Justice Dept. says it recovered most of the ransom paid after the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack.


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Justice Dept. Recovers Millions from Colonial Pipeline Hack

The Justice Department said on Monday that it had recovered the majority of the ransom paid to the hackers who shut down the computer systems of the Colonial Pipeline last month.

The Department of Justice, working with our partners, is committed to using all of our tools at — all the tools at our disposal to disrupt these networks and the abuse of the online infrastructure that allows this threat to persist. After Colonial Pipeline’s quick notification to law enforcement, and pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California earlier today, the Department of Justice has found and recaptured the majority of the ransom Colonial paid to the DarkSide network in the wake of last month’s ransomware attack. Today, we turned the tables on DarkSide. By going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks, including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency, we will continue to use all of our tools and all of our resources to increase the cost and the consequences of ransomware attacks and other cyber-enabled attacks.

The Justice Department said on Monday that it had recovered the majority of the ransom paid to the hackers who shut down the computer systems of the Colonial Pipeline last month.CreditCredit…Drone Base/Reuters

The Justice Department said on Monday that it had seized much of the ransom that a major U.S. pipeline operator had paid last month to a Russian hacking collective, turning the tables on the hackers by reaching into a digital wallet to snatch back millions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Investigators in recent weeks traced 75 Bitcoins worth more than $4 million that Colonial Pipeline had paid to the hackers as the attack shut down its computer systems, prompting fuel shortages, a spike in gasoline prices and chaos at airlines.

Federal investigators tracked the ransom as it moved through a maze of at least 23 different electronic accounts belonging to DarkSide, the hacking group, before landing in one that a federal judge allowed them to break into, according to law enforcement officials and court documents.

The Justice Department said it seized 63.7 Bitcoins, valued at about $2.3 million. (The value of a Bitcoin has dropped over the past month.)

“The sophisticated use of technology to hold businesses and even whole cities hostage for profit is decidedly a 21st-century challenge, but the old adage ‘follow the money’ still applies,” Lisa O. Monaco, the deputy attorney general, said at the news conference at the Justice Department.

Law enforcement officials highlighted the seizure in an effort to warn cybercriminals that the United States planned to take aim at their profits, which are often gained through cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It was also intended to encourage victims of ransomware attacks — which occur every eight minutes, on average — to notify the authorities to help recover ransoms.

For years, victims have opted to quietly pay cybercriminals, calculating that the payment would be cheaper than rebuilding data and services. But the payments — which collectively total billions of dollars — have funded and emboldened ransomware groups.

Justice Department officials said that Colonial’s willingness to quickly loop in the F.B.I. helped recoup the ransom portion, and they credited the company for its role in a first-of-its-kind effort by a new ransomware task force in the department to hijack a cybercrime group’s profits.

The Justice Department’s announcement also came before President Biden’s scheduled meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next week in Geneva, where Mr. Biden is expected to address what American officials see as the Kremlin’s willingness to provide protection for hackers. Russia typically does not arrest or extradite suspects in ransomware attacks.

The New York Times reported last month that Colonial Pipeline’s ransom payout had moved out of DarkSide’s Bitcoin wallet, though it was not clear who had orchestrated the move.

On Monday, the government filled in some of the blanks. DarkSide operates by providing ransomware to affiliates. In exchange, DarkSide reaps a cut of their profits.

Officials said they had identified a virtual currency account, often referred to as a wallet, that DarkSide used to collect payment from a ransomware victim — identified in court papers only as Victim X, but whose hacking details match Colonial’s.

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Harris Warns Guatemalan Migrants Against Traveling to the U.S.

Vice President Kamala Harris, during a visit to Guatemala City on Monday, delivered a blunt message to migrants seeking sanctuary in the United States by crossing the southern border: “Do not come.”

The United States will provide, as a first donation, 500,000 vaccines to Guatemala. Again, understanding the interdependence, the connection between us and the importance of looking out for and prioritizing the needs of one’s neighbor. And I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States, Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. They are legal methods by which migration can and should occur.

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Vice President Kamala Harris, during a visit to Guatemala City on Monday, delivered a blunt message to migrants seeking sanctuary in the United States by crossing the southern border: “Do not come.”CreditCredit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

GUATEMALA CITY — During her first foreign trip as vice president, Kamala Harris said the United States would bolster investigations into corruption and human trafficking in Guatemala, while also delivering a clear, blunt message to undocumented migrants hoping to reach the United States: “Do not come.”

Ms. Harris issued the warning during a trip that was an early yet pivotal test for a vice president currently tasked with the complex challenge of breaking a cycle of migration from Central America by investing in a region plagued by corruption, violence and poverty.

While President Biden campaigned on unwinding some of the Trump administration’s border restrictions, allowing migrants to apply for asylum at the U.S. border, Ms. Harris amplified the White House’s current stance that most of those who crossed the border would be turned away and would instead need to find legal pathways or protection closer to their home countries.

She did not shy away from brusque language when it came to discussing corruption with the Guatemalan president, Alejandro Giammattei, who has been criticized for having a political agenda and for persecuting officials who fight corruption.

“We will look to root out corruption wherever it exists,” Ms. Harris said, adding that the administration would support an anti-corruption unit in the attorney general’s office. “That has been one of our highest priorities in terms of the focus we have put here after the president asked me to take on this issue of focusing on this region.”

Ms. Harris, whose own aspirations to the presidency are clear, was tapped by Mr. Biden to invest in Central America to discourage the vulnerable from making the dangerous journey north. Mr. Biden has faced criticism from Republicans and some moderate Democrats in the early months of his term for the soaring number of crossings of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The vice president’s top aides have sought to differentiate her role from the political land mine of managing the border, instead saying her focus is on working with foreign governments to bolster the Central American economy and create more opportunities for people who now see fleeing to the United States as their best option.

Ms. Harris announced new steps in the effort on Monday. The Biden administration will deploy homeland security officers to Guatemala’s northern and southern borders to train local officials — a tactic similar to one used by previous administrations to deter migration. The State and Justice Departments will also establish a task force to investigate corruption cases that have links to Guatemala and the United States, while also training Guatemalan prosecutors.

Guatemala in 2019 expelled a United Nations-backed anti-corruption panel, known as Cicig, which worked alongside Guatemalan prosecutors to bring corruption cases but was also accused by conservatives in the country of having a political agenda.

The Biden administration also outlined an investment of $48 million in entrepreneurship programs, affordable housing and agricultural businesses in Guatemala, part of a four-year, $4 billion plan to invest in the region. Ms. Harris last month touted commitments from a dozen private companies, including Mastercard and Microsoft, to develop the economy in Central America.

But hanging over those programs are questions about how to ensure that U.S. aid benefits those who need it most, and not just contractors enlisted by the United States or Guatemalan officials.

Ms. Harris made a point in her opening remarks to focus on encouraging would-be migrants to stay closer to home while applying for permission to enter the United States and waiting to receive replies. Days earlier, her top aides announced plans to establish a new center in Guatemala where people can learn about obtaining asylum protections or refugee status while still in Central America, rather than traveling to the U.S. border.

“Most people don’t want to leave the place they grew up. Their grandmother. The place they prayed. The place where their language is spoken, their culture is familiar,” Ms. Harris said. “And when they do leave, it usually has to do with two reasons: Either they are fleeing some harm, or they simply cannot satisfy their basic needs.”

The United States Embassy in Havana. Staff at the embassy suffered  unexplained health incidents that many officials believe are attacks.
Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The Senate passed a bill Monday evening designed to provide financial support for government employees injured in a series of mysterious health incidents.

The bill, drafted by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, would give the C.I.A. director and Secretary of State additional powers to provide assistance to government officials who have suffered brain injuries as a part of an unexplained series of health incidents that many officials believe are attacks.

The bill broadens the requirement to report incidents to Congress and also allows the officials to extend the benefits to people who have been injured in the United States. While the majority of the more than 130 cases being investigated by the government happened abroad, there are at least two in the United States that are being examined as possible examples of domestic incidents.

Senator Collins said that many of the victims had undergone brain imaging and had their damage verified. Initially, however, several victims of the incidents “were treated with great skepticism,” she said.

“They should be treated the same way we treat a soldier who has suffered a traumatic brain injury on the battlefield,” Ms. Collins said in a recent interview. “It is unacceptable and appalling that these individuals — in some cases — were denied medical care that they needed.”

Ms. Collins praised William J. Burns, the director of the C.I.A., for believing the victims and speeding up the process to get agency officers affected by a health incident into the military’s Walter Reed National Medical Facility.

But some victims continue to be frustrated with how the State Department has handled the incidents. A group of injured government employees have demanded more support and financial compensation for themselves and injured family members — something the Senate bill would give them. State Department officials have said they have made the health and safety of their diplomats and other workers the top priority.

While some former officials believe the attacks could go back several decades, the most recent series of incidents began in 2016, when diplomats and C.I.A. officers working in Havana reported feeling dizzy and nauseous. Many developed chronic headaches. For some the health effects have lasted years and could be permanent disabilities.

After the Havana incidents, Americans serving in China reported similar episodes. There have also been Pentagon and C.I.A. officers affected in a variety of places in Europe and Asia.

A National Academy of Sciences report concluded a microwave weapon was the most likely cause of the injuries, but the U.S. government has not yet made any final conclusions.

Some officials believe that Russia is responsible for at least some of the attacks, a charge the Russian government has dismissed.

The intelligence community has not concluded if all or some of the health incidents were the result of a deliberate attack and what country might be responsible. Ms. Collins said she has concluded that the incidents are deliberate attacks but that she does not know what country might be responsible.

The bill will now need to go to the House, for that chamber’s approval. The bill is expected to get a vote in the coming weeks, according to a congressional official.

While the House is often divided over intelligence issues, Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who leads the House Intelligence Committee, and Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican who is the ranking member, together introduced a bill similar to Ms. Collins’s in the House.

President Biden’s trip to Europe for meetings with the Group of 7, NATO, the European Union and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will be more than symbolic.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Four years ago, European leaders were traumatized by President Donald J. Trump, who cheered Brexit and eviscerated NATO, declaring the alliance “obsolete,” calling member countries deadbeats and at first refusing to explicitly endorse NATO’s bedrock mutual defense principle.

As they prepare to welcome President Biden, the simple fact that he regards Europe as an ally and NATO as a vital element of Western security is almost a revelation. Yet the wrenching experience of the last presidential administration has left scars that some experts say will not soon heal.

As much as the Europeans appreciate Mr. Biden’s vows of constancy and affection, they have just witnessed how 75 years of American foreign policy can vanish overnight with a change in the presidency. And they fear that it can happen again — that America has changed, and that Mr. Biden is “an intermezzo” between more populist, nationalist presidents, said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the German Marshall Fund.

Still, Mr. Biden’s visits to NATO on June 14 and then the European Union for brief summits, following his attendance at the Group of 7 in Britain, will be more than symbolic. The meetings are synchronized so that he can arrive in Geneva on June 16 with allied consultation and support for his first meeting as president with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“The hopeful, optimistic view is that Biden is kicking off a new relationship, showing faith in Brussels and NATO, saying the right words and kicking off the key strategic process” of renovating the alliance for the next decade, said Jana Puglierin, Berlin director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “But Biden also wants to see bang for the buck, and we need to show tangible results. This is not unconditional love, but friends with benefits.”

“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy,” Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia wrote.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said on Sunday in no uncertain terms that he would not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression, nor would he ever end the legislative filibuster, a written promise that imperils much of President Biden’s agenda.

The bill, which all the other Senate Democrats had rallied around as a moonshot bid to preserve American democracy, would roll back dozens of laws being passed by Republican state legislatures to limit early and mail-in voting and empower partisan poll watchers. The measure, known as the For the People Act, would also restore many of the ethical controls on the presidency that Donald J. Trump shattered.

In The Charleston Gazette-Mail, the newspaper of the capital of his home state, Mr. Manchin, a Democrat, wrote: “I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”

The 818-page bill would end partisan gerrymandering, tighten controls on campaign spending and ease voter registration. It would also force major-party candidates for president and vice president to release 10 years’ worth of personal and business tax returns and end the president’s and vice president’s exemption from conflict-of-interest rules, which allowed Mr. Trump to maintain businesses that profited off his presidency.

With Mr. Manchin’s vow, passage of the full For the People Act appears to be impossible, though parts of it could pass in other ways if Democrats are willing to break up the bill, a move that they have resisted. Mr. Manchin’s blockade of filibuster changes makes other Biden initiatives far less likely to pass, including any overhaul of immigration laws, a permanent expansion of the Affordable Care Act, controls of the price of prescription drugs and the most serious efforts to tackle climate change.

Mr. Manchin said instead that he would support passage of another bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore federal oversight over state-level voting law changes to protect minority groups that might be targeted. He cited one Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, as a supporter of the measure, which would give the Justice Department powers to police voting rights that the Supreme Court took away in 2013.

That decision freed nine states, mainly in the South, to change voting laws without pre-approval from Washington. After the 2020 election, many of those states — and several others — jumped at the chance, powered by the false claim that voting in November was rife with fraud.

But Mr. Manchin is still far short of the 60-vote threshold he backs to pass even that bill.

“I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” he wrote, “and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights.”

Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, and Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican from Louisiana, in the Capitol in May following a vote.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

With the fate of the progressive agenda depending on the support of Senator Joe Manchin III, who said again on Sunday that he would not abandon the filibuster to pass an expansive voting rights bill, interest groups and activists are gearing up for a full push to try to sway the moderate Democrat. It would be enough to make almost any Democratic politician in the country squirm.

But probably not a Democrat from West Virginia.

None of the demographic groups that animate today’s Democratic coalition are well-represented in the state. Black, Hispanic, college-educated, young, urban and professional voters all represent a much smaller share of the electorate in West Virginia than just about anywhere else.

White voters without a four-year degree, Donald Trump’s demographic base, made up 69 percent of voters there in 2020, according to census data, the highest in the country. Mr. Trump won West Virginia with 69 percent of the vote in 2020, more than in every state but Wyoming.

With those sorts of numbers, it’s hard to understand how Mr. Manchin is a Democratic senator at all in today’s polarized era. His state voted for Mr. Trump by 39 points last November; no other member of the House or Senate represents a state carried by the other party’s presidential candidate by more than 16 points.

Yet Mr. Manchin’s unique ability to survive in West Virginia is the last vestige of the state’s once-reliable New Deal Democratic tradition, dating to old industrial-era fights over workers’ wages, rights and safety. It was one of the most reliably Democratic states of the second half of the 20th century, voting in defeat for Adlai Stevenson in 1952, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Michael Dukakis. The so-called Republican “Southern strategy” yielded no inroads there.

But Democrats began to lose their grip on the state during the 1990s, at least at the presidential level.

An Afghan soldier flying over Helmand Province last month. Recent C.I.A. and military intelligence reports on Afghanistan have been increasingly pessimistic, highlighting gains by the Taliban.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating intense pressure on the C.I.A. to find new ways to gather intelligence and carry out counterterrorism strikes in the country, but the agency has few good options.

The C.I.A., which has been at the heart of the 20-year American presence in Afghanistan, will soon lose bases in the country from where it has run combat missions and drone strikes while closely monitoring the Taliban and other groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The agency’s analysts are warning of the ever-growing risks of a Taliban takeover.

United States officials are in last-minute efforts to secure bases close to Afghanistan for future operations. But the complexity of the continuing conflict has led to thorny diplomatic negotiations as the military pushes to have all forces out by early to mid-July, well before President Biden’s deadline of Sept. 11, according to American officials and regional experts.

One focus has been Pakistan. The C.I.A. used a base there for years to launch drone strikes against militants in the country’s western mountains, but was kicked out of the facility in 2011, when U.S. relations with Pakistan unraveled.

Any deal now would have to work around the uncomfortable reality that Pakistan’s government has long supported the Taliban. In discussions between American and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the C.I.A. or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan, according to three Americans familiar with the discussions.

Diplomats are also exploring the option of regaining access to bases in former Soviet republics that were used for the Afghanistan war, although they expect that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would fiercely oppose this.

Recent C.I.A. and military intelligence reports on Afghanistan have been increasingly pessimistic. They have highlighted gains by the Taliban and other militant groups in the south and east, and warned that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within years and return to becoming a safe haven for militants bent on striking the West, according to several people familiar with the assessments.

As a result, U.S. officials see the need for a long-term intelligence-gathering presence — in addition to military and C.I.A. counterterrorism operations — in Afghanistan long after the deadline that Mr. Biden has set for troops to leave the country. But the scramble for bases illustrates how U.S. officials still lack a long-term plan to address security in a country where they have spent trillions of dollars and lost more than 2,400 troops over nearly two decades.

William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, has acknowledged the challenge the agency faces. “When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” he told senators in April. “That is simply a fact.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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Activists blockaded an Enbridge Energy construction site in Minnesota on Monday, attempting to halt the building of a $9 billion pipeline that would carry oil through the state’s delicate watersheds and tribal lands.CreditCredit…Tim Gruber for The New York Times

Dozens of activists seeking to stop a $9 billion oil pipeline blockaded the road to a construction site near Park Rapids, Minn., early Monday, while hundreds of others scaled the wall of a nearby work station and occupied the site, some climbing atop diggers and transformer boxes or chaining themselves to construction equipment.

The project’s opponents include Native American tribes and their supporters, environmentalists and religious leaders who say that it would endanger northern Minnesota’s delicate watersheds and tribal lands. Over the weekend and into Monday, some 1,500 people took part in drum circles and prayer gatherings, and surveyed the network of construction sites that dot the woods.

“Taking care of the water is our responsibility, and we take that responsibility seriously,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director and a co-founder of Honor the Earth, a Native environmental advocacy organization that is a lead group opposed to the pipeline, known as Line 3.

Behind the scenes, Native lawyers have been urging the Biden administration to intervene, flexing the newfound political clout of tribal nations that now have increasing numbers of members in influential government positions — and are prepared to hold Mr. Biden to his campaign promises on racial equity.

Approved in the Trump administration’s final days, the project, a new 340-mile portion of a wider pipeline network, would carry 760,000 barrels of tar-sands oil a day from Alberta, Canada, across northern Minnesota, and into Wisconsin to the tip of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Enbridge, the Canadian company behind Line 3, restarted work on the pipeline this month after a pause in construction caused by muddy conditions. In April, Enbridge’s chief executive, Al Monaco, said Line 3 was on schedule to be completed by the end of the year.

The president has so far stayed silent on the project.

Marine recruits training at Parris Island in South Carolina last year.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge to a federal law that requires only men to register for the military draft.

As is the court’s custom, it gave no reasons for turning down the case. But three justices issued a statement saying that Congress should be allowed more time to consider what they acknowledged was a significant legal issue.

“It remains to be seen, of course, whether Congress will end gender-based registration under the Military Selective Service Act,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the statement, which was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Brett M. Kavanaugh. “But at least for now, the court’s longstanding deference to Congress on matters of national defense and military affairs cautions against granting review while Congress actively weighs the issue.”

The requirement is one of the last sex-based distinctions in federal law, one that challengers say cannot be justified now that women are allowed to serve in every role in the military, including ground combat. Unlike men, though, they are not required to register with the Selective Service System, the government agency that maintains a database of Americans who would be eligible for the draft were it reinstated.

The unequal treatment “imposes selective burdens on men, reinforces the notion that women are not full and equal citizens, and perpetuates stereotypes about men’s and women’s capabilities,” lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a petition on behalf of two men who were required to register and the National Coalition for Men.

In 1981, in Rostker v. Goldberg, the Supreme Court rejected a sex-discrimination challenge to the registration requirement, reasoning that it was justified because women could not at that time serve in combat roles.

“Since women are excluded from combat service by statute or military policy,” Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the majority, “men and women are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft.”

On Monday, Justice Sotomayor wrote that “the role of women in the military has changed dramatically since then.”

“Beginning in 1991,” she wrote, “thousands of women have served with distinction in a wide range of combat roles, from operating military aircraft and naval vessels to participating in boots-on-the-ground infantry missions.”

Lower courts had agreed with that assessment.

In 2019, Judge Gray H. Miller, of the Federal District Court in Houston, ruled that since women can now serve in combat, the men-only registration requirement was no longer justified. A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, agreed that “the factual underpinning of the controlling Supreme Court decision has changed.” But it said that only the Supreme Court could overrule its own precedent.

A group with temporary protected status demonstrated in Washington in April, asking for legislation that would offer a path to citizenship.
Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that immigrants allowed to stay in the United States temporarily for humanitarian reasons may not apply for green cards if they entered the country unlawfully.

The case, Sanchez v. Mayorkas, No. 20-315, could affect tens of thousands of immigrants. It was brought by Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez, natives of El Salvador who entered the United States unlawfully in the late 1990s.

In 2001, after earthquakes devastated El Salvador, the United States made that country’s nationals eligible for the “temporary protected status” program. The program allows immigrants to work in the United States and not face deportation if they are from parts of the world undergoing armed conflicts and natural disasters.

Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Gonzalez, a married couple, were granted protection under the program. In 2014, they applied for lawful permanent residency, commonly known as a green card. After their application was denied, they sued.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled against them, saying they were ineligible under immigration laws that require applicants to have been “inspected and admitted” into the United States.

Temporary protected status, Judge Thomas M. Hardiman wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel, “does not constitute an admission.”

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the Supreme Court on Monday, agreed, saying that two parts of the immigration laws operate on separate tracks. One part allows some people who have entered the country lawfully to apply for green cards. The other relevant part allows immigrants, whether they entered the country lawfully or not, to apply for temporary protected status, or T.P.S.

The two tracks can sometimes merge, Justice Kagan wrote, if the recipient of temporary protected status entered the country lawfully. But she added that people who entered without authorization do not become eligible for green cards thanks to temporary protected status.

“Liberals are leaving the First Amendment behind,” said David Goldberger, a Jewish lawyer who defended the free speech rights of Nazis in the 1970s.
Credit…Shuran Huang for The New York Times

The American Civil Liberties Union, America’s high temple of free speech and civil liberties, has emerged as a muscular and richly funded progressive powerhouse in recent years, taking on the Trump administration in more than 400 lawsuits. But the organization finds itself riven with internal tensions over whether it has stepped away from a founding principle — unwavering devotion to the First Amendment.

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U. The organization, said its former director Ira Glasser, risks surrendering its original and unique mission in pursuit of progressive glory.

David Goldberger argued one of the A.C.L.U.’s most famous cases, defending the free speech rights of Nazis in the 1970s to march in Skokie, Ill., home to many Holocaust survivors. Mr. Goldberger, who is Jewish, said he was discouraged by the tenor of speakers at a 2017 A.C.L.U. event at which he received a prestigious award.

“I got the sense it was more important for A.C.L.U. staff to identify with clients and progressive causes than to stand on principle,” he said in a recent interview. “Liberals are leaving the First Amendment behind.”

Sam Peters, a Republican who is campaigning for a Las Vegas-area House seat, said he was not sure that President Biden had legitimately won Nevada.
Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times

Across the country, a rising class of Republican challengers has embraced the fiction that the 2020 election was illegitimate, marred by fraud and inconsistencies. Aggressively pushing Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that he was robbed of re-election, these candidates represent the next generation of aspiring G.O.P. leaders, who would bring to Congress the real possibility that the party’s assault on the legitimacy of elections, a bedrock principle of American democracy, could continue through the 2024 contests.

Dozens of Republican candidates have sown doubts about the election as they seek to join the ranks of the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted against certifying President Biden’s victory. There are degrees of denial: Some bluntly declare they must repair a rigged system that produced a flawed result, while others speak in the language of “election integrity,” promoting Republican re-examinations of the vote counts in Arizona and Georgia and backing new voting restrictions introduced by Republicans in battleground states.

They are united by a near-universal reluctance to state outright that Mr. Biden is the legitimately elected leader of the country.

“I would not have voted to certify Jan. 6, not without more questions,” said Sam Peters, a Nevada Republican who is campaigning for a Las Vegas-area House seat. He said he was not sure that Mr. Biden had legitimately won Nevada, even though the president did so by more than 33,000 votes.

It’s unclear how long the reluctance to accept unfavorable electoral outcomes will remain a central focus of the party, and to what degree Republicans might support widespread election challenges up and down the ballot in the future.

But Republicans’ unwavering fealty to the voter fraud myth underscores an emerging dynamic of party politics: To build a campaign in the modern G.O.P., most candidates must embrace — or at least not openly deny — conspiracy theories and election lies, and they must commit to a mission of imposing greater voting restrictions and making it easier to challenge or even overturn an election’s results. The prevalence of such candidates in the nascent stages of the party primaries highlights how Mr. Trump’s willingness to embrace far-flung falsehoods has elevated fringe ideas to the mainstream of his party.

Mattie Parker, a Republican, speaking to supporters on Saturday after her Democratic opponent, Deborah Peoples, conceded the mayoral race in Fort Worth, Texas.
Credit…Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram, via Associated Press

Republicans in Texas celebrated on Monday after winning two closely watched mayoral elections in the state on Saturday, taking control of cities in Democratic counties.

The party was particularly buoyed by its performance in McAllen, a border city of 143,000 that is 85 percent Hispanic, where Javier Villalobos, a former chairman of the local Republican Party, defeated a candidate backed by local Democrats by 206 votes out of 9,282 cast.

Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, hailed Mr. Villalobos’s victory as part of a larger political realignment of Hispanic voters that revealed itself in the 2020 election, when President Biden drastically underperformed against expectations, and previous Democratic margins, in several Texas border counties with large numbers of Hispanic voters.

Mr. Biden won Hidalgo County, which includes McAllen, by 17 percentage points. Four years earlier, Hillary Clinton carried the county by 40 points.

Mr. Villalobos, a local lawyer who is a city commissioner, celebrated his victory by riding a bicycle built for two with Jim Darling, McAllen’s departing mayor. Mr. Darling did not seek re-election after eight years in office.

In Fort Worth, Democrats had hoped Deborah Peoples, a former Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman, could win an open-seat mayoral race. Ms. Peoples had endorsements from Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro, high-profile Texas Democrats who ran for president in 2020.

But Ms. Peoples lost to Mattie Parker, a former chief of staff to Fort Worth’s departing mayor, retaining Republican control of the largest city in Tarrant County, which flipped to Mr. Biden in 2020 after decades of backing Republican presidential candidates.

Though both municipal contests were officially nonpartisan, Ms. Parker and Mr. Villalobos each identified as Republicans while their defeated opponents said they were Democrats.

When Facebook and Twitter barred Donald J. Trump from their platforms after the Capitol riot in January, he lost direct access to his most powerful megaphones. On Friday, Facebook said the former president would not be allowed back on its service until at least January 2023, citing a risk to public safety.

Since his ban and President Biden’s inauguration, he has posted statements online far less often. But some of his statements have traveled just as far and wide on social networks.

The New York Times examined Mr. Trump’s nearly 1,600 social media posts from Sept. 1 to Jan. 8, the day Mr. Trump was banned from the platforms. We then tracked the social media engagement with the dozens of written statements he made on his personal website, campaign fund-raising site and in email blasts from Jan. 9 until May 5, the day that the Facebook Oversight Board, which reviews some content decisions by the company, said that the company acted appropriately in kicking him off the service.

Before the ban, the social media post with the median engagement generated 272,000 likes and shares. After the ban, that dropped to 36,000 likes and shares. Yet 11 of his 89 statements after the ban attracted as many likes or shares as the median post before the ban, if not more.

How does that happen?

The Global Disinformation Index, a nonpartisan nonprofit that studies disinformation, examined the political leanings of the top accounts sharing Mr. Trump’s statements online after he was barred from Facebook and Twitter. The group classified hundreds of accounts as either left- or right-leaning, or a mix of the two, relying on standards that it established through its work on disinformation risk ratings for news sites and other online media.

One thing that became immediately clear: Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters continue to spread his message — doing the work that he had been unable to do himself.

President Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia in the Oval Office last month. The president has been meeting with Republicans in an effort to reach bipartisan agreement on his infrastructure proposal.
Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

President Biden is set to take the first international trip of his term on Wednesday, but negotiations over the future of American roads, bridges and public works projects will be at the top of his agenda before he leaves.

Mr. Biden was expected to talk again with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the Republican leading infrastructure negotiations with the White House. The discussion expected Tuesday follows another talk on Friday, but a deal appears elusive so far.

“We’re gonna keep talking,” Ms. Capito said Monday. “But I’m not coming back with anything in the near — in the next 24 hours.”

The president on Friday dismissed a $50 billion increase to a $928 billion Republican counterproposal to his infrastructure plan, which he had recently narrowed in hopes of bipartisanship.

By Sunday, another West Virginian, Senator Joe Manchin III, said that he believed negotiations were continuing in good faith.

“I still have all the confidence in the world,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “My goodness, the president has gone from $2.25 trillion down to $1 trillion. The Republicans have come up quite a bit from where they started.”

Mr. Manchin, a Democrat, declined to say how he would vote on a party-line infrastructure bill, saying that a bipartisan group of senators negotiating a deal that could get at least 60 votes were “not that far apart.” But he also wrote in The Charleston Gazette-Mail over the weekend that he would not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression, nor would he ever end the legislative filibuster, a promise that imperils much of the president’s agenda.

Mr. Biden offered several concessions to Republicans last week to try to win a $1 trillion infrastructure deal that could receive bipartisan support. The president has now cut more than $1 trillion from his initial $2.3 trillion proposal, while Republicans have added less than $100 billion in new spending to their first offer.

But Republicans are still unhappy with Mr. Biden’s plan to fund the bill by increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making a bipartisan agreement a long shot.

Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, hinted on Sunday that there was still interest among Democrats to jam a package through the Senate without Republican support.

“As our Democratic friends remind us, there is another way,” Mr. Buttigieg said in an appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “But our strong preference is to do this on a bipartisan basis, especially because it’s a bipartisan priority.”

Infrastructure will also be on the agenda when Mr. Biden meets his counterparts at the Group of 7 summit in Britain this week.

Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, said on Monday that the leaders of the club of advanced economies will announce an initiative to provide “financing for physical, digital and health infrastructure in the developing world.”

He described the program as a “transparent and rules-based alternative to what China is offering,” suggesting that it will be employed to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Employees making chips at a factory of a semiconductor company in Nantong, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, in March.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Faced with an urgent competitive threat from China, the Senate is poised to pass the most expansive industrial policy legislation in U.S. history, blowing past partisan divisions over government support for private industry to embrace a nearly quarter-trillion-dollar investment in building up America’s manufacturing and technological edge.

The legislation, which could be voted on as early as Tuesday, is expected to pass by a large margin. That alone is a testament to how commercial and military competition with Beijing has become one of the few issues that can unite both political parties.

It is an especially striking shift for Republicans, who are following the lead of former President Donald J. Trump and casting aside what was once their party’s staunch opposition to government intervention in the economy. Now, both parties are embracing an enormous investment in semiconductor manufacturing, artificial intelligence research, robotics, quantum computing and a range of other technologies.

And while the bill’s sponsors are selling it in part as a jobs plan, the debate over its passage has been laced with Cold War references and warnings that a failure to act would leave the United States perilously dependent on its biggest geopolitical adversary.

“Around the globe, authoritarian governments smell blood in the water,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, warned in a recent speech on the Senate floor. “They believe that squabbling democracies like ours can’t come together and invest in national priorities the way a top-down, centralized and authoritarian government can.”



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