said at a news conference on Thursday.

But through nearly two years of the pandemic, the country has celebrated hopeful moments before, only to be disappointed by another wave: when the first surge in cases receded, when vaccines were authorized, when a “hot vax summer” seemed to be on the horizon.

“We need to be super vigilant about what is going on internationally,” said Judith Persichilli, the health commissioner in New Jersey, where case rates are falling quickly and where temporary morgues erected at the beginning of Omicron’s onslaught never had to be used. “Whatever is happening overseas eventually lands on our shores, and it lands first in New York and New Jersey.”

Some of the initial alarm about Omicron, which was first detected around Thanksgiving and quickly stormed across the globe, has lessened as research showed that the variant tends to cause less severe disease than prior forms of the virus. Vaccinated people, especially those who have received booster shots, are far less likely to have serious outcomes, though breakthrough infections are common. Data published on Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that booster shots are 90 percent effective against hospitalization with Omicron.

Postal Service. Private insurers are now required to cover the cost of eight tests per person each month.

There has been no return to the stay-at-home orders imposed early in the pandemic, though new restrictions have emerged in some places. Some schools and colleges have transitioned to online instruction, either as a precaution or because of major outbreaks. School closures because of the virus peaked in early January, with millions of children affected by district shutdowns and classroom quarantines. Since then, disruptions have decreased, according to Burbio, a data-tracking company.

Countless Americans have adjusted their routines in recent weeks, avoiding unnecessary outings as cases spiked.

“The timing of this in a place like Cleveland has been bad,” said Marc R. Kotora, the owner of Gust Gallucci Co., a grocer and restaurant food provider that usually sees a big uptick in business around the holidays. “Because of the Omicron variant, we had lots of cancellations for people who wanted us to help cater their parties, and a number of restaurants we sell to closed up for a few weeks.”

In Chicago, where a vaccination mandate for indoor dining and some other activities took effect early this month, officials said they could lift that requirement in the coming months if conditions continued to improve. Cook County, which includes Chicago, is averaging about 8,000 cases a day, down from 12,000 earlier in the month.

“In June, my hope is that we will be in a good place,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner. “But could there be another variant? Where could we be? I can’t know for sure.”

In New Jersey, where new cases are down 60 percent over the last two weeks, hospitals have resumed more outpatient services and elective surgeries in recent days as the virus burden began to ease. Some facilities have also reclaimed areas that were set aside to accommodate beds for overflow Covid patients.

“Everybody has been so resilient,” said Melissa Zak, the chief nursing officer at Virtua Memorial and Virtua Willingboro, hospitals in southern New Jersey. “But I really worry how much this resiliency can last if it doesn’t continue to come down.”

Still, after two years of watching cases spike and ebb, and with scientists warning that the virus will become endemic, some people were careful not to be too optimistic about the latest data.

“Covid-19 seems to be rapidly changing all the time now,” said Ari Glockner, a student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He added: “We don’t know what it is going to be like five years from now, but I would bet we are still going to be dealing with it pretty consistently.”

Mitch Smith and Julie Bosman reported from Chicago, and Tracey Tully from New Jersey. Reporting was contributed by Dana Goldstein in New York, Ben Grenaway in Salt Lake City, Daniel McGraw in Cleveland and Donna M. Owens in Baltimore.

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Anti-Abortion Marchers Gather With an Eye on the Supreme Court

Anti-abortion protesters descended on Washington from across the country on Friday for the annual March for Life, a ritual that this year took on a tone of hopeful celebration as they anticipated the Supreme Court overturning the decision that established a constitutional right to abortion half a century ago.

The marchers have arrived by the busload in Washington every January since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade established a nationwide right to abortion. The tension this year was higher for both sides in the abortion debate as they await the court’s ruling on a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. The Roe decision forbade states to ban abortion before a fetus becomes viable, or roughly 22 weeks.

At oral arguments in December, the court’s six conservative justices signaled that they were inclined to uphold the Mississippi law. Several justices indicated they were willing to go further and overturn the Roe decision entirely.

“I feel like this year might be the year,” Laura Nunez, a 28-year-old account manager from Philadelphia, said as she gathered with the other marchers on the National Mall. “If that happens, it would be a great win for all of us.”

The typical patient is most likely already a mother,  poor, unmarried, in her late 20s, has some college education and is very early in pregnancy.

The number of abortions in the United States has declined since Roe — with 862,000 performed in clinics in 2017, according to Guttmacher. But those declines are largely from a decline in pregnancies. Studies suggest that a reversal of the decision would mostly affect poor women, women of color, and those who are already mothers.

Ms. Mancini, the president of the March for Life, accused abortion rights groups of fearmongering about the risks if Roe falls. In interviews before the march she argued that overturning the decision would simply return the question of abortion rights to states, to decide according to the wishes of their citizens.

Abortion rights supporters argued that the consequences of overturning Roe would be severe and long lasting for women and children.

Diana Greene Foster, the author of the Turnaway Study, which followed about 1,000 women from across the United States over a five-year period — those who had abortions and those who were not able to get them — noted that the women who had to continue their pregnancies often had life-threatening complications and bad health for years. Five years out, women denied an abortion were four times as likely to live below the federal poverty line, and three times as likely to be unemployed. Ninety percent of those women chose to raise the child, she said, and are more likely to stay in contact with an abusive partner.

“People are making careful decisions when they decide to have an abortion,” said Dr. Foster, who is also a professor of obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They say that they can’t afford a child, and we see they become poorer. They say they need to take care of their existing kids, and their existing children fare worse.”

While the speakers at the rally were optimistic that the court would choose to overturn Roe by this summer, many marchers said they would continue attending future rallies to press for a complete ban across the country.

Doug Winne, 69, and Ruth Winne, 65, had driven two hours from Lancaster, Pa., to this year’s rally. They have attended the March for Life regularly for about 35 years, and Mr. Winne said he was encouraged by the number of younger people in attendance.

Gazing at the crowd around him, Mr. Winne said he was hopeful that younger people would continue to fight to end abortion. “We’re clearly on the older end,” Mr. Winne said. “That’s an encouragement that this isn’t just something that we, as people in their 60s, are concerned about.”

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A Dam in Syria Was on a ‘No-Strike’ List. The U.S. Bombed It Anyway.

Near the height of the war against the Islamic State in Syria, a sudden riot of explosions rocked the country’s largest dam, a towering, 18-story structure on the Euphrates River that held back a 25-mile-long reservoir above a valley where hundreds of thousands of people lived.

The Tabqa Dam was a strategic linchpin and the Islamic State controlled it. The explosions on March 26, 2017, knocked dam workers to the ground and everything went dark. Witnesses say one bomb punched down five floors. A fire spread, and crucial equipment failed. The mighty flow of the Euphrates River suddenly had no way through, the reservoir began to rise, and local authorities used loudspeakers to warn people downstream to flee.

The Islamic State, the Syrian government and Russia blamed the United States, but the dam was on the U.S. military’s “no-strike list” of protected civilian sites and the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said allegations of U.S. involvement were based on “crazy reporting.”

Task Force 9 had struck the dam using some of the largest conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal, including at least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy thick concrete structures, according to two former senior officials. And they had done it despite a military report warning not to bomb the dam, because the damage could cause a flood that might kill tens of thousands of civilians.

a pattern described by The New York Times: The unit routinely circumvented the rigorous airstrike approval process and hit Islamic State targets in Syria in a way that repeatedly put civilians at risk.

Even with careful planning, hitting a dam with such large bombs would likely have been seen by top leaders as unacceptably dangerous, said Scott F. Murray, a retired Air Force colonel, who planned airstrikes during air campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

“Using a 2,000-pound bomb against a restricted target like a dam is extremely difficult and should have never been done on the fly,” he said. “Worst case, those munitions could have absolutely caused the dam to fail.”

After the strikes, dam workers stumbled on an ominous piece of good fortune: Five floors deep in the dam’s control tower, an American BLU-109 bunker-buster lay on its side, scorched but intact — a dud. If it had exploded, experts say, the whole dam might have failed.

dams upstream in Turkey cut water flow into Syria to buy time, and sworn enemies in the yearslong conflict — the Islamic State, the Syrian government, Syrian Defense Forces and the United States — called a rare emergency cease-fire so civilian engineers could race to avert a disaster.

Engineers who worked at the dam, who did not want to be identified because they feared reprisal, said it was only through quick work, much of it made at gunpoint as opposing forces looked on, that the dam and the people living downstream of it were saved.

“The destruction would have been unimaginable,” a former director at the dam said. “The number of casualties would have exceeded the number of Syrians who have died throughout the war.”

elaborate vetting and the approval of senior leaders.

quickly hit targets — including no-strike sites — that would have otherwise been off limits.

Rushed strikes on sites like schools, mosques and markets killed crowds of women and children, according to former service members, military documents obtained by The Times and reporting at sites of coalition airstrikes in Syria.

Perhaps no single incident shows the brazen use of self-defense rules and the potentially devastating costs more than the strike on the Tabqa Dam.

At the start of the war, the United States saw the dam as a key to victory. The Soviet-designed structure of earth and concrete stood 30 miles upstream from the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, and whoever controlled the dam effectively controlled the city.

Rebel groups captured the dam in 2013, and the Islamic State took control during its violent expansion in 2014. For the next several years, the militants kept a small garrison in the dam’s towers, where the thick concrete walls and sweeping view created a ready-made fortress.

a United Nations report from January 2017, which stated that if attacks on the dam caused it to fail, communities for more than 100 miles downstream would be flooded.

The military report was completed several weeks before the strike and sent to the task force, one former official said. But in the final week of March 2017, a team of task force operators on the ground decided to strike the dam anyway, using some of the biggest conventional bombs available.

military report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit shows the operators contacted a B-52 bomber circling high overhead and requested an immediate airstrike on three targets. But the report makes no mention of enemy forces firing or heavy casualties. Instead, it says the operators requested the strikes for “terrain denial.”

The two former officials said the terrain denial request suggested that allied forces were not in danger of being overrun by enemy fighters, and that the task force’s goal was likely to preemptively destroy fighting positions in the towers.

heavy artillery.

Days later, Islamic State fighters fled, sabotaging the dam’s already inoperable turbines as they retreated, according to engineers.

Satellite imagery from after the attack shows gaping holes in the roofs of both towers, a crater in the concrete of the dam next to the head-gates, and a fire in one of the power station buildings. Less obvious, but more serious, was the damage inside.

light weapons, so as not to cause damage.”

A short time later, General Townsend denied the dam was a target and said, “When strikes occur on military targets, at or near the dam, we use noncratering munitions to avoid unnecessary damage to the facility.”

reported widely in Syrian media sources online, but because the reports got the location of the attack wrong, the U.S. military searched for strikes near the dam and determined the allegation was “noncredible.” The civilian deaths have never been officially acknowledged.

The United States continued to strike targets and its allies soon took control of the region.

John Ismay contributed reporting.

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‘We’re Basically Mall Cops’: Texas Guard Members on Border Mission

McALLEN, Texas — After thousands of migrants crossed into Del Rio, Texas, last year and overwhelmed the authorities, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered thousands of National Guard troops to the border, sharply expanding their role in a mission known as Operation Lone Star.

For most of those called up, the service was mandatory, came on short notice and went from a tour of a few months to a yearlong deployment for a mission that Mr. Abbott has said is necessary to deter illegal migration, human smuggling and drug trafficking.

But many ordered to the border have complained of poor planning, pay problems and a lack of basic equipment, like winter gear for the cold or stethoscopes for medics. There have been Covid outbreaks on hastily created bases, where dozens of soldiers crowd together in mobile quarters so tight that commanders call them “submarine trailers.”

Hundreds sought waivers, because of the mission’s uncertain length and the disruptions it would create for their families, and were denied. In some cases, arrest warrants were issued for those who failed to report for duty.

more than a dozen Democratic members of Congress from Texas to call for an investigation of the border mission by the Guard’s inspector general, and have drawn criticism from Mr. Abbott’s Republican primary challengers, including Allen West, a former Army officer and former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, and Beto O’Rourke, the most prominent Democratic candidate for governor.

highlighted the National Guard deployment.

“Texas had no choice but to step up and address this crisis in the wake of President Biden’s and congressional Democrats’ inaction,” Nan Tolson, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in response to questions about the troubled border mission. “Texas will do whatever it takes to secure our southern border and protect Texans in President Biden’s absence.”

responded to Guard members’ concerns about equipment, pay and planning with a letter, acknowledging that there were “still numerous pay issues” and that the lodging remained “austere.”

He said that after a record number of illegal crossings, Mr. Abbott had been “forced to declare a state of emergency,” which authorized the mobilization of the Guard to support the state police on the border. He said their presence had prevented drugs from crossing the border and helped alert the federal authorities to tens of thousands of illegal migrants.

The activation of the National Guard in Texas — some of whose roughly 24,000 members had been engaged in responding to the pandemic — is expected to cost the state $2 billion this year, a spokeswoman for the Texas Military Department said.

As part of the mission, Guard members have created observation posts — usually consisting of soldiers with a Humvee — along the border, a presence meant to deter illegal crossings. They have also helped local officials and border agents with apprehensions.

huddled under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Mr. Abbott has faced enormous political pressure to respond.

According to state documents, Mr. Abbott in September requested that 1,500 troops join the 500 or so who had already been deployed to the border. Later that same week, Tucker Carlson began attacking Mr. Abbott on his Fox News show, which is popular with conservatives, for not sending more National Guard troops, and in subsequent days invited Mr. Abbott’s Republican challengers onto his show to do the same.

outspoken in his criticism, angered by state cuts to tuition assistance for the Guard last year as billions were allocated for the border mission.

Mr. Featherston and a number of other soldiers said they also were disturbed by at least four recent suicides of Guardsmen who had been called up for Operation Lone Star, though the reasons behind the suicides remained unclear. Suicides in the military represent a persistent crisis, with trauma and stress contributing to numbers that have climbed every year since 2001.

John Crutcher, a 45-year-old sergeant in the Guard and a captain for Dallas Fire-Rescue who went by Kenny, had obtained permission to temporarily delay his service to care for his wife after an emergency surgery, their daughter and his brother-in-law, who has Down syndrome and lived with them.

Still, the pressure of balancing his family life and his role leading other soldiers in the Guard weighed on him, his wife, Heather Seymour, said. “He was getting these photos from the border — here I’m guarding this R.V. park and that’s my mission,” she said. “None of it made sense to them, why it was all so important to leave their families and their jobs.”

With his temporary waiver set to eventually expire, Ms. Seymour said her husband grew increasingly agitated before killing himself. He had struggled with alcohol and post-traumatic stress from his service overseas in places like Afghanistan and had sought help. The border mission added to his struggles, she said.

Another member who sought a waiver from the mission, Joshua R. Cortez, was found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound two days after his waiver was denied, records show.

first reported by Army Times. “That said, we need to understand the larger context,” he added, providing statistics on suicides among U.S. military soldiers.

Mr. Featherston said that the well-being of soldiers was being put at risk by the vagueness of the mission and its apparent lack of advanced planning.

“I believe we should be on the border, but you’ve got to give them a purpose,” Mr. Featherston said. “A lot of people think this is a publicity stunt. Why all of a sudden the big push?”

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University of Michigan Fires Its President Over Inappropriate Relationship

The president of the University of Michigan, Mark S. Schlissel, has been fired for having a relationship with a subordinate that the university’s Board of Regents said violated university policy and was carried out “in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university.”

The board terminated Dr. Schlissel’s employment effective immediately after a special meeting on Saturday, ordering him to return all university property and canceling an agreement that would have continued to pay him his base salary of $927,000 for two years after his contract was supposed to end in 2023.

The board named a former president, Mary Sue Coleman, as interim president.

In a letter to Dr. Schlissel on Saturday informing him that he was being fired, the board said that it had received an anonymous complaint on Dec. 8 that Dr. Schlissel had been involved in an inappropriate sexual affair with a subordinate.

“There can be no question that you were acutely aware that any inappropriate conduct or communication between you and a subordinate would cause substantial harm to the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan,” the letter said.

letter in August 2020 to the university saying that “the highest priority” was to make the university “safe for all,” the Board of Regents’ letter noted. Mr. Philbert left the school.

Rebekah Modrak, a professor of art and design, sponsored a successful faculty no-confidence vote against Dr. Schlissel in September 2020, primarily because of concerns about pandemic policies. She said that she and other faculty members also believed the administration had not been sufficiently attuned to complaints about sexual assault and harassment on campus.

“For many of us and for me, the reaction was huge relief,” she said of the firing. “Because he has been such an arrogant leader and so dismissing of faculty concerns.”

Dr. Schlissel announced in October that he would resign in June 2023, a year earlier than originally planned but that he would continue working as a special adviser and president emeritus. That contract has been terminated.

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The Hostages Escaped. But Synagogues Ask, How Can They Be More Secure?

DALLAS — For 11 hours, the hostages talked to the ranting gunman, hoping that he would see them as human. They whispered about strategies. And they surreptitiously edged toward the nearest exit.

But when the gunman ordered the men to kneel, they decided they had to take action. The rabbi grabbed a chair and heaved it at the gunman. The hostages ran for the door.

The rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, has been called heroic for his cool head and the decisive leadership that led to the dramatic escape of three hostages on Saturday from Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.

But by his own account on Monday, and that of another hostage, Jeffrey Cohen, it was years of security training, prompted by threats to synagogues, that allowed them to escape.

extra patrols to several synagogues and “key Jewish institutions” around the city over the weekend, though they had not received any credible threats.

At Park East Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Benny Rogosnitzky, a cantor, said that leaders are “always on high alert.” Still, after Saturday’s hostage taking spurred deeper anxieties among congregants, the synagogue plans to post additional security guards at entrances and closely monitor foot traffic.

“You think to yourself that if this goes to Texas, in a tiny community with so few people attending services, it really can happen anywhere,” Cantor Rogosnitzky said, adding that finding a balance between safety and neighborliness has become a significant challenge.

“It’s a very, very sensitive line that we have to walk,” he said. “You want the house of God to be a place that’s open to people. If you walk past our building and to get into the synagogue, and you see two or three armed security guards, that doesn’t give you a feeling of closeness or intimacy with God.”

Margarita Birnbaumcontributed reporting.

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11 Hours of Fear, Negotiation and Finally, Relief

Soon, homes near the synagogue were evacuated as city, state and federal officials descended on the scene, the chief said. Mr. Akram was in contact with law enforcement officials throughout the ordeal, according to Mr. DeSarno.

“The negotiation team had a high frequency and duration of contact with him,” Mr. DeSarno said. There were times when the communication ceased, he said. The “relationship” between Mr. Akram and the negotiators, according to Mr. DeSarno, “ebbed and flowed a little bit” and sometimes “got intense.”

Experts on hostage situations say that maintaining dialogue is crucial.

“Crusaders, criminals and crazies are the people that hold hostages, and you’re not always sure which one it is at first,” said Robert J. Louden, a professor emeritus of criminal justice and homeland security at Georgian Court University in New Jersey. “The information you can develop about the situation allows you to best determine which kind of situation you have.”

The synagogue’s service was being livestreamed on Facebook, and for a while after he arrived, the audio remained live, letting anyone listen in real time as Mr. Akram angrily made his demands.

At one point, apparently referring to the hostages while speaking to a negotiator, Mr. Akram said, “Their children are being traumatized right now because you guys … don’t want to work with me.”

After asking the hostages, one by one, how many children each of them had, he appeared to address the negotiator, saying “Why are you going to leave seven children orphaned?”

At about 5 p.m., one male hostage was released, unharmed, while the other three continued to be held, the authorities said.

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Some Colleges Loosen Rules for a Virus That Won’t Go Away

As the Omicron surge spreads across the country, sending Covid-19 case counts to new heights and disrupting daily life, some universities are preparing for a new phase of the pandemic — one that acknowledges that the virus is here to stay and requires a rethinking of how to handle life on campus.

Schools are asking: Should there still be mass testing? Does there need to be contact tracing? What about tracking the number of cases — and posting them on campus dashboards? And when there is a spike in cases, do classes need to go remote?

Universities from Northeastern in Boston to the University of California-Davis have begun to discuss Covid in “endemic” terms — a shift from reacting to each spike of cases as a crisis to the reality of living with it daily. And in some cases, there has been backlash.

“I think we’re in a period of transition, hopefully to an endemic phase,” Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University, said. “I say hopefully because with this pandemic, we don’t know what’s coming next.”

containment to management,” abandoning the mass testing it instituted last year. Last fall, the school tested 10,000 people over four days, according to Chad Baldwin, associate vice president for communications and marketing.

But this semester, he said, the university’s health advisory panel concluded that Omicron was so widespread that mass testing, by gathering people in one place, might actually do more harm than good. The public university, in Laramie, serves about 12,000 students.

“We feel like we have managed our way through this pretty well,” Mr. Baldwin said. And with Omicron, he added, “we’re facing a virus that appears to be less dangerous for most people — and we’re encouraged.”

petition signed by 7,500 people, referencing Dr. May’s use of the term “endemic,” accused the university of “not prioritizing the immuno-compromised, the disabled, unvaccinated people, children, those who live with people from any of these groups, or the general health of the public.”

Most in-person classes have been delayed until Jan. 31. “People were sharing their concerns, and the campus leaders listened,” said Julia Ann Easley, a spokeswoman for the university, who also noted a growing Covid-19 case count on campus.

Rice University, with 8,000 students, moved many classes to remote instruction this month and encouraged students to delay returning to campus until late January. And, like many schools, it recently required students and employees to get booster shots.

Yet its president, David W. Leebron, sees his campus, in Houston, soon entering what he called a “posture that recognizes Covid-19 as endemic.”

message to faculty saying that “full-time remote teaching is not an allowable substitute for in-person instruction.” This belied the notion that faculty members could ask for exceptions, she said. “I don’t think that’s an adequate response when we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

A few public colleges are rethinking counting cases.

The University of Florida discontinued its Covid dashboard at the end of the year, and transferred the data handling to the state, which it said in an email to faculty could provide a more “sustainable approach,” as the virus “becomes endemic.”

West Virginia University announced that it will no longer report testing, quarantine and isolation data for the spring 2022 semester. But it will continue to report vaccination rates for faculty, staff and students, which as of mid-December are much higher on campus than the rest of the state: 92 percent for faculty and staff and 82 percent for students.

“It’s not anything that we’re doing to hide, quite the contrary,” said Dr. Gee, the president. “We’re following the data that the C.D.C. and the public health department says matter the most.”

Youssef Georgy, a senior, said the atmosphere on campus is much more relaxed than it was a year ago, when professors lectured behind Plexiglas shields, virus testing was widespread, and sporting events and mass gatherings were canceled.

This year, besides classroom and common-area mask requirements, “everything’s pretty much free range,” he said. “Other than masks, you don’t really feel the presence of a pandemic.”

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Census Memo Cites ‘Unprecedented’ Meddling by Trump Administration

WASHINGTON — A newly disclosed memorandum citing “unprecedented” meddling by the Trump administration in the 2020 census and circulated among top Census Bureau officials indicates how strongly they sought to resist efforts by the administration to manipulate the count for Republican political gain.

The document was shared between three senior executives including Ron S. Jarmin, a deputy director and the agency’s day-to-day head. It was written in September 2020 as the administration was pressing the bureau to end the count weeks early so that if President Donald J. Trump lost the election in November, he could receive population estimates used to reapportion the House of Representatives before leaving office.

The memo laid out a string of instances of political interference that senior census officials planned to raise with Wilbur Ross, who was then the secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. The issues involved crucial technical aspects of the count, including the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals quickly and political pressure on a crash program that was seeking to identify and count unauthorized immigrants.

Most of those issues directly affected the population estimates used for reapportionment. In particular, the administration was adamant that — for the first time ever — the bureau separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Mr. Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates.

The memorandum was among hundreds of documents that the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school obtained in a lawsuit seeking details of the Trump administration’s plans for calculating the allotment of House seats. The suit was concluded in October, but none of the documents had been made public until now.

Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University public-affairs scholar who ran the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview that the careful bureaucratic language belied an extraordinary pushback against political interference.

“This was a very, very strong commitment to independence on their part,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re gong to run the technical matters in the way we think we ought to.’”

redrawing of the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. It happens every 10 years, after the census, to reflect changes in population.

But the presentation showed that the administration had enjoyed much more success in obtaining public assistance records. Twenty-nine states and one California jurisdiction had signed agreements to disclose aid recipients under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

The documents show that career professionals at the Census Bureau repeatedly warned that it would be difficult or impossible to compile a list of noncitizens from such records, especially in time to subtract them from the population totals used to reapportion the House, which were due on the last day of 2020.

The list of noncitizens was a priority for two political appointees whom Mr. Trump had placed in the bureau’s senior management, Nathaniel T. Cogley and Benjamin Overholt.

Census Bureau experts had been “consistently pessimistic” about their ability to find and remove undocumented residents from population totals used in apportioning the House, the agency’s top career official, Mr. Jarmin, wrote in an email to Mr. Cogley and the head of the Census Bureau, Steven Dillingham, shortly after Mr. Trump ordered the noncitizens list.

The pressure from the political appointees to come up with a number remained intense, as the September 2020 memorandum emailed to Mr. Jarmin; another top career official, Enrique Lamas; and the bureau’s chief of staff, Christa D. Jones, made clear.

The memo appears to have been a draft of talking points about political interference that officials wanted to raise with Mr. Ross before reapportionment figures were to be delivered to Mr. Trump. It began with an observation that the Commerce Department was “demonstrating an unusually high degree of engagement in technical matters” involving the calculation of population totals, a pattern of interference it called “unprecedented relative to the previous censuses.”

Point by point, the memo described political involvement in crucial aspects of the census.

One key process dealt with the bureau’s use of computer formulas to make educated guesses about who and how many people lived in households that had failed to complete census forms — calculations directly related to the totals used to apportion the House and draw new political maps. Another centered on a controversial new method known as differential privacy that the bureau sought to use to shield the identities of the people it counted.

Political appointees also had taken interest in how the bureau would produce final population figures needed to draw political maps nationwide, as well as estimates of the number of voting-age citizens. Mr. Trump had said he wanted to give those estimates to states as the basis for drawing political maps — another tactic that almost certainly would boost Republican political representation. The memo also said political officials had pushed to reduce the steps used to process and double-check population data so that apportionment figures could reach the White House on time.

The final complaint, about meddling in the methodology used to count undocumented immigrants, came to a head last January, when unnamed whistle-blowers accused Mr. Dillingham, Mr. Trump’s appointee to head the bureau, of caving to political pressure to produce a tally of noncitizens that experts said could not be assembled. Mr. Dillingham, who denied the charge, later resigned.

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Joe Biden’s low point: can the president revive his sinking popularity?

Even for a White House familiar with roadblocks and frustration, Thursday’s setbacks on vaccine mandates and voting rights came as hammer blows.

Aside from the immediate derailing of two key policy tenets of Joe Biden’s administration, the vaccine ruling by the supreme court, which quickly followed Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema’s public assassination of his voting reform efforts, prompted a new round of questions over whether his presidency was doomed.

Crucially, serious agonizing is now going on about what Biden’s woes might mean for the Democratic party’s fortunes in midterm elections later this year, when Republicans are tipped to seize back control of both chambers of Congress.

With Biden’s public popularity sinking – in one poll this week to a new low of 33% – and with another centrist Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, having already capsized the president’s flagship $1.75tn Build Back Better domestic spending plan, some analysts say time is running short to impress voters ahead of the November polls.

“The whole first year is gone. And in the end, nothing,” said Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia’ Center for Politics, referring to the lengthy but fruitless discussions with Manchin over the make-up of the plan. “Manchin led him down the rosy patch then threw him into the briar patch. ‘Would you change that? You changed that, well, I don’t like this thing over here. Oh, you changed that, well, there’s these two things …’”

Sabato added: “But the voting rights debacle is the worst of all because why was Biden elected other than that people wanted to get rid of Trump? It was because he was seen as experienced and competent. What’s the experience gotten us exactly? I just don’t understand how we got here.”

Several of Biden’s misfortunes, Sabato said, are not directly of his own making. He has made repeated efforts to change the minds of both Manchin and Sinema, most recently in seemingly unsuccessful late-night talks at the White House on Thursday in an attempt to salvage his agenda.

Kyrsten Sinema blocks filibuster reform as Biden continues ‘fight’ for voting rights – video
Kyrsten Sinema blocks filibuster reform as Biden continues ‘fight’ for voting rights – video

But Sabato also believes that the president’s handling of various situations, and poor direction from advisers, particularly over the Covid-19 pandemic, runaway inflation, and last year’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, have combined to leave Biden exposed.

About inflation, Sabato says: “Biden’s team simply missed it badly, they got it very, very wrong, and they’re continuing probably to get it wrong. They’re downplaying it and they’re going to tame it by mid-year. Maybe, but I’ll be surprised.”

On Afghanistan, Sabato said, Biden “threw it away again”.

“It could have been a big plus had it been handled correctly because just about everybody – Democrat, Republican – was more than willing to get out of Afghanistan. It was a very bad performance by his team. They couldn’t know what was gonna happen? He’s responsible for his advisers, so he can be blamed for it.”

On Friday, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that the president would hold a rare, formal press conference next Wednesday to mark his first year in office. As well as answering difficult questions about the administration’s failures, Biden will talk up its successes, namely the $1tn infrastructure bill he signed in November, and the $1.9tn Covid relief plan from last spring.

Having appeared fatigued by Thursday’s rejections, a more buoyant Biden followed up with his own briefing on Friday afternoon, accompanied by Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor he appointed to oversee the implementation of the infrastructure act.

“There’s a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven’t gotten done. We’re going to get a lot of them done, I might add,” Biden said. “But this [infrastructure] is something we did get done, and it’s of enormous consequence to the country.”

Some analysts suggest the touting of past glories displays a lack of confidence in what can still be achieved in the almost 10 months until the midterms, something Biden seemed to acknowledge on Thursday when he said: “I don’t know whether we can get this done,” after a Capitol Hill meeting with Democrats over voting rights.

Biden hails ‘monumental step forward’ as Democrats pass infrastructure bill – video
Biden hails ‘monumental step forward’ as Democrats pass infrastructure bill – video

The obstacles ahead of Biden are certainly substantial. They range from Democrats’ internal divisions between progressives and moderates, stonewalling by Republicans in Congress and the Donald Trump-created conservative super-majority on the supreme court that has already delivered several blows, and appears poised this summer to overturn five decades of abortion rights.

Yet Biden is committed to trying to salvage what he can from what promises to be a testing few months. “Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time,” he told reporters about voting rights efforts.

Similarly, he is also likely to attempt to get through Congress individual elements of the Build Back Better plan that are acceptable to Senate moderates, including universal pre-kindergarten education, subsidized child care and a number of climate provisions.

“They may try to get pieces of Build Back Better, or build back something as we now call it, but everyone’s going to describe it as crumbs from the table,” Sabato said.

“If they’d started with that, people would say, ‘Wow, that’s incredible, pre-K for everybody’, or whatever piece they decided to pick, it didn’t really matter which one. But now it will appear to people as this tiny piece of what the president started out with, [and] tremendous disappointment in Democratic ranks. By the end of the story you won’t even know what passed.”

In November last year, Biden, who will be 81 at the time of the 2024 presidential election, announced his intention to run for a second term.

Publicly at least, he retains the support of his party, but the Washington Post reported in December rumblings of discontent in Democratic circles about his leadership. An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this week, citing the unpopularity of both Biden and Vice-president Kamala Harris, even floated the idea of a comeback for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee beaten by Trump in 2016, to fill what its authors called a “leadership vacuum”.

In the wake of this week’s disappointments, the possibility of an alternative Democratic ticket for 2024 emerged again, the Washington Post columnist and political analyst Perry Bacon Jr suggesting there were “plenty of strong candidates” if Biden or Harris do not run.

“Biden hasn’t cracked some magic political code. Despite his white maleness and appeals to unity, Washington is gridlocked, Republican voters hate the president and his party is poised to do poorly in the midterms,” Bacon wrote on Friday. “It seems entirely possible that Biden runs in 2024 and loses to a Republican challenger. Democrats simply might be better off with someone new.”

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