Facebook has approached academics and policy experts about forming a commission to advise it on global election-related matters, said five people with knowledge of the discussions, a move that would allow the social network to shift some of its political decision-making to an advisory body.
The proposed commission could decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and what to do about election-related misinformation, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were confidential. Facebook is expected to announce the commission this fall in preparation for the 2022 midterm elections, they said, though the effort is preliminary and could still fall apart.
Outsourcing election matters to a panel of experts could help Facebook sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two of the people said. The company has been blasted in recent years by conservatives, who have accused Facebook of suppressing their voices, as well as by civil rights groups and Democrats for allowing political misinformation to fester and spread online. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, does not want to be seen as the sole decision maker on political content, two of the people said.
Oversight Board, a collection of journalism, legal and policy experts who adjudicate whether the company was correct to remove certain posts from its platforms. Facebook has pushed some content decisions to the Oversight Board for review, allowing it to show that it does not make determinations on its own.
pays them through a trust.
The Oversight Board’s highest-profile decision was reviewing Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald J. Trump after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. At the time, Facebook opted to ban Mr. Trump’s account indefinitely, a penalty that the Oversight Board later deemed “not appropriate” because the time frame was not based on any of the company’s rules. The board asked Facebook to try again.
In June, Facebook responded by saying that it would bar Mr. Trump from the platform for at least two years. The Oversight Board has separately weighed in on more than a dozen other content cases that it calls “highly emblematic” of broader themes that Facebook grapples with regularly, including whether certain Covid-related posts should remain up on the network and hate speech issues in Myanmar.
A spokesman for the Oversight Board declined to comment.
Facebook has had a spotty track record on election-related issues, going back to Russian manipulation of the platform’s advertising and posts in the 2016 presidential election.
bar the purchase of new political ads the week before the election, then later decided to temporarily ban all U.S. political advertising after the polls closed on Election Day, causing an uproar among candidates and ad-buying firms.
The company has struggled with how to handle lies and hate speech around elections. During his last year in office, Mr. Trump used Facebook to suggest he would use state violence against protesters in Minneapolis ahead of the 2020 election, while casting doubt on the electoral process as votes were tallied in November. Facebook initially said that what political leaders posted was newsworthy and should not be touched, before later reversing course.
The social network has also faced difficulties in elections elsewhere, including the proliferation of targeted disinformation across its WhatsApp messaging service during the Brazilian presidential election in 2018. In 2019, Facebook removed hundreds of misleading pages and accounts associated with political parties in India ahead of the country’s national elections.
Facebook has tried various methods to stem the criticisms. It established a political ads library to increase transparency around buyers of those promotions. It also has set up war rooms to monitor elections for disinformation to prevent interference.
There are several elections in the coming year in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines where Facebook’s actions will be closely scrutinized. Voter fraud misinformation has already begun spreading ahead of German elections in September. In the Philippines, Facebook has removed networks of fake accounts that support President Rodrigo Duterte, who used the social network to gain power in 2016.
“There is already this perception that Facebook, an American social media company, is going in and tilting elections of other countries through its platform,” said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University. “Whatever decisions Facebook makes have global implications.”
Internal conversations around an election commission date back to at least a few months ago, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
An election commission would differ from the Oversight Board in one key way, the people said. While the Oversight Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or an account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide guidance without the company having made an earlier call, they said.
Tatenda Musapatike, who previously worked on elections at Facebook and now runs a nonprofit voter registration organization, said that many have lost faith in the company’s abilities to work with political campaigns. But the election commission proposal was “a good step,” she said, because “they’re doing something and they’re not saying we alone can handle it.”
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
In an emailed statement, Mr. Trump said Facebook’s ruling was “an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election.” He added that Facebook should not be allowed to get away with “censoring and silencing” him and others on the platform.
Facebook’s broader shift to no longer automatically exempt speech by politicians from its rules is a stark reversal from a free-speech position that Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, had championed. In a 2019 address at Georgetown University, Mr. Zuckerberg said, “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society.”
But that stance drew criticism from lawmakers, activists and Facebook’s own employees, who said the company allowed misinformation and other harmful speech from politicians to flow unhindered.
While many academics and activists welcomed Facebook’s changes on Friday as a step in the right direction, they said the implementation of the new rules would be tricky. The company would likely enter into a complicated dance with global leaders who had grown accustomed to receiving special treatment by the platform, they said.
“This change will result in speech by world leaders being subject to more scrutiny,” said David Kaye, a law professor and former United Nations monitor for freedom of expression. “It will be painful for leaders who aren’t used to the scrutiny, and it will also lead to tensions.”
Countries including India, Turkey and Egypt have threatened to take action against Facebook if it acts against the interests of the ruling parties, Mr. Kaye said. The countries have said they might punish Facebook’s local staff or ban access to the service, he said.
“This decision by Facebook imposes new political calculations for both these global leaders, and for Facebook,” Mr. Kaye said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
To keep tabs on the military situation on the ground, the U.S. military wants to continue using some version of what it calls the Combined Situational Awareness Room, where it coordinates with its Afghan counterparts (often over WhatsApp), funneling information and helping put air support and other forces into place on the battlefield. But it remains unclear where the command center would be, with options including the American Embassy or outside the country.
Though the Afghan Air Force has become increasingly capable in recent years, American drones and other surveillance aircraft still provide key targeting information. And U.S. strikes, though reduced under extremely restrictive rules of engagement, still occur as international forces depart and Afghan security forces struggle to hold ground.
U.S. military officials believe the United States will devote a significant number of reconnaissance aircraft to continue to help the Afghan forces but will limit airstrikes to “counterterrorism operations” only, a loose description that has been used in the past to justify a variety of actions.
With no bases to position aircraft close to Afghanistan, that means American aircraft will have to fly from bases in the Middle East or from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea to support Afghan forces or to conduct counterterrorism missions from “over the horizon.”
For prop-powered surveillance drones and planes, that means several-hour trips just to get to Afghanistan.
For jets based on aircraft carriers, that means frequent midair refueling stops. As land-based U.S. jets leave Afghanistan, United States forces are struggling to meet the demand for carrier-based aircraft because of an increased need for refueling tankers. For now, the jets onboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea can fulfill only around 75 percent of the requests over Afghanistan, a military official said.
Questioned by lawmakers last month about the challenges of countering terrorist threats in Afghanistan after American troops leave, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said, “It’s going to be extremely difficult to do, but it is not impossible.”
WASHINGTON — Iran agreed on Monday to a one-month extension of an agreement with international inspectors that would allow them to continue monitoring the country’s nuclear program, avoiding a major setback in the continuing negotiations with Tehran.
Under the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran will extend access to monitoring cameras at its nuclear facilities until June 24, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general, told reporters in Vienna.
The extension prevents a new crisis that could derail talks among world powers, including the United States, aimed at bringing Washington back to the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump withdrew from three years ago. Restoring the deal, including a commitment from Iran to resume all its obligations under the agreement, is a top priority for President Biden.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said in a statement that the decision was made “so that negotiations have the necessary chance to progress and bear results.”
reached a three-month compromise under which inspectors would retain partial access to nuclear production facilities.
Under that agreement, Iran allowed cameras to continue monitoring its facilities but insisted on retaining possession of the footage until an agreement to restore the larger nuclear deal was reached. The country’s state media reported on Monday that it would share the footage with the International Atomic Energy Agency if the United States lifted sanctions as part of a restored deal, but would erase the recordings otherwise.
The agreement will allow for other methods of continued international visibility into the nuclear program, but neither Iran nor the agency has publicly provided full details about their compromise.
“I want to stress this is not ideal,” Mr. Grossi said. “This is like an emergency device that we came up with in order for us to continue having these monitoring activities.”
sanctions that are strangling Iran’s oil exports and economy.
Because Tehran refuses to negotiate directly with the United States over the 2015 deal, which it says that Mr. Trump violated without cause, American negotiators have been working from a nearby hotel and communicating with Iranian officials through intermediaries.
Appearing on “This Week” on ABC on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the talks had made progress but suggested that Tehran was delaying further progress.
“Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side. And what we haven’t yet seen is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do,” he said. “That’s the test, and we don’t yet have an answer.”
on Twitter. He asked if the United States was ready to return to the deal by lifting the sanctions and said that Iran would return to its full commitments once Washington had done so.
“Lifting Trump’s sanctions is a legal & moral obligation,” Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted on Sunday. “NOT negotiating leverage.”
He added of the sanctions, “Didn’t work for Trump — won’t work for you.”
Iran has steadily expanded its nuclear program since Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal. Its government said on Monday that the stockpile of enriched uranium at higher levels had increased in the past four months.
Iran now has a stockpile of 2.5 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, 90 kilograms of enriched uranium at 20 percent and 5,000 kilograms of enriched uranium at 5 percent, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state television.
Uranium enriched to 60 percent purity is a relatively short step from bomb fuel, which is typically considered 90 percent or higher. While uranium enriched to 60 percent can be used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, such applications have been discouraged globally because it can easily be turned into bomb fuel.
The nuclear deal with world powers capped Iran’s enrichment and stockpiling of nuclear material at 2.2 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level of 3.7 percent.
WASHINGTON — Florida on Monday became the first state to regulate how companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter moderate speech online, by imposing fines on social media companies that permanently ban political candidates for statewide office.
The new law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is a direct response to Facebook and Twitter’s ban of former President Donald J. Trump in January. In addition to the fines for banning candidates, it also makes it illegal to prevent some news outlets from posting to their platforms in response to the contents of their stories.
Mr. DeSantis said that signing the bill meant that Floridians would be “guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites.”
“If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable,” he said in a statement.
limiting the right to protest and providing immunity to drivers who strike protesters in public streets.
And the Republican push to make voting harder continues unabated after Mr. Trump’s relentless lying about the results of the 2020 election. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law new restrictions on voting, as did Mr. DeSantis in Florida, and Texas Republicans are poised to soon pass the nation’s biggest rollback of voting rights.
The party-wide, nationwide push stems from Mr. Trump’s repeated grievances. During his failed re-election campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly pushed to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity to certain tech firms from liability for user-generated content, even as he used their platforms to spread misinformation. Twitter and Facebook eventually banned Mr. Trump after he inspired his supporters, using their platforms, to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Republican lawmakers in Florida have echoed Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.
“I have had numerous constituents come to me saying that they were banned or de-platformed on social media sites,” said Representative Blaise Ingoglia during the debate over the bill.
But Democrats, libertarian groups and tech companies all say that the law violates the tech companies’ First Amendment rights to decide how to handle content on their own platforms. It also may prove impossible to bring complaints under the law because of Section 230, the legal protections for web platforms that Mr. Trump has attacked.
“It is the government telling private entities how to speak,” said Carl Szabo, the vice president at NetChoice, a trade association that includes Facebook, Google and Twitter as members. “In general, it’s a gross misreading of the First Amendment.” He said the First Amendment was designed to protect sites like Reddit from government intervention, not protect “politicians from Reddit.”
The Florida measure will likely be challenged in court, said Jeff Kosseff, a professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy.
“I think this is the beginning of testing judges’ limits on these sorts of restrictions for social media,” he said.
The Biden administration on Saturday extended special protections to Haitians living temporarily in the United States after being displaced by a devastating 2010 earthquake, reversing efforts by the previous administration to force them to leave the country.
The decision, announced by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, makes good on President Biden’s campaign promise to restore a program that shields thousands of Haitian migrants from the threat of deportation under the restrictive policies put in place under President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Mayorkas said the new 18-month designation, known as temporary protected status, would apply to Haitians already living in the United States as of Friday.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Saturday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Obama administration granted the temporary protected status to Haitians living in the United States illegally after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010.
Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the new designation could protect as many as 150,000 Haitians from having to return to the political and security crisis in their home country.
“The last thing our country should be doing is forcing an entire community in the U.S. to decide between packing up their lives and tearing their families apart by self-deporting, or becoming undocumented and forced into the shadows of our society,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement on Saturday.
As part of its hard-line efforts to curb legal and illegal immigration, the Trump administration sought to end protections for about 400,000 immigrants living in the United States, including Haitians. Officials at the time said that the emergency conditions that had compelled the immigrants to flee their countries — earthquakes, hurricanes, civil war — had occurred long ago and that most of the immigrants no longer needed the haven provided by the United States.
Lawsuits blocked the cancellations, but in September a federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants on notice that they would have to leave the country or face deportation. Many of the people affected had been living in the United States for years. The Trump administration agreed to keep the protections in place at least through early 2021, meaning a new administration could decide to continue the policy.
wrote on Twitter.
In March, the Biden administration issued special protections for as many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, citing the extraordinary humanitarian crisis in the country under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro.
But some said more needed to be done to give many of those immigrants permission to live in the United States permanently.
“Haitians have been living in uncertainty for the past several months,” Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer for the nonprofit organization Raices, said in a statement. “In the future, that uncertainly could be solved by a permanent fix through legislation that puts T.P.S. holders on the path to citizenship,” she added, using the abbreviation for the program.
This month, the House passed a bill that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated four million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including those granted temporary protected status for humanitarian reasons. The bill passed mostly along party lines, and getting it through the more evenly divided Senate is likely to be a challenge.
For decades, the story of American steel had been one of job losses, mill closures and the bruising effects of foreign competition. But now, the industry is experiencing a comeback that few would have predicted even months ago.
Steel prices are at record highs and demand is surging, as businesses step up production amid an easing of pandemic restrictions. Steel makers have consolidated in the past year, allowing them to exert more control over supply. Tariffs on foreign steel imposed by the Trump administration have kept cheaper imports out. And steel companies are hiring again.
Evidence of the boom can even be found on Wall Street: Nucor, the country’s biggest steel producer, is this year’s top performing stock in the S&P 500, and shares of steel makers are generating some of the best returns in the index.
“We are running 24/7 everywhere,” said Lourenco Goncalves, the chief executive of Cleveland-Cliffs, an Ohio-based steel producer that reported a significant surge in sales during its latest quarter. “Shifts that were not being used, we are using,” Mr. Goncalves said in an interview. “That’s why we’re hiring.”
has fallen more than 75 percent. More than 400,000 jobs disappeared as foreign competition grew and as the industry shifted toward production processes that required fewer workers. But the price surge is delivering some optimism to steel towns across the country, especially after job losses during the pandemic pushed American steel employment to the lowest level on record.
“Last year we were laying off,” said Pete Trinidad, president of the United Steelworkers Local 6787 union, which represents roughly 3,300 workers at a Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill in Burns Harbor, Ind. “Everybody was offered jobs back. And we’re hiring now. So, yes, it’s a 180-degree turn.”
broader tariffs on imported steel in 2018. Steel imports have collapsed by roughly a quarter, compared with 2017 levels, according to Goldman Sachs, opening up an opportunity for domestic producers, who are capturing prices as much as $600 per ton above those prevailing on the global markets.
Those tariffs have been eased somewhat by one-off agreements with trade partners like Mexico and Canada, and by exemptions granted to companies. But the tariffs are in place and continue to be applied to imports from key competitors in the European Union and China.
steel and aluminum imports that had played a major role in the Trump administration’s trade wars.
It is unclear whether the talks will lead to any significant breakthroughs. They could, however, make for difficult politics for the White House. On Wednesday, a coalition of steel industry groups including steel manufacturing trade groups and the United Steelworkers union — whose leadership endorsed President Biden in the 2020 election — called on the Biden administration to ensure that tariffs remain in place.
“Eliminating the steel tariffs now would undermine the viability of our industry,” they wrote in a letter addressed to the president.
Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which announced the trade talks, said the discussions were focused on “effective solutions that address global steel and aluminum overcapacity by China and other countries while ensuring the long-term viability of our steel and aluminum industries.”
Although producers are rejoicing, the price increases are painful for consumers of steel.
At its Plymouth, Mich., plant, Clips & Clamps Industries employs roughly 50 workers who stamp and form steel into components for cars such as the metal props that are used to keep the hood open when checking the oil.
“Last month, I can tell you, we lost money,” said Jeffrey Aznavorian,the manufacturer’s president. He attributed the loss, in part, to higher prices the company had to pay for steel. Mr. Aznavorian said he worried that his company would lose ground to foreign auto parts suppliers in Mexico and Canada who can buy cheaper steel and offer lower prices.
And it does not look like things are going to get easier for steel buyers any time soon. Wall Street analysts recently lifted forecasts for U.S. steel prices, citing the combination of industry consolidation and the durability, at least so far, of Trump-era tariffs under Mr. Biden. The two have helped create what analysts from Citibank called “the best backdrop for steel in a decade.”
Leon Topalian, the chief executive of Nucor, said the economy was showing an ability to absorb high steel prices, which reflect the high-demand nature of the recovery from the pandemic. “When Nucor is doing well, our customer segment is doing well,” Mr. Topalian said, “which means their customers are doing well.”
For their part, steel workers are enjoying a respite after being hit hard by the pandemic.
The city of Middletown in southwestern Ohio was spared the worst of the downturn, which saw 7,000 iron and steel production jobs disappear nationwide. Middletown Works — a sprawling Cleveland-Cliffs steel plant and one of the area’s most important employers — managed to avoid layoffs. But as demand has surged, activity and hours at the plant are picking up.
“We’re definitely running good,” said Neil Douglas, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 1943, which represents more than 1,800 workers at Middletown Works. The plant, Mr. Douglas said, is having trouble finding the additional workers to hire for positions that could earn as much as $85,000 a year.
And the buzz at the plant is spilling over into the town. Mr. Douglas says he can’t walk into the home improvement center without running into someone from the mill who is embarking on a new project at home.
“You can definitely feel in the town that people are using their disposable income,” he said. “When we’re running good and we’re making money, people are going to spend it in town for sure.”
Fox News Media, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled cable group, filed a motion on Tuesday to dismiss a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit brought against it in March by Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that accused Fox News of propagating lies that ruined its reputation after the 2020 presidential election.
The Dominion lawsuit, along with a similar defamation claim brought in February by another election company, Smartmatic, have been widely viewed as test cases in a growing legal effort to battle disinformation in the news media. And it is another byproduct of former President Donald J. Trump’s baseless attempts to undermine President Biden’s clear victory.
In a 61-page response filed in Delaware Superior Court, the Fox legal team argues that Dominion’s suit threatened the First Amendment powers of a news organization to chronicle and assess newsworthy claims in a high-stakes political contest.
“A free press must be able to report both sides of a story involving claims striking at the core of our democracy,” Fox says in the motion, “especially when those claims prompt numerous lawsuits, government investigations and election recounts.” The motion adds: “The American people deserved to know why President Trump refused to concede despite his apparent loss.”
Charles Babcock, who has a background in media law, and Scott Keller, a former chief counsel to Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. Fox has also filed to dismiss the Smartmatic suit; that defense is being led by Paul D. Clement, a former solicitor general under President George W. Bush.
“There are two sides to every story,” Mr. Babcock and Mr. Keller wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “The press must remain free to cover both sides, or there will be a free press no more.”
a novel tactic in the battle over disinformation, but proponents say the strategy has shown some early results. The conservative news outlet Newsmax apologized last month after a Dominion employee, in a separate legal case, accused the network of spreading baseless rumors about his role in the election. Fox Business canceled “Lou Dobbs Tonight” a day after Smartmatic sued Fox in February and named Mr. Dobbs as a co-defendant.
WASHINGTON — It was, President Donald J. Trump proclaimed in September, “the dawn of a new Middle East.”
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Trump was announcing new diplomatic accords between Israel and two of its Gulf Arab neighbors, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
“After decades of division and conflict,” Mr. Trump said, flanked by leaders from the region in a scene later replayed in his campaign ads, the Abraham Accords were laying “the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region.”
Eight months later, such a peace remains a distant hope, particularly for the Middle East’s most famously intractable conflict, the one between Israel and the Palestinians. In fiery scenes all too reminiscent of the old Middle East, that conflict has entered its bloodiest phase in seven years and is renewing criticism of Mr. Trump’s approach while raising questions about the future of the accords as President Biden confronts what role the United States should play now in the region.
a January 2020 Trump peace plan proposing to create a Palestinian state, on terms heavily slanted toward Israeli demands, the accords intentionally “separated” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Israel’s relations with the Arab world, Mr. Greenblatt said.
They “took away the veto right for the Palestinians for the region to move forward,” he added.
Others noted that, before agreeing to the accords, the U.A.E. extracted from Mr. Netanyahu a pledge to hold off on a potential annexation of swaths of the West Bank, a move that had the potential to set off a major Palestinian uprising. (Trump officials also opposed such an annexation and Mr. Netanyahu might not have followed through regardless.)
Dennis Ross, a former Middle East peace negotiator who served under three presidents, called the accords an important step for the region, but said the violence in Israel’s cities and Gaza illustrated how “the Palestinian issue can still cast a cloud” over Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbors.
“The notion that this was ‘peace in our time’ obviously ignored the one existential conflict in the region. It wasn’t between Israel and the Arab states,” Mr. Ross said.
a statement last week, the U.A.E.’s foreign affairs ministry issued a “strong condemnation” of Israel’s proposed evictions in East Jerusalem and a police attack on Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, where Israeli officials said Palestinians had stockpiled rocks to throw at Israeli police.
Last month, the U.A.E. also denounced “acts of violence committed by right-wing extremist groups in the occupied East Jerusalem” and warned that the region could be “slipping into new levels of instability in a way that threatens peace.”
Bahrain and other Gulf states have condemned Israel in similar tones. A statement on Friday from the U.A.E.’s minister of foreign affairs, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, called on “all parties,” not only Israel, to exercise restraint and pursue a cease-fire.
One former Trump official argued that public pressure on Israel by countries like the U.A.E. and Bahrain carry more weight after the accords, coming as they do from newly official diplomatic partners. None of the governments who are party to the accords are playing a major role in efforts to secure a cease-fire, however — a responsibility assumed in the past by Egypt and Qatar.
changed longstanding U.S. policy by declaring that the United States did not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. (The Biden administration intends to reverse that position once a review by government lawyers is complete.)
Mr. Trump also moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, officially recognizing the city as Israel’s capital, in a move that infuriated Palestinians who have long expected East Jerusalem to be the capital of any future state they establish.
“Trump opened the door for Israel to accelerate home demolitions, accelerate settlement activity,” Ms. Hassan said. “And when that happens and you see Israel acting upon it, that’s when you see the Palestinian resistance.”
Former Trump officials note that expert predictions of a Palestinian eruption during Mr. Trump’s term, particularly after the embassy relocation, never came to pass, and suggest that Mr. Biden’s friendlier approach to the Palestinians — including the restoration of humanitarian aid canceled by Mr. Trump — has emboldened them to challenge Israel.
Even some Trump administration officials said any suggestions that the accords amounted to peace in the Middle East were exaggerated.
“During my time at the White House, I always urged people not to use that term,” Mr. Greenblatt said.