U.S News

Robert Long Pleads Not Guilty to 4 Murder Counts in Atlanta Spa Shooting

Robert Aaron Long pleaded guilty in July to four other murder charges and will spend the rest of his life behind bars.,


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ATLANTA — A 22-year-old man pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to four murder charges stemming from a shooting rampage at a string of spas in the Atlanta area last spring.

The man, Robert Aaron Long, had previously pleaded guilty to four murder charges in nearby Cherokee County, where the shooting spree began.

Mr. Long has said he had a sexual addiction and committed the killings to “punish” sex industry workers, and admitted to the March 16 shootings shortly after his capture, according to law enforcement. His not guilty pleas, entered by his lawyer on his behalf in a downtown Atlanta courtroom during a brief appearance Tuesday morning, appear to be part of an effort to save his life. Prosecutors have indicated they intend to seek the death penalty.

The killing spree at three spas in March began in suburban Cherokee County, outside of Atlanta, where Mr. Long shot five people, killing four of them. He pleaded guilty to those murders in July and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences without parole, plus an additional 35 years.

It was a negotiated sentence that allowed him to avoid going to trial in Cherokee County, where prosecutors said they would have pursued the death penalty. Mr. Long now faces trial in Fulton County for the four killings he is accused of carrying out at two spas in Atlanta.

Fani T. Willis, the chief prosecutor for Fulton County, which covers much of Atlanta, filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in May. After Mr. Long’s plea in Cherokee County, she said that lawyers for Mr. Long had approached her office seeking a similar plea deal.

Though Ms. Willis, a Democrat, has said she is generally open to considering plea deals, she has indicated that she will continue to pursue the death penalty in Mr. Long’s case, at least for now.

Ms. Willis’s office is also seeking enhanced penalties for the Atlanta killings, arguing that the victims were targeted because of their “actual or perceived race, national origin, sex and gender.” Mr. Long is white; six of the people killed, including all of the Atlanta victims, were women of Asian descent.

It is one of the first times prosecutors have deployed a Georgia hate crime law that was approved last year by lawmakers in response to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American man who was fatally shot after he was pursued by three white men who suspected him of committing burglaries in their neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Ga.

Those enhancements will have no material effect on Mr. Long, a landscaping company worker who will spend the rest of his life in prison even if he is not executed. The Fulton County indictment against Mr. Long includes 19 total counts, including charges of aggravated assault and domestic terrorism.

The willingness of Ms. Willis to seek the death penalty comes after her declaration as a candidate for the prosecutor’s job in 2020 that she could not “foresee” a case in which she would seek capital punishment.

Sean Keenan contributed reporting.

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Lawmakers to Question Milley and Austin on End of War in Afghanistan

Tuesday’s appearance by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, Gen. Mark A. Milley and Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. is the start of back-to-back Senate and House hearings.,


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The end of the war in Afghanistan will come under scrutiny as military leaders appear before lawmakers.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, center, spoke during a hearing on Capitol Hill in June alongside Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Sept. 28, 2021Updated 8:42 a.m. ET

Nearly a month after the last American troops departed Afghanistan in a hasty evacuation, the Pentagon’s top brass on Tuesday morning will face sharp questions from lawmakers about the military’s role at the end of the nation’s longest war.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are certain to be asked about their advice earlier in the year to President Biden not to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, which oversees Afghanistan, offered the same advice to the president. General McKenzie will also appear before lawmakers.

In the first of back-to-back Senate and House hearings this week, General Milley is expected to be asked why he declared a U.S. drone attack in Kabul last month “a righteous strike” even after military officials said they were investigating reports of civilian casualties. The Pentagon acknowledged a week later that the strike was a tragic mistake, killing 10 people, including seven children. General Milley tacitly conceded that he spoke too soon, calling the error “heart-wrenching.”

Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is nominally about the frantic evacuation from Kabul and the Pentagon’s strategy to fight terrorist groups there from long distances. But lawmakers from both parties are expected to use the moment to raise other topics in what is expected to be a rancorous partisan donnybrook.

Republicans are likely to zero in on comments General Milley made to a succession of authors about his efforts during the last chaotic months of the Trump administration to protect the military and American democratic institutions from a president who was searching for avenues to stay in power.

Those moves, as described in a new book, culminated with General Milley twice calling to reassure his Chinese counterpart and extracting promises from the military chain of command not to launch a nuclear weapon on Mr. Trump’s orders without first alerting him.

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How You Can Find Rental Assistance in California

The state’s eviction moratorium ends on Thursday.,


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Volunteers with the Los Angeles Tenants Union outside of the home of a person who received an eviction notice in East Hollywood in August.Credit…Caroline Brehman/EPA, via Shutterstock

Perhaps it’s a sign that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us, or that it’s stretched on far longer than we ever expected, but two key pandemic-related safety net programs are soon coming to a close.

Starting Friday, the first day of October, Californians will no longer be guaranteed up to two extra weeks of paid sick leave for Covid-19 illnesses, and, for the first time in more than a year, landlords will be able to kick tenants out for not paying their rent.

Many low-income workers are angered by the termination of these programs, especially just weeks after 2.2 million Californians lost enhanced unemployment benefits. But it doesn’t seem likely the safeguards will be extended.

For renters, however, other kinds of financial aid are available — and they may be far more helpful than any assistance thus far.

If you need rent relief

First, it’s important to note that though the state’s eviction moratorium is expiring on Sept. 30, some places in California have local laws that will continue to prevent landlords from evicting tenants.

Those include Fresno County, Alameda County, Solano County as well as the cities of Berkeley and Oakland. Your town might have a similar protection.

But no matter where you live, people who meet income requirements can take advantage of a state program that offers to pay 100 percent of back rent accrued during the pandemic as well as unpaid water and electricity bills.

If that sounds as if it would cost a huge amount of money, that’s because it does. The $7.2 billion California has made available amounts to the most expansive rent forgiveness program in United States history.

There’s no deadline to apply, and the state will continue to dole out funds until they run out. Californians can get up to 18 months in back rent covered.

“Apply as soon as possible, but no one should fear that the rent relief program is going away any time soon,” Gustavo Velasquez, director of the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, told The Los Angeles Times.

To qualify for the rental assistance, you must have been somehow financially harmed by the pandemic — though no proof is required — and your income must be below 80 percent of the annual median income in your region.

For Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose — the state’s three biggest cities — a family of four would qualify if they made below $94,600, $97,000 and $117,750, respectively.

You can browse those income limits here and apply for rental assistance here.

The state’s program, made possible in part by our unexpected budget surplus, could theoretically cover unpaid rent for every Californian.

According to an analysis from PolicyLink and U.S.C. Equity Research Institute, 14 percent of California households owe back rent, which amounts to a total of $2.5 billion in rent debt.

That’s less than half of the funds the state has available.

For more:

San Diego leaders are working on additional eviction protections, reports NBC San Diego.

A federal program aimed at halting evictions is showing signs of improvement.


A veterinarian injected a chicken with one of the last doses of ivermectin she had.Credit…Houston Cofield for The New York Times

If you read one story, make it this

Veterinarians and farmers are struggling with surging demand for a deworming medicine that some Americans falsely believe treats Covid-19.


An infrared satellite image showing an active fire line in Twin Bridges this month.Credit…Maxar Technologies/Reuters

The rest of the news

Satellites: The Pentagon’s spacecraft have repeatedly proven themselves to be superior at spotting blazes. So why don’t more firefighters have them?

Instagram for children: Facebook said on Monday that it had paused development of an Instagram Kids service that would be tailored for children 13 years old or younger.

Ballots by mail: Under a new bill signed on Monday, a ballot will be mailed to every registered California voter in future elections. Voters will still have the option to send in their ballot or vote in person, according to The Associated Press.

Ohio travel ban: Ohio’s new state law that allows doctors to decline services based on moral or religious grounds has caused a 2016 California law to take effect. Under this law, state-funded travel to Ohio will be prohibited, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Rapid tests: Californians seeking same-day Covid-19 tests for sick children or infection scares are finding empty shelves and long delays, CalMatters reports.

Garment industry rules: Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday approved a law requiring the garment industry to pay workers by the hour instead of for each piece of clothing they produce, reports The Associated Press.

Hospital staffing shortages: As a statewide vaccination mandate for hospital employees takes effect this week, there is a looming fear that people will choose to quit rather than be vaccinated, according to The Associated Press.


Spike in homicides: There were 351 murders last year in Los Angeles, versus 258 in 2019 — a reflection of a nationwide jump in murders in 2020.

Recall election in Riverside: Recently posted results from the governor recall election showed that a majority of Riverside County voted to recall Newsom, according to The Press-Enterprise.

Vaccine mandate vote: The San Diego Unified School District will vote today on whether to require Covid-19 vaccination for students over 12, NBC San Diego reports.


Students in Afghanistan: Almost 50 students from the Sacramento area are trapped in Afghanistan, a number that has risen as school districts continue to identify students and their whereabouts, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Wildfires: Firefighters are still working to contain the Windy fire, the K.N.P. complex fire and the Fawn fire, which are encroaching on ancient sequoia forests, according to The Associated Press.


Cabins for homeless: San Francisco is building tiny cabins for homeless people, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Bike paths: This interactive map created by The San Francisco Chronicle shows how the city’s bike paths are being remade in the pandemic.

What we’re eating

The Michelin inspectors have added eight restaurants to their selections in San Diego and Orange Counties.


Credit…Michael Minson and Tracy Hsieh/Level Up Group

What you get

See $4 million homes in San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco and Mill Valley.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s travel tip comes from Howard Hian, who recommends Chico:

“Downtown Chico is a delight for roaming; historic buildings, boutiques, bars, bookstores, restaurants, outdoor cafes, art galleries and antique shops line the streets. The National Yo-Yo Museum has the largest public display of yo-yos and memorabilia in the U.S.

Bidwell Park, established in 1905, is its crown jewel. It is one of the largest municipal parks in the U.S. (3,670 acres) with approximately 60 miles of dirt and paved biking/hiking trails. Sycamore Pool, at the One-Mile Recreation Area, is a local hangout. Middle and Upper Park are perfect spots for exploring. The scenic Sacramento River is a short 10-mile drive from Chico and a mecca for tubing and fishing.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What we’re recommending

The Times’s gripping new Britney Spears documentary.


Credit…Cassi Alexandra for The New York Times

And before you go, some good news

A couple fell in love after finding common ground in the South, South India and San Francisco.

Read about their recent wedding in The Times.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Plump up, as a pillow (5 letters).

Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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Stephanie Grisham’s Book Details Trump’s ‘Terrifying’ Temper

The former press secretary is reflective in her tell-all: “I should have spoken up more.”,


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WASHINGTON — Stephanie Grisham, the former Trump White House press secretary perhaps best known for never holding a televised briefing with reporters, plans to release a tell-all book next week that accuses President Donald J. Trump of abusing his staff, placating dictators like Vladimir Putin of Russia, and making sexual comments about a young White House aide.

In her book, titled “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” Ms. Grisham recalls her time working for a president she said constantly berated her and made outlandish requests, including a demand that she appear before the press corps and re-enact a certain call with the Ukrainian president that led to Mr. Trump’s (first) impeachment, an assignment she managed to avoid.

“I knew that sooner or later the president would want me to tell the public something that was not true or that would make me sound like a lunatic,” Ms. Grisham writes, offering a reason for why she never held a briefing.

After serving as press secretary, Ms. Grisham worked in Melania Trump’s office. She resigned on Jan. 6 as a horde of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. Her book was kept a secret from her closest allies in the White House, though by the time she departed Washington that number had dwindled. (She writes that, months before the election, she had moved to Kansas.) Her publisher, HarperCollins, calls the book “The most frank and intimate portrait of the Trump White House yet.”

The former president has already moved to discredit Ms. Grisham’s account, calling the book “another pitiful attempt to cash in on the president’s strength and sell lies about the Trump family,” according to Liz Harrington, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump. “The little substance her book has — if you can make it through juvenile gossip — flies in the face of reality and deserves no serious recognition.”

In her book, Ms. Grisham offered a pre-emptive response to the criticism: “This is not, by the way, a book where you need to like me.”

Here are some highlights from the manuscript obtained by The New York Times:

A (fleetingly) tough stance toward Putin is just for show

Ms. Grisham lands on a well-documented theme when she explores Mr. Trump’s love of dictators. But she says Mr. Trump went out of his way to please one in particular: Mr. Putin, whose cold reception of Mr. Trump, she writes, seemed to make the president want to impress him even more.

“With all the talk of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and for various human rights abuses, Trump told Putin, ‘Okay, I’m going to act a little tougher with you for a few minutes. But it’s for the cameras, and after they leave we’ll talk. You understand,'” Ms. Grisham writes, recalling a meeting between the two leaders during the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in 2019.

Ms. Grisham took notes during that meeting from Fiona Hill, Mr. Trump’s top adviser on Russia-turned-impeachment witness, who observed what she said were Mr. Putin’s subtle efforts to throw Mr. Trump off guard.

“As the meeting began, Fiona Hill leaned over and asked me if I had noticed Putin’s translator, who was a very attractive brunette woman with long hair, a pretty face, and a wonderful figure,” Ms. Grisham writes. “She proceeded to tell me that she suspected the woman had been selected by Putin specifically to distract our president.”

Sexist language toward women

While he was in the White House, Mr. Trump’s targets included a young press aide whom Ms. Grisham says the president repeatedly invited up to his Air Force One cabin, including once to “look at her,” using an expletive to describe her rear end. Mr. Trump, she writes, instructed her to promote the woman and “keep her happy.” Instead, Ms. Grisham tried to keep her away from the president.

During an Oval Office rant about E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Mr. Trump of raping her in the 1990s, Mr. Trump first insults Ms. Carroll’s looks. Then he gazes into Ms. Grisham eyes and says something that unnerves her.

“‘You just deny it,'” he told Ms. Grisham. ‘That’s what you do in every situation. Right, Stephanie? You just deny it,’ he repeated, emphasizing the words.”

Melania Trump’s quiet rebellion

Ms. Grisham also confirms what she and Melania Trump had long denied: That the first lady was angry after several reports of her husband’s infidelities — and hush money payments — surfaced in the news media.

To the contrary: “After the Stormy Daniels story broke and all the allegations that followed from other women,” Ms. Grisham writes, “I felt that Mrs. Trump was basically unleashed.”

The first lady, she says, found ways to omit her husband from photos and tweets, and made it a point to show up on the arm of a handsome military aide. Mrs. Trump, who is closed off to even her closest aides, begins to open up to Ms. Grisham, telling her that she doesn’t believe her husband’s denials or those from his former fixer, Michael Cohen — “Oh, please, are you kidding me?” she asks at one point. “I don’t believe any of that,” the first lady adds, using an expletive. (This book, it should be said, contains a lot of expletives.)

Ms. Grisham also attempts to illuminate why Mrs. Trump wore a jacket inscribed with the phrase “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” to visit a Texas camp for child migrants, but focuses more on the president’s reaction: “”What the hell were you thinking?” he asked Ms. Grisham and his wife in the Oval Office, before instructing an aide to tweet out a cover story: “You just tell them you were talking to the” news media, he told the group.

The first lady grew more disengaged over time, Ms. Grisham writes, to the point where she was asleep on election night. She was overseeing a photo shoot of a rug on Jan. 6 and declined to comment publicly on what has happening at the Capitol. (For Ms. Grisham, this was the last straw. She resigned later that day.)

In the end, the first lady sided with her husband, doubting the election results — “Something bad happened,” she told Ms. Grisham — and declined to invite Jill Biden, the incoming first lady, to the White House for tea.

“She would always say, ‘Let me think about it’ or ‘Let’s see what the West Wing will do,'” Ms. Grisham writes, “Which meant no. And when exactly did she decide to start following the West Wing’s lead?”

Demands to evict the press from the White House

Ms. Grisham says that a trip to North Korea inspired Mr. Trump to ask her to research ways the press could be permanently evicted from the James S. Brady Briefing Room.

“I researched different places we could put them other than the press briefing room. Each time the president asked me about my progress on the matter, I let him know I was still working on options,” Ms. Grisham writes.

As she tries to please Mr. Trump, whose press coverage was relentlessly negative, she describes his anger toward her and others as “terrifying”: “When I began to see how his temper wasn’t just for shock value or the cameras,” she writes, “I began to regret my decision to go to the West Wing.”

She says one frequent target of Mr. Trump’s ire was Pat Cipollone, who served as White House counsel: “He didn’t like them telling him that things he wanted to do were unethical or illegal. So he’d scream at them. But then he’d usually listen. And then yell at them again later.”

(There were other indignities: Ms. Grisham writes that Mr. Trump called her while aboard Air Force One to defend the size of his penis after Ms. Daniels insulted it in an interview. “Uh, yes sir,” Ms. Grisham replied.)

At one point, she writes, Mr. Trump’s handlers designated an unnamed White House official known as the “Music Man” to play him his favorite show tunes, including “Memory” from Cats, to pull him from the brink of rage. (The aide, it is revealed later, is Ms. Grisham’s ex-boyfriend. She does not identify him, but it is Max Miller, a former White House official now running for Congress with Mr. Trump’s support.)

She was a close-up observer of Mr. Trump’s obsession with control, and details a scene in which the president undergoes a colonoscopy without anesthesia — though she doesn’t name the procedure — because, she reasons, even temporarily assigning power to the vice president would have been “showing weakness.”

In the end, Ms. Grisham stood by as three chiefs of staff, two press secretaries, and countless other aides resigned. She notes that Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, seemed to grow more powerful.

Ms. Trump, she said, made it a point to insert herself into meetings where she did not belong, including when she demanded that her father address the nation from the Oval Office during the early days of the pandemic. But Ms. Grisham reserves special ire for Mr. Kushner, whom she calls “Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit.” (At one point, Mr. Trump warns her not to get on Mr. Kushner’s bad side.)

“The truth was that pretty much everyone eventually wore out their welcome with the president,” Ms. Grisham writes. “We were bottles of milk with expiration dates.”

The former press secretary adds, “I should have spoken up more.”

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Pelosi Plans Infrastructure Vote as Safety Net Bill Remains Mired in Rifts

The move amounts to a gamble that liberals who have balked at allowing the infrastructure bill to move on its own will support it in a vote on Thursday.,


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WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California signaled to Democrats on Monday that she would push ahead with a vote this week on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, pushing to salvage President Biden’s agenda in Congress even as the party remained divided over a broader social safety net measure.

Progressive lawmakers have long warned that they will not vote for the infrastructure legislation, which the Senate passed last month, until a far more expansive $3.5 trillion domestic policy and tax package also clears the chamber.

But in private remarks to her caucus on Monday evening, Ms. Pelosi effectively decoupled the two bills, saying that Democrats needed more time to resolve their differences over the multitrillion-dollar social policy plan. The move amounted to a gamble that liberals who had balked at allowing the infrastructure bill to move on its own would support it in a planned vote on Thursday.

It also left unclear the date of the more costly social safety net package, which Democrats are pushing through using the fast-track reconciliation process to shield it from a Republican filibuster. But with slim margins of control in both chambers, Democratic leaders must keep all their senators united in favor, and they can afford to lose as few as three votes in the House.

Ms. Pelosi said her shift in strategy came only after it became clear that Democrats would have to shrink the size of the reconciliation package from $3.5 trillion. Mr. Biden has been negotiating privately with conservative-leaning Democrats to settle on a final number. The speaker outlined her new approach after speaking with the president and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, as the three worked to unite their members behind the details of the package.

Ms. Pelosi said that Democrats had been on schedule to push through the reconciliation package until 10 days ago, when she heard that the overall cost had to come down, according to a person familiar with her remarks, who described them on the condition of anonymity.

But it has been clear for weeks that conservative-leaning Democrats would not accept the size of the bill.

Lawmakers in both chambers have said they hope to quickly iron out the remaining differences between the moderate and liberal factions of their party, although many of the specific demands from the holdouts remain unclear. Ms. Pelosi reiterated that she would not take up a reconciliation bill that could not pass the Senate.

She told Democrats that the reconciliation measure remained important, but that she wanted to leave time for continued negotiations and to avoid delaying a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure legislation. That bill, now slated for a vote on Thursday, includes $550 billion in new funds over 10 years and maintains a series of key transportation programs set to lapse with the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

But even as Ms. Pelosi sought to rally the party before the vote, it remained unclear whether enough liberal Democrats would back down from their insistence that the reconciliation package move first.

Moderate Democrats remained confident that enough Republicans would support the infrastructure bill to allow it to clear the House, sending the legislation to Mr. Biden’s desk.

Some progressives, however, pushed back on the speaker’s plan to decouple the two bills, saying they would still not be comfortable backing the infrastructure measure until they heard assurances from Senate moderates that they would embrace key components of the reconciliation legislation.

“I would actually like them to make their demands clear so that we can engage with that,” Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, said of two key Senate moderates, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

“The bills are linked,” Ms. Omar added. “And they have to be linked in order for anything to pass the House.”

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Four Jagged Puzzle Pieces and a Few Weeks for Democrats to Assemble Them

The party must keep the government funded, stave off a default, push a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to President Biden and secure the votes for a defining climate change and social policy bill.,


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WASHINGTON — In a pivotal week, in a make-or-break stretch for President Biden’s domestic agenda, congressional Democrats are trying to assemble a puzzle of four jagged pieces that may or may not fit together.

Making them work as a whole is critical for the party’s agenda and political prospects, and how quickly they can assemble the puzzle will determine whether the government suffers another costly and embarrassing shutdown — or, worse yet, a first-ever default on its debt that could precipitate a global economic crisis.

Here are all the moving parts.

Piece 1: Government funding.

At a second past midnight on Friday morning, the parts of the government that operate under the discretion of Congress’s annual spending process will run out of money if a stopgap spending bill does not pass. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the fiscal year, and with larger issues dominating their attention, the Democratic House and Senate have not completed any of the annual appropriations bills to fund the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Health and Human Services, State and Homeland Security, to name a few.

This is not unusual. More often than not, the individual funding bills do not pass until winter. In the interim, Congress passes “continuing resolutions” to keep departments open at current spending levels, with perhaps a few tweaks for urgent priorities and emergencies like hurricane response and, this year, Afghan refugee resettlement.

By Thursday, Congress could easily pass such a resolution to avoid a lapse in funding that could furlough federal workers and force “essential” employees, like those at the Transportation Security Administration, to work for no money. But on Monday, such a stopgap measure was blocked by Republicans in the Senate because it was attached to …

Piece 2: The debt limit.


Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republican leaders say it is Democrats’ responsibility to raise the debt limit.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

The federal government has for decades operated under a statutory ceiling on the amount it can borrow — in common parlance, the debt limit. The $28 trillion federal debt climbs inexorably, not only because the government spends so much more than it recoups in taxes, but also because parts of the government owe money to other parts, mainly most of the government owing money from Social Security after decades of borrowing.

In essence, raising the debt limit is akin to paying off your credit card bill at the end of the month, because a higher borrowing ceiling allows the Treasury to pay creditors, contractors and agencies money that was already extracted from them in Treasury bonds and notes or contracts. It is not for future obligations.

The last time the issue surfaced, in August 2019, Congress and President Donald J. Trump suspended the debt limit through July 31 of this year. On Aug. 2, the Treasury reset the debt limit to $28.4 trillion, and the government crashed through it days later. Ever since, the department has been shuffling money from account to account to make sure its bills are paid, but sometime in mid- to late October, such “extraordinary measures” will be exhausted, and the bills will go unpaid. This would be a shock to the international economy, since U.S. government debt is a global safe harbor for all kinds of cash and investments.

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Republicans and Democrats did not fight over debt limit increases, in part because large spending increases for the coronavirus pandemic and other priorities were bipartisan — although the large tax cut of 2017 was not.

This year, Republican leaders have declared that because Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House, they and they alone must raise the debt ceiling.

Republicans have made it clear that they intend to filibuster an ordinary bill to raise the debt ceiling, as they did on Monday. For Democrats to do so unilaterally, they would most likely have to use a budget process called reconciliation that shields fiscal measures from a filibuster.

Doing so is a complex and time-consuming affair. It all has to be done in the next two to three weeks, to beat the still unknown but rapidly approaching “X date” when the government defaults.

Piece 3: Infrastructure.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put off the vote on the infrastructure bill until Thursday.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

In August, with rare bipartisan swagger, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bill to build or fortify roads, bridges, tunnels, transit and rural broadband networks. The 69 “yes” votes included Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and 18 others from his party.

Then it got more complicated.

Pressing for a quick vote on the bill, nine conservative-leaning Democrats in the House threatened to withhold their votes for the party’s $3.5 trillion budget blueprint until the Senate-passed infrastructure bill cleared their chamber.

The budget blueprint was needed to move Mr. Biden’s sprawling social policy and climate change agenda past a Republican filibuster in the Senate, through the reconciliation process. So in a signature maneuver, Speaker Nancy Pelosi cut a deal with the nine moderates: Vote for the budget resolution to get the social policy bill underway, and she would take up the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, three days before a host of existing transportation and infrastructure programs are to exhaust their legal authorization.

Ms. Pelosi hoped that by then, the reconciliation package would also be ready for action. But that has not happened, and now liberals in the House are threatening to withhold their votes for the infrastructure measure.

Sept. 27 came and went on Monday without a vote or a deal among the factions, with the speaker securing agreement from her moderates to put off action until Thursday. The question is whether enough liberal Democrats in the House will vote for it as they wait for the final details of …

Piece 4: Social policy reconciliation.


Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, has said she cannot support the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint as proposed.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Democrats’ exceedingly ambitious social policy bill, which Mr. Biden calls his “Build Back Better” plan, is packed with longstanding party priorities. The House has drafted a 2,465-page version that includes a huge array of programs to combat climate change, the extension of a generous child tax credit, universal prekindergarten, greatly expanded access to community college, increased resources for elder care and paid leave, and a Medicare expansion to cover vision, hearing and dental care — all paid for by trillions of dollars in tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.

Ms. Pelosi had hoped to put it to a vote this week, but she faced two problems: As of now, Democrats most likely do not have the votes, and Senate Democratic leaders have yet to produce a detailed bill that can draw the support of every member of their caucus.

Several conservative-leaning Democrats in both chambers, including Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have said they cannot support the plan as proposed. And because Republicans have made it clear they are unified in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose even one vote from their party in the Senate.

The math is almost as daunting in the House, where Democrats can afford to lose as few as three votes.

Mr. Biden has been negotiating with the holdouts to determine what they could support. But for now, the lack of agreement on the sprawling plan is blocking its progress — and leaving the fate of the infrastructure measure uncertain as well.

On Monday afternoon, Ms. Pelosi signaled to Democrats that a vote on the reconciliation plan would have to be pushed off until the differences were ironed out.

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Man Who Blackmailed Girls to Send Explicit Images Is Sentenced to 20 Years

Joshua Henry Punt, 39, posed online as a teenager and preyed on girls ranging in age from 12 to 16 in states across the country, the federal authorities said.,


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A man in Washington State who posed as a teenager online and blackmailed girls as young as 12 across the country to send him sexually explicit photos and videos was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in prison, the federal authorities said.

The man, Joshua Henry Punt, 39, of Ridgefield, Wash., pleaded guilty in April to using the messaging apps Kik and Snapchat to connect with the girls, pressure them to send him sexually explicit images of themselves and then use that material to demand more content with the threat of publicly posting the images in his possession, the Justice Department said.

Eight victims, ranging in age from 12 to 16, were identified across the United States, including in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.

“This predatory defendant infiltrated our homes, using electronic access and social media to deceive, pressure and sexually exploit young girls across the country,” Tessa M. Gorman, the acting U.S. attorney, said in the statement. “We warn our children about the ‘dangerous stranger’ they might encounter on the street — we must be equally vigilant about the ones who are lurking online.”

Colin Fieman, a lawyer for Mr. Punt, called the case “just a tragic situation all around.”

“Joshua was the victim of extreme childhood abuse,” Mr. Fieman, a federal public defender, said in an interview on Monday night. “He’s schizophrenic. He’s never had any mental health support. So there were a lot of mitigating and complicating circumstances with the case that the judge took into careful account today.”

Investigators identified Mr. Punt as the administrator of a child pornography distribution group on Kik, where he demanded that new members share content and barred those who failed to do so, the statement said, adding that an undercover employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a cache of child pornography after following links posted by Mr. Punt.

According to the federal authorities, Mr. Punt pleaded guilty in April to production of child pornography, enticement of a minor, distribution of child pornography and advertisement of child pornography. He will be required to register as a sex offender after completing his prison sentence.

Mr. Punt was arrested by local authorities in May 2019 and charged federally in November of that year, the authorities said.

According to a federal complaint from November 2019, a 15-year-old girl whom investigators identified as the first victim said she had connected on Kik with someone claiming to be 17 years old. The person, who investigators said was Mr. Punt, demanded three days later that the girl send him explicit material. When she did so, he asked for more and threatened to distribute the images and videos of her in his possession throughout her hometown if she did not comply.

Mr. Punt, according to the complaint, sent screen shots to the girl of an apparent Kik group conversation, in which he shared her images, along with group members’ reactions. In response, the complaint said, the girl created and sent more sexually explicit content of herself “in order to prevent him from making her depictions public.”

When Mr. Punt would not stop harassing the girl, continued to threaten her and demanded more material, she and her parents in December 2018 contacted the New York State Police and the F.B.I., which began investigating.

“Mr. Punt is a prime example of what is referred to as a ‘sextortionist,'” Donald Voiret, an F.B.I. agent, said in the statement. “While he will be serving time in a federal penitentiary for his actions, I would encourage parents everywhere to engage with their children about the risks of online predators.”

At a sentencing hearing on Monday, Judge Benjamin H. Settle of U.S. District Court said the damage inflicted by Mr. Punt would go on for decades, “rippling through lives,” according to the statement.

He also addressed Mr. Punt directly: “You could see the pain in those girls, and you continued to do it — to eight precious, innocent young girls — you tortured them.”

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A.C.L.U. Apologizes for Tweet That Altered Quote by Justice Ginsburg

The organization acknowledged that changing references from women to people was a mistake — albeit a well-intentioned one.,


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Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Monday that he regretted that a tweet sent out recently by his organization altered the words of a well-known quote by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The A.C.L.U. tweet, which was sent out Sept. 18, changed Justice Ginsburg’s words, replacing each of her references to women with “person,” “people” or a plural pronoun in brackets. Justice Ginsburg, who died last year, is a revered figure in liberal and feminist circles and directed the A.C.L.U.’s Women’s Rights Project from its founding in 1972 until she became a federal judge in 1980.

The tweet by the A.C.L.U. occasioned mockery and some anger on social media from feminists and others.

“We won’t be altering people’s quotes,” Mr. Romero said in an interview on Monday evening. “It was a mistake among the digital team. Changing quotes is not something we ever did.”

Mr. Romero first noted his regrets in an interview with Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times columnist, who wrote a column that spoke to the danger of trying to “change the nature of reality through language alone.”

Justice Ginsburg underwent Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court in 1993. Asked where she stood on reproductive rights, she did not equivocate.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity,” she said. “It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

The A.C.L.U. rendered her quote this way: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity…When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”

Mr. Romero has spoken recently of the cacophony of liberal and left views that now and then spills into the A.C.L.U.’s social media feeds and sometimes requires correction. While he vowed that the A.C.L.U. would not repeat this error, he insisted it “was not a mistake without a thought.” There are people who are pregnant and who seek abortions, he said, who do not identify as women.

“My colleagues do a fantastic job of trying to understand a reality that people who seek abortions are not only women,” he said. “That reality exists.”

The A.C.L.U., he said, could have touched on this emerging reality, one that involves identity, gender and language, without tampering with Justice Ginsburg’s quote. “In today’s America,” he said, “language sometimes needs to be rethought.”

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Miami’s Embattled Top Cop Compared City Leaders to Cuban Dictators

Chief Art Acevedo was a flashy hire when he arrived in Miami six months ago. Now his job is in peril after a series of clashes with city commissioners.,


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MIAMI — The hiring of Art Acevedo as Miami’s police chief seemed like an ideal match. Chief Acevedo, fresh off a high-profile stint in Houston, brought stature and swagger to a city infatuated with both. And as a Cuban immigrant maintaining law and order in the country’s largest concentration of Cuban Americans, his arrival had an air of celebratory inevitability.

That was six months ago. Now Chief Acevedo is at the center of an archetypal Miami political drama, replete with references to Cuban Communism and corruption, that has roiled City Hall and threatened his job.

Even before he moved to Miami, Chief Acevedo was something of a celebrity police chief, known as an outspoken critic of former President Donald J. Trump — despite being a Republican himself — and as a prominent proponent of police reform, especially toward communities of color and immigrants.

But the Miami imbroglio is not over policy. It is a clash of personalities between an ambitious new outsider and powerful city commissioners miffed over both Chief Acevedo’s surprise appointment and his tendency to say exactly what he thinks.

“He was someone who could come in from the outside and really effect change,” Art Noriega, the city manager, told the City Commission in a wild meeting on Monday. “Where we’re at today in particular is a function of the style and the manner in which that change is effectuated.”

Chief Acevedo has accused several commissioners of thwarting his attempts to “change the culture” of the department, as he said he had been hired to do, by improperly meddling in personnel decisions.

“These events are deeply troubling and sad,” he wrote in an eight-page letter on Friday in which he denounced how commissioners tried to influence an internal affairs investigation and then retaliated by defunding top positions in the Police Department’s budget. “If I or M.P.D. give in to the improper actions described herein,” he added, “as a Cuban immigrant, I and my family might as well have remained in Communist Cuba, because Miami and M.P.D. would be no better than the repressive regime and the police state we left behind.”


“He was someone who could come in from the outside and really effect change,” Art Noriega, the city manager, said of Chief Acevedo at the meeting.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

The political fight played out on Monday in a long airing of grievances by commissioners who demanded an investigation into Chief Acevedo’s past, his hiring and his recent actions — effectively putting pressure on the city manager to fire him. Commissioners cannot fire him because he does not directly work for them.

It was an unexpected turn both for the chief and for Miami, which has tried to prove it is a mature city ready to draw serious tech investors, only to find itself entangled in an ugly battle over its sixth police chief in 11 years. It was only this year that the Justice Department ended five years of oversight of the Police Department, which began after an investigation into the police killings of seven Black men.

Chief Acevedo was supposed to bring that era to a conclusion by enacting reforms and promoting an equitable, merit-based chain of command in the police force.

But he wasted no time in generating controversy of his own. He terminated two high-ranking officers and demoted the department’s second-highest-ranking female Black officer. He said his own department — rather than the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — should investigate police shootings. And he angered the police union by telling a local radio station that officers should get vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs.

Last week, a majority of members polled by the Fraternal Order of Police said that they had no confidence in the chief and that he should be fired or forced to resign.

Meantime, Chief Acevedo was making new enemies outside the Police Department as well.

At a demonstration in support of freedom activists in Cuba outside Miami’s iconic Versailles restaurant, the chief was caught posing for a photo with a prominent member of the Proud Boys. (He did not know who it was, the chief said.) Someone that day also recorded him swearing at a man who asked why he hung out with Marxists and Communists and supported the Black Lives Matter movement.

What especially incensed commissioners, in addition to the housecleaning at Police Headquarters, was when Chief Acevedo told a group of officers this summer that the department was run by a “Cuban mafia.” The chief later apologized, saying he intended it as a joke and had not realized that Fidel Castro had used the same phrase to refer to Cuban exiles in Miami who opposed his Communist regime.

The commissioners’ meeting to confront the chief on Monday quickly devolved into Miami-style political theatrics.

At one point, Commissioner Joe Carollo frame-grabbed a video clip of Chief Acevedo, taken before he worked in Miami, performing a raunchy dance at a fund-raiser. (In another clip, he was dressed like Elvis, prompting Mr. Carollo to tut-tut the tightness of the chief’s pants.)

A supporter of the chief at one point yelled at the dais and, as he stomped out of the chambers, extended a finger to the commissioners.

Mr. Carollo spent several hours reading news clippings and other documents about Chief Acevedo’s record in law enforcement agencies in California and Texas, including at least one allegation of sexual harassment that the chief has denied. Mr. Carollo repeatedly asked Mr. Noriega if he had been aware of those controversies before hiring Chief Acevedo.

“No, sir,” Mr. Noriega responded.

“He’s not accountable to anyone,” Mr. Carollo said of Chief Acevedo. “He’s not accountable to the city manager, not accountable to the residents of Miami — not accountable, period.”

Mayor Francis Suarez, who recruited the high-profile police chief from Houston in what was widely seen as a way to bolster the mayor’s national prominence ahead of his November re-election, did not attend the meeting. Commissioner Ken Russell, the acting chairman, was absent.

Mr. Noriega said he hired the chief in March after Mayor Suarez heard he might be available for the job and Houston’s mayor recommended him. But that circumvented a search committee that Miami had created to review police chief applications. Chief Acevedo never applied for the position. Now he makes $315,000 a year, though his total compensation package, with benefits, is worth more than $437,000.


Mayor Francis Suarez introduced Chief Acevedo as the Police Department’s new leader in March.Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For his part, Chief Acevedo, who did not address the Commission, said in his letter that he believed he had angered some of the commissioners by refusing to arrest unspecified “agitators” and “Communists” at a public gathering in June — there were no agitators, his officers later concluded — and by declining to get caught up in commissioners’ unsubstantiated claims of code enforcement violations in one another’s districts.

The department had “wasted untold hours” doing investigations because of the “improper political influence” of these commissioners, he said.

Monday’s meeting began an hour late. Commissioners then took a two-hour lunch break. When they finally allowed public comment, five hours in, people lined up at the microphones, many of them angry at their elected officials for the day’s spectacle. Others raised commissioners’ own notorious records. Quite a few supported the chief.

The meeting ended in the evening, with commissioners scheduling a follow-up discussion for Friday. The mystery of Chief Acevedo’s fate lingered.

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American Siblings Barred From Leaving China for 3 Years Return to U.S.

Their release coincided with an agreement on Friday that cleared the way for a senior executive of Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecommunications giant, to return to China.,


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Victor and Cynthia Liu, American siblings who had been barred from leaving China for more than three years, returned to the United States on Saturday, said their lawyer, Marc Ginsberg.

Victor Liu, a student at Georgetown University, and Cynthia Liu, a consultant at McKinsey & Company, went to China in June 2018 to visit their ailing grandfather. On the trip, their mother, also an American citizen, was detained by police and the siblings were barred from leaving the country. Their father, Liu Changming, a former executive at a Chinese bank, was wanted by the Chinese police for his role in a fraud case.

Their release coincided with an agreement on Friday that cleared the way for Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei Technologies, to return to China. Ms. Meng had been on bail, living in her Vancouver mansion while an extradition request was being adjudicated with the United States, where she was wanted as part of a fraud case involving the sale of telecommunications gear to Iran. Ms. Meng arrived in China on Saturday.

Mr. Ginsberg, a former United States ambassador to Morocco, credited the release of Victor and Cynthia Liu in part to a Sept. 9 phone call between President Biden and President Xi Jinping of China. “I’m sure the president’s call with President Xi helped to break a logjam,” Mr. Ginsberg said in a telephone interview.

The siblings’ case had been brought up with China by other U.S. officials, and Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both Democrats of Massachusetts, had also pushed for their release, as had Georgetown University, Mr. Ginsberg said.

Unlike the Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were held for nearly three years in a Chinese prison in apparent retaliation for Ms. Meng being unable to leave Canada, Victor and Cynthia Liu were not accused of crimes and were not in custody. They lived in a rented apartment in Shanghai, and Victor Liu continued his studies at Georgetown remotely, Mr. Ginsberg said. They were among a group of Americans and other foreign nationals unable to leave China because of so-called exit bans.

Their mother, Sandra Han, remains in jail, Mr. Ginsberg said.

Victor and Cynthia Liu are staying in the New York area. They grew up in Massachusetts.

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