By Giovanni Russonello
House Democrats make a play to undo big tech “monopolies,” while a new report shows just how little Jeff Sessions hesitated over separating young children from their parents. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.
Where things stand
The Food and Drug Administration released guidelines yesterday that make it nearly inconceivable for a coronavirus vaccine to hit the market before Election Day. The move came one day after The Times reported that White House officials had been trying to soften the F.D.A.’s language to clear the path for an 11th-hour vaccine.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget approved the new guidelines after two weeks in which administration officials, including Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, had sought to hold them up.
Four vaccines in the United States are in the final stage of testing, but the agency’s new regulations advise vaccine makers to follow test patients for a median of two months after the final dose. They also ask vaccine makers to document five cases of severe infection in people who received the placebo instead of the vaccine.
Can you conceive of a version of the internet where it’s easy to go about your business without using a product that shares your information with Google, Facebook, Amazon or Apple? The House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic leadership wants to start moving toward that reality.
The committee released a landmark 449-page report yesterday that proposes to start the process of breaking up those companies and proposes the most ambitious changes to antitrust laws in half a century. The lawmakers wrote the companies — which serve an essential role in public communication but are not generally regulated as utilities — had grown into “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons.”
The report accused the giants of abusing their dominance by controlling prices, manipulating the rules of the road for everything from advertising to publishing. It recommended effectively downsizing the companies, strengthening the policing power of regulatory agencies, and doing more to prevent the giants from acquiring start-ups.
The Department of Homeland Security released a report yesterday calling violent white supremacy the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland,” and singling out Russia as the biggest international purveyor of disinformation in the United States.
This, too, represents a case of information coming to light after reports of interference by administration officials. A homeland security whistle-blower had accused the agency of holding up the document’s publication because of political concerns.
But in the end, the dispatch — a routine annual assessment of foreign and domestic threats — was direct and explicit. “I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years,” Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, wrote in the foreword to the assessment.
Trump called off negotiations yesterday over a long-awaited next round of stimulus legislation, accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of “not negotiating in good faith.”
The news sent the stock market sliding, and appeared to put an end to hopes that the government would extend significant relief before next year for workers affected by the pandemic.
Later last night, tweets from Trump seemed to backtrack on his statement that an agreement would wait until after Election Day. It was unclear if his posts signaled that he was willing to start negotiating again.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had been pushing for a deal, recognizing the overwhelming public support for further stimulus. Pelosi threatened to pass an ambitious Democratic bill in the House last week if she wasn’t able to reach an agreement with Republicans, but she had walked that back after talks with the White House showed progress.
The president continued to insist that he was recovering quickly from the virus — just a day after his social media post downplaying the virus’s threat was found to be in violation of both Twitter’s and Facebook’s policies on harmful information. “FEELING GREAT,” Trump tweeted yesterday morning, later declaring that he was “looking forward” to his second debate with Joe Biden.
But Biden has stated that if Trump is ill, the debate should be called off — and medical experts have said that patients who show early symptoms often improve for a period of days before their condition worsens again.
Sean Conley, the president’s physician, gave an overall positive assessment of Trump’s condition in comments to reporters but did not make himself available for questions.
The virus appears to have spread swiftly through the highest levels of the federal government. Stephen Miller, a senior Trump adviser, announced yesterday that he had tested positive. Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, also tested positive, and most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have now decided to quarantine in their homes.
As attorney general, Jeff Sessions left little ambiguity about whether it was acceptable to separate undocumented immigrants from their children at the border. And his deputies pushed hard to make sure government lawyers were prosecuting migrants with children as young as toddlers.
“We need to take away children,” Sessions told five government prosecutors with jurisdictions along the U.S.-Mexico border in May 2018, according to a participant’s notes on the call. Sessions’s aggressive approach caused concern among those prosecutors, who told top Justice Department officials they were “deeply concerned” about the children’s well-being.
But Sessions had the backing of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general at the time, who said in a second call a week later that migrant cases should be prosecuted no matter how young the children were.
This is all laid bare in a draft report from the Justice Department’s inspector general, showing that although Sessions later tried to distance himself from parts of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, he was in fact a driving force behind its implementation.
Photo of the day
Joe Biden during his speech yesterday in Gettysburg, Pa.
An attack ad airs against Mark Zuckerberg.
By Nick Corasaniti
In the final weeks of the election, ads will air across the country attacking President Trump, Joseph R. Biden Jr., incumbent senators and representatives, their challengers — even sheriffs won’t be spared.
But on Wednesday, a political group will take aim at a familiar yet rarely targeted figure in public policy: Mark Zuckerberg.
A new ad from Accountable Tech, a nonprofit group that includes former Facebook employees, former election officials and members of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, uses Zuckerberg’s own remarks to highlight what the group sees as failures at Facebook to protect the country from dangerous disinformation and violent criminals.
“It’s not enough to just give people a voice — we need to make sure that people aren’t using it to harm other people or to spread misinformation,” Zuckerberg is heard saying in the ad, in remarks from his testimony before Congress this year.
As he speaks, scenes of right-wing groups at protests and people clad in gear supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory fill the screen, mixed with headlines like “Facebook Tried to Limit QAnon. It Failed.”
The ads will run nationally on CNN before and after the vice-presidential debate, as well as on digital platforms.
The group, Accountable Tech, was founded this year and has pushed social media companies to be more aggressive in policing their platforms for dangerous disinformation and incitements to violence. Most of the group’s efforts have targeted Facebook.
On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it would remove any group, page or Instagram account that openly identified with QAnon.
The Times’s editorial board endorses Biden.
Writing that Joe Biden is “has the experience, temperament and character” to guide the country through its current crises, The New York Times’s editorial board — which is entirely separate from our newsroom, where this newsletter is produced — has endorsed the former vice president in this year’s election.
“In the midst of unrelenting chaos, Mr. Biden is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology,” the board writes. “His campaign is rooted in steadiness, experience, compassion and decency.”
It continues, “He would understand that his first duty, always, is to the American people.”
Read the full endorsement and the editor’s note on why the board decided to make it.
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