Biden Pans Republicans’ Latest Offer on Infrastructure Plan

Republicans presented a $50 billion increase to their latest proposal, but President Biden said it did not do enough. Here’s the latest from Washington.,

LiveUpdated June 4, 2021, 7:27 p.m. ETJune 4, 2021, 7:27 p.m. ET

Talks will continue Monday to narrow what started as an almost $2 trillion gap in the Democratic and Republican proposals for spending plans for roads, bridges, and public works projects.

President Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, discussing the administration's infrastructure plan last month.
President Biden and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, discussing the administration’s infrastructure plan last month.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

White House officials said on Friday that President Biden panned the latest offer from Senate Republicans for an infrastructure package that would address roads, bridges and other public works projects, as negotiators struggle to make significant headway.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the Republican leading talks with the White House, presented a $50 billion increase to the party’s latest overall $928 billion infrastructure proposal during a private conversation with Mr. Biden on Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement after the phone call. That increase was across multiple infrastructure programs, Ms. Psaki said.

But Mr. Biden said it did not do enough to satisfy his ambitions for a sweeping investment in the nation’s public works system that also addresses climate change and boosts the American economy.

“The president expressed his gratitude for her effort and good will, but also indicated that the current offer did not meet his objectives to grow the economy, tackle the climate crisis, and create new jobs,” Ms. Psaki said. “He indicated to Senator Capito that he would continue to engage a number of senators in both parties in the hopes of achieving a more substantial package.”

The pair are still scheduled to speak again on Monday. A spokeswoman for Ms. Capito said the $50 billion increase was in new funding, bringing the Republican offer to just over $300 billion in new money on top of expected maintenance of existing federal programs.

Both sides have struggled to bridge differences over how to structure and finance sweeping public works projects. Mr. Biden has rejected Republican counterproposals that included far less spending and no tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.

Republicans have also pushed to pay for parts of the plan using funding for the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, something the White House has rejected. On Wednesday, in a meeting in the Oval Office with Ms. Capito, Mr. Biden pushed for about $1 trillion in new spending and suggested establishing a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations as opposed to increasing top-end rates.

Republicans on Capitol Hill remain wary about Mr. Biden’s ambitions for new spending and his plans to pay for that spending with what they view as tax increases, and have argued that their proposal is the largest investment they have put forward.

At her press briefing on Friday, Ms. Psaki said that “there’s runway left” for negotiations with Republicans, and reiterated that the White House was open to speaking to a variety of lawmakers in order to move forward with what could be one of the most substantial infrastructure investments in recent memory.

But, she noted, “there are some realities of timelines.”

Mr. Biden also spoke on Friday with Representative Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. On Friday, Mr. DeFazio unveiled surface transportation reauthorization legislation that would provide $547 billion over five years to maintain and adjust several existing transport programs.

“This is a once-in-a-multigenerational opportunity to change course in America and make us once again, the envy of the world,” Mr. DeFazio said.

It was unclear on Friday, however, how that legislation would be incorporated into Mr. Biden’s larger proposal for new infrastructure spending, or similar legislation in the Senate. Mr. Biden, in the phone conversation, offered support for advancing the legislation through committee, Ms. Psaki said, and the pair “agreed on the benefits of continued engagement with Democratic and Republican senators.”

Mr. DeFazio advocated for using the regular legislative process to advance the bill, telling reporters that “some of that, it would be difficult to accomplish in any other form other than regular order.”

The former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II arriving Friday on Capitol Hill.
The former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II arriving Friday on Capitol Hill.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

President Donald J. Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday about whether Mr. Trump obstructed the Russia investigation, bringing to a close a long legal and political battle.

The fact that Mr. McGahn is talking to Congress at all is significant after a multiyear legal battle by the Trump Justice Department to block a subpoena for his testimony. That dispute ended last month when the Biden Justice Department, House Democrats and a lawyer for Mr. McGahn reached a compromise.

“I believe we have been vindicated in terms of the intimacy of his involvement and the ultimate conclusions of the Mueller report,” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, told reporters as she exited the session. “The Congress has to be respected with its subpoena and oversight responsibilities.”

She added: “Today we asserted that right.”

But Mr. McGahn’s appearance may yield little in terms of new revelations. He testified behind closed doors and will have up to a week to review a transcript for accuracy before it is made public. He also may be questioned only about his involvement in matters that are described in the publicly available portions of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Still, Mr. McGahn was expected to be asked to respond under oath to Mr. Trump’s public denial of events that were described in the report based in part on what Mr. McGahn told Mr. Mueller’s investigators, including that Mr. Trump had ordered him to have Mr. Mueller fired — a step Mr. McGahn said he refused to take.

People familiar with his ongoing testimony said on Friday that the former top White House lawyer was hewing closely to the account he had already given the special counsel, often telling committee lawyers that his recollections of four-year-old events were no longer sharp. In the first several hours, at least, Mr. McGahn had not broken significant new ground, according to the people, who requested anonymity to describe the nonpublic testimony.

“He’s being somewhat difficult,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the Judiciary Committee chairman, said during a break midway through the session, though he added that Mr. McGahn was not being altogether uncooperative.

Republicans were pleased to declare the interview a waste of time as they left the session after more than five hours of questioning.

“Today, we have the House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee relitigating the Mueller report,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “Don McGahn hasn’t been White House counsel for three years.”

Congress is out of session this week, and members must be physically present to participate, so the full committee was not expected to attend. While those who did had the right to ask questions, Mr. McGahn was questioned primarily by committee lawyers. He was accompanied by his lawyer, William A. Burck.

“My attitude was better late than never,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, though he conceded that the scuffle over Mr. McGahn’s testimony had not left the House with everything it wanted.

“It doesn’t end up with the ringing affirmation of Congress’s Article I power to get the information it wants,” Mr. Raskin said in an interview. “This makes clear Congress is going to have to fight to protect its investigative power.”

Allen West spoke to supporters of President Donald J. Trump during a rally in Dallas in November.
Allen West spoke to supporters of President Donald J. Trump during a rally in Dallas in November.Credit…LM Otero/Associated Press

Allen West, a transplanted one-term Florida congressman and right-wing provocateur, announced his resignation on Friday as chairman of the Texas Republican Party, possibly as a precursor to running for statewide office.

Mr. West, a former Army officer who was forced to retire after firing a handgun near the head of a prisoner in Iraq, said at a news conference in Whitehouse, Texas, that he was considering running for office.

“Maybe something congressional,” he suggested.

He had served in the job for less than a year.

In that short time, Mr. West — a Fox News fixture who attended an event in Dallas last month at which Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald J. Trump, suggested the United States could witness a military coup — has earned a reputation for taking on Democrats and Republicans with equal aplomb.

His spats with the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over gun legislation have led to speculation that he will mount a Trumpian challenge to one of them in the Republican primaries next March.

Texas, a bedrock red state rapidly becoming a battleground, is the site of an intraparty fight between the conservative establishment and media-savvy firebrands like Mr. West, who think Mr. Abbott and Mr. Patrick are not going far enough to the right.

On Friday, Mr. West, 60, told a conservative Texas radio station that he was considering a challenge to Mr. Abbott but was praying on the matter before making up his mind, according to The Dallas Morning News.

A spokesman for the governor’s campaign said that Mr. Abbott, who was elected comfortably in 2014 and 2018, was well positioned to win a third term no matter who ran against him. Don Huffines, a Republican former state senator from Dallas, has already said that he will challenge Mr. Abbott.

“It is now clear that @AllenWest’s entire tenure as @TexasGOP chair was intended to do only what many suspected: Provide him a platform for his political future, not an opportunity to build the party,” wrote Matt Mackowiak, a veteran Republican operative who leads the Republican Party in Travis County, home to Austin. “What is he running for?”

Mr. West, who will remain at the party’s helm until his successor is chosen next month, wrote that it had been “a distinct honor to serve as Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas,” posting a brief statement on the state party website to announce the end of his tenure.

Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, briefed reporters at the White House last month.
Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, briefed reporters at the White House last month.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The Biden administration is sounding increasingly urgent alarms about high-profile ransomware attacks that have caused widespread gas shortages, shut meat-processing plants and paralyzed hospitals as officials step up efforts to counter cyberthreats.

Christopher W. Wray, the F.B.I. director, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Friday that the ransomware threat was comparable to the challenge of global terrorism in the days after Sept. 11, 2001.

“There are a lot of parallels, there’s a lot of importance, and a lot of focus by us on disruption and prevention,” Mr. Wray said. “There’s a shared responsibility, not just across government agencies but across the private sector and even the average American.”

The F.B.I., Mr. Wray said, is investigating 100 different software variants that have been used in various ransomware attacks, demonstrating the scale of the problem.

On Thursday, the Biden administration warned businesses that they needed to take urgent steps to improve their cybersecurity and defend against ransomware attacks.

In a bluntly worded open letter, Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, wrote that the Biden administration was working with partners “to disrupt and deter” attacks that deployed ransomware, a form of malware that encrypts data until the victim pays.

But she urged companies to adopt many of the same defensive steps that the administration has recently required of federal agencies and companies that do business with the government.

A ransomware attack this week on a meat processor, JBS Foods, forced the shutdown of nine beef plants and disrupted poultry and pork production. Last year, a spate of ransomware attacks on hospitals caused widespread concern.

A ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline in May ultimately prompted the company to shut down its pipeline system, creating gasoline shortages across the east coast. Immediately after that attack, American officials were critical of the company, saying Colonial’s cyberdefenses were far from adequate and the firm had done too little to defend itself.

Ransomware is a form of malicious software placed on a computer network that encrypts an organization’s data, rendering it unusable until money is paid to a hacking group. Colonial Pipeline paid millions of dollars to free its data.

While most ransomware attacks are carried out by criminal networks, some Russian and Chinese groups operate with the implicit blessing of their governments. In return, some criminal groups do work for those country’s spy agencies and take steps to make sure local companies are not affected.

Mr. Wray told the Journal that Russia is harboring some of the most dangerous ransomware groups.

“If the Russian government wants to show that it’s serious about this issue, there’s a lot of room for them to demonstrate some real progress that we’re not seeing right now,” Mr. Wray said.

The Biden administration is looking for ways to pressure the Russian government to reign in their cybercriminals. Officials expect President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to raise the broad issue of cybersecurity at his upcoming summit with Mr. Biden.

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Biden Praises May Employment Gains

President Biden on Friday hailed job growth recorded in the U.S. last month, attributing the progress to his American Rescue Plan and Americans’ willingness to adhere to pandemic measures.

This morning we learned that in May, our economy created 559,000 new jobs. Unemployment rate fell to 5.8% and wages went up for American workers. That means we have now created over two million jobs in total since I took office. No other major economy is gaining jobs as quickly as ours. And none of this success is an accident. It isn’t luck. It’s due in no small part, first of all, the cooperation of the American people in responding to my effort to get Covid under control, wearing masks initially and getting vaccinated. And it’s no small part to the bold action we took by passing the American Rescue Plan.

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President Biden on Friday hailed job growth recorded in the U.S. last month, attributing the progress to his American Rescue Plan and Americans’ willingness to adhere to pandemic measures.CreditCredit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The Labor Department’s report that the economy added 559,000 jobs in May, an acceleration from April, buoyed Democrats and the Biden administration on Friday, adding new fuel to the president’s claims that vaccinations and his economic program are beginning to get the economy back on track after a halting recovery from pandemic recession.

“This is historic progress,” Mr. Biden said in remarks from Rehoboth Beach, Del. “Progress that’s pulling our economy out of the worst crisis it’s been in in 100 years.”

He went on to claim credit for that progress, both from his administration’s campaign to ramp up America’s vaccine production and distribution and from the $1.9 trillion economic aid legislation he signed into law in March.

“None of this success is an accident. It isn’t luck,” Mr. Biden said, hailing “the cooperation of the American people in responding to my effort to get COVID under control, wearing masks initially and getting vaccinated.”

But the report, which fell short of analyst expectations for the second straight month and showed a slight shrinkage in the labor force, also provided fodder for Republican critics of the president. They say enhanced unemployment benefits — which were extended by Mr. Biden’s aid legislation in March — are discouraging workers from returning to jobs and holding back what could be an even faster recovery.

“Long-term unemployment is higher than when the pandemic started, and labor force participation mirrors the stagnant 1970s,” Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a news release. “It’s time for President Biden to abandon his attack on American jobs, his tax increases, his anti-growth regulations and his obsession with more emergency spending and endless government checks.”

After the April report fell substantially short of expectations, Republican governors across the country moved to prematurely end the $300-per-week supplemental unemployment benefits that began under President Donald J. Trump and are scheduled to continue through September under Mr. Biden’s aid package.

Mr. Biden said Friday those benefits had helped Americans weather the crisis but noted they expire in 90 days. “That makes sense,” he said, “it expires in 90 days.”

White House economists said last month there was not yet evidence in the numbers that the supplement was discouraging work, pointing instead to constraints like school closures and child care issues keeping women with children from returning to work, along with a large number of working-age Americans who had not been fully vaccinated. Administration economists doubled down on that reading on Friday.

“It is too soon to conclude that labor supply issues are holding back the long-term path of the recovery,” the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, wrote in a blog post on Friday morning.

Democratic leaders in Congress continued to push for the unemployment benefits to continue as scheduled, and for lawmakers to move to enact the rest of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda.

“The American people need all the support they can get, especially Black and Hispanic communities that were among the hardest hit by the pandemic,” Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, said in a news release. “Lawmakers must step up. That includes continuing enhanced UI to support workers seeking jobs and Congress passing President Biden’s Jobs and Families Plans.”

(Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this briefing rendered incorrectly President Biden’s comments about the factors behind the improving economy. The item has been updated with the correct quotation.)

Replacing water lines in Kansas City, Mo. Democrats and Republicans remain far apart in negotiations over a major infrastructure bill.
Replacing water lines in Kansas City, Mo. Democrats and Republicans remain far apart in negotiations over a major infrastructure bill.Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The specter of the 2009 negotiations over what would become the Affordable Care Act is looming over the talks on a major infrastructure bill.

With a fish-or-cut-bait moment approaching as soon as next week, unpublished interviews from a 2014 New York Times oral history of the health law show why Democratic leaders who lived through 2009 are not eager to let talks drag out much longer.

“There was some sliver of hope that it would be bipartisan,” Peter R. Orszag, the White House budget director during health care negotiations, recalled in 2014. “But as time evolved from the transition during late 2008 to the summer of 2009, it became increasingly obvious that any such hopes were only hopes and not going to be reality.”

Fast-forward to 2021: Republicans and Democrats cannot even agree on a common definition of infrastructure, much less a consensus about how much federal money to invest and how it should be paid for.

The executive, Jeffrey McConney, is one of the high-ranking executives who oversee the Trump Organization's finances.
The executive, Jeffrey McConney, is one of the high-ranking executives who oversee the Trump Organization’s finances.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

As prosecutors ramp up their investigation of Donald J. Trump and his family business, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has subpoenaed a senior finance executive at Mr. Trump’s company to testify before a state grand jury, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The executive, Jeffrey McConney, has long served as the Trump Organization’s controller, making him one of a handful of high-ranking executives to oversee the company’s finances.

The subpoena comes as the prosecutors have trained their focus on one of Mr. McConney’s colleagues, Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-serving chief financial officer. The prosecutors, who are working for the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have examined the extent to which Mr. Trump handed out valuable benefits to Mr. Weisselberg’s family and whether taxes were paid on those perks, The New York Times has reported.

Mr. Vance’s office has mounted an aggressive effort to gain Mr. Weisselberg’s cooperation against Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization, people with knowledge of that effort have said. When seeking to turn an insider into a cooperating witness, prosecutors often seek leverage over the person, including any evidence of past wrongdoing, and then typically offer leniency in exchange for testimony or assistance.

The subpoena of Mr. McConney, who has worked at the company for nearly 35 years, suggests that the examination of Mr. Weisselberg’s conduct has reached a new phase, with the grand jury hearing evidence about him.

A lawyer for Mr. McConney could not immediately be reached for comment. Mary E. Mulligan, a lawyer for Mr. Weisselberg, declined to comment, as did the Trump Organization.

Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has previously refused to interfere with politicians' speech.
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has previously refused to interfere with politicians’ speech.Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Facebook said on Friday that former President Donald J. Trump’s suspension from the service would last at least two years, putting a timeline on its ban for the first time since it cut him off in January.

The company said Mr. Trump would be eligible for reinstatement in January 2023, when it would look to experts to decide “whether the risk to public safety has receded.” Facebook barred him from the service after comments he made about the Capitol riot.

“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension,” Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Facebook, wrote in a company blog post, “we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols.”

If reinstated, Mr. Trump would be subject to a set of “rapidly escalating sanctions” if he committed further violations, up to and including the permanent suspension of his account.

The move was part of a series of actions by Facebook intended to curb its use as an unmediated platform for politicians and national leaders to assert falsehoods or make statements that would be blocked if they were regular citizens.

Facebook also will no longer keep posts by politicians up by default if their speech breaks its rules prohibiting harassment, discrimination or other harmful speech, two people with knowledge of the company’s plans said.

That change is a retreat from a policy introduced less than two years ago, when the company said speech from politicians was newsworthy and should not be policed.

Under the new policy, politicians’ posts will no longer be presumed newsworthy, according to the people with knowledge of the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But if Facebook decides a post does meet that bar, it can be exempt from removal under a standard the company has used since at least 2016. Starting on Friday, Facebook will disclose when it has applied the newsworthiness clause to rule-breaking posts.

Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, declined to comment. The Verge reported earlier on the change.

Facebook’s leaders have previously pledged not to interfere with political speech. But lawmakers, civil rights activists and even Facebook employees have criticized that stance, especially after Mr. Trump used social media to rally the crowd that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

A day after the riot, Facebook said it would block Mr. Trump because the risks of allowing him to use the platform were too great. Since then, Mr. Trump’s allies have accused Facebook of censorship and said it had too much power over who could say what online.

Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, speaking during a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, this week.
Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, speaking during a news conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, this week.Credit…Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, via Reuters

Six years ago, the American diplomat Wendy R. Sherman made her mark on the world stage by negotiating a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. Reviving that agreement, after the Trump administration all but scuttled it, is a top priority for President Biden.

Yet even as new Iran talks continue in Vienna, Ms. Sherman, named by Mr. Biden as the first woman to serve as deputy secretary of state, has largely shifted her attention to another complex and daunting challenge: helping to manage the tense relationship between the United States and China.

The pivot puts Ms. Sherman at the center of the kind of high-stakes, low-boil diplomacy that has become her hallmark after building a shrewd and tough reputation over four turns at the State Department beginning in the 1990s.

It is also an opportunity to test in a different venue what Ms. Sherman learned over years of arduous negotiations with Iran: that being emotionally honest with potential adversaries can be more formidable than presenting a poker face.

These “are not relationships about trust,” Ms. Sherman, 71, said in a recent interview, when asked about Mr. Biden’s developing strategy for China. “They are relationships about respect. You can gain respect for each other’s interests, and you ensure that your interests are met.”

Will that be possible with Beijing? “I think we’re going to find out,” said Ms. Sherman, who returns to Washington on Friday after 11 days of meetings in Asia and Europe, largely to discuss China.

Striking a balance between standing firm yet still appearing approachable is no easy task for women in positions of authority, who are often seen as weak for revealing any sign of vulnerability.

Ms. Sherman, however, has said she found power in showing her personal side in even the most delicate moments of diplomacy.

An image from a video of an “unidentified aerial phenomena” taken in April 2020 by U.S. Navy pilots.Credit…Department of Defense, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

American intelligence officials have found no evidence that aerial phenomena witnessed by Navy pilots in recent years are alien spacecraft, but they still cannot explain the unusual movements, according to senior administration officials briefed on the findings of a highly anticipated government report.

The report determined that the vast majority of more than 120 incidents over the past two decades did not originate from any American military or other advanced U.S. government technology, the officials said. That would appear to eliminate the possibility that the Navy pilots had encountered programs the government meant to keep secret.

But that is about the only firm conclusion in the classified intelligence report, the officials said. (An unclassified version is expected to be released to Congress by June 25.) Senior officials briefed on the intelligence conceded that the ambiguity of the findings meant the government could not definitively rule out theories that the phenomena might be alien spacecraft.

Americans’ long-running fascination with U.F.O.s has intensified in recent weeks in anticipation of the report. Former President Barack Obama further stoked the interest when he was asked about the incidents last month on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” on CBS.

“What is true, and I’m actually being serious here,” Mr. Obama said, “is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.”

Intelligence officials believe at least some of the aerial phenomena could be experimental technology from a rival power, most likely Russia or China.

One senior official briefed on the intelligence said without hesitation that U.S. officials knew it was not American technology. He said there was worry among intelligence and military officials that China or Russia could be experimenting with hypersonic technology.

A small boat guarded the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000, a week after an al-Qaida attack that killed 17 sailors.
A small boat guarded the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000, a week after an al-Qaida attack that killed 17 sailors.Credit…Hasan Jamali/Associated Press

Defense lawyers for a man accused of orchestrating the U.S.S. Cole bombing asked a court on Thursday to reverse a military judge’s decision to consider information obtained during the man’s torture by C.I.A. interrogators to support an argument in pretrial proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

The judge, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr. of the Army, had ruled on May 18 that prosecutors could invoke such information narrowly, not necessarily for the truth of it, before a jury begins hearing a case. Judge Acosta is presiding in the death penalty case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi prisoner awaiting trial at Guantanamo.

Defense lawyers cast the decision as the first time that a military judge at the war court was publicly known to have agreed to consider information obtained through the C.I.A. torture of a prisoner.

“No court has ever sanctioned the use of torture in this way,” the lawyers wrote in a 20-page filing that asked a Pentagon panel, the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, to intervene.

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