Biden’s nominee for education secretary breezes through his confirmation hearing

Miguel A. Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for education secretary, sailed through his confirmation hearing Wednesday, signaling his support for an urgent but flexible approach to helping the nation’s schools reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Miguel Cardona sitting in front of a laptop: Miguel A. Cardona

Miguel A. Cardona

If he is confirmed, one of the most pressing tasks for Cardona — one of the few state education chiefs who pushed for schools to reopen for in-person learning last year — will be fulfilling Biden’s goal of reopening most of the country’s K-8 schools in 100 days.


Load Error

In his testimony before the Senate Education Committee, Cardona, who is Connecticut’s state education commissioner, credited his state’s success in reopening most districts there to the clear guidance provided on how districts could reopen with mitigation strategies, while understanding that every community was different.

He also strongly endorsed Biden’s proposal to send billions more in relief funding to schools, saying that the first round Congress sent to Connecticut “has really helped us keep the lights on,” and helped pay for things like personal protective equipment and extra custodial support.

He said more funding would be crucial for the recovery phase of the pandemic, when schools will need more counselors to deal with returning students’ social-emotional needs, and will need to boost academic support, including summer school and extended days.

However, Cardona largely sidestepped a question of whether he would grant waivers from federal testing mandates this year, a requirement that is currently weighing on education leaders across the country. Waiving that requirement was among the first measures the Trump administration took to help districts navigate remote learning, and has divided the education community over whether schools need scores as an equity metric this year.

“I don’t think we need to be bringing students in just to test them on a standardized test — I don’t think that makes any sense,” Cardona said. “I do feel that if we don’t assess where our students are and their level of performance, it’s going to be difficult for us to provide targeted support and resource allocation in the matter that can best support the closing of the gaps that have been exacerbated during this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Michael S. Regan, President Biden’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, vowed during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday to “move with a sense of urgency” in reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, while facing tough questions about his role in an administration crowded with high-profile climate czars.

If confirmed, Regan, the secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, will be tasked with reinstating dozens of Obama-era regulations that the Trump administration scrapped, and in many cases ensuring they are even more far-reaching. That includes reimposing national fuel-efficiency standards; plugging oil and gas wells that leak methane, a powerful short-term greenhouse gas; and possibly reimposing limits on emissions from power plants.

Yet Regan sought to allay Republican fears that the EPA was poised to enact onerous new rules intended to hurt the fossil fuel industries that bring jobs to many of their states.

“I have also learned that we can’t simply regulate our way out of every problem we face,” Regan told lawmakers, pledging to be “collaborative” with states and to “work transparently with responsible industries eager to establish clear, consistent rules of the road.”

Regan will also be charged with rebuilding the agency, which lost nearly 5,000 employees during the Trump era and saw the morale of career employees plummet.

He is intended to round out the administration’s climate team, joining Gina McCarthy, who served as President Barack Obama’s EPA chief and will lead a new White House Office of Climate Policy to coordinate domestic efforts, and John Kerry, the former secretary of state, who will be Biden’s international climate envoy.

New York Times

Senators reach power-sharing agreement

Senate Democrats will take control of the chamber’s committees under a new power-sharing agreement with Republicans after weeks of negotiations over how to manage the Senate that is divided 50-50.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the new majority leader, said he and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the new minority leader, had reached an agreement that would allow Democrats to assume the chairmanships of Senate committees that had remained under Republican leadership despite Democratic election victories.

The lack of an agreement, during the first month of the new Congress, created a bizarre situation that had slowed consideration of some of President Biden’s nominees, including a hearing for Judge Merrick B. Garland, the nominee for attorney general.

“I’m confident our members are ready to hit the ground running on the most important issues that face our country,” Schumer said on Wednesday.

The Senate’s so-called organizing resolution was initially slowed by McConnell’s demand that Senate Democrats pledge to preserve the filibuster for the next two years. Schumer did not accede to the demand, but McConnell dropped his insistence after two Senate Democrats said they would not back eliminating the filibuster, meaning the votes did not exist to overturn it under the current alignment.

The new Senate arrangement is based on an agreement reached during 2001, when the Senate was last equally divided. It will allow equal party representation on committees but in the cases of tie votes, legislation or nominees will still advance to the floor for consideration.

Though the Senate is split 50-50, Democrats are in control by virtue of the power of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote. The formal organizing resolution is expected to be considered later Wednesday.

New York Times

Proud Boys’ leader charged in Capitol insurrection

Ethan Nordean, a leader of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys, was arrested on Wednesday morning and charged in connection with his part in the violent insurrection at the Capitol last month, according to two law enforcement officials.

Nordean, of Auburn, Wash., had been under investigation for more than a week after prosecutors named him in court papers as a chief organizer of a mob of about 100 members of the Proud Boys that marched through Washington on Jan. 6, ending at the Capitol building. Prosecutors say that Nordean led the mob with another top-ranking Proud Boys leader, Joseph Biggs, who is also facing charges in connection with the Capitol attack.

The Proud Boys, who have long been some of former president Donald Trump’s most vocal and violent supporters, have become a focus of the Capitol riot inquiry, with more than a half-dozen of their members arrested so far. Last week, prosecutors unsealed conspiracy charges against two Proud Boys from New York, Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, saying they worked together to obstruct and interfere with law enforcement officers protecting Congress during the final certification of the presidential election.

New York Times

Continue Reading