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House returns to stave off default with debt limit vote

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House returns to stave off default with debt limit vote

By KEVIN FREKING

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the House are scrambling back to Washington on Tuesday to approve a short-term lift of the nation’s debt limit and ensure the federal government can continue fully paying its bills into December.

The $480 billion increase in the country’s borrowing ceiling cleared the Senate last week on a party-line vote. The House is expected to approve it swiftly so President Joe Biden can sign it into law this week. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that steps to stave off a default on the country’s debts would be exhausted by Monday, and from that point, the department would soon be unable to fully meet the government’s financial obligations.

A default would have immense fallout on global financial markets built upon the bedrock of U.S. government debt. Routine government payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and active-duty military personnel would also be called into question.

“It is egregious that our nation has been put in this spot, but we must take immediate action to address the debt limit and ensure the full faith and credit of the United States remains intact,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

But the relief provided by the bill’s passage will only be temporary, forcing Congress to revisit the issue in December — a time when lawmakers will also be laboring to complete federal spending bills and avoid a damaging government shutdown. The yearend backlog raises risks for both parties and threatens a tumultuous close to Biden’s first year in office.

The present standoff over the debt ceiling eased when Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to help pass the short-term increase. But he insists he won’t do so again.

In a letter sent Friday to Biden, McConnell said Democrats will have to handle the next debt-limit increase on their own using the same process they have tried to use to pass Biden’s massive social spending and environment plan. Reconciliation allows legislation to pass the Senate with 51 votes rather than the 60 that’s typically required. In the 50-50 split Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris gives Democrats the majority with her tiebreaking vote.

Lawmakers from both parties have used the debt ceiling votes as leverage for other priorities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling when President Donald Trump was in office, saying she had no intention of supporting lifting the debt ceiling to enable Republicans to give another tax break to the rich. And Republicans in 2011 managed to coerce President Barack Obama into accepting about $2 trillion in deficit cuts as a condition for increasing the debt limit — though lawmakers later rolled back some of those cuts.

Pelosi told reporters Tuesday that over the years Republicans and Democrats have voted against lifting the debt ceiling, “but never to the extent of jeopardizing it.”

Pelosi said she hoped that Congress would lift the debt ceiling in a bipartisan way this December because of the stakes involved. But she also floated a bill sponsored by Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., that would transfer the duty of raising the debt limit away from Congress and vest it with the Treasury secretary, saying, “I think it has merit.”

In his focus on the debt limit, McConnell has tried to link Biden’s big federal government spending boost with the nation’s rising debt load, even though they are separate and the debt ceiling will have to be increased or suspended regardless of whether Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan makes it into law.

“Your lieutenants on Capitol Hill now have the time they claimed they lacked to address the debt ceiling through standalone reconciliation, and all the tools to do it,” McConnell said in the letter. “They cannot invent another crisis and ask for my help.”

McConnell was one of 11 Republicans who sided with Democrats to advance the debt ceiling reprieve to a final vote. Subsequently, McConnell and his GOP colleagues voted against final passage.

Agreement on a short-term fix came abruptly. Some Republican senators said threats from Democrats to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for debt ceiling votes — Biden called it a “real possibility” — had played a role in McConnell’s decision.

“I understand why Republican leadership blinked, but I wish they had not,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

The current debt ceiling is $28.4 trillion. Both parties have contributed to that load with decisions that have left the government rarely operating in the black.

The calamitous ramifications of default are why lawmakers have been able to reach a compromise to lift or suspend the debt cap some 18 times since 2002, often after frequent rounds of brinkmanship.

“Global financial markets and the economy would be upended, and even if resolved quickly, Americans would pay for this default for generations,” warned a recent report from Moody’s Analytics.

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Timberwolves starting to get healthy

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Timberwolves starting to get healthy

The Timberwolves weren’t at full strength Monday against Atlanta, but they do finally seem to be trending in that direction.

Minnesota got Jaden McDaniels and Karl-Anthony Towns back in the lineup, while Patrick Beverley is quickly working toward his return.

McDaniels had a serious bout with the flu, in which Timberwolves coach Chris Finch joked the forward “lost the whole 10 pounds (he gained) all summer, which he could ill afford to do.” The illness knocked McDaniels out to the point where he was in bed for several days and unable to join the team on the road.

Saturday was the first day the forward finally felt “normal” and he was able to practice Sunday. Finch said McDaniels looked “pretty good” in the practice after missing two games.

Beverley was originally expected to miss at least two weeks with his groin injury, and then be re-evaluated at that point. That would’ve meant the Wolves looked at him at the end of this week, but he was questionable for Monday’s contest before he was eventually ruled out prior to tip-off.

Finch said the veteran guard played 5-on-5 hoops with the team’s low-minutes guys and a few coaches earlier in the day Monday.

“He had a really good run,” Finch said. “He’s inching closer and closer.”

A return to action Wednesday against Utah looks possible.

D’Angelo Russell missed Monday’s game with an ankle injury. That meant the Wolves were down three point guard options in Russell, Beverley and Jaylen Nowell. That pushed rookie guard Leandro Bolmaro into the starting unit.

Finch said Bolmaro — who wasn’t in the rotation as recently as two weeks ago until Beverley went down — was “really excited” about the opportunity. Finch said the Wolves needed Bolmaro’s size and defensive acumen to guard Trae Young.

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Gophers welcome back Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator

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Gophers welcome back Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator

The Gophers football program has officially brought back Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator, the school said Monday.

Ciarrocca will return as OC and quarterbacks coach, a role he had under head coach P.J. Fleck at Minnesota from 2017-19. Ciarrocca left Minnesota after the 2019 season to become offensive coordinator at Penn State in 2020 and offensive analyst at West Virginia in 2021.

“Kirk is one of the best offensive coordinators in the game, but he is also a tremendous person,” Fleck said in a statement. “We have a long professional history of working together, and I look forward to reuniting with him.”

The Gophers play West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix on Dec. 28, and while Ciarrocca restarted at Minnesota on Monday, he will not coach in the bowl game after conversations with Fleck and Mountaineers coach Neal Brown.

“We both agreed to not have Kirk coach in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl with his knowledge of both teams’ personnel,” Fleck continued. “When we made the decision to hire Kirk, we did not yet know our bowl opponent. Coach Brown and I both thought this would be best to avoid any awkwardness for both sets of student-athletes. It’s the right thing to do.”

Matt Simon, the U’s wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator, will call offensive plays during the bowl game. He previously called plays in the Outback Bowl win over Auburn on New Year’s Day 2020.

Ciarrocca replaces Mike Sanford Jr., who was let go last week after the U’s performances didn’t come close to matching the heights of Ciarrocca’s best season in 2019. Sanford was at the end of a two-year contract paying him $663,000 per year.

Ciarrocca left Minnesota when he was set for a raise to $1 million per year in 2020; terms of his new deal were not shared, and the Gophers added his hire is pending Board of Regent approval.

Brown has known Ciarrocca for 20 years and had a lot of praise for him during a virtual bowl game news conference on Sunday.

“I think if you are talking about a system, the best thing that I can use is he is efficient,” Brown said. “If you look throughout his career, he’s been extremely efficient. I think he’s been able to find unique ways to run the football at every stop, regardless of what his personnel is. … He’s efficient, so when you are talking about an offensive coach. I think that is what we are all hunting and he’s done it better than most.”

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Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

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Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

By MARY CLARE JALONICK and JILL COLVIN

WASHINGTON (AP) — The former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence is cooperating with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Marc Short was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and accompanied Pence as he fled his post presiding over the Senate and hid from rioters who were calling for his hanging. Short is cooperating with the panel after receiving a subpoena, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private interactions.

Former President Donald Trump was openly criticizing his vice president even as the insurrectionists broke into the building because Pence had said he would not try to unilaterally reject the electoral count as Congress certified President Joe Biden’s victory. Pence didn’t have the legal power to do so, but Trump pressured him anyway.

As Pence’s top aide, Short was also present for several White House meetings ahead of the insurrection. At one point, Trump banned Short from the White House grounds because he objected to the pressure on Pence to reject the legitimate election results.

CNN first reported Short’s cooperation and subpoena.

Some people close to Pence were furious about the way that Trump tried to scapegoat the former vice president on Jan. 6 and became even more incensed after Pence, his closest aides and his family were put in physical danger by the rioters.

Alyssa Farah, who served as Pence’s press secretary before taking on other roles and left her job at the White House before Jan. 6, voluntarily met with Republicans on the House select committee and provided information.

In a series of tweets as the insurrection unfolded, Farah urged Trump to condemn the riots as they were happening and call on his supporters to stand down. “Condemn this now, @realDonaldTrump,” she tweeted. “You are the only one they will listen to. For our country!”

The panel in November subpoenaed Keith Kellogg, who was Pence’s national security adviser, writing in the subpoena that he was with Trump as the attack unfolded and may “have direct information about the former president’s statements about, and reactions to, the Capitol insurrection.” The committee wrote that according to several accounts, Kellogg urged Trump to send out a tweet aimed at helping to control the crowd.

The Jan. 6 panel has spoken to more than 250 witnesses, most of them voluntarily, committee leaders said last week, and plans a series of open hearings next year to make many of their findings public.

The committee has deposed a wide range of people, from Trump’s own aides to organizers of his massive rally that morning to allies outside the White House who strategized how to overturn Biden’s legitimate victory.

The panel has also interviewed election officials in crucial swing states such as Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania who were pressured by the former president and his allies as he pushed false claims of election fraud.

Trump has derided the committee’s work and continued to make claims about fraud that have been widely rejected by courts and election experts.

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