WASHINGTON — The Biden administration took a major step on Wednesday in challenging China’s broad territorial claims in the Pacific, announcing that the United States and Britain would help Australia to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, adding to the Western presence in the region.
If the plan, announced on Wednesday by President Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, comes to fruition, Australia may be conducting routine patrols that could sail through areas of the South China Sea that Beijing now claims as its own exclusive zone, and range as far north as Taiwan. The announcement is a major step for Australia, which until recent years has been hesitant to push back directly at core Chinese interests.
“This is about investing in our greatest source of strength, our alliances and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s about connecting America’s existing allies and partners in new ways.”
Australia has felt increasingly threatened, and three years ago was among the first nations to ban Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, from its networks. Now, with the prospect of deploying a new submarine fleet, with nuclear propulsion systems that offer limitless range and run so quietly that they are hard to detect, Australia would become a far more muscular player in the American-led alliance in the Pacific. And for Mr. Johnson, the new defense arrangement would bolster his effort to develop a new “Global Britain” strategy that focuses on the Pacific, the next step after Brexit took the country out of the European Union.
American officials said Australia had committed never to arm the submarines with nuclear weapons; they would almost certainly carry conventional, submarine-launched cruise missiles. Australia is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which bans it from acquiring or deploying nuclear weapons. Yet even conventionally armed submarines, manned by Australian sailors, could alter the naval balance of power in the Pacific.
“Attack submarines are a big deal, and they send a big message,’’ said Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies the use of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in great power competition. “This would be hard to imagine five years ago. And it would have been impossible 10 years ago. And that says a lot about China’s behavior in the region.”
The announcement is the latest in a series of actions by Mr. Biden, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and his Asia coordinator, Kurt Campbell, to design a strategy that pushes back on Chinese economic, military and technological expansionism. Over the past eight months they have blocked China from acquiring key technologies, including materials for semiconductor production; urged nations to reject Huawei; edged toward closer dealings with Taiwan and denounced China’s crackdown on Hong Kong. Next week Mr. Biden will gather the leaders of “the Quad” — an informal partnership of the United States, Japan, India and Australia — at the White House for an in-person meeting, another way to demonstrate common resolve in dealing with Beijing.
Mr. Biden spoke with President Xi Jinping of China last week for roughly 90 minutes, only the second time the two leaders have spoken in since Mr. Biden took office. Few details of the conversation were revealed, so it was unclear if Mr. Biden gave his Chinese counterpart warning of the move with Australia. But none of it would have come as a surprise to Beijing; earlier the Australians had announced a deal with France for less technologically sophisticated submarines. That deal collapsed.
Nonetheless, the decision to share the technology for naval reactors, even to a close ally, was a major move for Mr. Biden — one bound to raise protests by the Chinese and questions from American allies and nonproliferation experts. The United States last shared the nuclear propulsion technology with an ally in 1958 in a similar agreement with the United Kingdom, administration officials said.
“There is a shared understanding that we need to strengthen deterrence and actually be prepared to fight a conflict if one occurs,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund, a policy think tank. “It reflects growing concern about Chinese military capabilities and intentions.”
The nuclear reactors that power American and British submarines use bomb-grade, highly-enriched uranium, a remnant of Cold War-era designs. And for two decades Washington has been on a drive to eliminate reactors around the world that use bomb-grade fuel, substituting them with less dangerous fuel in an effort to limit the risk of proliferation.
The movement gained momentum after the Sept. 11 attacks, and President Barack Obama ran a series of “nuclear summits,” drawing leaders from around the world, that were used to pressure nations to take old reactors that use highly-enriched uranium out of service, so that the fuel could never fall into the hands of terrorists.
But the new arrangement with Australia seems almost sure to move in the other direction: Australia will almost certainly power its submarines with highly-enriched uranium, because for now there is little other choice. Aware of the contradiction, administration officials cast the decision as an “exception,” though one they would not make for other major allies, including South Korea, which in decades past was caught moving toward building its own nuclear arsenal. Australia has been a leader in the nonproliferation movement.
“We last did this 70 years ago,’’ a senior administration official deeply involved in the negotiations over the deal said on Wednesday. “After today, it’s not likely we will do it again.”
Officials said that the details will be worked out over the next 18 months, including strict controls on nuclear technology. They said Australia had already agreed not to produce the highly-enriched fuel, meaning it will almost certainly be buying it from American stockpiles.
The United States has explored moving away from highly-enriched uranium. A study by the Pentagon’s top nuclear advisory group concluded in 2019 that the U.S. should shift to reactors that burn low-enriched uranium, which cannot be easily diverted to use in weapons. But that process, the experts concluded, could not begin until after 2040.
“There will be many who say we are giving the Australians a gateway drug for a nuclear capability,’’ Mr. Narang said. “It is not something we would let other major allies get away with, much less help make it possible.”
But China’s aggressive tactics in the Pacific and the need to ensure the security around Taiwan required the United States to empower Australia, even if it meant carving an exception to the effort to reduce the use of weapons-grade nuclear fuel, according to Elbridge Colby, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense strategy and force development
Australia has, for more than seven decades, been a member of the “Five Eyes,’’ the intelligence alliance that includes the major English-speaking victors of World War II. The other four are the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. They regularly exchange information on cyber threats and a range of terrorism threats.
The country’s senior-most military officer did not bypass his civilian leaders when he called his Chinese counterpart last October and January, his office said on Wednesday, as General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, moved to limit the damage from a book that alleges that he secretly called China twice over concerns that his boss at the time, President Donald J. Trump, might spark a war with Beijing.
General Milley’s spokesman, Col. Dave Butler, said in a statement that “all calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency,” in a reference to the government national security bureaucracy.
“General Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution,” the statement said.
General Milley’s “calls with the Chinese and others in October and January,” Colonel Butler said, “were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability.”
Colonel Butler did not speak to the specifics of the conversation, which, according to “Peril,” the new book by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, included reassurances that Mr. Trump had no plans to attack China as part of an effort to remain in power and that the United States was not collapsing.
“Things may look unsteady,” General Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of China on Jan. 8, two days after Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol to try to stop the certification of his election loss, in the second of two such calls. “But that’s the nature of democracy, General Li. We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”
Yet despite those assurances, the book asserts that General Milley was so concerned about Mr. Trump that he convened a meeting with top commanders later that day to remind them of the procedures for launching a nuclear weapon and that he needed to be involved in such a decision.
The Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, said Wednesday that there was nothing wrong with that, calling it “completely appropriate for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the senior military adviser to the president, to want to see the protocols reviewed.” He added that “I see nothing in what I’ve read that would cause any concern.”
President Biden on Wednesday said he had “great confidence in General Milley.”
“The president has complete confidence in his leadership, his patriotism, and his fidelity to our Constitution,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
But some Republican leaders took to Twitter to express their fury.
“I will be declining this invite to dine with Attempted Coup Leader and Renowned Critical Race Theorist Mark Milley,” Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida wrote, posting a photo of an invitation from the National Defense University to a dinner and reception in October where the general is the featured speaker. It’s unlikely the general extended that invite personally; he took Mr. Gaetz to task in June during a congressional hearing, after Mr. Gaetz criticized military institutions for teaching about systemic racism.
Instead of demurring to the congressman, as military leaders often do during congressional hearings, General Milley retorted that he had read Mao, Marx and Lenin and that “doesn’t make me a communist.”
Still, the last thing the Pentagon wants is the appearance that military leaders have gone around their civilian counterparts, even during the tumultuous last months of the Trump presidency, when Mr. Trump made clear in a series of meetings, officials said, that he was not averse to using the military to help him remain in power.
Similar to other media reports and books released since Mr. Trump left office, “Peril” details how his presidency essentially collapsed in his final months in office, particularly after his election loss and the start of his campaign to deny the results. Top aides — including General Milley, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William P. Barr — became convinced that they needed to take drastic measures to stop him from trampling on American democracy or setting off an international conflict, and General Milley thought that Mr. Trump had declined mentally in the aftermath of the election, according to the book.
A senior Defense official said that Mr. Esper, in the weeks before he was unceremoniously fired by Mr. Trump, also made calls of reassurance to foreign counterparts worried about Mr. Trump.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting from Washington
A Democratic plan to control prescription drug prices as part of their $3.5 trillion social policy package failed in a House committee on Wednesday after moderates refused to support it, imperiling a crucial element of the measure and a substantial chunk of the revenue needed to finance it.
A trio of moderates — Representatives Scott Peters of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Kathleen Rice of New York — joined Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in voting against the drug proposal, leaving its fate in doubt even as senior Democrats insisted they would ultimately be able to include some version of it in the final package.
Still, the defeat reflected the many disputes brewing among Democrats that are threatening to derail or scale back their $3.5 trillion domestic policy plan. And it illustrated the challenges that party leaders face in uniting their slim majorities around legislation that represents President Biden’s best chance of accomplishing key parts of his agenda.
The setback came on a day when Mr. Biden was meeting separately with two Democratic holdouts to the social policy package, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have balked at the measure’s price tag.
Unity on the measure is crucial given that Republicans are unanimous in opposition. Democrats plan to push it through under a special budget process known as reconciliation, which shields it from a filibuster and allows it to pass on a simple majority vote. But given Democrats’ slim majorities, they cannot afford even one defection in the 50-50 Senate and can spare as few as three votes in the House.
The drug pricing provision is a major policy priority for congressional leaders and the White House. High drug prices are a major consumer issue and a priority for voters.
“Polling consistently shows immense bipartisan support for Democrats’ drug price negotiation legislation,” Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, said in a statement after the vote. “Delivering lower drug costs is a top priority of the American people and will remain a cornerstone of the Build Back Better Act as work continues between the House, Senate and White House on the final bill.”
The House provision would have established aggressive price caps for certain prescription drugs, tying the government’s price for medicines to the prices paid in other countries. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the policy would result in prices for certain drugs falling by more than half. Under the legislation, that lower price would be made available to other drug buyers in the country, lowering prices for employer and individual health plans too.
The pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes such policies, which could substantially reduce their revenues. Just hours before the vote, PhRMA, the industry trade group, announced a 7-figure television ad purchase designed to stave off price regulation. A large group of industry CEOs also released an open letter opposing the bill. It appeared as a paid ad Wednesday in the Washington Post, Politico, and The Hill.
In the Senate, more divisions are brewing over the social policy bill. Ms. Sinema arrived at the White House early Wednesday morning to meet with Mr. Biden about her concerns about the emerging legislation.
“Today’s meeting was productive, and Kyrsten is continuing to work in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops,” John LaBombard, her spokesman, said in a statement.
Mr. Manchin was set to meet with Mr. Biden later Wednesday.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen is pressing Representative Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to include the Biden administration’s full proposal for bolstering the Internal Revenue Service in its $3.5 trillion spending package, arguing that more resources and greater powers to catch tax evaders are crucial for reducing the “tax gap.”
In a letter to Mr. Neal, Ms. Yellen urged lawmakers not to water down a central piece of the proposal, which would give the Internal Revenue Service visibility into the financial accounts of taxpayers through more robust reporting requirements. Treasury officials say that will enable the agency to better crack down on rich people and companies who are not paying what they owe.
Legislation released by House Democrats earlier this week included the $80 billion in additional funding for the I.R.S. that the Biden administration had proposed to help expand staffing and enforcement capacity. However, a separate proposal to enact an “information reporting” regime was absent from the bill.
“As you consider specific policy choices in designing an information reporting regime, it is important to ensure that the reporting regime is sufficiently comprehensive, so that tax evaders are not able to structure financial accounts to avoid it,” Ms. Yellen wrote. “Any suggestion that instead this reporting regime will be used to target enforcement efforts on ordinary Americans is wholly misguided.”
Critics of the proposal have argued that giving the I.R.S. more power to peer into taxpayer financial information represents an invasion of privacy and have said it could lead to frivolous audits for political reasons. The Biden administration insists that audit rates will not rise for taxpayers who earn less than $400,000.
In an addendum to the letter, Mark J. Mazur, Treasury’s acting assistant secretary for tax policy, reiterated Treasury’s estimates that the investment in enforcement staff and new information reporting powers could generate $700 billion in government revenue over a decade. He suggested that Congress might be considering including a more modest reporting mechanism and warned that doing so would be less effective.
“Clearly, this will lower the estimated revenue raised from the proposed reporting regime relative to earlier administration estimates,” Mr. Mazur wrote.
At a hearing on Wednesday, Mr. Neal said he had received the letters and underscored the importance of strengthening tax enforcement without adding new burdens to small businesses.
“We are in conversations with the administration on reporting proposals that target sophisticated tax avoidance and evasion without impacting middle-class and working Americans,” Mr. Neal said.
Pennsylvania Republicans moved on Wednesday to seek personal information on every voter in the state as part of a brewing partisan review of the 2020 election results, rubber-stamping more than a dozen subpoenas for driver’s license numbers and partial Social Security numbers.
The expansive request for personal information, directed at Pennsylvania’s Department of State and approved in a vote by Republicans on a State Senate subcommittee, is the first major step of the election inquiry. The move adds Pennsylvania to a growing list of states that have embarked on partisan-led reviews of the 2020 election, including a widely criticized attempt to undermine the outcome in Arizona’s largest county.
Democrats in the State Senate pledged to fight the subpoenas in court, saying at a news conference after the vote on Wednesday that the requests for identifiable personal information were an overreach, lacked authority and potentially violated federal laws protecting voter privacy.
“Senate Democrats, going forward, intend to take legal action against this gross abuse of power by filing a lawsuit, challenging in the courts, and to ask the courts to declare the Senate Republicans’ actions in violation of separation of power, as well as declaring that they had no authority to issue these subpoenas,” said State Senator Jay Costa, the minority leader.
Democrats control several of the top offices in Pennsylvania — including those of governor, attorney general and secretary of state — and it was not immediately clear what legal basis they might have to challenge the subpoenas. Nor was it clear how the transfer of information would begin to take place, if it does proceed, or which people or entities involved in the review would control the information. While the review will be funded by taxpayers, its potential cost has yet to be revealed.
The Department of State did not respond to requests for comment or issue a statement on the subpoenas.
Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania and a Democrat, vowed to fight the subpoenas as well.
“There are legal consequences to turning over people’s private, personal information without their permission,” Mr. Shapiro said in an interview. “My office will not allow that to happen. And people can be assured that we will take whatever legal action necessary to protect their private personal information from this charade.”
The subpoenas, 17 in all, also included a request for communications between state and county election officials. They did not include requests for election machines or equipment.
But election experts still expressed worries about the amount of personal information being requested and the security risks, both to voters and to the electoral process, that could come with such a transfer of information. Such risks have grown increasingly common in partisan election reviews around the country.
“That’s a really bad idea to have private information floating around in a Senate caucus,” said Marian K. Schneider, an elections lawyer for the A.C.L.U. of Pennsylvania. “And it’s really not clear how the data is going to be used, who’s going to be looking at it, who can have access, how it’s going to be secured. And it’s unclear to me why they even need the personally identifying information.”
Republicans in several states have pursued similar reviews — misleadingly labeled “audits” to suggest an authoritative nonpartisan investigation — in the name of protecting “election integrity.” The reviews have often centered on baseless claims and debunked conspiracy theories about the presidential contest, spurred in part by the falsehoods promoted by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies.
President Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes, and the results have been reaffirmed by the state’s Department of State.
“The entirety of our proceedings today, issuing subpoenas, is based upon such a noncredible foundation,” said Anthony H. Williams, a Democratic state senator who represents an area near Philadelphia. He added that it was “very troubling and, in fact, leads us to darker days in this country, such as when hearings like these, during the McCarthy era, were held, where voices were silenced and liberties were denied, being bullied by the power of the government.”
State Senator Jake Corman, the top Republican in the chamber, who approved the review last month, portrayed the investigation as merely trying to inform future legislation and lashed back at Democrats, asking what they were “scared of.”
“All we’re doing is seeking facts, seeking information, so that we can make better public policy,” Mr. Corman said.
When questioned by Democrats about why voters’ Social Security and driver’s license information was necessary for the investigation, State Senator Cris Dush, who is leading the review as chair of the Governmental Operations Committee, brought up unspecific and unfounded claims that ineligible voters had cast ballots in the Pennsylvania election.
“Because there have been questions regarding the validity of people who have voted, whether or not they exist,” Mr. Dush said. “Again, we’re not responding to proven allegations, we are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual.”
He continued: “If we have the sum errors within the voter registration system which allow for such activity, then we have a responsibility as a legislature to create legislation which will prevent that from happening in future elections.”
A chief concern of Democrats, beyond the subpoenas, was which people or companies might gain access to the stockpile of personal information of the nearly seven million Pennsylvanians who cast a ballot in the 2020 election.
State Senator Steven J. Santarsiero, a Democrat from the Philadelphia suburbs, pressed Mr. Dush on his selection process. Mr. Santarsiero asked specifically whether any of the vendors the Republicans are considering have ties to Sidney Powell, the lawyer who has popularized many false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“The answer to that is I really don’t know, because it is not something that is relevant to my determination,” Mr. Dush responded.
“So it’s possible, then?” Mr. Santarsiero asked.
“It is absolutely possible,” Mr. Dush said.
The Biden administration is trying to build support for proposals to overhaul the nation’s rickety child care system as it pushes Congress to embrace a $3.5 trillion plan to expand social safety programs and looks for ways to combat ongoing labor shortages.
In a new report released on Wednesday, the Treasury Department painted a dire picture of child care in America, outlining what it called failures by the private sector to provide high-quality care at affordable prices and making the case that the federal government must do more to help families care for their children.
“This is not just happenstance — sound economic principles explain why relying on private money to provide child care is bound to come up short,” the report said.
The Biden administration has already disbursed nearly $40 billion to help child care providers and day care centers through funds that were approved in the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed earlier this year. The Treasury Department has also been distributing monthly advance child tax credit payments to families with children.
On Wednesday afternoon, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Treasury Department to make the case for more child care funding and described the lack of quality care in the country a national emergency.
“Childcare remains too expensive and out of reach for far too many working families in our country,” Ms. Harris said, adding that other advanced economies invest more in child care than the United States. “We need to bring costs down with a significant investment in our child care industry.”
Ms. Yellen made the case for bold investments in both personal and economic terms. She recalled that 40 years ago when she was returning to work after her son was born, she placed an advertisement in a local newspaper offering a few dollars more than the standard wage for a babysitter because the work was so important. She reflected on the fact that she was fortunate enough to be able to pay a higher wage and said that if she had not been able to find quality care at that time in her career, she might not be Treasury Secretary today.
Ms. Yellen lamented that most families must bear the cost of child care when they are young and their earnings are low. She said that public investment is needed because of all of the economic benefits that come when parents have access to quality care for their children.
“The free market works well in many different sectors, but child care is not one of them,” Ms. Yellen said. “Child care is a textbook example of a broken market.”
Mr. Biden’s plan includes child care subsidies for low- and middle-income families, universal prekindergarten for children who are 3 and 4 years old and a permanent expansion of the child and dependent care tax credits.
The Treasury report argues that families are currently spending about 13 percent of their income to pay for child care costs for a child under the age of 5. Despite the high costs, child care providers tend to be poorly compensated.
The patchwork nature of the child care system often creates incentives for a parent to leave the labor force, losing access to health insurance and retirement benefits. The United States is currently grappling with a labor shortage, and the Biden administration views bolstering access to child care as a way to get people back to work.
“In basic economic terms, the president’s proposals will expand both demand for and supply of child care,” the report said. “With expanded demand, more children will have access to the rich early experiences and more parents will be able to choose to remain in the labor force.”
Pope Francis weighed in on Wednesday on a debate roiling the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, where bishops are considering denying Communion to politicians, like President Biden, who support abortion rights.
“I have never refused the Eucharist to anyone,” Francis said, adding that bishops should be pastors, not politicians.
In his usual fashion, the pope did not give a simple, direct answer. But he left little doubt about his view, invoking a phrase he has used before: “Communion is not a prize for the perfect.”
The Vatican in June warned conservative bishops in the country against refusing Communion to Mr. Biden, who is only the second Roman Catholic to be U.S. president.
The Biden administration has been clear about wanting to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, and its fight with Republican lawmakers in Texas over the issue escalated on Tuesday. The Justice Department asked a federal judge to issue an order that would prevent the state from enforcing a law that prohibits nearly all abortions.
The Justice Department argued in its emergency motion that the state adopted the law, known as Senate Bill 8, “to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights,” reiterating an argument the department made last week when it sued Texas to prohibit enforcement of the contentious new legislation.
President Biden met on Wednesday with top executives from Microsoft, the Walt Disney Company, Kaiser Permanente and other companies that have endorsed vaccine mandates, days after he announced a federal effort to require employees of large companies to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be tested regularly.
The administration sought to use the meeting to show that vaccine mandates are good for the economy while spotlighting employers that have mandates for workers or have praised Mr. Biden’s order. The meeting was meant to rally more business support for mandates.
“It’s about saving lives — that’s what this is all about,” said Mr. Biden, who was flanked by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator.
“Vaccinations mean fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and in turn it means a stronger economy,” he added.
One of the invitees to the meeting, Tim Boyle, the chief executive of Columbia Sportswear, said in an interview on Wednesday that his company had drafted a policy mandating vaccines months ago. But it had held off carrying it out until Mr. Biden announced last week that he was directing the Labor Department to issue an emergency safety declaration that would effectively function as a vaccine mandate for tens of millions of workers. Columbia Sportswear told its workers that it will put a vaccine requirement in place next week.
Mr. Boyle said Columbia was concerned that by acting alone it would risk losing as many as half of its workers in distribution centers and retail stores. Mr. Biden’s order, he said, reduced the risk that workers who don’t want to get vaccinated would quit to work elsewhere.
“There’s much less opportunity for people to go somewhere they don’t need to be vaccinated,” he said.
Mr. Boyle said vaccinations had divided Columbia’s work force. Managers in its Portland, Ore., headquarters have largely embraced the shots, he said, but retail and warehouse workers throughout the country have been more reluctant. He said that hesitancy had hurt the company, with infections and the threat of infection forcing closures and cleanings of locations.
“Those operations are predicated on people working together closely,” he said. Having unvaccinated workers is “highly disruptive.”
Several of the business leaders who met with Mr. Biden have installed mandates already, for at least part of their work force, including Disney, Walgreens and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
WASHINGTON — Sitting at a witness table alongside three of her former gymnastics teammates, Simone Biles broke down in tears while explaining to a Senate committee that she doesn’t want any more young people to experience the kind of suffering she endured at the hands of Lawrence G. Nassar, the former national team doctor.
“To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, but I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse,” Biles, 24, said Wednesday as her mother, Nellie Biles, sat nearby, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.
Biles and hundreds of other girls and women — including a majority of the members of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics teams — were molested by Nassar, who is now serving what amounts to life in prison for multiple sex crimes. His serial molestation is at the center of one of the biggest child sex abuse cases in American history.
McKayla Maroney, an Olympian in 2012, also testified, describing in detail how Nassar repeatedly abused her, even at the London Games, where she won a gold medal. She said she survived a harrowing ordeal when she and Nassar were at a competition in Tokyo, certain she “was going to die that night because there was no way he was going to let me go.”
“That evening I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me, molesting me for hours,” she said.
In 2015, when Maroney was 19 years old and before she had even told her mother what Nassar had done, she described her abuse to an F.B.I. agent during a three-hour phone call from the floor of her bedroom. When she finished, Maroney said the agent asked, “Is that all?” She said she felt crushed by the lack of empathy.
“Not only did the F.B.I. not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney testified. “They chose to lie about what I said and protect a serial child molester rather than protect not only me but countless others.”
In a remarkable turn, the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, acknowledged the agency’s mishandling of the case and apologized to the victims. He said the F.B.I. had fired an agent who was involved in the case early — the one who interviewed Maroney. It was the first time anyone at the agency had submitted to public questioning about the F.B.I.’s failure to properly investigate a sexual abuse case that shook the sports world to its core.
Wray, who became the F.B.I. director in 2017 said he was “heartsick and furious” when he heard that the F.B.I. had made so many errors in the case before he took charge of the agency.
“I’m sorry that so many people let you down again and again,” Wray said to the victims. “I am especially sorry that there were people at the F.B.I. who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed, and that is inexcusable. It never should have happened, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.”
Wray said that one of the agents initially involved in the case, Michael Langeman, was fired two weeks ago. When asked why the case was mishandled in the first place, Wray said the agents had made many basic mistakes that clashed with how the F.B.I. usually conducts investigations.
“I don’t have a good explanation for you,” Wray said, later adding, “On no planet is what happened in this case acceptable.”
Wray said that as a result of the Nassar case the F.B.I. had strengthened its policies, procedures, systems and training, including emphasizing that agents report abuse cases to state and local law enforcement. He promised that steps in future investigations would be “quadruple checked” so that there was not “a single point of failure.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said Wray’s answers would not provide any solace to the gymnasts who testified before the Judiciary Committee, and that they weren’t good enough “for the American people,” either.
Like the gymnasts who testified, and like other Nassar victims, Leahy was outraged that the agents who mishandled the case have not been prosecuted. He said sports and government officials and anyone else who “turned a blind eye” to Nassar’s abuse should face criminal charges.
“A whole lot of people should be in prison,” he said.
The Justice Department was not at the hearing to address the lack of criminal prosecutions. Senators said they had asked Justice Department officials to attend, but those officials declined.
The hearing came two months after the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report that sharply criticized the F.B.I. The agency’s errors allowed Nassar to continue treating patients at Michigan State University, where he practiced, and in and around Lansing, Mich., including at a local gymnastics center and a high school, even though he had left U.S.A. Gymnastics under a cloud, with both gymnastics officials and the F.B.I. aware of the abuse accusations.
Nassar was able to molest more than 70 girls and women under the guise of medical treatment while the F.B.I. failed to act, the inspector general’s report said.
To open the hearing, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the committee chair, scolded the F.B.I. for its “dereliction of duty,” “systematic organizational failure” and “gross failures” in the case.
“It shocks the conscience when the failures come from law enforcement itself, yet that’s exactly what happened in the Nassar case,” Durbin said.
Two F.B.I. agents who took the initial abuse reports no longer work for the agency, including Langeman, the supervisory special agent in the F.B.I.’s Indianapolis office who first spoke to Maroney. Wray said the agency had been waiting to receive the inspector general’s report and had to go through the proper disciplinary process before firing Langeman.
Langeman, who was not immediately available for comment, was not named in the inspector general’s report, but his actions and multiple crucial missteps were carefully described. The report said that Langeman should have known that Nassar’s abuse was probably widespread, but that he did not investigate the case with any urgency.
After Langeman interviewed Maroney — who was just one of the three elite gymnasts who gave U.S.A. Gymnastics details of Nassar’s abuse — the agent did not properly document that interview or open an investigation. In an interview report Langeman filed with the F.B.I. 17 months after he spoke to Maroney, who was not named in the report, he included statements she did not make, according to the report.
Like other agents initially involved in the case, Langeman did not alert local or state officials about the allegations of abuse by Nassar, violating F.B.I. policy that says crimes against children “invariably require a broad, multijurisdictional, and multidisciplinary approach.”
Langeman later said he had filed an initial report about Nassar, asking for the case to be transferred to the F.B.I.’s Lansing office. But the paperwork wasn’t found in the F.B.I. database, the inspector general’s report said.
W. Jay Abbott, a former special agent in the Indianapolis office, also is no longer with the F.B.I., after voluntarily retiring in 2018. The report said he had made false statements to Justice Department investigators and “violated F.B.I. policy and exercised extremely poor judgment under federal ethics rules.”
According to the report, Abbott had been angling for a job with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which he discussed with Steve Penny, who was then the president of U.S.A. Gymnastics. Several senators expressed surprise and disgust that Abbott was able to leave the F.B.I. without being disciplined.
Hundreds of girls and women who were abused by Nassar have been waiting for years to hear from the F.B.I. about the mistakes in the case. Biles has been vocal about wanting to know “who knew what, and when” about Nassar. She said the effects from his abuse linger. She won a silver medal and a bronze this summer at the Tokyo Olympics after dropping out of the team competition, saying she was struggling mentally.
“The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us,” she said at the hearing, referring to all the victims, including Maggie Nichols, who also testified. Nichols is often referred to as “Athlete A” because she was the first national team athlete to report Nassar’s abuse.
Aly Raisman, an Olympic gold medalist who testified at the hearing, has publicly asked for an independent investigation of the Nassar case. She pressed senators for that on Wednesday, saying that it was hard for her to speak at the hearing, but that she did so to protect others and force change within sports and law enforcement.
“The F.B.I. made me feel like my abuse didn’t count and that it wasn’t real,” she said.
Raisman, 27, told the senators that she wondered if she was going to be able to walk out of the hearing room after the proceedings.
After the first time she spoke publicly about her abuse, in 2017, she said, she couldn’t even stand up in the shower and had to sit on the floor of the tub to wash her hair. Since then, she said, there have been times when she was so sick from the trauma that she had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance.
She said testifying on Wednesday would set her back, too.
“This might take me months to recover,” she said. “I just wanted to make that clear.”
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a capsule summary with this article misstated the middle initial of the former U.S.A. Gymnastics national team doctor at the center of the abuse scandal. He is Lawrence G. Nassar, not Lawrence J.
SACRAMENTO — A Republican-led bid to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California ended in a decisive defeat on Tuesday, as Democrats in the nation’s most populous state closed ranks against a small grass-roots movement that accelerated with the spread of Covid-19.
Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host, led 46 challengers hoping to become the next governor, but Californians strongly affirmed their support for Mr. Newsom in a special election that cost the state an estimated $276 million.
The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Newsom, who had won in a 62 percent landslide in 2018, less than an hour after the polls closed on Tuesday. About 65 percent of the nearly nine million ballots counted by 1 a.m. Pacific time said the governor should stay in office.
“It appears that we are enjoying an overwhelmingly ‘no’ vote tonight here in the state of California, but ‘no’ is not the only thing that was expressed tonight,” Mr. Newsom told reporters late Tuesday.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud and voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body, her faith, her future. We said yes to diversity.”
The result reflected the state’s recent progress against the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 67,000 lives in California. The state has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates and one of its lowest rates of new virus cases — which the governor tirelessly argued to voters were the results of his vaccine and mask requirements.
Though polls showed that the recall was consistently opposed by some 60 percent of Californians, surveys over the summer suggested that likely voters were unenthusiastic about Mr. Newsom. As the election deadline approached, however, his base mobilized.
Electoral math did the rest: Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one in California, and pandemic voting rules encouraged high turnout, allowing ballots to be mailed to each of the state’s 22 million registered, active voters with prepaid postage. More than 40 percent of those Californians voted early.
Since early this year, when it became clear that the recall would have the money and time to qualify for the ballot, Mr. Newsom campaigned relentlessly. Noting that Mr. Elder had built a career bashing liberal causes, the governor painted him as a Trump clone who would foist far-right policies on a state that has been a bastion of liberal thinking.
“Vote no and go,” the governor told voters, suggesting that they stick to voting against recalling him and not even dignify the second question on the ballot, which asked who should replace Mr. Newsom if the recall succeeds.
Millions of voters chose not to answer the second question, with Mr. Elder receiving nearly half of the vote from those who did. As of early Wednesday morning Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat, had received about 10 percent of the vote, and Kevin Faulconer, a Republican and former mayor of San Diego, had garnered about 9 percent.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s five-minute victory speech came not to a crowd of cheering supporters like the one he addressed with President Biden Monday night in Long Beach, but to a group of reporters gathered in Sacramento.
He dispensed with the typical laundry list of thanks to key political allies and instead sought to frame the entire recall campaign as the latest battle in a broader fight against the forces aligned with former President Donald J. Trump.
“Democracy is not a football, you don’t throw it around,” Mr. Newsom said. “It’s more like an antique vase. You can drop it, smash it into a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up and meet the moment and push it back.”
Mr. Newsom’s triumph over the recall, he essentially said, was less a cause for celebration than it was an excuse to exhale. A California campaign that Democrats framed as one between the science of the pandemic, multicultural democracy and abortion rights didn’t leave the governor with much room for a victory lap.
The issues he mentioned at the beginning of his speech — promoting vaccines, diversity and women’s rights — are reflected in much of California’s current policy. This wasn’t a campaign Mr. Newsom ran with a platform of moving the state forward; it was a continuation of his warning that if Republicans take control, they would usher in a dystopian, Trump-inspired wasteland.
“We may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country,” Mr. Newsom said. “The Big Lie, the Jan. 6 insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country, what’s happening with the assault on fundamental rights, constitutional rights of women and girls, it’s a remarkable moment in our nation’s history.”
In California, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one, this message was more than enough to carry the day, with a blowout margin that mirrored the 2020 presidential election result in the state.
The coronavirus pandemic helped propel the recall attempt of Gov. Gavin Newsom to the ballot in California, and on Tuesday, his handling of the pandemic was an overriding issue as about two-thirds of voters decided he should stay in office.
Across the nation’s most populous state, voters surveyed by New York Times reporters outside polling places cited Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates as key factors in whether they voted to oust or keep him. The recall served as a preview of next year’s midterm elections nationally, with voters sharply divided along partisan lines over issues such as masks, lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations.
In San Francisco, Jose Orbeta said he voted to keep Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, in office, calling the recall a “waste of time.”
“It’s a power grab by the G.O.P.,” said Mr. Orbeta, a 50-year-old employee of the Department of Public Health. He said Mr. Newsom had done a “decent job” leading California through the pandemic despite his “lapse of judgment” in dining at the French Laundry during the height of the outbreak.
In Yorba Linda, a conservative suburb in Orange County, Jose Zenon, a Republican who runs an event-planning business with his wife, said he was infuriated by Mr. Newsom’s pandemic restrictions and support for vaccine mandates. He pointed to examples of his friends leaving for other states, such as Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
“That train out of here is really long, and we might be getting on it, too,” Mr. Zenon said, just after voting for Larry Elder, the Republican talk-radio host who led the field of challengers hoping to take Mr. Newsom’s job.
“The rules this governor made put a lot of businesses in an impossible position — we were without income for 10 months. Here we live in a condo, we want to have a home, but it’s just impossible. Something’s got to change.”
Some voters in an increasingly politically active constituency of Chinese Americans supported the recall. They blamed Mr. Newsom for a rise in marijuana dispensaries, homeless people and crime that they said are ruining the cluster of cities east of Los Angeles where Chinese immigrants, many of them now American citizens, have thrived for years.
“We really don’t like the situation in California,” said Fenglan Liu, 53, who immigrated to the United States from mainland China 21 years ago and helped mobilize volunteers in the San Gabriel Valley.
“No place is safe; crime is terrible. Newsom needs to go. This is failed management, not the pandemic.”
In the wealthy Orange County suburb of Ladera Ranch, Candice Carvalho, 42, cast her ballot against the recall because, she said, “I thought it was important to show that Orange County isn’t just Republicans.”
She expressed frustration that the recall was taking so much attention at a critical moment in the pandemic.
“It was a waste of money and completely unnecessary,” she said. “And I’m a little shocked we’re focusing on this now.” While she acknowledged knowing little about the specifics of state election laws, she said it seemed “slightly too easy” to get the recall attempt on the ballot.
A report released on Tuesday that examined poverty in the United States has invited comparisons of the effectiveness of government stimulus in response to the two most recent economic emergencies: the 2009 financial crisis and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the pandemic, the share of people living in poverty in the United States fell to a record low last year — a finding that economists and policymakers across the political spectrum have hailed as a sign that the emergency stimulus program worked.
Robert Reich, the Berkeley economics professor who served as labor secretary under President Clinton, tweeted that the data proved government aid was effective in fighting poverty. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the conservative American Action Forum and a former adviser to Senator John McCain, told the DealBook newsletter that the recent stimulus was “the best policy response to a recession the U.S. has ever seen.”
But there is still room for interpretation. According to the report, a measure of the poverty rate that accounts for the impact of government programs fell to 9.1 percent of the population last year, from 11.8 percent in 2019. But the official rate, which was devised in 1963 by a Polish immigrant and Social Security administrator, Mollie Orshansky, is based almost entirely on the cost of food and leaves out some major aid programs, rose last year to 11.4 percent. (The difference between poverty measures was once a plotline in “The West Wing.”)
So, was the pandemic stimulus the “best” emergency response? One thing it has going for it is a seemingly flattering comparison to the government’s efforts in the financial crisis in 2009.
As David Leonhardt of The Morning newsletter recently wrote, President Obama’s 2009 economic aid package has long been seen as a failure, even though the economy began growing again within a few months of its passage and it likely helped stave off an even deeper downturn. Government benefits and tax changes lifted 53 million Americans out of poverty last year, more in absolute and relative terms than in 2009, according to calculations from the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
But consider the other side of the ledger. In 2009, the government spent $810 billion on its stimulus. Last year’s increase in government aid was some $1.8 trillion. That translates, very roughly, to around $35,000 per person lifted out of poverty versus $20,000 in 2009, though not all the money in either package went to lower-income Americans.
The debate over cost and efficiency will influence whether the government should spend trillions more, as President Biden and many Democrats now want, to fund more permanent government aid programs. Detractors, including many Republicans, can point to data showing a seeming drop in the benefit per dollar spent as a reason to be cautious.
But Arloc Sherman, an economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said spending now could save money later.
“I would not say the 2020 stimulus was a less effective stimulus,” he said. “But it could have been more efficient and effective if we had a comprehensive and well-designed security system in the first place.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York arrived at the Met Gala on Monday evening dressed in a custom Brother Vellies ivory wool jacket dress with an organza flounce and the message “Tax the Rich” emblazoned in red across her back.
Designers and corporate sponsors generally pay the hefty price of admission — $35,000 a ticket, or $200,000 to $300,000 a table — for the gala’s guests, who typically include a quorum of Kardashians, Hollywood A-listers and supermodels. The star-studded event is often referred to as the Oscars of fashion.
Many New York City elected officials are invited as well, as “guests of the museum” who do not pay to attend.
Regardless, Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s attendance — and dress — provided easy fodder for her most reliably triggered critics. On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, tagged her as a fraud for sending a message about taxing the rich “while she’s hanging out with a bunch of wealthy leftwing elites.”
More surprising was the criticism Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, generated from the left — a chorus of dissatisfaction from progressives and self-described socialists disappointed by a gesture they said caricatured a progressive cause and underscored their sense that she is not maximizing her ability to fight for working people from Congress.
But among Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s defenders was Maya Wiley, the former New York City mayoral candidate whose campaign Ms. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed earlier this year.
“To walk into a space that’s about art, fashion, luxury and wealth and say, ‘Here is the conversation we have to confront, but I’m going to confront it in the vernacular of the event,’ is brilliant,” Ms. Wiley said.