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Warner Blasts Facebook for Suspending NYU Researchers Studying Political Ads
By Alexandra S. Levine
in POLITICO

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) blasted Facebook on Wednesday for cutting off access to New York University researchers who have been scraping the platform and using a company database to study political advertising and disinformation across the social network.

Context: Facebook’s suspension of the academics — which entailed disabling their accounts, apps, pages and access to the platform — comes as the company remains in hot water in Washington, where the Biden administrationmembers of Congress, the D.C. attorney general and others have criticized the social media giant’s transparency or lack thereof — most recently around data on Covid misinformation.

The site’s Ad Library has been central to independent researchers’ efforts to analyze past elections and now, the looming 2022 midterms.

"Deeply concerning": Warner said Wednesday that those efforts have been crucial in helping to expose misconduct and dangers on the platform, including ads that violate Facebook’s policies and peddle fraudulent financial scams.

“For several years now, I have called on social media platforms like Facebook to work with, and better empower, independent researchers, whose efforts consistently improve the integrity and safety of social media platforms by exposing harmful and exploitative activity,” Warner said Wednesday. “Instead, Facebook has seemingly done the opposite.”

Facebook had previously jousted with NYU's researchers before last year's presidential election, warning them to stop using a digital tool that tracks how people are targeted with political ads. POLITICO has used data from NYU's Ad Observatory Project in stories about groups' use of Facebook, for instance an article in October about a pro-labor nonprofit's prolific spending on ads in election battleground states.

Facebook fires back: Product management director Mike Clark said in a blog postthat "research cannot be the justification for compromising people's privacy." The Ad Observatory Project violated Facebook's policies in its "unauthorized scraping" of data from Facebook and action had been taken to protect users, he said.  

"We welcome research that holds us accountable, and doesn’t compromise the security of our platform or the privacy of the people who use it," Clark wrote. The action against the NYU team "doesn’t change our commitment to providing more transparency around ads on Facebook or our ongoing collaborations with academia."

Warner called on Congress “to act to bring greater transparency to the shadowy world of online advertising.” The suspensions were first reported by Bloomberg.

Mark Warner Plays Pivotal Role in Democrats’ Large-Scale Spending Plans
by Andrew Duehren
in Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—When talks among Democrats about a raft of antipoverty and climate-change measures began, Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) assumed that lawmakers would agree to spend less than the $3.5 trillion plan announced this past week. 

The centrist lawmaker said he is worried about inflation and the rising U.S. debt burden and came to the talks with different policy priorities than some of his party colleagues. After weeks of negotiations between Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee and a series of calls from President Biden, he came around to the larger figure, which would be distributed over 10 years and paid for with tax increases—conditions he said eased his concerns.

“The president asked me to stretch, and I think I stretched,” Mr. Warner said in an interview. 

Now the former governor and telecommunications investor has to help persuade members of both parties to stretch in support of different parts of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda. Mr. Warner, as the only lawmaker directly involved in crafting the $3.5 trillion agreement among Democrats as well as negotiating a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package with Republicans, holds unique sway in the parallel talks.

He will help determine whether all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus can hold together on both bills, while still persuading at least 10 Republicans to join them on infrastructure. The two-track approach will be tested next week, when the first vote on advancing the infrastructure package, which requires 60 votes, is expected.

As a result, Mr. Warner said he now splits his time between cajoling Republicans to broaden their legislative ambitions and pleading with Democrats to narrow theirs.

“It’s been a weird yin and yang,” he said of the two packages.

Just turning the initial $3.5 trillion agreement between members of the Budget Committee—where Mr. Warner serves as the most centrist Democrat—into legislation that earns the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, he said, is “going to be probably the hardest thing legislatively the Senate has done.”

His success in doing so will depend in part on the viability of a negotiating style, honed in the Virginia governor’s mansion, that current and former associates say prizes building interpersonal relationships and stressing bipartisanship—two attributes that can be hard to pursue in an increasingly polarized and partisan Senate.

L. Preston Byrant Jr., a former Republican delegate in the Virginia House, said Mr. Warner spent weeks building Republican support for a 2004 tax package while he was governor, courting GOP lawmakers over dinners in Richmond restaurants, drinks in the governor’s mansion and late-night phone calls.

“He’s a deal maker,” Mr. Bryant said. “I think he fully recognizes that the true center isn’t always neatly achieved. Sometimes it’s going to be a little left of center or right of center.”

From his perch across the Potomac, Mr. Warner hosts many social events, including a pig roast almost annually at a farm he owns in King George, Va. When negotiations over a Covid-19 aid deal stalled for months last year, Mr. Warner suggested that a bipartisan group of senators meet for dinner to try to kick-start the talks. The group ended up meeting at the home of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) on Capitol Hill. 

That outreach helped lay the groundwork for the $900 billion agreement Congress approved in December, a bill Democrats followed up with a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief effort after they took control of the White House and Senate.

Many of those lawmakers, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R., Utah) and Susan Collins (R., Maine), are now negotiating the infrastructure agreement, which would provide roughly $600 billion above expected federal spending on roads, bridges and water projects.A White House official said Mr. Warner’s private-sector experience and facility with numbers have been an important resource for Democrats.

In the infrastructure talks, Mr. Warner has pushed for funding new resources at the Internal Revenue Service to collect more revenue from taxes owed but not paid, an idea that Mr. Warner in part credits former Trump administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, another dinner partner, with introducing him to it. 

Some Republicans critical to the deal’s success have more recently started raising concerns about the IRS plan, prompting lawmakers to search for other alternatives that could still pay for all the proposed spending.

Figuring out how to finance a major spending plan is set to be a central challenge as Democrats move forward with the $3.5 trillion package. Republicans have attacked the plan both for its large-scale spending and tax increases, saying they would fuel inflation, likely expand the federal deficit and harm the economy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has said he wants all 50 Democrats to reach an agreement on the outline by Wednesday. Mr. Warner was in touch with other centrist Democrats about the $3.5 trillion figure during the talks.

“And you know just because I got to a certain number doesn’t mean they will,” Mr. Warner said of the other centrist Democrats. “But I think they’ll give me a chance to make my case why I think this is the moment, this is the need, and these are the initiatives.”

Like some other Democrats, Mr. Warner favors a 25% corporate tax rate, an increase from the current 21% but below the White House’s proposed increase to 28%. The White House is also seeking to raise the top capital gains rate to 39.6% from 20% and uniformly apply an additional 3.8% surtax to bring it to a total 43.4%. Mr. Warner said he supports a 28% top capital gains rate and has reservations about Mr. Biden’s plan to tax unrealized gains at death.

Those will be among the many areas, including how to design the various healthcare provisions in the package, where Mr. Warner expects Democrats to have sharp disagreements as they write the specifics of the package.

Mr. Warner, who is also the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is confident that consistent contact and communication with his colleagues will ultimately be enough to resolve those differences. An oenophile, Mr. Warner provided wine to Senate Democrats on the Budget Committee on Tuesday night as they reached their $3.5 trillion agreement.

He later emerged from the closed-door meeting to announce the deal alongside Mr. Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), the latest step in the long climb that the $3.5 trillion deal and the infrastructure effort face.

“None of these things ever happen on a straight line,” Mr. Warner said. “I’ve never been in one of these deals that didn’t have hiccups, or near-death experiences.”

Mark Warner, a ‘Business Guy’ Democrat, Lands Back in the Fray
by Jonathan Weisman
in New York Times

WASHINGTON — In his days as Virginia’s governor, Mark Warner had a reputation for playing rough under the boards with young Republican lawmakers on the basketball court. But he would follow his flying elbows with a pat on the back, a wry smile and often an invitation to the governor’s mansion for Grey Goose vodka shots.

And to this day, Republicans marvel that the “business guy” Democrat in 2004 persuaded 17 Republicans in a G.O.P.-dominated legislature to remake the state’s finances with a $1.36 billion tax increase.

Seventeen years later, Mr. Warner is a senator and back in the fray, a central figure in negotiating both a bipartisan infrastructure dealand an ambitious budget blueprint packed with Democratic priorities — two measures whose success or failure will determine the fate of President Biden’s agenda.

Mr. Warner’s shuttle diplomacy reflects the difficult endeavor Democrats and Mr. Biden are attempting this month, as they labor to unite the party around a far-reaching $3.5 trillion spending plan, build and hold together a fragile bipartisan coalition in favor of the infrastructure measure, maneuver around arcane Senate rules and time it all perfectly.

Huddling with four other Democrats and five Republicans, Mr. Warner has been trying to nail down as rich an infrastructure package as he can get. On the Budget Committee, he is a crucial moderate emissary for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, trying to rein in the social spending ambitions of the committee’s irascible socialist chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders. And on the Finance Committee, Mr. Warner has been a pro-business voice working to devise the tax increases needed to pay for all that spending.

“He really is the linchpin,” said Senator Tim Kaine, Virginia’s junior senator, who was Mr. Warner’s lieutenant governor and then his successor in the governor’s mansion.

On Thursday, that linchpin was showing signs of strain. Mr. Schumer rankled Republicans when he announced he would force a test vote as early as Wednesday on the still-unfinished infrastructure deal, raising the pressure to finalize it. He set a similar deadline for Senate Democrats to agree on a budget resolution.

An old nemesis, the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, was once again bedeviling the Virginian. When Mr. Warner was governor, Mr. Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform vowed to exact revenge on any Republican who went along with Mr. Warner’s tax plan. Now, Mr. Norquist is threatening any Republican who agrees to a critical financing mechanism to pay for roads, bridges, tunnels and rail: beefing up the ability of the I.R.S. to collect unpaid taxes. If Mr. Norquist succeeds in killing the idea, it could blow a $100 billion hole in the plan Mr. Warner and others have been toiling to seal.

“It’s been an interesting week,” Mr. Warner said on Thursday afternoon in his spacious Senate office, after the latest infrastructure talks broke up without agreement.

Mr. Warner has spent much of his 12-year Senate career despairing about the dysfunction of the institution and grumbling that his acumen and savvy were not being tapped.

His urgent calls to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits to save the nation from its rising debt went unheeded. His claims to be a “radical centrist” were, he conceded, often mocked.

He was, he said, “a slightly whiny senator who got to sleep in his own bed every night.”

But with Democrats holding the tiniest of Senate majorities and Mr. Biden promising to pursue bipartisanship, his party is in desperate need of a dealmaker. And Mr. Warner, who built a fortune in telecommunications, has always been a numbers guy.

“Temperamentally, this is the kind of space he enjoys occupying, and he’s tried to occupy for a while,” said Paul Nardo, who was the chief of staff to the Republican State House speaker when Mr. Warner was governor. “Lo and behold, we’re at a moment when someone with those skills can have a direct effect.”

Mr. Warner’s roles are multiple.

Mr. Schumer wanted him deeply involved in the search for an infrastructure deal, convinced that Democrats needed someone with the same accounting acumen that Republicans were bringing to the table with Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, a former White House budget director, and Mitt Romney of Utah, a former governor and investment executive.

At the same time, Democratic leaders needed a voice in budget talks with Mr. Sanders who could represent the interests of moderates like Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — and ultimately win their votes.

Finally, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, tapped Mr. Warner and a pro-labor committee member, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, to hash out a restructuring of the international corporate tax code to raise some of the money needed to cover the spending surge — and try to dissuade American companies from shifting profits and jobs abroad.

In those overlapping roles, Mr. Brown described Mr. Warner as “frenetic — in a good way.”

“He strikes me as a kind of shuttle diplomacy guy,” Mr. Brown said. “He moves fast, and he moves back and forth.”

Despite boasts of “radical centrism,” Mr. Warner is not particularly conservative. Mr. Sanders wanted as much as $6 trillion to play with in a budget package that would include universal prekindergarten and community college, child care subsidies, expanded Medicare coverage, the first real federal effort to combat climate change, paid family leave and a host of other items long pushed by Washington’s liberal wing.

Mr. Warner wanted much less. Even the 10-year price tag they agreed on, $3.5 trillion, was “the absolute edge my comfort zone,” he said.

For Faiz Shakir, a close adviser to Mr. Sanders who managed his presidential run in 2020, the negotiation between the two men showed how far Democrats had come since 2015, when party stalwarts feared that Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent, was going to tear their coalition apart.

“In 2015, Warner had serious concern about what Sanders was doing to the party,” Mr. Shakir said. “Six years later, he has won much of the policy argument and has Warner’s respect.”

As Mr. Warner describes it, both men are equally ambitious. Both want to fundamentally reshape American capitalism, Mr. Sanders through top-down government power, Mr. Warner by using government to prod market forces.

Mr. Warner said the current tax code rewards businesses for investing in things, offering tax breaks, for instance, to offset the cost of a labor-displacing robot. Mr. Sanders would empower unions to block that robot. Mr. Warner wants to offer similar tax incentives for investments in people, to train them to become more efficient than that robot.

In the tax talks, Mr. Warner is mindful of business interests, but he has accepted that there are what he calls fundamental imbalances that need to be fixed. Multinational corporations are too easily escaping taxation by shifting profits and operations abroad, he said, the tax cuts of the Trump years lowered business taxes far too much and the richest of the rich are, in some cases, avoiding federal taxation altogether.

“Warner recognizes, as one of the wealthiest guys here, that people in his social class, shall we say, don’t pay their fair share of taxes,” Mr. Brown said. He added, “He may not want me to call him a progressive compared to me, but he’s clearly a justice Democrat.”

But the trappings of all that wealth have helped Mr. Warner over the years. He ran for governor as a new kind of Democrat, a businessman who would get the state’s finances into shape. He used basketball games at the gym of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to wear down his opponents. His sumptuous dinners and lavish fund-raisers for colleagues in his Alexandria mansion have created bonds — and also debts he can call in, said Ellen Qualls, a longtime former aide.

“He has done a lot of stuff for these people he has to get to agree now,” she said.

He doesn’t always wear his wealth on his sleeve. During frenzied bipartisan negotiations on the $900 billion Covid-19 relief package late last year, Mr. Warner logged onto a Zoom session in a ratty old T-shirt, drawing ribbing from colleagues who demanded to know how such a rich senator could dress so poorly.

Amid all the talk of deal-making and progress, Congress and Mr. Biden remain a long way from securing their ambitions. No infrastructure legislation exists. The $3.5 trillion social and environmental bill, a transformative piece of legislation, is months away — if it ever happens.

So far, Mr. Warner appears to be enjoying the pressure.

“For someone who complained for a number of years here that I’m not using all my tools, now I need a lot more time just to move all these projects forward,” he said. “I like being in the mix.”

WASHINGTON – As the Senate works to fill key positions within the Biden administration, sailors across the country could soon be looking to a Virginian to steer the nation’s naval forces, including those based out of Naval Station Norfolk in Hampton Roads. Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing to introduce Carlos Del Toro, a former Navy Commander, Mount Vernon resident, and President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of the Navy. A longtime friend of the nominee, Sen. Warner introduced Del Toro in remarks that highlighted his extensive leadership and public service experience. 

“As we think about the challenges our Navy faces from, a geopolitical standpoint – I see these Mr. Chairman, as you know, more from the intel side, this distinguished committee sees it directly from the military side – we need someone who brings Carlos’ depth and breadth of understanding to be Secretary of the Navy at this critical time,” said Sen. Warner. This is a man of enormous, enormous character. He is a proud American, he loves our Navy, he loves this country, and that character I think will be incredibly important for a Secretary of the Navy at this moment in time. He will be an incredible leader of, but also advocate for, the most important asset our Navy has – and that is not our ships or technology, but the men and women who serve.”

“At this moment in time, with all the challenges our country faces here and abroad, on a whole host of fronts, I can think of no one better suited to take on this critically important role,” concluded Sen. Warner. “I speak with unquestionable conviction that he brings the character, the intellect, and the experience to be a great Secretary of the Navy and I urge this committee’s favorable consideration of his nomination.” 

Norfolk is home to the largest naval base in the world. Naval Station Norfolk also serves as a chief economic engine, with the Navy exceeding$15.4 billion in spending throughout the region. This spending accounts for 15 percent of the regional economy, which means that 15 cents of every dollar spent in Hampton Roads is spent by the Navy. 

Carlos Del Toro is a retired Commander in the U.S. Navy with nearly 40 years’ experience in national security and naval operations, budgeting, and acquisition. Over the course of his career in the U.S. Navy, Del Toro held a series of critical appointments – including Senior Executive Assistant to the Director for Program Analysis and Evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; First Commanding Officer of the guided missile destroyer USS Bulkeley; and Special Assistant to the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget – before founding SBG Technology Solutions, Inc. He has served as CEO and President of SBG Technology Solutions for the last 17 years. As CEO and President of SBG Technology Solutions, Del Toro has supported defense programs across a host of immediate and long-term Navy issue areas, including shipbuilding, AI, cybersecurity, acquisition programs, space systems, health, and training. Having earned a Masters in National Security Studies from the Naval War College and a Masters in Legislative Affairs from George Washington University, Del Toro has also supported military programs addressing policy and strategic studies.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Carlos Del Toro immigrated to the U.S. with his family as refugees in 1962. Raised in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, he attended public schools and received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering. He was the first Hispanic President of the White House Fellows Foundation and Alumni association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Stimson Center. He was recently appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association’s Special Commission on Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion. Del Toro is married to Betty Del Toro, with whom they have four children and a granddaughter. 

If approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Del Toro’s nomination will head to the Senate floor, where it will be taken up for consideration by the entire Senate.

Sen. Warner’s introductory remarks as prepared for delivery are available below.

Good morning everyone. Mr. Chairman…Ranking Member…members of the Committee – thank you all for having me this morning.

I’m incredibly proud and honored to join you all today for this hearing, and to introduce someone close to me…someone who is a longtime friend and trusted voice…someone who is an excellent choice to be our nation’s next Secretary of the Navy…Carlos Del Toro.

I’ve known Carlos for more than 20 years now, having first met him through my wife and their work in connection to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In the decades that followed, I’ve often leaned on Carlos’ expertise and experience in the Navy and the private sector when I’ve faced tough policy questions as Senator and as Governor of Virginia.  

Carlos’s story is uniquely American – after having immigrated to the United States with his family from Cuba, he went on to attend the Naval Academy and serve multiple tours of duty across the globe, which included assignments as an Executive Officer of a Naval Cruiser, and as the Pre-Commissioning and Commanding Officer of the USS Bulkeley destroyer.

From his 26 years of military service to our nation, in which he led sailors through times of conflict and peace, Carlos knows the demands of service and how to lead and support our servicemembers. 

And as husband to Betty, and father of four children, Carlos has seen firsthand the experiences and challenges of our military families, and the sacrifices that they too are asked to make on behalf of our nation.

For his military service, Carlos was honored with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, whose other recipients include eight U.S. presidents, notable business leaders, and Nobel Prize winners.

Following Carlos’s retirement from the Navy in 2004, he founded a small business doing engineering and IT services work in Virginia. Over the past 17 years he’s grown his company, all the while navigating the challenges that any small business owner faces – making payroll, strategically investing in the future of the company and in your employees, and supporting and leading the men and women of the company. 

His company has received numerous awards under his leadership, being named a top Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, and a 2020 Small Business Success Story by the SBA.

At a time when there are growing and incredibly complex threats facing our nation and our military…when there are exceedingly tough demands being placed upon our brave men and women in uniform and their families…when we find ourselves at a strategic crossroads requiring tough decisions and smart investments for the future…I can’t think of someone better positioned for this role and this moment, than Carlos Del Toro.

His nearly three decades of military service and leadership imbues him with a firsthand knowledge, understanding, and respect for the Navy’s capabilities…where its strengths and competitive advantages lie…and the challenges it faces. He’s seen the importance and complexities of shipbuilding to the Navy, and the need to provide support and stability to the industrial base.

Combined with his private sector career and experience, this knowledge will be particularly valuable as the Navy invests and makes tough, strategic, fiscally sound decisions about the future of the force, and best positions itself to confront the challenges coming over the horizon in the coming decades. 

Most importantly, however, is the kind of leader that Carlos is…the character that he has…and how the entirety of his career can be defined by supporting those he serves alongside. Carlos will be an incredible leader of, and advocate for, the most important asset our Navy has – the men and women who have put forth themselves in service to our nation.

It’s my privilege to be here today in support of an incredibly impressive man, and a good friend. I know that Carlos has the required experience and character to serve as Secretary of the Navy, and I look forward to you getting a sense of that firsthand here today.

###

Mark Warner emerges as moderates' dealmaker-in-chief
by Jonathan Swan
in Axios 

As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain navigate the legislative minefield of the next few months, they'll often turn to a moderate Democrat who gets far less ink than Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The big picture: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has become a pivotal player in the multi-trillion-dollar negotiations that will shape the Democrats' electoral prospects, Joe Biden's presidency and the future of the country.

  • Warner was an effective negotiator in the group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators who compromised last week on a roughly trillion-dollar infrastructure deal blessed by the president. 
  • And now he'll be the most powerful moderating force on the Senate Budget Committee.
  • That panel is led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and is expected to be the arena in which Democrats battle over their next dream: a multi-trillion-dollar deal on social programs paid for with an overhaul of the tax code.

Behind the scenes: Centrist Democrats and Republicans involved in the negotiations tell Axios that Warner is well-positioned for this dealmaking role.

  • Besides his committee seat, he's played a key role in previous bipartisan deals, including the COVID-19 relief package passed in December.
  • A Republican source in the room for the recent infrastructure negotiations said Warner's private-sector background — he's a wealthy former tech investor — has positioned him well to speak the GOP language on numbers and financing. 
  • The source said Warner also lightened the mood in stuffy Capitol Hill hideaway offices by bringing along expensive bottles of wine. 

White House legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell said the president was grateful Warner effectively argued against one proposed solution: raising the gas tax.

  • Warner also helped Democrats win the argument to use dynamic scoring to estimate the budget impact of the infrastructure package.
  • Last Tuesday, the group was fighting about whether to factor expected economic benefits into their costs.
  • Warner showed up the next day with a paper, co-written by one of the GOP's favored economists, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, arguing the case for dynamic scoring. The method made it into the deal.

Between the lines: Sanders wants to spend $6 trillion on a vast expansion of the social safety net. Many Senate Democrats see that number as exorbitant.

  • Several sources told Axios they'll rely on Warner as their proxy on the Budget Committee to pull Sanders back to a "Goldilocks" figure that would be tolerable both to progressives and centrists.
  • Legislative directors for moderate Democrats are already funneling information to his office.

Between the lines: Warner wouldn't say where he thought the sweet spot would be for these negotiations, but he did say Sanders' proposal involved too much spending with too little raised to pay for it.

  • "Bernie's got out, basically, a two-to-one (spending to pay-for ratio)," Warner told Axios. "I don't think I can go that high."

Sen. John Warner As Inspiration For Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal
by Michael Martz
in Richmond Times-Dispatch

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner had just met with President Joe Biden and nine other senators to seal a bipartisan deal with $579 billion in new spending on public infrastructure — highways and bridges, rail and public transit, broadband telecommunications, the electric power grid and electric vehicle charging stations, and protection for flood-prone coastal communities.

Outside the White House on Thursday, Warner took a moment to praise the late Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican whom he had eulogized at the Washington Cathedral the day before, as an example of bipartisanship leadership for Congress to get important things done for the country.

“My hope is when this framework [for an infrastructure bill] becomes law, that we do it in the spirit of John Warner, and I would hope to convince my colleagues that we should name this legislation after him,” he said, flanked by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., among the 10 senators who had met with Biden to reach the agreement.

“We all commended his ability to work with people across party lines and the fact that he always put country first,” Warner said, “and I think my colleagues have demonstrated that again.”

The moment was big for Virginia’s senior senator, who in his third term in the U.S. Senate has emerged as a player in reaching bipartisan agreements in a chamber equally divided by party and split by the same polarized political forces as the country. Warner had learned the hard way that reaching bipartisan agreement in the Senate wasn’t as easy as he had expected.

In the past year, Warner helped to secure funding for national parks in the Great American Outdoors Act and a $900 billion emergency COVID-19 aid package — both in a Senate controlled by Republicans with President Donald Trump in the White House.

This year, with Biden in the Oval Office and Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate, he pushed for passage of the United States Innovation and Competition Act, which includes $52 billion to revive domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips, potentially seeding the return of chip manufacturing to places such as Henrico County. He partnered with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on the so-called “CHIPS for America” provisions in the bill.

“I like the job a lot more,” he said. “I’m putting points on the board. I can point to things that affect Virginians’ lives.”

The infrastructure agreement has a long and potentially perilous path before it would become law, but Warner said it would bring major benefits to Virginia — helping the state’s ambitions to expand passenger rail service with a $66 billion commitment to rail and the biggest federal investment in Amtrak in history.

“When we can make a once-in-a-generation investment in Amtrak, that’s a big deal,” he said.

Joe McAndrew, vice president for transportation at the Greater Washington Partnership, said the framework reached Thursday would make a big difference in plans to run passenger trains between Richmond and Washington almost hourly within the next decade.

“How do you do the whole D.C. to RVA faster? You need money,” McAndrew said.

The package also includes $49 billion for transit, which he said could help Richmond’s efforts to expand bus rapid transit and transform bus service in the region.

“Richmond is primed and the state of Virginia is primed to be partners and recipients of the money,” McAndrew said.

Expanding broadband telecommunications networks — and making high-speed internet affordable — would get $65 billion, on top of the federal money already committed in the relief package passed in December and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that Biden signed in March.

“As we await further details about the specifics of this bipartisan proposal, I will keep working to make sure central Virginia’s urgent physical infrastructure priorities — including expanded broadband internet access — are included in infrastructure-focused legislation eventually passed by Congress and sent to President Biden’s desk,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, said Thursday.

The framework includes $73 billion to upgrade and protect the electric power grid; $7.5 billion each for electric buses and charging stations for electric vehicles; $55 billion to replace lead pipes and upgrade drinking water systems; and $47 billion for “resilience” projects to protect coastal areas against rising seas because of climate change.

“There are two places that are ground zero for resilience in America — one is New Orleans and one is Hampton Roads,” Warner said.

The biggest part of the package is $109 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, the traditional infrastructure projects that also will be addressed in a new surface transportation bill being written on both sides of Congress.

The new spending would come on top of about $394 billion in baseline appropriations for infrastructure projects that would bring the total to about $974 billion. Warner also predicts that a proposed $20 billion investment in a new financing bank could leverage an additional $200 billion.

Politically, however, the infrastructure deal would be paired with a budget reconciliation package that could include trillions of dollars in new spending that Republicans won’t support.

Biden pushed the American Rescue Plan Act through Congress without Republican votes, but he made clear Thursday that he prefers political compromise.

“When we can find common ground though, working across party lines,” he said, “that is what I will seek to do.”

Senate Intelligence Committee to Examine Antigovernment Extremists
by Julian E. Barnes and 
in New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee will examine the influence of Russia and other foreign powers on antigovernment extremist groups like the ones that helped mobilize the deadly attack on the Capitol last month, the panel’s new chairman said in an interview this week.

As the executive branch undertakes a nationwide manhunt to hold members of the mob accountable, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virgina, said it would be vitally important for the influential committee to do a “significant dive” into antigovernment extremism in the United States, the ties those groups have to organizations in Europe and Russia’s amplification of their message.

With the power-sharing agreement between Democrats and Republicans in place, Mr. Warner took over this week as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after four years as its vice chairman. In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Warner outlined his priorities, such as the spread of disinformation, the rise of antigovernment extremist groups, Chinese domination of key technologies, Russia’s widespread hacking of government computer networks and strengthening watchdog protections in the intelligence agencies.

The White House has ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. on a new analysis of the threat from domestic extremist groups and the support they receive from foreign powers or overseas organizations.

Those antigovernment extremists include QAnon, the conspiracy movement, and the Proud Boys, a far-right organization that Canada named as a terrorist group on Wednesday. Supporters of those groups and others were part of the attack on the Capitol building on Jan. 6, which aimed to stop the transfer of power to the Biden administration.

The issue is a difficult one for the intelligence community. By law, the most influential agencies, including the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, are not allowed to collect information domestically. But Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, has some oversight of the intelligence arms of the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, which can collect information domestically. Other intelligence agencies look at foreign attempts to influence American groups.

While preliminary work by Ms. Haines’s office is underway, administration officials said that analysis was unlikely to be completed before April. But there appears to be significant interest in moving quickly on the issue in the Senate. At Ms. Haines’s confirmation hearing last month, a number of lawmakers raised the subject of domestic extremist groups. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee will examine both white supremacist groups on the right, and antifascist, or antifa, groups on the left, though Mr. Warner was quick to say that the danger the groups posed was not the same. “I don’t want to make a false equivalency argument here,” he said, “because the vast preponderance of them are on the right.”

Like the intelligence community, Mr. Warner’s panel could face its own jurisdictional challenges as a handful of other House and Senate groups jockey to play a role in studying the aftermath of the Capitol assault and congressional leaders contemplate setting up an independent commission.

For the past four years, the committee has done extensive work on disinformation efforts. Mr. Warner said that experience could guide the panel as it looks at how extremists groups spread propaganda and how foreign powers amplify it.

Unlike most corners of Capitol Hill, and unlike the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Warner’s panel has managed to operate, for the most part, with bipartisan agreement. All but one senator on the committee backed its five-volume report on Russian interference. Completed last year, the Senate investigation was perhaps the definitive word on Moscow’s interference efforts and found that Russia had disrupted the 2016 election to help Donald J. Trump become president.

Mr. Warner said on Wednesday that the bipartisan record of the committee was important for him to preserve, and that he intended to begin work with closed-door meetings to make the case to other committee members about the threat the groups represent and how they could be exploited by outside powers.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee have expressed interest in examining antigovernment extremist groups, Mr. Warner said. But he acknowledged the political sensitivities after the Capitol attack and Mr. Trump’s support among far-right factions of those groups. Making the case that antigovernment groups are a problem not only in the United States but also in Europe is one way to build consensus on the issue. The committee, Mr. Warner said, will begin its discussions in private sessions so lawmakers can have a candid and less political conversation.

Beyond an investigation of antigovernment extremism and foreign efforts to promote it, Mr. Warner said the committee would work on pushing for new protections for whistle-blowers and making it more difficult to dismiss inspectors general, government officials charged with finding waste, fraud and abuse.

Mr. Trump last year fired Michael K. Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. It was Mr. Atkinson who investigated the whistle-blower complaint about Mr. Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart in 2019 and ultimately delivered that report to Congress.

At Ms. Haines’s confirmation hearing last month, Mr. Warner began his questioning by describing how his own views on the Chinese government had changed, thoughts he repeated in his interview. He said he was wrong to have believed that China would democratize the more it was brought into the world order.

“I will astonish you and acknowledge that directionally, Trump was right,” Mr. Warner said on Wednesday.

Mr. Warner said he disagreed with John Ratcliffe, Mr. Trump’s final director of national intelligence, who had argued that China was trying to interfere with the election. But Mr. Warner said he believed China had “a very, very sophisticated effort to influence American policy.”

The Senate committee will also look at Chinese technological investments, building on the work members of Congress have done on Beijing’s dominance of 5G, the next generation of mobile phone networks, Mr. Warner said. He said the United States needed to carefully assess its technology compared with China’s on artificial intelligence, facial recognition and quantum computing.

Having a government role in bringing some manufacturing back to the United States from China was an area of bipartisan agreement, Mr. Warner said, mentioning Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and a member of the Intelligence Committee.

“There is a coalition of the willing to take on the challenge of China,” Mr. Warner said. “China has taken the best lessons of British imperialism and American imperialism, and we find them in a kind of authoritarian capitalism model.”

Progress-Index: Warner bill expanding access to healthy foods could be oasis in Petersburg's food deserts
by Bill Atkinson
in Progress-Index

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner is the chief patron of bipartisan legislation that creates incentives to increase access to groceries in underserved communities — including Petersburg — commonly referred to as "food deserts" due to their lack of adequate numbers of supermarkets within them.

The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act, introduced Wednesday in the Senate by Warner, D-Virginia, and three other senators, would create tax credits and onetime grants for entities to establish and expand operations that make it easier to get nutritious foods into the stomachs of people who live in urban food deserts — a mile or more from a grocery store. Food deserts that have poverty rates of 20% or higher, or whose median family income is less than 80% than that of the state or metropolitan area, would be covered by HFAAA.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Petersburg's overall poverty rate is 21.6%. Its median family annual income is around $36,000, which is 39% of the Virginia median of almost $93,500.

Additionally, more than 72% of Petersburg's population live in food-desert designated areas,

Under the legislation, food providers serving Petersburg can apply to become a certified Special Access Food Provider, enabling them to receive the following tax credits and grants:

  • a onetime 15% tax credit for building new stores in food deserts;
  • a onetime 10% tax credit for renovating existing stores to increase capacity
  • a onetime grant for 15% of the construction of new permanent facilities for food banks; and
  • grants of 105 covering the annual operating costs for farmers' and mobile markets.

Only two retail grocer chains — Food Lion and Walmart — have markets in Petersburg. The remaining stores are privately owned.

Warner's bill also applies to food deserts in Hopewell, Dinwiddie County and Prince George County.

Mark Warner column: Honoring Barbara Johns
by Senator Mark R. Warner
in Roanoke Times

In January 2002, my wife, Lisa, and our youngest daughter were walking across Capitol Square, outside our new home in the Executive Mansion. Our daughter had just finished a lesson on civil rights in school, and she had a question. Glancing around at all the statues of old, white men on the lawn, 7-year-old Eliza asked her mother, “Where is Rosa Parks?”

While Rosa Park wasn’t a Virginian, that innocent question got us thinking. It had taken the wisdom of a young child to immediately notice what we had not: that there were no statues honoring women or people of color in this public square designed to tell the story of our commonwealth and its people. As governor of Virginia, I established a commission that led to the building and unveiling of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial in Capitol Square in 2008.

The monument features Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old from Moton High School in Farmville, who led a student walkout with all 450 of her fellow Black classmates to protest school segregation in Virginia.

After her daring act, Johns would go on to achieve even more than she had considered, spearheading one of five cases that in 1954 would lead to the Supreme Court ruling that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. Demonstrating a bravery uncommon to those three times her age, Johns transformed our nation’s racist and discriminatory education system for the generations of students who would follow in her footsteps.

As we continue to grapple with the need to reckon with our past and present, it is important now more than ever to highlight those Americans like Johns who have stood up at key moments in our history and pushed us towards progress.

That’s one reason I support Virginia’s decision to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that long represented our commonwealth in the U.S. Capitol with one of Johns.

There, she will take her place — in a moment presaged by young Eliza’s question so many years ago — alongside those of Parks and 98 other notable Americans to tell Virginia’s story of perseverance, diversity and inclusion.

While the Lee statue was removed from its perch in the U.S. Capitol this past week, there are many such reminders of our country’s painful past with slavery and racism still standing — many of them erected long after the Confederacy’s defeat and intended to send a signal to Black Americans that despite the end of slavery, racism still reigned triumphant in public life.

In the past few years, following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2015 mass shooting in Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina, our country has been engaged in a difficult conversation about whether Confederate monuments such as the ones on Monument Avenue should remain in public spaces or be taken down.

Such monuments have become the focus of protests, most notably in Charlottesville in 2017, when white supremacists came to protest the removal of another statue commemorating Lee, leading to the death of a promising young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring dozens.

More recently, they have re-emerged as a national flashpoint following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

For centuries, our culture has been soaked in racist norms, and Confederate monuments have often been the chosen symbols of those norms. The purpose of taking down these Confederate monuments from public spaces is to move from the symbolism of racism to its substance.

Organizers, community leaders and racial justice activists recognize that we can’t change racism in our nation until we change our nation’s culture. That tells us that a growing number of Americans are ready to take up the moral transgressions in our past in order to improve and understand our present.

It is thanks to those citizens who have stood up to demand that our public monuments represent our values as Virginians that this transformational moment has arrived. I look forward to soon seeing Barbara Johns as the face of our commonwealth in the Capitol Rotunda.

Quiet the storm brewing in health care

By Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA)

Even before the coronavirus outbreak began, a storm was brewing in our health care system. Under the Trump administration, the number of uninsured Americans has steadily increased from the record lows seen following the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to the administration’s efforts to undermine the health care law, combined with political resistance to Medicaid expansion in many states, the uninsured rate climbed up and up. According to new data from the CDC, nearly 31 million Americans lacked health insurance on the eve of the pandemic.

Then the coronavirus hit. Of the more than 40 million Americans out of work due to the pandemic, an estimated 27 million have also lost their health insurance. Today we face record rates of Americans lacking health insurance precisely when demands on our health care system are greatest. 

The consequences of this policy failure will be severe, and the damage will not just be felt by those uninsured Americans who contract coronavirus. This will hit state budgets, cash-strapped hospitals and American families — who will likely see the financial strain on our system reflected in higher insurance premiums.

Unfortunately, this is not even the worst-case scenario. Having failed twice to overturn the Affordable Care Act in Congress, the Trump administration is currently leading a lawsuit that would overturn the health care law in its entirety with no plan for replacement. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case this fall, precisely when public health experts warn we could face a second wave of COVID cases. If successful, the Trump administration lawsuit would dismantle health coverage for millions of Americans and protections for the millions more who have a pre-existing condition.

To be clear, this legal challenge to the health coverage and protections that millions of Americans rely on represents the entirety of the Trump administration’s plan to address the health coverage crisis we now face.

The administration should immediately withdraw this lawsuit that threatens to disrupt our entire health care system in the middle of a pandemic. But merely avoiding this impending disaster is not nearly enough. We need to dramatically and quickly expand coverage for those Americans out of work due to the coronavirus, as well as for those Americans who lacked insurance before the crisis began.

First, we must expand and strengthen Medicaid. More than 380,000 Virginians have already gained affordable coverage through our expansion of Medicaid. As unemployment increases, states will see a further influx of individuals eligible for Medicaid coverage. Congress should provide states with additional funding, tied to unemployment rates, to help address this influx. In addition, we should pass legislation I’ve introduced called the SAME Act, which would make sure states such as Virginia that were late to expand Medicaid get their fair share of federal funding. 

Second, Congress should help workers who have lost their employer-provided insurance regain that coverage through the COBRA program. To offset the high cost of paying for an employer-sponsored plan without employer support, the federal government should temporarily help cover the costs until it is safe for workers to return to work.

Third, the Trump administration must re-open the Affordable Care Act health care exchanges so uninsured individuals can immediately enroll in health care coverage. Congress should also enhance tax credits to help more Americans afford this marketplace coverage.

These are three ideas that can and should be enacted in the next round of coronavirus relief legislation. While the legislative solutions I’ve described are not a cure-all to structural problems in our health care system, they would quickly help millions of Americans regain coverage during this critical moment.

With unemployment and uninsured rates at record highs, the combined economic and health care crisis we face cannot be ignored. The solutions I’ve described would allow us to get millions of Americans covered as quickly as possible, using the tools that are already available. We should implement them before it is too late.

Mark Warner represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

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