Live Updates: Republicans Push for Biden to Shrink Infrastructure Plans

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Justice Clarence Thomas has been an active participant in the arguments for every case this term.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went a decade without asking a question from the Supreme Court bench, is about to complete a term in which he was an active participant in every single argument.

Justice Thomas’s switch from monkish silence to gregarious engagement is a byproduct of the pandemic, during which the court has heard arguments by telephone. The justices now ask questions one at a time, in order of seniority.

Justice Thomas, who joined the court in 1991, goes second, right after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., asking probing questions in his distinctive baritone.

“It’s been a lemonade out of lemons situation,” said Helgi C. Walker, a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who served as a law clerk to the justice. “I’m just thrilled that more people get to hear the Justice Thomas that we all know.”

“He can be one of the most loquacious people you’ve ever met,” she said. “He is extremely chatty.”

In the telephone arguments, he asked tough questions of both sides and almost always used his allotted few minutes. The idiosyncratic legal views that characterize his frequent concurring and dissenting opinions were largely absent from his questioning, which was measured and straightforward.

If Justice Thomas’s questions differed from those of his colleagues, it was in their courtesy. He almost never interrupted lawyers, though he asked pointed follow-up questions if there was time left.

Some of his most memorable comments were colorful asides.

Over the course of the last term, Justice Thomas mused about the ballooning salaries of college football coaches, said a police officer’s supposed “hot pursuit” struck him as a “meandering pursuit,” commented on the “sordid roots” of a Louisiana law enacted to advance white supremacy and wondered how public schools should address students’ comments “about current controversies, like protests or Black Lives Matter, antifa or Proud Boys.”

When a lawyer mistakenly called him “Mr. Chief Justice,” he responded, in a light, joking tone, “Thank you for the promotion.”

Hansjörg Wyss, who was born in Switzerland, first visited the United States as an exchange student in 1958, and became enchanted with America’s national parks and public lands. After becoming wealthy, he began donating his fortune primarily to conservation and environmental causes.
Credit…Pete Muller

The Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has quietly become one of the most important donors to left-leaning advocacy groups and an increasingly influential force among Democrats.

Newly obtained tax filings show that Mr. Wyss’s foundations donated $208 million from 2016 through early last year to three nonprofit funds that doled out money to a wide array of groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats in their efforts to win the White House and control of Congress last year.

Mr. Wyss’s representatives say his foundations’ money is not being spent on political campaigning. But documents and interviews show that his foundations have come to play a prominent role in financing the political infrastructure that supports Democrats and their issues.

Mr. Wyss’s foundations also directly donated tens of millions of dollars since 2016 to groups that opposed former President Donald J. Trump and promoted Democrats and their causes.

Beneficiaries of his direct giving included prominent groups such as the Center for American Progress and Priorities USA, as well as organizations that ran voter registration and mobilization campaigns to increase Democratic turnout, built media outlets accused of slanting the news to favor Democrats and sought to block Mr. Trump’s nominees, prove he colluded with Russia and push for his impeachment.

Mr. Wyss’s growing political influence attracted attention after he emerged last month as a leading bidder for the Tribune Publishing newspaper chain. Mr. Wyss later dropped out of the bidding for the papers.

Born in Switzerland and living in Wyoming, he has not disclosed publicly whether he holds citizenship or permanent residency in the United States. Foreign nationals without permanent residency are barred from donating directly to federal political candidates or political action committees, but not from giving to groups that seek to influence public policy — a legal distinction often lost on voters targeted by such groups.

Mr. Wyss’s role as a donor is coming to light even as congressional Democrats, with support from Mr. Biden, are pushing legislation intended to rein in so-called dark money spending that could restrict some of the groups financed by Mr. Wyss’s organizations.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is among the Republicans who will meet with President Biden this week.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden will engage Senate Republicans in further discussions this week as both sides seek a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure, but he appears unlikely to scale back his $4 trillion economic ambitions in the talks.

Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, are scheduled to visit an elementary school and a community college in Virginia on Monday to promote his administration’s plans, which include significant investment in education.

Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the president would host a group of Republican senators, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

But Mr. Klain cautioned that the scale of spending that Mr. Biden had proposed — including a $2.3 trillion package centered on physical infrastructure like roads and water pipes and a $1.8 trillion plan to invest in “human infrastructure” like education and child care — was popular among American voters and that the president would be looking for Republicans to match that enthusiasm.

“I think what we have to see is whether or not Republicans in Washington join the rest of America in broadly supporting these common-sense ideas to grow our economy and to make our families better,” Mr. Klain said.

Several Republican senators said on Sunday that there was an opportunity for compromise if Mr. Biden scaled back his spending plans and dropped his proposals to pay for them with tax increases on high earners and corporations.

“Democrats and Republicans alike are meeting,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’ve got some phone calls scheduled this week. I met with the White House late last week. There’s a way forward here if the White House is willing to work with us.”

Republicans last month offered a more narrowly focused plan to pay for infrastructure, including roads and bridges, with funding from user fees and repurposed money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Mr. Biden signed in March. They are now calling on the president to make a counteroffer.

Mr. Biden, though, appears unlikely to do so. White House aides say privately that they do not see the Republican plan as commensurate to Mr. Biden’s. Much of the spending in the Republicans’ $568 billion proposal would simply continue existing infrastructure spending, like on highways, at expected levels. The “new” spending could be as low as about $200 billion, or less than one-tenth of what Mr. Biden is proposing.

Still, administration officials see a path to compromise, potentially by breaking off some smaller parts of Mr. Biden’s plans as stand-alone bills. Mr. Klain on Sunday noted one such effort, a bipartisan bill to increase spending on water infrastructure that passed the Senate on an 89-to-2 vote last week.

“We’re going to work with Republicans,” Mr. Klain said. “We’re going to find common ground. You know, the Senate last week passed by an overwhelming margin a part of a water infrastructure bill that’s part of — related to our jobs plan. So I think you’re starting to see some progress here.”

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