expansive by most Republicans — only eight House Republicans voted to advance the universal background check legislation. The bills would almost certainly not muster the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster in the Senate.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the panel, said in his opening remarks that he was hopeful Democrats and Republicans could work together to make “bipartisan, common-sense” progress on gun control. But he said that the House-passed legislation did not fit that bill, since the measures passed almost entirely along party lines.

“That is not a good sign that all voices and all perspectives are being considered,” Mr. Grassley said.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, went further, lashing out at Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who said that Republicans had offered “fig leaves” rather than actionable, significant solutions to gun control.

“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Mr. Cruz said. “But what they propose — not only does it not reduce crime, it makes it worse.”

The renewed focus on gun control is expected to cast attention back on Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who opposes dismantling the legislative filibuster but has long labored — fruitlessly — to pass a bipartisan gun control proposal.

Following the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Manchin brokered a deal with Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, to close legal loopholes that allow people who purchase firearms at gun shows or on the internet to avoid background checks, but proponents were unable to pick up enough support to pass it.

Mr. Manchin told CQ Roll Call earlier this month that he opposed the House-passed universal background check bill, citing its provision requiring checks for sales between private citizens, but said he was interested in reviving the Manchin-Toomey legislation.

As vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with law enforcement officials to discuss gun control measures at the White House in 2012.
Credit…Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

As president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. finds himself in a position distressingly similar to the one he confronted eight years ago as vice president: trying to figure out a way to stop mass shootings and meeting resistance from conservative gun owners and their political allies.

In 2020, gun control was given a prominent place on Mr. Biden’s campaign website, but it had been a back-burner concern for a new administration single-mindedly determined to address the pandemic and its economic damage.

That could change following the attacks in Atlanta and Boulder, and if so, Mr. Biden’s successes and failures over the past three decades on gun control are likely to inform how he confronts the crisis as president.

President Barack Obama chose not to act immediately following the massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, as many Democrats had hoped, by pushing for a quick vote on gun control legislation.

Instead, he delegated the task of coming up with a package of reforms to Mr. Biden, who had helped pass the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and a 10-year assault weapons ban in the 1990s when he served in the Senate.

From his earliest days in the administration. Mr. Biden pushed Mr. Obama to do more on guns, to little avail, his advisers later said. “Even before Newtown, the vice president had wanted the administration to push harder on the issue,” Bruce Reed, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff as vice president, and still a trusted adviser, told a reporter in 2015.

The decision to tap Mr. Biden irked many of Mr. Obama’s closest advisers: They thought he needed to personally push through a series of strong measures immediately, while emotions were high, to force lawmakers to cast votes of conscience.

Five weeks after the killings, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden announced 23 relatively modest executive actions, and called on Congress to pass three laws: universal background checks, a new assault weapons ban, and a prohibition on high-capacity gun clips.

Mr. Biden, consulting with his former colleagues in the Senate, decided the best course of action was to focus on only one element, the background checks, and persuaded progressives to settle for a limited but important initiative.

The strategy, and the bill, quickly failed.

“Eight years later, there have been plenty of thoughts and prayers, but we know that is not enough,” Mr. Biden said in December, marking the anniversary of Sandy Hook. “We will fight to end this scourge on our society and enact common sense reforms that are supported by a majority of Americans and that will save countless lives.”

Mr. Biden’s proposals, listed on his website, are strikingly similar to the reforms he proposed as vice president.

White House aides are considering a number of executive actions, including one that would impose background checks for buyers of homemade firearms that lack serial numbers, a proposal to close a loophole that allows a gun to be transferred from licensed gun dealers before a completed background check, and various plans to keep guns away from people suffering from mental illness.

Shalanda D. Young  on March 2, at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on her nomination to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Senate confirmed Shalanda D. Young on Tuesday afternoon as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, which would make her the first confirmed leadership official at the agency after President Biden’s pick for director withdrew amid bipartisan opposition.

Neera Tanden, Mr. Biden’s nominee to lead the budget agency, withdrew early this month after senators in both parties objected to negative posts she had made on social media and criticized her work at the Center for American Progress. The position of O.M.B. director is one of only two top -level vacancies remaining in the Biden administration, leaving Ms. Young to help steer the agency in the absence of a director.

The Senate voted to confirm her on a 63-37 margin.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have mounted a substantial campaign to elevate Ms. Young, the first Black woman to serve as staff director on the House Appropriations Committee, to the position of director. Having worked to negotiate annual government funding and more than $3 trillion in pandemic relief, Ms. Young has earned bipartisan respect in both the House and Senate for her work.

She is expected to play a key role in working with other cabinet officials to structure Mr. Biden’s first budget as president, as well as an infrastructure package.

The only other cabinet-level role yet to be filled in the Biden administration is that of the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Mr. Biden has nominated Eric S. Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, to serve in that role, and also intends to appoint him to serve as presidential science adviser. It is the first time that the position will be elevated to the cabinet level.

Demonstrators at the Georgia Capitol building. Republican legislatures are being prodded by an array of party leaders and outside groups working to promote new voting restrictions.
Credit…Ben Gray/Associated Press

As Republican legislatures across the country seek to usher in a raft of new restrictions on voting, they are being prodded by an array of party leaders and outside groups working to establish a set of guiding principles to the efforts to claw back access to voting.

The conservative Heritage Action for America, for instance, has claimed credit for a new Arizona law, signed last week by Gov. Doug Ducey, that requires the secretary of state to compare death records with voter registrations. The state representative who sponsored the bill thanked one of the Heritage volunteers in a Facebook post after it passed.

In late January, a small group of Heritage volunteers met with Republican legislators in Georgia, delivering a letter containing detailed proposals for rolling back access to voting. Within days, bills to restrict voting access in Georgia began flooding the Legislature.

Party leaders and their conservative allies are planning to export successful statutory language from one state to others, like the text of Alabama’s voter ID law. They are also drafting what they describe as “best practices” for completely new legislation, with the impetus often coming from outside groups like the Heritage Foundation.

The Republican National Committee has created an “election integrity” committee, a group of 24 R.N.C. members tasked with developing legislative proposals on voting systems. The committee is populated with officials who were deeply involved in the “stop the steal” effort to overturn former President Donald J. Trump’s election loss last year and who have refused, more than two months after President Biden’s inauguration, to admit publicly that his victory was legitimate.

The widespread coordination underscores the extent to which the dogma of voter fraud is embedded in the Republican Party, following Mr. Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the 2020 election. Out of power in both Congress and the White House, the party views its path to regaining a foothold in Washington not solely through animated opposition to Mr. Biden’s agenda, but rather through an intense focus on re-engineering the voting system in states where it holds control.

To head its election integrity committee, the Republican National Committee tapped Joe Gruters, the Florida Republican Party chairman who in January used a #stopthesteal hashtag and advertised ways for Republicans to attend the Jan. 6 rally that ended with a riot at the Capitol.

On Politics

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 14 states, as well as the nation’s capital. Legalization has never been more popular. 
Credit…Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

The Biden administration has a culture war on its hands, and it has left many of the president’s political allies scratching their heads.

On Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, confirmed that five staff members had lost their jobs because they had used marijuana in the past — even though the administration previously told incoming staffers that prior use of cannabis wouldn’t immediately disqualify them. Some other staff members remain employed on a work-from-home basis while their history of marijuana use is evaluated.

This came as a surprise to many proponents of marijuana legalization, which is now more popular than ever before. President Biden has long been relatively conservative when it comes to drug policy, and he has never endorsed full legalization, but his plans for criminal justice reform include the decriminalization of marijuana and a number of other policies to de-escalate the war on drugs, which is in its 50th year.

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 14 states, as well as the nation’s capital. Some states and municipalities have even made it illegal for employers to consider past marijuana use in pre-employment screenings, as the Biden administration has done.

Udi Ofer, the director of the justice division at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that punishing White House staff members for past pot use sent a confusing signal. “Americans overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization, yet these types of punitive practices by employers — let alone the White House — perpetuate a failed war on marijuana,” he said in an interview. “Marijuana possession continues to be the No. 1 arrest in America, year after year, and it’s these types of wrongheaded employer policies that perpetuate this.”

Last year, Gallup found that Americans backed marijuana legalization more than two to one, the highest level of support on record. Sixty-eight percent of the country favored legalization, while just 32 percent were against it.

The level of support was about even between white and nonwhite respondents. Republicans were roughly evenly divided — with 48 percent in favor and 52 percent against — while sentiment among Democrats was overwhelming: More than four in five supported it.

Michael R. Sherwin, right, told “60 Minutes” that evidence collected by investigators likely meets the bar necessary to charge some suspects with sedition.
Credit…Pool photo by Sarah Silbiger

The Justice Department has opened an internal investigation into an appearance this weekend on “60 Minutes” by the federal prosecutor who recently led the Capitol riot investigation after an initial determination that he may have broken the department’s rules for dealing with the media, a top official said Tuesday.

The disclosure that the department’s in-house watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, had begun an inquiry into the prosecutor, Michael R. Sherwin, came at a hearing called by a federal judge who was concerned that his remarks on “60 Minutes” could cause problems in prominent cases stemming from the Capitol attack. “I was surprised, to say the least, to see Mr. Sherwin sitting for an interview,” said the judge, Amit P. Mehta.

On Sunday night, Mr. Sherwin, the former U.S. attorney in Washington, told “60 Minutes” that evidence collected by investigators likely meets the bar necessary to charge some suspects with sedition — a rare charge that requires prosecutors to prove that a defendant conspired to overthrow the government. The following day, The New York Times published an article expanding on Mr. Sherwin’s comments and citing unnamed law enforcement officials disclosing that federal prosecutors have been mulling sedition charges in the case of 10 members of the Oath Keepers militia group who stand accused of storming the Capitol.

Judge Mehta, who is overseeing the Oath Keepers case, hastily scheduled the hearing Tuesday morning and then declared that he would consider issuing sanctions or a gag order if there were further episodes of law enforcement officials speaking to the media. John Crabb, the chief of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, told Judge Mehta that internal Justice Department investigators would also look into the provenance of the Times article.

The disclosure in court about the internal investigation was highly unusual. Such investigations are generally kept confidential, according to former federal prosecutors.

Neither Mr. Sherwin nor department spokespeople immediately responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Sherwin’s interview with “60 Minutes” was unusual for a number of reasons. He not only seemed to characterize the evidence in an ongoing criminal cases, as Judge Mehta pointed out, but he also noted that he himself went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to see what was happening, effectively making himself a witness to the events his office was investigating.

Mr. Sherwin recently left the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington as the Biden administration installed its own choice to lead the office on an acting basis, Channing D. Phillips. Officials are working to fill the post and others like it around the country. While Mr. Sherwin no longer works on the riot inquiry, he is still a Justice Department employee and federal prosecutor in Miami.



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