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Congress Should Do More To Rein In Presidential Power, Sen. Tim Kaine Says : NPR

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., seen on Capitol Hill earlier this month. In an interview with NPR’s Michel Martin, Kaine encouraged Congress to reassert its authority as a co-equal branch of government.

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Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., seen on Capitol Hill earlier this month. In an interview with NPR’s Michel Martin, Kaine encouraged Congress to reassert its authority as a co-equal branch of government.

Susan Walsh/AP

Presidential power only goes so far — and then Congress has the constitutional duty to assert its authority, Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine told NPR’s Michel Martin in an interview on Saturday.

Kaine’s comments come amid renewed criticism among Democrats and some Republicans that President Trump repeatedly engages in executive overreach. Some point to the administration’s move this month to remove New York federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman, who had been investigating some of Trump’s associates. Others cite the Justice Department’s decision to drop the case against his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI during the Russia investigation.

Presidential assertions of executive power are nothing new, Kaine said, pointing to Barack Obama and George W. Bush as examples of commanders-in-chief who believed they could engage in military activity without a vote from Congress. But the Trump administration goes too far, Kaine said, citing the Flynn case, as well as Trump’s taking money out of the defense budget to use for a border wall, and blocking witnesses from testifying before congressional committees.

Some powers belong to Congress alone, Kaine said, such as starting trade wars and imposing tariffs. “Presidents take these powers, but Congress has basically just allowed them to,” he said.

Kaine was especially critical of what he called the highly politicized pardons of people like Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who was pardoned by Trump after a conviction for criminal contempt of court; or I. Lewis Libby Jr., former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection to the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.

These pardons, Kaine said, are “almost like messages to others: ‘Hey, stick with me and I’ll pardon you if you don’t say anything bad about me.’ ”

While Kaine is critical of presidents for taking on powers not explicitly conferred by the Constitution, the senator said he’s even more critical of a Congress that abdicates its authority to push back. “When Congress abdicates, we just allow this to happen. And Congress has been abdicating — and frankly it’s been a bipartisan problem for too long,” Kaine said.

Ultimately, Kaine believes Congress has let the balance of power between the branches of government become disturbed. “We’ve let power that was supposed to be at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue run down to the other end,” Kaine said. “There’s got to be a balance, and we need to reclaim some of it.”

Kaine is hopeful a bipartisan solution is possible. Trump’s attempts at asserting authority is “making a lot of us grapple with the fact that Congresses of both parties under presidents of both parties have let the balance get out of wack,” he said.

But Kaine acknowledges that for some Democrats, complaining about executive overreach might be a matter of what he called “situational ethics”: There’s a possibility, he said, that they might turn a blind eye if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins office. “When I was raising real concerns about President Obama’s decision to unilaterally engage in military activity, Democrats in my own Senate caucus were basically yelling at me and telling me to knock it off,” Kaine said.

That said, given Biden’s decades of experience in Congress, Kaine is confident a Biden presidency would take pains not to engage in political overreach that tramples over the legislative branch. Biden has “a completely different attitude toward the role of the Article I branch than President Trump does,” Kaine said.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Endorses Joe Biden For President

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who quit her Democratic presidential campaign in August, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the party’s nomination, calling him the “absolute best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump.”

“I’m proud to endorse @JoeBiden today,” Gillibrand wrote Thursday on Twitter, becoming the latest big-name Democrat to throw her support behind Biden. “Our country needs a president who will provide steady, honest leadership, and I believe Joe has the right experience, empathy, and character to lead. I’m excited to help him defeat Donald Trump in November.”

Biden has amassed a deep roster of support in recent weeks, with endorsements from many former 2020 rivals. Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.) all said they’ll back him, as did former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Mike Bloomberg.

“He’s the absolute best candidate to defeat President Trump, and I think he is the person who has gained the trust and the respect of the American people in a way that no one else has,” Gillibrand told The Washington Post, noting Biden was prepared to handle the coronavirus pandemic. “The truth is he’s run the strongest campaign.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Biden’s last major competitor, has lagged behind in recent primaries. Biden scored major victories in Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Arizona and Illinois, and now holds a commanding lead in delegates.

Biden thanked Gillibrand for her support, saying the lawmaker has “never been afraid to speak without fear, to be brave in the face of injustice, and to empower others to get off the sidelines.”

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Sen. Tom Cotton Still Pitching Debunked Theory About Coronavirus

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) continues to push a debunked theory that the coronavirus is linked to a biological lab in China.

The lab theory, which has been circulating in right-wing publications and on the internet, also suggests the virus may have started as an unleashed biological weapon. 

Scientists say the virus may have begun with animal-to-human transmission at a Wuhan seafood and wildlife market. But Cotton disagrees.

“We don’t know where it originated,” Cotton said on Fox News on Sunday. “But we do know we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”

Although Cotton admitted there was no evidence to suggest the disease actually originated at the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, he then complained about China’s “duplicity and dishonesty.” 

Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the U.S., denounced Cotton’s theory on “Face The Nation” earlier this month.

“It’s very harmful, it’s very dangerous to stir up suspicion, rumors and spread them among the people,” Cui said. “For one thing, this will create panic. Another thing is that it will fan up racial discrimination, xenophobia, all these things that will really harm our joint efforts to combat the virus.”

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Washington Post that “we don’t have any evidence” that the general population was exposed to a virus through an accident at a lab. He called Cotton’s speculation a conspiracy theory that was borderline irresponsible.

“Cotton should spend more time funding the agencies in the United States that can help contain and combat the virus rather than trying to assign blame,” Narang said.

Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, also told the Post that there was nothing in the genome sequence of the virus that indicated it had been engineered.

“The possibility this was a deliberately released bioweapon can be firmly excluded,” Ebright added.

The coronavirus, know as COVID-19, has killed at least 1,666 people and infected more than 68,500 people globally, the vast majority in mainland China.

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Sen. Kamala Harris suspends presidential bid

Sen. Kamala Harris has suspended her presidential bid, bringing to a close her historic effort to secure the Democratic nomination.

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“I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” the California lawmaker wrote in a letter to supporters. “I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete. In good faith, I can’t tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do. So, to you my supporters, it is with deep regret — but also with deep gratitude — that I am suspending my campaign today.”

Harris took a hard look at the campaign’s resources over the Thanksgiving holiday and made the decision Monday after discussing the path forward with her family and senior aides, a senior Harris aide told ABC News. She will travel to the early states this week to personally and privately thank staff and supporters there for their hard work and dedication to the campaign, the aide added.

Harris’ announcement comes after her campaign drastically cut her staff in October, funneling most of her campaign’s resources toward working on a strong victory in Iowa and leaving other early voting states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina with minimal staffing and funding.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., pauses as she speaks at a town hall event at the Culinary Workers Union, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Las Vegas. John Locher/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., pauses as she speaks at a town hall event at the Culinary Workers Union, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Las Vegas.

“I’m moving to Iowa,” the senator joked at rallies, as she vowed to campaign in the state each week.

Still she plateaued in the polls in the single digits. In a recent ABC News and Washington Post poll, Harris only garnered 2% support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents.

Harris entered the race in January speaking before a crowd of 20,000 people, one of the largest in the 2020 cycle. The senator’s presidential hopes were amplified by a sudden boost of support after a breakthrough moment during the first Democratic presidential debate. On the debate stage, Harris, who is black and Indian American, challenged former Vice President Joe Biden on his past stances on busing policies.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me,” Harris said.

On Tuesday, Biden complimented Harris as a competitor.

“She is a first rate intellect, a first rate candidate and a real competitor,” he told reporters at an event in Iowa. “I have mixed emotions about it because she is really a solid, solid person and loaded with talent. I’m sure she’s not dropping out on wanting to make the changes she cares about.”

Those changes, Harris underscored on the trail and in her letter to supporters, centered on “fighting for people whose voices have not been heard or too often ignored.”

On the campaign trail, Harris’ record as district attorney of San Francisco and later attorney general of California, became a frequent area of criticism from her fellow presidential contenders.

PHOTO: Kamala Harris delivers her closing statement flanked by Joe Biden and Andrew Yang during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
Kamala Harris delivers her closing statement flanked by Joe Biden and Andrew Yang during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019.

As a presidential candidate, Harris’ team sought to highlight her efforts as a progressive prosecutor who championed criminal justice reform and held the powerful accountable. In stump speeches across the country, Harris made a pitch to voters about why she was best poised to “prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump.”

Harris’ popularity rose in part because of her harsh questioning of Trump cabinet nominees such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It was those same skills her team tried to highlight as the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump got underway.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Harris’ campaign suspension with a short tweeted response: “Too bad. We will miss you Kamala!”

Earlier in the day, the Trump campaign and some of its staffers mocked Harris on social media over dropping out of the Democratic primary on Tuesday —including congratulating Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a candidate with whom the California senator had differed on the debate stage.

“Somehow we will press on,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News when asked about Harris suspending her campaign.

Harris responded to Trump on Twitter on Tuesday night with a promise: “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial.”

For her part, Gabbard wished Harris well tweeting “Sending my best wishes to @KamalaHarris, her family & supporters who have campaigned so hard. While we disagree on some issues, we agree on others & I respect her sincere desire to serve the American people. I look forward to working together on the challenges we face as a nation.”

Others, such as former Democratic presidential nominee and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro also lauded Harris for her efforts.

“I’m so thankful for @KamalaHarris’s friendship and candidacy in this race. As a child of immigrants, she’s been a lifelong fighter for opportunity and justice for all Americans, and I’m glad she’ll keep fighting for an America where everyone counts,” he tweeted.

Former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to offer words of encouragement to those who volunteer for candidates who end bids.

“To all the candidates, staff, and volunteers who have worked their hearts out for presidential campaigns that have ended—remember that fighting for what you believe in is always worth it,” she tweeted.

ABC News’ MaryAlice Parks and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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